BBC WOMEN IN RADIO EVENT – BIRMINGHAM. FRIDAY 6TH DECEMBER 2013
Around two years ago, while washing up ad listening to local radio, I said to my husband, ‘I’d love to work in radio. How do you think that you get in to it?. Neither of us had any idea and thought that it probably involved going to do a media course or being under 30, so we put it to the back of our minds and got on with setting up a youth theatre instead. Something that we did have an idea about. Two years on, we have converted to a Community Interest Company and our lives are meandering all over the place, from week to week in a brilliant but slightly scary way. Below, I have written a little about how I came to attend the Women in Radio Event and what my thoughts on the day were.
I recently left my job as a college lecturer after 15 brilliant, but exhausting and sometimes ridiculous years. Once I had my children, 5pm meetings became impossible, as did the Friday night pub trips (and, let’s face it, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in the early days) and the bonding, camaraderie and forward planning that goes with it. As I left the office on the dot of 5pm to run for my train, I felt the whiff of disapproval, even though I had often been in an hour before some other members of staff and would have to check my e mails at 9pm, once the children had finally given in and fallen asleep.
Working in a male-dominated environment became increasingly tough. My classes always started at 9am sharp, even though the bloke who did the timetables always started at 10am. But this wasn’t the sort of environment to put families first, as is often the case with business.
Some nights I had hardly slept as I’d been nursing sickly children as they threw up down the crevice of my bra, and had to bounce in to work to try and inspire a bunch of demotivated, lethargic teenagers into doing some cardio exercise and responding to a stimulus. It was like asking a bunch of prisoners if anyone had done any crochet recently, and when they started the day with ‘I’m so tired’ it was all that I could do not to run across the room screaming ‘you think you’re tired!’ – but I just about managed not to. I did sometimes have to gently point out that I had only had 4 hours sleep. But teenagers don’t really give a damn about lecturers until they have thrown away the defensiveness of their schools years, and learn that you are, indeed, human.
So – I took the plunge. Having answered an advert for a job that didn’t really exist, I visited an agency in Bristol, who assured me that they could get me work. That was all I needed to hear. With massive trepidation, I resigned. Then it went quiet. Nothing. Silence.
Until, one frugal day in the local supermarket with two children in tow, I got my first text about work. Two weeks at an FE college for young people with special needs in Gloucestershire. I started there in September. They keep asking me back and I keep going. It is a beautiful, creative, outdoors environment, which me and some other agency workers refer to as ‘teacher re-hab’. My daily drive is 40 minutes through beautiful, misty, Wiltshire countryside with the sound of Radio Wiltshire playing to accompany me. Just as I hit work, the radio station goes fuzzy then gets lost, so I have 2 minutes of Radio Gloucestershire just before arrival, which is also rather good.
It was on one of these journeys home that I heard the advertisement. ‘Would you like to work in local radio?! (Yes!) Do you think that you’ve got what it takes to be a local radio presenter? (I think so – yes) Do you like talking to people? (Yes!) The BBC is interested in hearing from you if you are a woman and want to know how to get in to local radio!!! What?! Are you joking?! My dream job?! ‘Go to the BBC academy to find out more.’ I put my foot down and nearly took out a pheasant.
When I got home (having just about remembered to pick up both children), I was desperately trying to remember where to go to find out the information. I had tried to plant the word ‘academy’ in my head, and eventually it surfaced. A two minute piece about where you live. Easy. A programme idea. Easy. A CV. Easy peasy. Just done it. Great. I phoned my friend Clive, who has all of the editing equipment, to see if he was free. He was. It was Friday and Sunday was the deadline. I had two days to get it in. Just the theatre group to run, then I could go to Clives, come back and do my programme idea. Bingo.
So I submitted my audio and word files. Then I waited. And waited. Clive asked after a few weeks and I shrugged it off. Just another ditch attempt at something. Having had many rejections by e mail and a lot of no replies to job applications, I was getting used to it. So I went back to my job as a support worker and thanked my blessings that I wasn’t teaching.
The lantern festival was approaching, and my student was off sick, so we all mucked in to make lanterns in the build up. Which is how I came to be in a yurt, making a lantern, when I got an email saying that I had been invited to attend the ‘Women in Radio’ event in Birmingham.
I shrieked, then told the tutors and a support worker who were with me what had happened, in a jumbled way that didn’t make any sense. Then I excused myself and ran around the yurt a couple of times, squealing, before I composed myself and went back to my crayons. Luckily, I wasn’t in charge of a student that day, but a few of the others eyed me strangely on my first lap, then looked away.
So I had a couple of weeks to try and work out what to expect based on the e-mail. The words ‘workshop’ ‘talks’ ‘discussions’ were used, but I still didn’t really know what the day would hold. When people asked, I was equally coy, not because I wanted to be, but because I genuinely had no idea.
Then I also had to work out how we would make it work as a family. I am usually home on Fridays, so it’s one of our simpler days. Not this one. My mum caved in (such a good cause after all), but it was still going to be tricky. When I found out that it would take two and a half hours and cost ninety six pounds, I braced myself for an early drive, and even earlier drop off at my mums. Luckily, my ‘massively overpaid sister who works in telly’ happened to phone and generously offer some financial help. So I booked the train – and a cheap hotel.
So – there I was. Another support worker had told me that they had stayed there once, and it smelt of smoke, so they got upgraded. But mine smelt of wee, so I didn’t feel that I could ask for the same favour. I’m not really sure why. I figured that they probably all smelt of something and in the grand scheme of things, wee wasn’t that bad. So I got myself a bottle of wine from the bar (I didn’t finish it, but had been persuaded that it would be cheaper and I do like a bargain) and headed to my room. Then my husband texted to say that Nelson Mandela had died. My life seemed to be hitting new realms of surealism. I couldn’t quite fit it in to my brain on top of everything else. Sleep came easily after a couple of glasses, but I did wake up at 5am to the gentle groan of Birmingham waking up.
Breakfast was served underground, which was a bit weird. A very pleasant woman served me my ‘continental’ breakfast, which seemed like a grand title for a bit of white toast. It was also boiling hot down there, unlike the coffee, and the orange juice was definitely from the ‘savers’ range. There was a time when I wouldn’t have noticed, or cared, but we buy ‘not from concentrate’ these days because we’re posh now – and my husband is diabetic.
Two solitary men appeared for some burnt meat, and we nodded at each other in a very British way, then kept ourselves to ourselves. I had some cereal and a bit of toast, tried to read the ‘Irish Times’ (why?) and texted my mum to check that she had my boy. Which, luckily, she did. I spoke to him on the phone, but he wasn’t really awake as it was 7.40am and he wasn’t very happy with me for betraying him. It also felt very weird to be saying ‘hello my darling’ in a sort of whisper over the silence of the breakfast cellar. It made me feel vulnerable and exposed for some reason and I felt like I was denying the others their silent, anonymous, motel breakfast. So it was a brief call.
Breakfast sorted, I headed out to look for the BBC Birmingham building. The man on reception had told me how to get there the night before, but I had been distracted by the information that breakfast would be served down the steps in the basement. It looked quite possible that people went down there to eat and never returned.
So there I was. BBC Birmingham. I was second in, after Neetal, a beautiful, young, cheerful girl who was even earlier than me. We chatted and enthused about our good luck, then eyed every woman who came in to see who the BBC had chosen. I had worried about what I had chosen to wear when I left, and had to keep reminding myself that it didn’t matter. It’s radio! What a refreshing change from the few auditions that I dared to do as an actress. Women of all ages, shapes and ethnicity appeared, who had nothing in common physically, but did have something else in common – our love of talking to people. This makes for quite a loud room at times, as you can imagine.
The day was much faster, dynamic and thrusting than I could have guessed. After an affirming introduction, a fun but slightly scary paper review, a speed dating event where I forgot the name of every Radio Wiltshire presenter I had ever heard, and a round up at lunch, I felt like my face was starting to slip down my body and leave my head by lunch time. Even my hair was starting to wilt and stick to my head. What is normally a lively, frizzy mop, was hanging limply to my shoulders, as if to say ’help’. The information, names of people, advice and demands had come thick and fast and my poor little hippy head was struggling to process everything. ‘Do you mean I really could become a radio presenter?’ was all I could think about.
I knew that I was supposed to be networking, but every time I went near someone important, I felt my legs turn to jelly and my mouth stick together. I would end up reaching for another samosa instead of striking up conversation, then heading back to someone from my ‘green’ group to stand with. On one occasion I headed for an important area of the room and spilt my bottle of water over a few dirty plates, which caused the important people to look over, a bit confused. I then lost the lid under the table and contemplated getting down on all fours to find it, but decided against it on the grounds that my Bridget Jones/Mr Bean impersonation was getting ridiculous. Then I forgot that my water bottle didn’t have a lid and swished towards people flinging droplets of water around me as I went.
I had been one of the first to lunch, as is my way, but hadn’t realised that even eating was a networking opportunity. I thought that I had been savvy by getting my plate filled up and finding a seat, only to look around and see that no-one else had sat down and we weren’t actually supposed to. The ‘Habitat corner’ as I quickly named it, had looked so welcoming on arrival, but standing up and talking was clearly what we were supposed to do. Slightly embarrassing moment when I looked around and saw everyone chatting. You can take the girl out of Wiltshire………….
After lunch we tried interviewing, which was fascinating. I have to boast that even with my insecurities, I think that I’m a natural. Just because I think that people are fascinating. I think that there’s a book in everyone and I love to delve deeply and find out how they feel about stuff. My interviewee nearly cried when I asked her about working with dementia patients. She clearly loves it and has a big heart. My observer told me that I should have opened up the conversation to talk about the NHS, but the message that was coming across loud and clear during the day was ‘trust your gut’ and mine said, ‘she’s wrong’. So I stuck to my guns and told her that it wasn’t a political interview, but a personal one, so I hadn’t thought that I should have gone down that route. But then I sounded a bit like I couldn’t take criticism. Which of course I can. I think. Oh well. I trusted my gut.
Then some more rounding up – and mince pies! Right – I read the sheet and this is my ‘networking’ moment. I have got the idea now. I can do it. Here we go. There she is – that presenter. I am right behind her. This isn’t about mince pies and mulled wine – It’s about ‘networking’! I have got it. I can do this. Here we go. Just get my mince pie……………where’s she gone? Where have they all gone? Where’s that woman and bloke who’s in charge of all of the radio people and are really important? Hey?………..What’s going on?……………………Oh. That’s it. Never mind. At least I have worked out how to Tweet properly now.
I then decided to pick up a present for the kids from the BBC shop before I went home and comforted myself with the idea that I will find them all on twitter and make sure that they remember me tomorrow when I get home. That’ll be fine.
All I had to do then was to get the show done on Saturday, find some work for January, do a funding bid for the Arts company, make contact with my local radio editor, make a decoration for my daughters school Christmas tree, cook three meals for next week, contact the nursery about the bill, book my son’s birthday party, phone my sister before she goes on holiday, make sure my son has a new shirt for his party, bake a cake, buy my husband’s Christmas presents, e mail the parents about the costumes………………………and come up with some programme ideas.
That bit’s easy. I have loads of ideas.