Fuse FM alumni, Chelsea Dickenson, left behind a steady job in TV to dive back into the world of radio. Here’s Chelsea’s story of how this brave career change has taken her around the world in the quest to make two amazing radio documentaries…
“4 months ago, I had an epiphany. I realised that a secure job and generous staff perks weren’t for me (like seriously, who would want that!?) and instead, I wanted to rejoin the radio world that I’d enjoyed so much in my student days.
The only issue is that I’m not a student anymore – and three months into working at Audio Always, a small independent production company in MediaCityUK, I was told that I’d be flying to Miami, followed by Mumbai and then Shanghai to record two separate radio documentaries for the BBC.
Whilst one part of my brain was going THIS WILL LOOK SO GOOD ON INSTAGRAM, the other part of my brain was going SHIT JUST GOT REAL.
Having worked in TV previously, I’d planned and researched plenty of shoots, including some abroad, but radio is different. In radio, you plan, you research and then you do. In truth, it’s what I love about radio. But when you know that two commissions are depending on the work that you do, it can be easy to get overwhelmed.
So, how did I overcome my fears? Well, here are a few things that helped me along the way.
God, I love Excel. From tracking where you’re at with contributors to noting costs, Excel meant that I always knew where I was up to and what needed to be done next. Spending an hour setting these up is, for me, completely worth the time.
PLAN & PREPARE
In TV, we used detailed call sheets to list and detail everything from contact details, interviews and what facilities were in the areas we were recording. I did one for this and my boss looked at me like I was the Miss Universe of control freaks but HEY it worked a treat. Having these sheets of paper that told me where I needed to be, who I needed to contact when I got there, and where the nearest supermarket was was so helpful. It means you can really concentrate on the reason why you’re there – the content.
SOMETIMES YOU’VE GOT TO WING IT
Yes, I know I’ve just said that it helps to have a plan but it’s radio. You can get too lost in the plan and ticking off the soundbites that you can miss something amazing, and truly interesting that’s happening around you. This could be an inquisitive question or perhaps an interaction with a stranger. As long as you’ve got batteries and enough SD cards to keep you going, it doesn’t hurt to keep recording. Yes, I’d advise to delete as you go (nobody wants hours of audio at the end of the day) but missing a moment is truly devastating and no matter how much you try, redoing it will never sound as good. YOU ONLY LEARN THIS THE HARD WAY.
MAKE SURE YOUR TECH IS ON POINT
This is what I was most terrified about. It was easy, but I just kept tormenting myself – what if I hadn’t hit record? What if I lost an SD card? What if I accidentally deleted something? You just need to practise – I walked around the day before, testing the mics and learning how to focus my camera on items in the kitchen. Also, have a system in place to back up as you go along. A simple hard drive is enough.
BE A LISTENER & HAVE SOMEONE ELSE LISTEN TO YOUR WORK
It’s important to not get too wrapped up in everything that you miss the whole point. Take a step back (as long as you’re not holding the mic!) and think about what you’re hearing and whether you’d be interested in this if you tuned in on the radio. And what sounds around you will help set the scene? Having someone on hand who is outside of the project is also really helpful. Sometimes you can be too close.
At the end of the day, I was being paid to go abroad and record with some really interesting people. How amazing is that?
Whilst I’m not sure many student station budgets will stretch to docs in Miami, Mumbai or Shanghai (and if they do, please let me know as I’m sure I could be persuaded to do a masters…) I hope there are a few things here that will help you out with your own radio programmes. The student radio awards showcase only too well what incredible talent there is in already in documentary making but if you’ve never thought about it before, the best way to learn is to go and do. So, what are you waiting for?”
You can listen to the documentary Chelsea recorded in Miami, 10 Years After Katrina: Science of the Storm, on BBC Radio 5 live on Sunday, 30 August at 10AM.
The Best Exotic Etiquette Academy recorded in Mumbai and Shanghai will be on BBC Radio 4 early next year.