Iain Dale’s Advice to Young People Considering a Career in Radio

by Chris Jackson

Everybody has got to work towards achieving their dreams in life. Most people have ambitions. There are people in this world who are very comfortable doing a nine to five job, and never do any work at home. Their evenings and weekends are for relaxation and family and whatever. 

Then there’s the other sort of person, which is what I am: somebody who never really switches off. I’ve always had ambitions – and my two ambitions when I was at university, were either to be a member of parliament, or to be a radio presenter. Now I had a good go at being a member of parliament, but there was a bit of electoral pushback so that didn’t happen. 

But in respect of my second ambition, I would I say one of the lessons is: it’s never too late. I was 48 when I got the gig on LBC – and I thought I’d had it, and that I wasn’t going to achieve that as well. But I just happened to take the initiative at the right time.

The guy who was running LBC ten years ago saw something in me that others hadn’t. I always knew that I could be a good radio presenter but, of course, you’re always reliant on getting the opportunity. I didn’t get that job because of who I knew. But I got an opportunity to do an audition at LBC, and I thought it had gone terribly but clearly hadn’t. I’d gotten imposter syndrome! I started doing some cover programmes in 2009, and then they offered me a five day a week show in September 2010, and I’ve been there ever since. It’s the best job I’ve ever had.

So don’t think everybody is automatically ever going to be able to achieve what they want to achieve in life. Life isn’t like: it can throw a lot of hurdles in your way. But application, persistence and patience can get you a long way.

Of course, radio presenting is a very precarious profession. You’re not employed – except insofar as you’re taken on a fixed contract. That contract can finish at any point and it can come when you least expect it. It has a finish date, and I’ve always assumed that they wouldn’t renew it. I’m 58 now. I’ve had 10 years. If it all finished tomorrow I could have absolutely no complaints. And I’m not going to be one of those radio presenters who flounces off. You know at some point, you will be got rid of. your contract won’t be renewed you haven’t been sacked, they just haven’t been able to contract. At some point, they will decide that they want to put some new blood into the daytime schedule, and one of us will be the unlucky one. Now, it may be me – who knows. I hope to be there for some time to come.

Of course, there are other career routes within radio, and I’m sometimes asked whether it’s possible to make a living producing radio programmes. That’s now very different to what it was. It’s a lot more difficult to get into now than it was 20 or 30 years ago. You have to have a broadcasters degree, and it’s very rare that you get taken on if you haven’t got a professional qualification. Though there are exceptions to that, they are very rare exceptions. 

There’s a guy at LBC now who hasn’t got the traditional qualifications, but he literally came in at the age of 18. He just came in, shadowing one day, and somebody saw something in him – and he made himself indispensable. He’s now producing for Nick Ferrari at a very young age and you think, “Well, good on him!” 

I always remember in about 1994, I took on a politics student – and he had something. I like to talent spot. He said, “I really want to get into political broadcasting.” I said, “Well, Sky News Milbank studios are literally 400 yards down the road. Go, and just turn up a reception. Say you want to see Adam Bolton and tell him that I sent you”. And he ended up effectively making Adam Bolton’s tea for a couple of weeks, and – to cut a long story short – ended up as the editor of Tonight with Trevor McDonald, and This Morning. But this was in 1994 – I don’t think you could do that nowadays. But maybe you could. 

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