By Paul Long
There are lots of tips on the Internet on how to be a good radio presenter, or that dreaded word ‘personality’. But my google search brought no answers to my question of why one would want to be a radio presenter. Whatever talent I may or may not have for Radio comes from listening to (and working with, after a long career as a BBC radio producer) some of the best presenters and none of their gift came from these Internet tips:
Mention the station’s name in every link.
One link, one thought.
Learn how to sell.
Develop yourself as a personality that's larger than the format you present, so that you can switch from Top-40 to Oldies as you get older.
In Britain, I grew up listening to presenters like John Peel, Johnnie Walker, Bob Harris, Richard Baker, Humphrey Lyttelton and of course Paul Jones, ultimately becoming his Radio 2 blues show producer for seven years. They all taught me that you have to believe in what you are saying and playing, as the audience can spot a fake a mile away. Be yourself - it’s easier to maintain than some showbiz personality. If you’re interviewing somebody, your second question should depend on the answer to the first one.
All these presenters - and more besides I’m sure - are genuine, love the music they play, are skilled communicators and make you feel like they are talking just to you. But the thing that also wins out over a Spotify playlist is that you trust them to curate the programme, to go through all the records and find the gems, to play you what you want, but also to play you things you have never heard - in the belief that you will find them to be as great as they do.
These presenters were on national BBC networks and of course the BBC runs on different principles to commercial radio - no adverts breaking up the flow, no targets to meet and you have time to grow. This is I suppose possible in a publicly funded organisation with deep (but by no means bottomless!) pockets.
Over the last ten to fifteen years another side has been emerging, also not commercialised, and that has been the growth of internet radio and podcasting. A sort of democratisation, in that you don’t need access to big studios, transmitters, advertising or shareholders. Whilst producing Paul Jones I was looking around to see what other shows were out there and came across a podcast by Dave Raven, formerly of the British Forces Broadcasting Service, so a radio professional. But he was doing something different - a radio show not aimed at a mass market, although he grew to have a very large number of downloads and listeners, but targeted at a smaller niche of people who signed up for the download because they loved the sort of music he played. This is no longer a background, casual listener but somebody more motivated seeking out the show. Paul Jones and then Dave Raven were the two main influences on me wanting to present my own radio programmes - with Paul’s integrity and love of sharing the music, and Dave’s method of smaller, targeted radio being the inspiration. Now I am so pleased that my programmes are on Blues And Roots Radio, and I dare to hope that people who listen to my shows do so because they enjoy the music I pick. Roughly twelve tracks per show (of the hundreds of albums and downloads that come in) have to fight their way into each programme, so it is often not an easy process.
I mention all this as last month Dave Raven died. Not only was he a friend and an inspiration to me as a presenter, showing how this new medium could work, but he was also a friend to countless musicians he championed over the years. He was the mainstay of the IBBA (The Independent Blues Broadcasters Association in the UK), and a founding member of the UK Blues Federation. I’ll miss his weekly show from the houseboat on the Thames. Dave was an internet radio and podcast pioneer, as well as a lovely gentle man and we are the poorer without him.