I spent my third year at UEA dreading being asked what I had lined up for after. Even though graduation was looming, after seemed like this impossible time frame. I was sure I was just going to spend the rest of my days in Norwich, very happily stuck to the floor of the SU.
Unfortunately, all good things come to an end. The threat of adult life was just around the corner, but with no prospects lined up, the only answer I had in regards to my post-graduation plans was ‘We’ll see’ – a nice way of saying absolutely nothing.
My time at Livewire was, in short, bloody amazing. Growing up loving radio, I applied to study English Lit and Creative Writing at UEA knowing that I wanted to get in that studio more than anything. I could never have anticipated that being in the studio was something I would eventually be paid to do.
I realised very quickly in my first year that presenting for a living was the dream. I’m a chatty little mug with a big love for music – it seemed like a potent combo.
By my third year, I’d got well and truly stuck in. I was Livewire’s station manager, presenting two shows a week (one daytime, one specialist), in between planning broadcasts, doing interviews and producing content. I’d bagged a nomination as Best Female Presenter at the Student Radio Awards that year and won the chance to do the voiceover for the ceremony. On paper, everything was looking pretty good.
However, I was holding back from applying for any jobs. I had a bad case of The Fear – I was so scared of not getting a job that I didn’t go for any, terrified of being told I wasn’t good enough to get into radio. Flawless logic, I know.
In combination with a less than great performance at Demo Factor 2016, my confidence took a serious knock. In my mind, being a presenter was turning into a bit of a pipe dream, and I started to consider other career options.
Luckily, I happened to meet Tom Cross on the night of Demo Factor (ex-Surge Radio presenter, now multi-SRA award winner and all round legend). He bought me most of a Jägerbomb (he decided while paying that I was going to have to chip in, cheers Tom) and the rest is history. We’ve sent each other countless demos and bits of audio, built our awards entries together and told each other very nicely to shut up when we’ve panicked about being rubbish presenters.
There’s a lot of focus on networking and making industry contacts at events, but making friends is just as valuable. Industry people are fab, but they’re not going to reply to your message when you’re having an absolute mare over a dodgy demo at four in the morning. Tom’s now my friend for life, and my bad run at Demo Factor in combination with his support meant that I came back fighting with something to prove.
Using the feedback I’d been given, I started producing the best content I’d ever done. I worked hard to master driving the desk and honed my editing skills. I made sure Livewire was entering every kind of student award that we possibly could, and spent months planning my own awards entries, alongside making sure that I got a decent degree. It was bloody hard work, but I did everything in my means to make sure I was leaving UEA with a whole arsenal of experience under my belt.
Though sometimes it seems like uni is going to go on forever, it’s not. You’ve got one chance to do as much as you possibly can in those years, and then before you know it, you’re throwing your cap in the air and wondering if people still drink VKs in the real world (they don’t).
My advice is to make the most of it, because when it’s done, it’s done. Student radio literally changed my life, and I loved every minute of it. It gave me a voice, and the confidence to eventually bite the bullet and put together a CV and cover letter, outlining every detail of what I’d done at Livewire and my passion for broadcasting.
I know it’s hard not to downplay yourself in your cover letters (as British people, we’re so good at it!) but you’ve really got to sell yourself and what you can do. Even if you can’t see any official job offers or work experience anywhere, find out who you need to email and send your stuff anyway. If you’re the right fit and you’re keen to learn, then people will take notice of you regardless.
From that CV, cover letter and my demo tacked on for luck, I was offered three work experience placements: at Inrix, where I now work as a broadcaster doing travel bulletins for radio stations all over the country, at Celador, a radio group based in Southampton, and at Global HQ in Leicester Square, where I worked across the brands and all the different departments.
I can’t put into decent words the amount that I learned from doing those placements. I soaked up all of the advice people gave me like a little radio sponge, asked to stay late and for extra things to do whenever I could – I also brought cake. People bloody love cake. I won’t lie and say it was easy – while everyone else was jetting off on their summer holidays, I was doing three placements in the space of six weeks – but god, was it worth it.
At the end of my placement with Global, I was given a couple of hours of studio time. In that time, I recorded a demo for Radio X, not thinking that anything would come of it. I was called back in for a meeting a few weeks later – apparently the demo had gone down well.
I kept going in to the Global studios to practise and learn the playout system, before going to work at Inrix. The long days were tough, but eventually I was offered the opportunity to become a cover presenter for Radio X.
For this to be my first paid presenting job is an absolute dream come true. I grew up with what was XFM, and that’s where I fell in love with music and radio. I used to wake up at 6am every morning before school just to listen to Danny Wallace do the breakfast show!
I’ve just finished my first week of shows on Radio X over Christmas, and it was the most amazing experience. While I was absolutely bricking it in the lead up to those shows, I was surprisingly at home and calm once I actually got on air. I had a little note at the top of my show plans which said ‘It’s just talking about music. RELAX’ – and when I thought of it like that, I did.
I don’t think you’ll ever feel ready for your first big gig, but after putting in the graft in the weeks leading up to those shows, I knew deep down that I could do it. I worked really hard at nailing the feedback that I’d been given in my studio sessions, especially on my link structure and impact, and knew the bosses had faith in me/trusted me not to set the studio on fire.
Though it’s been a journey to get here, I’m just at the beginning. With more Radio X shows on the horizon, I’m so excited to see what’s coming next. I also think it’s worth saying that I signed my contract before I won any Student Radio Awards – while the awards are amazing and you should ONE HUNDRED PERCENT enter, they don’t have to define how successful you are. You’re going to have your own story, and you’ll bring your own something special to the industry that no one else has. You don’t need an award to prove any of that.
The number one thing I’ve learned from all of this is that you don’t need to put on a ‘radio voice’. You don’t need to sound like anyone on the Radio 1 line-up, or act any differently on air than you would with your mates down the pub. You can just be you – and I promise you, that’s enough.
Good luck – there’s nothing stopping you.
Follow Issy on Twitter @IssyPanayis