You will need to be highly organised and creative to make it in the world of radio production
Radio producers are responsible for the audio content of broadcasts via radio, the internet and other mobile platforms. They are involved in the entire process, from generating ideas to managing the audience response after a programme.
As a producer you'll manage and work with broadcasting assistants, presenters and DJs, engineers and IT staff. You'll make sure that shows run as planned and that they are tailored to key audience demographics. You may also be responsible for the business and commercial management of a programme.
Producers can work in the publicly funded, commercial or voluntary sectors of broadcasting. Digital radio has increased the amount of available radio stations and programmes.
Specific responsibilities vary depending on the programme and station, and producers may sometimes take on the role of presenters or reporters.
In general, tasks include:
- generating and researching ideas for programmes and pitching for commissions
- developing content, writing material for scripts, bulletins and links
- sourcing potential contributors and interviewees
- selecting music appropriate to the programme, the audience and the station
- producing pre-production briefings for presenters, reporters, technical staff and other contributors
- managing the logistics of getting people, resources and equipment together at the right place at the right time
- undertaking editing, interviewing and reporting duties as necessary
- presenting programmes or managing presenters for both pre-recorded and recorded output
- checking that copyrights are cleared and understanding media law
- converting text, graphics, video and audio files into other formats
- contributing to, and making use of, an archive of audio resources which can be re-used
- responding to audience feedback, referring on to other departments as necessary
- producing and making use of user-generated content
- using technology, such as Cool Edit Pro, Pro Tools and Adobe Audition, for editing and production purposes
- ensuring that health and safety standards and trade union requirements are met.
- Salaries vary depending on the employer and location. Within a local, commercial station your salary may be between £13,000 and £16,000.
- Starting as a broadcast assistant at the BBC you can expect to earn a minimum salary of £15,700 for local stations, or £20,000 within London.
- Once you have relevant experience, radio producers at the BBC can achieve salaries of £21,000 to £37,000 depending on the level of responsibility and whether you are based in London. Commercial stations pay towards the lower end of this scale.
- Senior producers with significant experience on larger programmes can earn over £45,000.
- Freelancers have to negotiate their own rates, which can be around £150 to £300 a day, depending on experience.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Working hours may be long and unpredictable, typically including unsocial hours such as shift patterns covering evenings, weekends and holidays.
What to expect
- Conditions vary widely depending on where you work. A staff contract with the BBC offers well-defined and protected conditions.
- Producers are generally based in offices or recording studios but also work on live events and outside broadcasts.
- Most radio producers work as part of a small team, although some have responsibility for much larger programme units.
- As the media becomes increasingly inter-disciplinary, radio producers may also be involved in generating content for online and other platforms.
- Radio is less London-centric than other media and posts are available throughout the UK with local BBC, commercial, community and voluntary stations. National radio stations are usually broadcast from major cities such as Manchester and London.
- Across the media, organisations are addressing diversity issues in an attempt to increase the proportion of under-represented groups in the workforce. The advent of digital radio and expansion of community radio is increasing representation as ethnic minority groups set up specific stations.
- Working to tight deadlines and on live programmes can be stressful but many people find compensation in the 'buzz' of a working environment where people are excited about what they do.
- Limited financial resources, particularly in non-commercial radio stations, may give rise to creative and production challenges.
- Travel during the working day and absence from home overnight may be required when working on location.
This area of work is open to all graduates but a degree in radio or media production may increase your chances. Degrees in broadcast journalism or media studies may also be useful.
Although a postgraduate qualification is not essential, a postgraduate diploma or Masters in radio production may be helpful, particularly if your first degree is in an unrelated subject.
The majority of radio workers have a degree or Masters, so it will put you in a better position if you also have a relevant qualification. Search for postgraduate courses in radio production.
Details of courses at degree and postgraduate level, which have been approved by the radio industry and Creative Skillset, the industry skills body, are available at Creative Skillset Courses Directory.
It may be possible to gain an entry-level role without a degree and work your way up to the level of radio producer. However, you will still need to demonstrate that you have the relevant skills to get your first job.
Educational qualifications are not the only criteria for success; work experience and evidence of practical and technical skills for radio are valued much more highly. To be successful you will need to demonstrate:
- excellent written and oral communication skills
- the ability to work as a part of a team and also independently
- good organisational skills and an ability to cope under pressure
- an awareness of current affairs and good general knowledge
- a real interest in, and curiosity about, all sorts of people
- a lively mind, able to make connections between different ideas and subjects
- the ability to get to grips with new subject matter quickly
- a willingness to embrace new technology and learn technical skills
- self-confidence, persistence and determination to overcome rejection.
The most important quality is a passion for radio, so:
- be clear about why you want to work in broadcast rather than print or television
- take an interest in the changing face of the radio industry, key developments and their impact on radio output
- listen to a range of radio programmes in your area of interest
- email producers with comments on their programmes
- take and make opportunities to meet people working in radio - most love talking about programmes they have made.
As technology becomes ever more accessible, you may also be expected to demonstrate your interest in radio via a portfolio of 'user-generated content' such as podcasts, blogs and on sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
It is important that you get practical experience, which can be achieved through work with student, hospital or community radio. The BBC also offers a range of work experience programmes, which cover radio production and broadcast. Find out more at BBC Work Experience.
You could also try to establish industry contacts and make speculative applications for work experience and placements. Useful resources include:
Look for help with basic skills. Masterclasses for people wanting to get into radio and an online guide, which gives advice on working in the industry, are available from The Radio Academy.
Employers of radio producers include:
- the BBC
- large commercial radio groups
- large media groups, which own many stations, for example Bauer Media, Global Radio and the Wireless Group
- independent radio groups and production companies - for a list see the RIG
- community radio stations.
The BBC has a structure of local radio networks, as well as its main central network. Both the BBC and independent radio stations broadcast live, as well as producing pre-recorded programmes.
In general, BBC local radio is mainly talk-based, while independent radio is usually more music-focused, using mainly pre-recorded music. As a result, the demand for producers in independent radio is low in comparison with BBC local and national radio.
Independent production companies tend to specialise in making pre-recorded programmes, which are sold on to the broadcasters.
In commercial radio, only larger stations tend to have a production department.
The growth of digital radio has also created new opportunities with the establishment of new stations.
Look for job vacancies
All BBC vacancies are advertised but not always externally. Vacancies for commercial radio are not always advertised and may be filled by people on voluntary or work experience placements.
To increase your chances of gaining work, try to break into the industry as soon as you can through a period of work experience and by making contacts or becoming known at a particular station or show.
Training is usually on the job, with individual training needs agreed at an annual appraisal.
With the emergence of multi-skilling across the media, producers are increasingly involved in all aspects of radio, including presenting, editing and sound recording. You will most likely learn these skills from experienced colleagues or by attending short, in-house training courses.
If you are a freelancer, you will be responsible for your own professional development and will need to consider the cost and time taken to complete courses.
It is important that you keep up to date with technical and multimedia developments, especially following the expansion of digital radio.
Creative Skillset, the industry skills body, produces the Creative Skillset Courses Directory, which is a database of media courses including different aspects of radio. Many courses can be completed via online training.
Relevant online articles, videos and recordings on themes such as making radio features and connecting with listeners, are available at BBC Academy.
For its staff, the BBC has a system of attachments through which individuals can gain experience in other jobs for set periods of time. This is a common route for progression from broadcast assistant to producer.
Progression within this career is usually self-driven. Many producers work on a freelance basis and move from one employer to another.
Making contacts within the industry is essential, particularly at the start of your career. Think of creative ways to make links with potential employers and to gain relevant experience.
Career progression is gained through moving to a more prestigious network, programme or presenter. For example, a local radio producer with several years' experience may apply for a post on national radio. As you gain more experience, you may also focus on a specialist area of interest such as news, drama or documentaries.
Various professional bodies hold annual awards for the radio industry. Gaining an industry-recognised accolade will inevitably help to progress your career.
On news and current affairs or magazine-type programmes, where there is likely to be a team of producers, progression may be to a role at senior producer level and then to programme editor. You may then progress to a managerial role, such as network controller.
Ongoing continuing professional development (CPD) is important in an industry such as radio, where technology is constantly changing, and in the media generally, where multi-skilling is more prevalent. You could take courses in voice training, website editing, news writing or media law, for example.
A small number of radio producers progress into teaching or lecturing in related subjects.