Television and radio presenters work in a highly competitive industry, where long hours, excellent communication skills and the drive to succeed are required
A broadcast presenter is the face or voice of programmes broadcast via television, radio and the internet. You'll work on a variety of platforms including national, regional, satellite and cable television, local and national radio and online.
Your role is to entertain and inform an audience by presenting information or entertainment in an accessible and attractive way. You'll introduce, host (or co-host) a programme, create links between items, introduce and interview guests and interact with the audience. The exact nature of the job may vary according to a programme's subject matter, for example if it covers news, weather, sport, music or lifestyle.
As a broadcast presenter, you'll need to:
- research topics and background information for items to be featured on the programme
- plan and rehearse shows
- write and sometimes memorise scripts
- liaise with other members of the production and technical teams
- introduce and host programmes
- interview guests in the studio, by telephone or on location
- play music
- read short news, traffic, sport or weather reports
- provide links between programmes
- read from a script or autocue, or improvise
- in radio, 'drive' the desk and operate some of the technical equipment for recording and playback, using computers to cue up and play music and jingles
- keep the programme running to schedule, responding positively and quickly to problems or changes and improvising where necessary
- in television, keep in contact with the director and production team in the studio gallery, via ear-piece link
- meet with the production crew to assess or review a broadcast, and to plan the next one.
Salaries vary enormously, depending on whether you're working full time for a channel/radio statio, or working freelance on an ad-hoc basis. Having experience is a significant help in negotiating an increase in fees. Successful or celebrity presenters earn significantly higher salaries.
Advice on current pay guidelines may be available from the Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU) and Equity. Most presenters work freelance and payments are normally calculated per show or on short, fixed-term contracts to deliver a certain number of programmes.
You'll work much longer than the actual broadcast hours and work is rarely, if ever, 9am to 5pm. Pre-show preparation, such as meetings with the producer, researching, writing scripts, rehearsing and post-show review, which includes discussing the broadcast with the producer and beginning advance planning for the next show, all add to the working day.
Hours may be long and unsocial, involving early mornings, evenings or weekends, although this depends on the timing of the programme and whether it's live or pre-recorded.
What to expect
- Working conditions vary, depending on the broadcast medium and type of programme. For example, conditions for a presenter on a small local radio station with a show in the middle of the night will be vastly different from those for a high-profile celebrity with a prime-time television show.
- Most presenters, particularly those on national radio and television, employ an agent to negotiate working terms and conditions on their behalf.
- Most work is based in a radio or television studio, but may also include outside broadcasts, which can involve working in all conditions.
- Much of the national broadcast industry is centred in London or MediaCityUK in Salford. Other studios exist in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Leeds and Birmingham. Local or regional studios are found throughout much of the UK.
- You'll have a public image to maintain and, as a result, must be prepared for some loss of privacy.
- Travel during the working day varies according to the type of programme. Radio roadshows, for example, involve a significant amount of travel and you may be required to work away from home for extended periods of time. Similarly, documentary-makers or roving reporters can also be expected to travel in the UK and abroad to cover stories and news events.
You don't need a degree to become a broadcast presenter as employers tend to look more for experience and practical skills.
However, some degree, HND and foundation degree subjects may be useful and could provide you with relevant knowledge that can be used in the job. These include:
- broadcast, radio, television or media production
- drama or performing arts
- media or communications studies.
Certain courses have been assessed by the radio and television industries and are approved by ScreenSkills, the industry skills body. Details of courses can be found at ScreenSkills - Education & training.
A degree in the particular area that you wish to work in, such as politics or economics, may also be helpful.
You'll need to have:
- excellent communication and presentation skills
- performance skills and a clear voice
- the ability to generate original ideas
- a personable and confident manner
- a broad range of interests, including current affairs
- good research and interviewing skills
- the confidence and the ability to sell yourself
- an awareness of media law
- the ability to take initiative and make quick decisions under pressure
- team-working skills
- creativity and problem-solving skills.
You'll need to develop the necessary practical skills for the job, including getting related work experience that shows your presenting ability. This can be gained from on-campus media activities, such as student radio, work with local television stations, or hospital radio. Make sure you get copies of recordings to be able to show potential employers.
There's no fixed entry route to the career of broadcast presenting. Requirements vary according to the type of programme and broadcast medium. For example, television presenters in light entertainment shows may come from journalism, acting or even modelling backgrounds, while music radio presenters may have had performance careers or been a club DJ or radio producer.
The BBC runs a number of training schemes and apprenticeships, which provide good experience - see BBC Careers - Trainee schemes & apprenticeships.
It's likely you'll have to start in an entry-level position such as a runner, broadcast assistant or programme researcher while you gain the necessary skills and experience.
Broadcasting is a highly competitive area and you'll need to have enthusiasm, persistence and a proactive approach to hunting for jobs and work experience. Many presenters have agents who help to secure work for them.
Broadly speaking, the broadcasting industry can currently be divided into television and radio and then sub-divided into national, regional and local stations. However, its structure is constantly changing and new channels are continually launching. Potential employers include:
- the BBC (for both television and radio, nationally and locally)
- independent television companies such as ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, plus various cable, satellite and digital channels
- national independent radio companies and local and regional independent radio stations
- independent production companies, for both radio and television, which make programmes for the BBC and independent stations, normally on a commissioned basis
- internet radio stations.
There are increasing opportunities with digital, cable and satellite stations, and also interactive services where new media has become involved in broadcasting.
Look for job vacancies at:
Many job vacancies go unadvertised, so independent research and speculative applications may be another route to gaining employment in the industry. Specialist directories that include relevant contacts include:
You'll usually be expected to have the necessary skills before starting the job. These can be acquired by working in a supporting role on a broadcasting team, as a broadcast assistant, for example, or through independently taken courses.
Independent training is offered through organisations such as:
On-the-job training will generally be given for use of any specific technical equipment, such as microphones or recording equipment, or to drive the desk in radio. However, since most presenters produce their own demo tapes, a certain level of technical knowledge is expected.
Organisations that run various useful training programmes and placements include:
BECTU has a student register aimed at those looking towards a career in media and entertainment (broadcasting, film, theatre, live events). BECTU supports this initiative with regular e-newsletters on industry issues and holds an annual Freelancers Fair.
Broadcast presenting is an unpredictable profession and career development may be more about achieving your personal ambitions than following a set progression route.
Many presenters begin in local radio or in minor roles on television. Good starting points are also found through opportunities in hospital, community and university radio stations. Others start out in print journalism, taking radio opportunities and then television opportunities, as and when they occur.
It's likely you'll aim to develop your career by moving to more prestigious programmes, more mainstream time slots or by being the support presenter to the lead role. Eventually making a move to national or international radio or television.
Having a proactive agent will help, as will utilising any practical support - such as what ScreenSkills offers - which will guide you in furthering your career through training and professional development.