Chris Sykes, BBC Newcastle – How Will Buckley Started My Radio Career

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Chris Sykes, now Broadcast Assistant with BBC Newcastle, found his way into the radio station via work experience.  Here’s why he impressed the BBC, and why they wanted to keep him around:

(Here’s Tim John’s original post on tips for how to make the most of, and not screw up, your work experience placement.)

“Well the speculation in the papers this morning link Sunderland with the Brighton pair of Liam Bridcutt and….erm…who’s the other player?”

chris sykes

Chris Sykes, Broadcast Assistant at BBC Newcastle & SportsBeat Reporter

It’s about 6:15pm on Monday January 6th, 2014; the first day of my work experience placement with the Total Sport team at BBC Newcastle.

I’m sat in the broom cupboard-sized phone-in booth, alongside Vicki, the show’s producer.  There’s four computer screens crammed on to one work bench, which barely has room for two people.

As any football fan knows, January means the mid-season transfer window is open.  That makes it the perfect time to go on work experience with a sportsdesk, particularly one that covers two high profile, well-supported clubs in Newcastle and Sunderland.

In January, rumours are always swirling around about which clubs might sign whom and inevitably on a daily football phone-in, those rumours, truthful or not, will be discussed.

The show’s presenter, Simon Pryde, is talking about just that; speculation in the local papers that Sunderland are after two Brighton players.  One problem, only Liam Bridcutt’s name springs to his mind.

Straightaway, I press the red switch on the talkback mic into the studio and excitedly shout “Will Buckley” into Prydey’s headphones.

“Will Buckley, of course,” he exclaims.  And the show carries on as normal.

Now I must confess, the title of this post is slightly misleading.  That one small incident didn’t really get me my first job in radio.  Knowing Will Buckley’s name isn’t something listed on the BBC Careers Hub competencies for a broadcast assistant’s job.

But, given I was on work experience, knowing his name did do a number of things which helped create a positive impression about myself.

  • Firstly, it showed I was paying attention to the programme I was shadowing.  Presenters and producers get infuriated by work experience students who fiddle with their phones or look aimlessly into space when they’re shadowing, particularly while the show is on air.  Not listening suggests you’re not interested. And if you’re not interested, why bother at all?
  • Secondly, it showed I’d done my research.  I was working on a sports phone-in in January.  It’s a fair bet transfers are going to come up.  It didn’t take a lot therefore to read the local papers, to see what the latest rumours involving Newcastle and Sunderland, or to glance around the internet.  That’s where I picked up that knowledge from.
  • Finally, it showed I was able to use my initiative.  I could have sat there looking nervously and not done anything.  Strictly speaking, I should have told Vicki, let her double-check and then tell the presenter.  But a pause of even a few second feels like a lifetime on-air.  I was certain of the information and went for it.
chris sykes with jeremy vine

When Chris Sykes met a radio hero, Jeremy Vine

All this might seem like a massive over-analysis of one small point.  But it did help me stand out as someone who was genuinely interested and enthusiastic.  And that really helps.

For the rest of my work experience placement I was vox-popping outside the Stadium of Light after a Sunderland game at quarter to ten at night.  I was editing audio and writing scripts.  I was finding contributors and stories.  I was doing research on items in the programme.

On all these tasks, I’d had a head start.  For the previous 10 years, I’d been volunteering in radio, both in hospital and student radio.  I’d learnt about scripting, editing, vox-popping and researching.  So when I was asked to do them on placement, I knew exactly what I was doing.

Doing these tasks made me low maintenance.  By that I mean I could be given a task and I’d complete it to a good standard.  In short, I was working as an extra member of the team, rather than as a work experience student who needed their hand holding.

To me, that’s what any work experience student should be aiming for.  Of course you’ll need to ask questions and of course there are things you’ll need to learn.  But if you’ve done your research, got a placement that’s right for you and then shown enthusiasm, you should be able to work as if you’re part of the team.

It shouldn’t be forgotten that, when on work experience, you’re in a professional environment.  The people looking after you do have their jobs to do as well.  They can’t spend every minute making sure you are all right and content.  That’s when you need initiative to get one with things yourself.

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Chris Sykes, Broadcast Assistant at BBC Newcastle & SportsBeat Reporter

A month after my work experience placement, I was back at the station, doing casual work as a broadcast assistant on the sportsdesk.

Within six months, I’d gone from just covering when others were away, to having two shifts a week of my own, on a Monday and Saturday.  And I picked up any cover work.

A year later, I was on a staff contract, presenting bulletins as well as helping with Total Sport’s production.

And all without having to make a single cup of tea.

I don’t think it’s difficult to make a success of a work experience placement.  So long as you get the right placement for you, do your research and come prepared with ideas that you can work on, particularly in the quieter times when you’re left to your own devices, there’s no reason for anyone not to impress.

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