Two weeks ago, the first radio station I worked at was turned off with little fuss and little attention. A sad end to what was a terrific radio station when it launched. Star FM (later re-branded Time) had good intent when it first broadcast in May 1993. Not only with compliance and its on-air commitments to the audience and community but also connecting with local colleges. That was how I first encountered Val Handley and the team. She came to our college and asked for volunteers to get involved.
Within a year myself and a fellow student were presenting the evening show and working on the news desk. We did this through showing enthusiasm and basically not going home! We were in the right place at the right time certainly - but also, we must have shown some initiative and skill at some point too.
I remember an early scenario when there was a big breaking story locally and the news reader, Dominic Waghorn (now of Sky News), needed a voicer for his bulletin. He asked me, but the script wasn't ready until too late to record, so I had to do it live. My first on air experience. No pressure then. But I fondly remember delivering it perfectly and Dominic praising my calm delivery etc. I was over the moon.
Without Star FM giving me this opportunity I may have never achieved all the fabulous things I've done in radio. A key figure too was Peter Gordon (now breakfast show presenter at Eagle in Guildford),who taught me some good early lessons about attitude and approach, as well as displaying a natural talent for the medium that was infectious. An early mentor for me certainly, and a useful sounding board for any concerns or issues.
But that was 1995, 20 years later these types of opportunities are harder(almost impossible) to find. It is also difficult to form those kinds of close links and relationships with colleagues, to help you find the right direction. The smaller teams and treadmill nature of many newsrooms leaves little room for that type of discussion.
The favourite question from people wanting to make it in radio or the media, is whether you have to have a degree to make it in the media. It's an impossible question to answer, because it depends on so many things. But without doubt it is much much harder now to get into the industry through work experience alone. Having a university or NCTJ qualification is almost a basic requirement.
Of course, there are plenty of intern opportunities - essentially what I was doing 20 years ago - but you have to choose them well and make the most of any openings. Much of my time mentoring clients is taken up advising and talking through whether this or that intern opportunity is right to take. But like the 'do I gave to have a degree?' question, it is an individual thing. What is universal though, is advising clients to ensure they get everything they can out of the opportunity presented to them. This hasn't changed over the last two decades. I grabbed the chance we were presented with.
If you are looking to make it in the media in 2015, the same advice applies now as it did then. Show initiative and application and you may well stick your head above the - rather crowded - parapet. There may be fewer of the Star FM-like opportunities out there, but there are still ways to break into the industry. Finding them can sometimes be the hardest thing and getting the right guidance, even harder.