Very few experienced radio announcers could say that their first experience on radio was among their best performances. Hosting a show takes years to master, and while you may reach a professional and acceptable level within 12-18 months, we’re all extremely thankful that constant exposure to a live on-air environment polishes our skills and boosts our confidence. Even seasoned pros cringe when they remember their first day at work.
Imagine being quite a shy kid and sitting at a microphone in a radio station for the first time, suddenly realising you’re live on air, talking to a large audience. As much as I wanted to achieve that goal, I probably underestimated the pressure I’d feel once it became a reality. Looking back, I can laugh at how awful my performance was but at the time it was far from being a laughing matter.
The year was 2000 and I was just 16 years old. The community radio station was Hot FM (now called Radio Metro). This was my first big break. I had four hours on air (6 – 10am) hosting the weekend breakfast show. Considering how well my debut went, I can imagine the station managers burying their heads in their hands as I burst (or more like stumbled) onto the scene.
I was terrible.
Unfortunately, I can still vividly remember the first time I spoke live on radio. After opening the show by saying hello and mentioning the great weather we’d been having, I was feeling confident, but that confidence soon evaporated as I announced the first song I’d be playing.
You’d think I’d remember which song I’d put in the CD player but having misplaced the CD case I suddenly went into extreme panic mode. This panic was heightened by the fact I’d told my audience that I couldn’t wait to play them the track because it was one of my favourites. Through my headphones I could hear exactly what the stunned audience would have heard: paper rustling as I searched for the CD case. By that stage, it’s a wonder you couldn’t hear my heart thumping. I’d planned to explain why I loved the song but that would be difficult to do when I’d forgotten what the song was. In the end I had no other choice but to simply hit play.
It’s incredible what the pressure of live radio can do to you. I was bright red from embarrassment. I went home that day feeling devastated. I’ll tell you right now that if there’s one pattern typical of young people in broadcasting, it’s the tendency to dwell on bad experiences. Was it a poor debut? Sure. Was my first day at work going to be my last? Well for a day or so I thought it was, but my determination wasn’t going to allow me to let that happen.
I turned up the next day and gave it another red hot go. I overcame the fear and learnt from my previous mistakes. Of course, it was still ordinary compared to performances I’m able to consistently deliver now but it was better than the debut. I continued to be embarrassed about my little breakfast show and I knew my friends were laughing at my discomfort, but like all things, it evolved.
When I look back, I thank God for that first experience. It taught me that things inevitably go wrong, and you need to learn to move on. Without that attitude, it would be impossible to be successful on such a public forum like live radio. It’s something every student at The Audio College should keep in mind as they launch their careers.
I think back to that 16-year-old kid and the balls he had to walk into a studio and speak to thousands of people. 20 years later and I’m still sitting behind a microphone and continue to make mistakes from time to time, but these days I’m just able to move on much quicker or I turn that awkward situation into a highlight that entertains my audience.