I recently completed a 10 week Diploma Course in Radio Production, run by the Today FM School of Radio, in partnership with the Independent College Dublin. The course is designed to give students a flavour of how the radio industry works, teaching research and production skills, digital recording and editing, along with the fundamentals behind presenting various types of radio shows.
Why a radio course?
After being on radio a few times I wanted to learn more about how everything works. For me, this was a great opportunity to hear from the top people in Today FM, Ireland’s largest commercial independent radio station. Podcasts are something I’ve also contemplated making, so I was keen to learn the editing and production skills needed.
As it turned out, the course exceeded my expectations and I gained some valuable insights that I think apply to almost every industry. After all, no matter what product or service a company sells, they have to connect with their audience, their consumers, to generate a motivation to buy.
Radio stations are competing in a world of new media sources, but even up against other radio stations, they are competing for listeners with ever shorter attention spans, trigger happy to flick to the next station. Therefore, radio shows really have to know their audience.
Interestingly, each show distills their audience down to a single individual, with the content then skewed towards someone with that outlook. For Matt Cooper’s Last Word, it is a ’39 year old Munster Man’.
It was also interesting to learn about the constraints of commercial radio. In the end of the day, commercial radio is like any other business, they exist to make money. Presenters have much less flexibility than you might expect, but the best ones are able to work within the constraints and keep their individuality in order to deliver something different.
I learned something new every week on the course, but I found the lecture from Dermot Whelan, co-presenter of “Dermot and Dave”, to be the most inspirational and uplifting. He provided a reminder that the ultimate aim is to ‘develop connections’. Dermot and Dave have been hugely successful at getting people invested in their show.
Dermot told a great story of an American woman, Mary, who became a feature on their show at a previous radio station they worked for. Mary, from a small backwater town in Florida, was flicking through a radio app on a new phone she received as a gift and happened to come across the radio show ‘Dermot and Dave’. She e-mailed the show and her e-mails, written in southern drawl, caught the interest of the guys, who decided to read them out to listeners.
Well received by the listeners, they then started calling Mary and her on air personality became such a hit, the guys went to Florida and recorded the show for a week on the porch of her house. Next, they brought her to Ireland, recording the show from various castles around the country. Loved by the listeners, Mary even stayed with some of them during her first visit to Ireland.
What started with a random connection turned into a close relationship and the guys learned that Mary had been suffering in an abusive relationship. Stuck in a backwater town she just accepted that as her life. However, her time in Ireland, how well she was treated, that sense of mattering to people, empowered her to go back to the US and end the relationship. Her experience inspired her to see the value of her own life differently, all stemming from a random e-mail to two Irish lads on a radio show in Ireland.
The story was a reminder, that even if you reach one person, you can make a difference.
The value of trying new things
If you haven’t seen the 2005 commencement speech Steve Jobs gave at Stanford University, I encourage you to watch it. Jobs tells the story of dropping out of college but how he stuck around for 18 months ‘dropping in’ to classes that he thought looked interesting. One was a calligraphy class, which became the inspiration for Apple typography years later.
“If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.”
The point is that sometimes life is about accumulating experiences, not necessarily with any stated outcome or end goal, but that when we look back these experiences can come together in a meaningful way.
Obviously, Steve Jobs is in a league of his own. But on a smaller scale, I firmly believe in trying new things, broadening experiences as much as possible, which may at some point, open up new opportunities. Otherwise, I think life would be pretty boring. At worst, trying new things will make you a more interesting person.
So, while I know I won’t be taking over the Last Word any time soon, the radio course was definitely time well spent. Who knows, 2017 may be when I enter the world of Podcasts. Stay tuned!
Finally, one of our projects involved recording a live 20 minute show in the Today FM Studios. Below is the show my teammates and I recorded, an enjoyable experience.