Job titles and job descriptions rarely do enough to tell you whether you realistically have a shot at getting a position or not. And that’s very true when you’re starting out at the BBC. ‘Producer’, ‘Researcher’, ‘Broadcast Assistant’ and others are titles thrown around that do nothing to explain how much experience you might need to get that job.
I started in student radio where most people do some sort of ‘producer’ role – but knowing how that experience applies to being a BBC ‘Producer’ can be mystifying. So the below is some information I wish I’d had when I graduated and set out to work for the BBC. It certainly won’t ‘demystify’, but it may ‘very very slightly demystify something’.
The organisation is so big, and job titles are so few, that no doubt for much of what I write there will be examples for which the opposite is true. I’m also only going to write about a few examples, otherwise we’ll be here all week.
I’ve done a few jobs in BBC radio where the headline job-title didn’t really sum up quite what I did.
When I was a Broadcast Assistant I often felt more like an Assistant Producer, and sometimes even a Technical Operator. As a local radio Broadcast Journalist I usually thought I was more of a Producer or Presenter, and now I’m a Producer I feel more like a Broadcast Journalist. And so on.
Job titles are more like job grades
The first and perhaps most important thing to say about BBC job titles in radio, is that they often say far more about the ‘grade/level’ of the job than about what that job specifically involves. To make it more complicated, different departments can use different titles for what are often broadly the same jobs.
When looking at job titles on the BBC jobs website, it’s worth taking a closer look at the job’s numerical grade. You’ll see a number from 1 – 11. The majority of jobs are grades 3 – 7, and the grades give you a better idea of how senior the job is and correspondingly how much experience you might need to stand a chance of getting it. It goes without saying that where the job is plays a huge part in its competitiveness too – a grade 5 job on the Radio 1 breakfast show is infinitely more competitive than a grade 5 job as the district reporter for Slough (no offence if that job actually exists and it’s yours).
In fact, not so long ago I had a grade 5 staff job (permanent) in local radio and applied for a grade 2 part-time job on a national programme I really wanted to work on. That’s unusual, but such can be the discrepancy. I didn’t get it.
Local vs. National
You could be doing a pretty much identical job in BBC Local Radio to a job on national radio but have a different job title. Titles also differ between different national networks.
On top of that there are the ‘nations’ – BBC Wales/Scotland/Northern Ireland. They have a whole mix of all the different job titles used by network and by local radio.
And on top of that you can make BBC programmes for independent production companies – those companies choose their own job titles (often in line with the BBC) – but I’m leaving that out of this post.
BBC Local Radio
Over-generalising (as I am through this entire post) the local radio ‘ranks’ are a bit like this:
- Broadcast Assistant – grade 3
- Broadcast Journalist – grade 5 (more experienced staff and some positions will be grade 7)
- Senior Broadcast Journalist – grade 8 (and up)
- Senior broadcast journalists make up a lot of the management team (eg. News Editor) and the boss of the station is the Managing Editor.
The most striking omission from this list is ‘Presenter’. Typically, BBC Local Radio presenters are categorised as ‘Broadcast Journalists’ – which because of the news-focussed programming, they often are.
Something also lacking from local radio is the ‘Producer’ job title. You can be an assistant producer or the producer of a programme in local radio but your main job title will be Broadcast Assistant or Broadcast Journalist. Likewise, in network radio (national) your job title may be Producer or Researcher but depending on the programme you may need to be a broadcast journalist first and foremost.
The ‘entry level’ job in local radio is usually the Broadcast Assistant role. But if you’re just starting out (even if you’ve done lots of student radio for example) you may not find it easy to simply apply for a job at a station you’ve never worked in and get it (see the last bit of this post for a more typical route in to employment).
If you’re fresh out of a journalism post-grad you may be aiming for a Broadcast Journalist job. The majority of people getting their first BBC Local Radio Broadcast Journalist job have either freelanced for a while at the station where they finally get a contract, have come from a job in commercial radio, or sometimes have come from newspaper/print/online.
Network radio is understandably more complicated because it covers hundreds of programmes across multiple networks. But I just want to mention a few job titles that I often hear graduates discussing, wondering whether they should apply or not. With the grades below – they can all be +2 in some instances.
- Unit Assistant – grade 2
- Broadcast Assistant – grade 3/5
- Assistant Producer – grade 5
- Researcher – grade 5
- Broadcast Journalist – grade 7
- Producer – grade 7
- Senior Producer/Editor/other – grades 8 and above
Even more so in network (because of its even more competitive nature) if you’re starting your career and apply for a full-time contract as any of these positions you’re unlikely to get too far. Normally people get work experience and the occasional paid shift, and work their way up the ladder from there, or get experience elsewhere then move across.
I’d like to highlight a couple of job titles above that are a little misleading to anyone browsing the BBC jobs website for the first time. I know a lot of people, based purely on the title, assume ‘Assistant Producer’ and ‘Researcher’ roles would be quite junior and within their reach. And why not, one’s got ‘assistant’ in the title and one seems to be about doing (for all you know) ‘a bit of background research’ for whatever the programme is. But those roles aren’t typically entry-level jobs, and getting a full-time contract as an AP or Researcher on a national BBC radio station is a rare thing as your first paid radio job.
The issue of contracts is a whole other essay. But typically the longer the contract the more competitive it might be. If you’re starting out you’ve far less chance of going straight in with a job that’s advertised as permanent (continuing). Equally a 12-month contract may be more difficult to get than a 3-month contract.
A typical way to get a job
Ok – there’s not really a typical scenario because there will be examples of just about everything under the sun. But this is a route that I’ve seen time and time again:
- Sitting in on a show can often lead to work experience
- That can lead to continued work experience on a particular programme
- Eventually, along comes an opportunity for paid shifts on freelance/casual contract
- Now you’re on the books and part of a team – you may get more shifts on more teams across the radio station you’re working for
- Now you’re in a good position to apply for a full-time contract if one comes up. Alternatively if something comes up the boss might be able to give you a short contract (for example to cover absence or work on a special project)
- Once you’re on a contract, if you apply elsewhere for similar roles you’ll have more chance (not just because ‘being on a contract’ is important, but typically by this stage you’ll have a lot more experience)
- Once you’re on a fixed-term contract in a particular department (ie. for a specified period of time, normally a number of months), you have a better chance at getting a permanent job if one comes up
More questions than answers?
Hopefully not – confusing as it all may be I hope that helps more than it hinders. Having a realistic expectation of a job you’re applying for is better than being ill-informed. However – please don’t let any of the above put you off applying for jobs you think might be ‘above’ you. I very much subscribe to the view that it’s always worth giving it a go. I over-enthusiastically applied to dozens of jobs in the past and got nowhere!
Leave a comment if you’ve any questions and if I don’t know the answer, I’ll find someone who does.