On Tuesday, the day after I arrived back from holiday, I skipped up to Absolute Radio’s One Golden Square HQ for the second of their Demo Days. Judging by the enthusiastic tweets on Monday, the first Demo Day had gone well; there was much love from those who came for Absolute Radio’s Paul Sylvester’s practical advice on making a radio demo, and the been-there-done-it words of wisdom from ace presenter Sarah Champion.
I wanted to come along and help/discuss/put in my tuppenny’s worth because I respect Absolute Radio’s approach. Their Demo Days were a direct result of the recent survey of female presenters that Sound Women commissioned which revealed that women only make up 20% of radio show hosts, and the percentage drops further when it comes to breakfast and drive time programmes. As Paul said when I turned up, research is all very well, but that shouldn’t be the end of the story. If you don’t like the stats, then start changing them. The Demo Days were about doing just that: sharing tips and advice, offering constructive criticism, helping to boost radio women who want to progress in their careers.
On Tuesday, 40 women turned up for the three-hour session. Paul talked us all through the secrets of a successful radio demo, whether you want to be a presenter, a news reporter or a producer. His tips were simple and clear, such as put your demo on a Soundcloud link, make it no more and no less than three minutes long, check your sound quality, tailor your demo to the radio station you want to work at. Each of his eight points were accompanied by a picture of an inspiring audio woman: from Jenni Murray to Lauren Laverne to Emma Bunton, responsible for a massive increase in Heart FM’s listeners and yet still presumed to be second-in-command to Jamie Theakston.
Paul and Sarah had put together a demo for Sarah, which we heard after his tips; and what a punchy, upbeat, fast-moving listen it was. It showcased Sarah’s quick wit and charm, as well as her winning way with listeners. Sarah herself talked about her career, how hard she’d worked to ensure that she wasn’t just a sidekick but a solo presenter in her own right.
And then we listened to some of the demos that had been sent in by those in the room. The standard was encouragingly high, and the approaches surprisingly varied. We heard demos from news-readers who wanted to move into presenting, student radio presenters looking to learn, music specialists who wanted to hone their style. All had something to offer, all had something to learn.
Including me. I’ve been a journalist for 25 years, and have presented radio documentaries and specialist shows for the BBC. I review radio shows for The Observer. That doesn’t mean I know everything. What I relished about Absolute Radio’s Demo Days was the realisation that if you ask for help, people are willing to give it to you. And that’s a lovely lesson to learn.