If you aspire to a career in radio it's likely that you'll start your journey as a radio broadcast assistant
Radio broadcast assistants provide vital support in the development and day-to-day production of local and national radio. In this role, you'll give practical assistance to programme producers and presenters to ensure that shows run as smoothly as possible.
You'll undertake key administrative activities as well as assisting in planning, researching and producing live and pre-recorded radio programmes. Assistants often have creative input on the development of new shows or features.
The broad scope of the role, encompassing production and technical skills, means that it is a common starting point for a career in radio.
This position is similar to the role of production assistant and the job title may depend on whether you're working for the BBC or commercial sector, national or local radio.
The job varies between radio stations and between different programmes within a single station. In particular, day-to-day activities differ between speech and music radio stations and according to the size of the station and production team.
Most broadcast assistants are expected to provide some degree of administrative, technical and production support, but some posts may be more closely related to assistant producer or producer roles.
Common tasks are likely to include:
- undertaking general research for programmes
- administrative duties
- arranging and overseeing guest visits and freelance staff
- maintaining up-to-date contact lists
- producing transcripts, programme logs and running orders
- recording programme costs
- preparing contracts and payments for guests and contributors
- answering and archiving details of calls for phone-ins and competitions
- archiving past programmes
- booking resources, facilities, studio time and equipment
- securing clearances and licences as necessary
- editing audio packages with digital editing software
- assisting with time-keeping and the recording of transmissions
- supporting the production team
- 'driving the desk' for some pre-recorded or live programmes
- contributing to the creative input of a show, for example writing cues and updating scripts
- liaising with publicity departments about programme trailers and competition prizes
- updating the programme or station website and ensuring that the on-air and online content are the same.
You will normally have the opportunity to undertake other ad-hoc duties and contribute your ideas. If you work for a smaller station, you may have more creative input and your role could include more high-profile activities, such as:
- researching and interviewing guests
- researching news stories and pitching new ideas
- creating and producing items of a programme
- choosing music
- presenting shows or small sections of a programme, such as news items and reviews of music, films or books.
- Salary levels are fairly low in many parts of the industry. Within local commercial radio starting salaries are usually in the region of £13,000 to £16,000.
- Starting salaries at the BBC tend to be higher. You can expect £15,700 if working for a local station or £20,000 if working in London.
- With a few years' experience and increased responsibility, salaries of £17,000 to £29,000 can be achieved.
Freelance radio broadcast assistants need to negotiate their own rates, which can vary significantly.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Working hours are usually long. Shifts vary depending on the programmes you are working on but typically include some evening and weekend work and occasionally overnight shifts.
Tight deadlines may require you to work overtime. You will also need to be prepared to cover for colleagues who are on holiday or absent through sickness.
What to expect
- The working environment varies depending on what you are working on. You may be required to work on outside broadcasts as well as preparing material in the studio, and undertaking administrative duties in offices.
- The working day is often unpredictable and is generally led by how well a recording is progressing. Work on live programmes can be more predictable due to set on-air times.
- The atmosphere is informal and sociable, but the work can be pressured with tight deadlines.
- Posts are available all over the UK in towns and cities where there are local BBC and commercial radio stations. National BBC and commercial radio stations are usually broadcast from major cities including London and Manchester.
- Being able to relocate can be beneficial when developing a career in this area.
- Self-employment and freelance work are possible. Radio broadcast assistants at both the BBC and independent radio are often employed on a freelance or short-term contract basis.
- Travel within a working day is occasionally necessary, but overseas work or travel is rare.
It is not essential to have a degree or HND to become a radio broadcast assistant. However, competition is extremely tough and many assistants are graduates. Therefore, a relevant qualification in radio or media production may improve your chances.
Knowledge of a specialist subject, such as science or politics, may give you the edge for certain types of programmes.
Generally, however, the subject you study is less important than relevant practical experience and energy and enthusiasm for the industry. These skills and attributes, combined with the right personality, are often more important to employers than education.
Postgraduate study is not a requirement, but some entrants do complete a postgraduate diploma or MA in radio production. This can be helpful if your degree is not in a related subject and it can develop your practical skills and knowledge. Search for postgraduate courses in radio production.
Courses at various levels have been assessed by the radio industry and are approved by Creative Skillset, the industry skills body. Details of courses can be found at Creative Skillset Courses Directory.
A good overall knowledge of the radio industry and the specific output of the station you wish to join, is crucial. Keep up to date with developments in the sector by reading:
Listen to a variety of radio genres via analogue (FM and AM), digital audio broadcasting (DAB), cable, satellite, digital TV and the internet.
You will need to have:
- creative flair
- good organisational skills
- a flexible attitude
- strong written and oral communication skills
- an interest in radio
- technical skills relevant to the role
- the capacity to work as part of a team
- the ability to plan, prioritise and work under pressure.
A good radio voice can be an asset.
Computer literacy is essential, but requirements vary between radio stations.
Pre-entry experience is vital for developing additional technical skills and demonstrating commitment to the industry. This can be obtained through student, hospital or community radio. You could also try to get part-time or casual work at your local station. Building up a relationship with them in this way may lead to further work.
Other relevant sources of work experience, information and opportunities include:
- BBC Work Experience - for opportunities within national radio stations and radio production
- The Radio Academy - runs events, festivals, awards and masterclasses
- Student Radio Association (SRA) - membership provides access to student awards and conferences.
The BBC is one of the biggest employers of radio broadcast assistants and has numerous local and national stations. There are also hundreds of commercial stations. Some are independent and some form part of larger radio groups.
The country's regional and national commercial stations are owned by a small number of larger media groups, which include:
DAB digital radio has helped to increase the number of BBC and commercial stations available over the past few years.
Specific job titles may differ between employers. Some commercial and local BBC stations may not employ people in a specific broadcast assistant role, as the work can be carried out by the presenter or producer.
Many people work freelance or on fixed-term contracts, moving between stations and programmes.
Look for job vacancies at:
- BBC Careers
- The Radio Academy
- Radio Today Jobs
- Commercial radio station or group websites.
- Local press.
Although the BBC advertises vacancies, they are not always made available externally. Vacancies for commercial radio are not always advertised and are often filled by people undertaking voluntary experience on shows.
Most training is likely to be delivered on the job or through short courses. It is likely that you will seek to gain skills and support from colleagues, such as other broadcast assistants, researchers, producers and presenters.
The majority of stations expect you to start with a good working knowledge of the broadcasting environment and programme production. Any training available usually focuses on the technical aspects of the job.
Relevant courses at different levels that have been approved by the radio industry and Creative Skillset, can be found at the Creative Skillset Courses Directory.
Online articles, videos and recordings are available at BBC Academy. Relevant topics include:
- creating successful radio phone-ins
- how to make it in radio
- connecting with listeners
- art of the interview.
The BBC also offers mid-career training to broadcast assistants.
It is important that you keep your skills up to date throughout your career. Various events and resources that can help with this are available from The Radio Academy. They run an annual radio festival, which gives news on developments in the industry and allows for networking with others in the field.
Career progression is achieved by gaining experience from working on a variety of programmes and stations and by providing additional support when required.
Take advantage of any opportunities to broaden your skills or to try out other areas of work. This may include offering to cover for colleagues who are on holiday or absent through illness.
It is possible to progress on to a number of different occupations in the industry, for example, journalist, presenter or researcher. However, it is most likely that you will work towards becoming a radio producer, as this is more closely related to the work of a broadcast assistant.
This kind of progression can take around two to five years, maybe longer, depending on your place of work. For example, progression in a large organisation, such as the BBC, may take longer because of the extensive competition compared to a local radio station.
Being able to relocate will open up more opportunities. No formal qualifications are required to move from broadcast assistant to radio producer but extensive experience is essential.
The BBC 'attachments' system provides the opportunity for staff to work in a related role for a defined period of time. These opportunities may arise from new projects, peaks in workload or cover for staff on maternity leave, career breaks or other temporary absence.
Attachments are frequently used to extend skills, make contacts and as a way to move on to a different type of role or programme. Following an attachment, broadcast assistants may be able to progress to roles as producers or presenters. Find out more at BBC Attachments.
In local radio in particular, the turnover of staff is fairly rapid (the average stay in local radio is around two to three years), with many using it as a stepping stone to either national radio or television work.