Name: James West
Employer: BBC 5live
Job Title: Studio Director
What is the story of your career to date?
I began doing unpaid work at the local radio station in town when I was doing my O Levels (it’s a long time ago…). I made tea, cleaned up editing tape and started to learn some simple technical skills. I kept at through A Levels and my degree and was able to do some freelance work when I graduated. I successfully applied for a Trainee Studio Manager position with the BBC World Service in 1991 and was qualified by the end of two years. I stayed there til 1999, learning lots more and finely honing my technical skills.
I left London but stayed with the BBC then, moving to BBC Radio Merseyside, the local station in Liverpool. The great thing about local radio is that you get to do a wider range of roles. As well as technical work I did some reporting, producing and presenting. Again this was an opportunity to learn more stuff!
In 2006 my family moved to North Yorkshire and as there were no opportunities within the BBC close to our new home I resigned and applied for a job teaching audio production at an FE college. As well as sound and radio skills I had to teach sound for TV and Film as well as Sound for Video Games so again I had a lot to learn. I enjoyed working with the students but I’d never seen so much paperwork!
Then in 2012 we moved again to Manchester. BBC 5live was now based at MediaCityUK, so I emailed a former colleague who was now a manager in the operations team to see if there were any openings with them. After a couple of weeks training and familiarization I began freelancing as an SM at 5live then got offered a fixed-term contract for six months, which became twelve then eighteen months and eventually a permanent position. I am now Studio Director which is the more senior of the two roles we have in the ops team.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Studio Managers (SMs) and Studio Directors (SDs) at BBC 5live are responsible for operating all of the technical equipment in the studio to keep the station on air. This can include operating mixing desks to make sure the programmes sound smooth and include all of the right content at the right time. We also make sure all of the live contributors are ready to come on the programme at the right time. This could include phone-in callers, interviewees on the phone, Skype or Facetime and BBC correspondents at home and abroad. We have to be able to trouble-shoot technical faults and remain calm when busy live programmes get complicated. As the station is on air 24 hours a day, seven days a week we also work shifts, so if I’m working on the breakfast show I might start at 0430, but if I’m doing the late news programme I’ll not finish work until 0100. We also do night shifts, starting at 2200 and staying on shift until 0500. It’s not a job for someone who wants a routine 9-5 existence.
What skills do you think are important in your role?
An interest in audio equipment helps a lot. Technology is changing really quickly, so we like people who remain curious and are willing to learn new stuff all the time. “Soft skils” are also important, and we look for good communication skills, resilience under pressure and people who will be able to keep their mood light when they’re tired on nightshifts.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to do your job?
Do something that gets you some experience with sound equipment. If you’re musical, join a band and find out about the gear used for gigs. You could help the technical crew with the sound for school plays, or volunteer at a community or hospital radio station. We don’t limit recruitment to graduates or people with lots of A*s at A level – you’re experience with sound equipment is much more important.
Does your employer offer volunteering/apprenticeship opportunities?
There’s loads of information at http://www.bbc.co.uk/careers/trainee-schemes-and-apprenticeships
What is the best thing about your job?
Saturday afternoons between 12 and 6, mixing 5live Sport with reporters at more than 20 different sporting venues. It requires a lot of concentration, but is really rewarding when you get to the end of the programme and the editor thanks you for a clean, error-free transmission.
Where can I find out more?
bbc.co.uk/getin has lots of information about entry level positions at the BBC.