One third of the North East’s hit breakfast trio, Bodg, Matt and Hannah, Capital FM’s Matt Bailey writes about his journey to success.
“You’ll never be a radio presenter.”
This was the second time I had heard those words. The first time being from my Grandad Doug, who insisted I should be getting ready for a life down the pit instead of flirting with the idea of such a worthless career. I’m pretty sure he still believes solar windmills are in fact secretly run on coal fuelled generators beneath the ground.
The difference was this time it wasn’t just my stout fossil fuel loving Yorkshire grandfather attempting to stub out all ambition in my young heart, this was an actual professional hired solely for the purpose of shattering young people’s hopes and aspirations. I mean her official title was ‘Career Guidance Expert’, but I prefer to go with ‘Dream Breaker’.
“…it just doesn’t happen. What else do you want to do?”
“I like architecture” (by this I meant I had seen the Sydney Opera House in pictures and thought it looked cool)
“And just like that I was whisked off to the council offices to spend the next week drawing and re-drawing a toilet for some village hall in the middle of nowhere. This was the single biggest turning point of my life.”
Not because my drive to be a radio presenter was extinguished in one foul snap of an unsupportive clipboard, but because it was this exact moment I knew I was unequivocally going to reach my goal. Well I say this exact moment. A week of drawing toilet shaped images is probably enough to drive even the most downbeat pessimist to buy a raffle ticket. So I did just that.
When I say “buy a raffle ticket” I actually mean get some GCSEs and some A-levels, go to university and discover that no amount of 5-a-side with the lads can combat the effects of drinking five times a week, worm my way into a work experience before hanging on like a clingy monkey child to every tiny opportunistic banana they would toss my way.
The most I’ve ever won from an actual raffle, and I know that’s the information you’re clamouring to hear, was a lace toilet roll holder in the shape of a poodle. Fortunately this time all the effort didn’t simply end in a novelty pooch shaped cover and I eventually clawed together enough paid work to call it a job.
Without doubt the most important element of my progression, that really kickstarted my entire career, was the six week work experience I managed to secure as part of the news team at Metro Radio. This was my first infiltration of an actual radio station and I was damned if I was going to let it go (ignore those lasses from Frozen, they’re princesses and get everything on a plate).
“I dressed up in my smartest shirt and tie, complimented by the two-sizes too big suit my mum had bought me for job interviews that I would apparently “grow into”, and headed off for my first day. It turned out to be a mess. Quite literally in fact, as only one hour in I had been shot in the head by the paintball gun wielding programme director (the boss) from the other end of the office.”
Of course I complimented him on his impeccable aim, not meaning a word because my head is that big it has it’s own gravitational field, and got on with the rest of my day with yellow paint splattered across my neck and back. On top of that, one of the reporters kept getting so stressed he periodically hyperventilated into a bag, I interviewed a woman who told me I had a face for radio (yes people still insist on actually using this joke today, and yes I still pretend it’s the first time i’ve heard it), and I spent the majority of my time and effort turning a press release into a carefully crafted A4 size script to be included in the nightly news bulletin. After six hours of writing and re-writing I was informed it needed to be no longer than two lines of text. Incredibly I made day two.
“The learning curve in those first few weeks was steeper than anything I had ever encountered, bar that time as a seven year old when I got stuck down the wrong side of the giant slide at Ashington soft play.”
Unlike my younger self I didn’t shrink into a crying mess, I absolutely loved it. This was the first time I had been surrounded by people who already did what I wanted to do and I couldn’t believe the information on offer. If you do ever get into this position the most important advice I can offer you is to listen. Listen like you’ve never listened before! Would you go to a Stephen Hawking lecture on the origins of the universe and chat throughout? Of course not. Even if you thought Stephen was a touch misguided on some of his conclusions, you listen. Pick brains, take notes (take endless notes, and just when you think you’ve taken enough start a new notebook), ask questions, you might not get another chance.
My six week work experience turned into ten (radio stations love a worker they don’t have to pay) and with a lot of hard work I finally convinced them to give me a job as an assistant producer on the football. I worked all the way through my final year at university driving home to produce highlight packages with the small amount of pay just about covering my petrol to and from Leeds where I was studying.
“I graduated and immediately began to pester for more shifts, making up my wage by returning to the summer job i’d had since I was sixteen shelving books in a library. I’m sure you can imagine this was an incredibly difficult task for a man who likes to talk a lot, although if I ever go on mastermind I will definitely have the dewey decimal system as my specialist topic.”
Seriously, blindfold me and put me in a library, don’t worry this isn’t the start to some library based fifty shades of grey spinoff, and ask me to find the journals on nursing the elderly and I’ll have it for you within three minutes. I’m pretty sure this might class as an actual superpower. Alas I was to eventually hang up my superhero cloak as within six months the fact I was willing to do anything and everything at Metro meant that I had enough different bits of work cobbled together from numerous departments to call myself an employee.
When I say everything, I mean everything. From producing sport, news, adverts, weekend shows where the presenters pre-recorded links because they couldn’t be bothered to get up on a Sunday, to relabelling CDs (Approximately 10,000 to be exact which promptly got binned on completion) I helped move premises by building studios, constructing furniture, and rewiring telephones, and I still have a scar above my left eye that i’m pretty sure served as the inspiration for Harry Potter’s distinguishing lightning mark. While I like to think it’s equally as impressive in stature, mine was caused from a falling phone unit rather than a failed attempt by the all powerful dark lord of the wizarding world failing to take my life, consequently sapping him of all power and saving the world from his wrath. You win this one Potter. Although he who must not be named returned to terrorise the masses, all that phone has done is ring harmlessly.
That scar serves as a reminder that, while I sit and sip coffee and talk rubbish with my friends (Bodg and Hannah, my co-hosts and Thomas our producer) every morning in what I call the best job in the world, somewhere along the way I did put in a lot of hard work to get to where I am today. Where is that you ask? Well in a nutshell, and believe me I struggle with the whole brief nutshell thing, I worked my way up through the ranks at Metro Radio before moving to TFM to be their on-air breakfast show producer. I would go into details as to what exactly a producer does but that’s a whole other story and not particularly nutshell friendly. Just over six and a half years ago I moved to produce breakfast at Capital FM North East before being offered my dream job as presenter six months later. Obviously the last six years have been equally as hard work as the previous seven, it’s just I no longer have to relabel CDs that are destined for the rubbish dump. Every day we strive to create the most engaging show for our listeners, sometimes working on features for days only for them to last mere seconds on-air. I never finish a show 100% happy and i’ve always said if there’s ever a day this happens it’s time for me to quit.
People often come to me and ask how to become a radio presenter, and you may be reading this asking the same question. Unfortunately i’m not sure i’m really qualified to offer any help as i’m still learning everyday myself. What I tend to do is give them a shortened version of the working life history that you have just had to endure, and then give them a few bits of advice that I like to spout like some sort of oracle. To be honest I think they serve anyone well, not just someone looking to pursue a career in media.
Get experience and really use it. If you’re lucky enough to get even a single day working or shadowing in the field you want to work make sure you squeeze every last drop out of it…then ask for more.
Be persistent. Even if someone shoots you in the head with a paintball gun, put on a clean shirt and go back again and again.
Listen to people who know more than you, in my case that’s a lot. I still listen to interviews and podcasts with other presenters who are far more talented than I will ever be, just hoping to pick up a few morsels that I can use to further my abilities.
Believe in yourself. Don’t let anyone tell you what you can or can’t do, the only limit to your achievement is you. You might be interested to know I got my Grandad onto the radio as part of a feature we did and he now thinks he’s the next Terry Wogan. I also do regular careers day presentations at my old school, with the emphasis on chasing the dream you want not the one that someone else believes you can achieve.
And finally make sure you strive to leave your mark, whatever it may be, somewhere out there in the world. I know if everything comes toppling down around me, if I lose my job and my radio career goes down the pan, I know that out there in the depths of the Northumberland countryside, in a small and underused village hall behind an old wooden door lies my toilet, and no-one can ever take that away from me.