A broadcast presenter is the public face, or voice, of programmes broadcast on television, radio and the internet. They work on a variety of platforms including:
- national, regional, satellite and cable television;
- local and national radio;
Their role is always to entertain and inform their audiences by presenting information or entertainment in an accessible and attractive way.
The nature of the job varies according to a programme's subject matter, such as news, weather, sport, music, lifestyle, etc. Generally though, a broadcast presenter will introduce, host (or co-host) a programme, create links between items, introduce and interview guests and interact with the audience.
Prior to the broadcast, presenters may be involved in:
- researching topics and background information for items to be featured on the programme;
- planning and rehearsing shows;
- writing, and sometimes memorising, scripts;
- liaising with other members of the production and technical teams.
During the broadcast, presenters may be involved in:
- introducing and hosting programmes;
- interviewing guests in the studio, by telephone or on location;
- playing music;
- reading short news, traffic, sport or weather reports;
- providing links between programmes;
- reading from a script or autocue, or improvising;
- keeping the programme running to schedule, responding positively and quickly to problems or changes and improvising where necessary;
- within television, keeping in contact with the director and production team in the studio gallery, via ear-piece link.
After the broadcast, presenters may meet with the production crew to assess or review the broadcast and to plan the next broadcast.
Radio presenters on music shows usually 'drive' the desk and operate some of the technical equipment for recording and playback. This generally involves using computers to cue up and play music and jingles.
- Work conditions vary enormously, depending on the broadcast medium and type of programme. For example, the 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.
Salaries vary enormously, depending on whether the broadcaster is working full time for a channel/radio station or working freelance, on an ad-hoc basis. 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.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Work is rarely, if ever, 9am to 5pm; hours may be long and unsocial, involving early mornings, evenings or weekends, although this depends on the timing of the programme and whether it is live or pre-recorded.
What to expect
- Presenters work much longer than the actual broadcast hours. 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.
- Most work is based in a radio or television studio, but may also include outside broadcasts, which involves 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 available throughout much of the UK.
- Presenters 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, with presenters working 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 do not 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/media production;
- drama/performing arts;
- media/communications studies.
Certain courses have been assessed by the radio and television industries and are approved by Creative Skillset, the industry skills body. Details of courses can be found at Creative Skillset Courses Directory.
A degree in the particular area that you wish to work in, such as politics or economics may also be helpful.
You will need to have:
- excellent communication and presentation skills;
- performance skills and a clear voice;
- ability to generate original ideas;
- personable and confident manner;
- a broad range of interests, including current affairs;
- good research and interviewing skills;
- confidence and the ability to sell yourself;
- awareness of media law;
- the ability to take the initiative and make quick decisions under pressure;
- team-working skills;
- creativity and problem-solving skills.
It is important that you develop the necessary practical skills for the job, which include getting related work experience that shows your presenting ability. This can be 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 is no fixed entry route to the career of broadcast presenter. 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 can provide good experience - see BBC Careers: Trainee Schemes and Apprenticeships.
It is likely you will 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 will 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.
More programmes and niche-market productions for specialist channels are being made, resulting in increased opportunities available with digital, cable and satellite stations.
Interactive services are also on the rise. There is more mobility and easier entry into the industry, but the flip side is less job security.
Many television channels, programmes and newspapers now have interactive elements and websites, which means that new media has become heavily involved in broadcasting.
Look for job vacancies at:
- Ariel - BBC staff email newsletter, available by subscription.
- BBC Careers
- Channel 4 Careers
- ITV Jobs
- The Radio Academy
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:
Most presenters are 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:
Training in employment is unlikely to be formalised and any training offered will normally involve familiarisation with the specific systems and formats used for individual programmes.
If the role involves the use of technical equipment, such as microphones or recording equipment, or to work or 'drive' the desk in radio, training for this will normally be provided on the job.
However, since most presenters produce their own demo tapes, a certain level of technical knowledge is expected.
Be proactive in seeking opportunities to improve your range and level of related skills.
Organisations that run various useful training programmes and placements include:
- Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU)
- Broadcast Journalism Training Council (BJTC)
BECTU has a student register aimed at students who are 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.
Other presenters start out in print journalism, taking radio opportunities and then television opportunities as and when they occur.
It is likely that you will try to develop your career by moving to more prestigious programmes, more mainstream time slots or by being the support presenter to the lead role. From here, the aim is often to move to national or international radio or television.
This is a highly competitive industry and continuing professional development (CPD) is important if you want to keep up and progress. Grasp all opportunities as they arise, read the trade press and network with other professionals. It may help to have a proactive agent.
For more specialist programmes such as current affairs, extending your professional profile by writing for a broadsheet newspaper or journal, for example, can help with career development.
The most successful presenters often have a portfolio career, presenting on more than one show or station and perhaps appearing on both television and radio. For practical guidance on getting on in the media industry and furthering your career through training and professional development, see Creative Skillset.