Archives For April 2016

Prince has died at the age of 57. Yesterday it was Victoria Wood. David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Terry Wogan, Ronnie Corbett…the list of cultural giants who have passed away this year doesn’t end there.

For a few years now I’ve been boring friends and colleagues with my theory that the rate of ‘celebrity-deaths’ (please pardon the crude phrase) is only going to rise over time. It’s almost too easy to point to 2016 as evidence of this – but I do think it provides food for thought. It also provides a reason for me to write the following: we need to start the discussion about how the media covers celebrity deaths in the future. Why? Because I worry that these deaths will become so frequent that the way we currently do it is not sustainable.

“We’re entering an era of mass celebrity death”

Not sustainable?

When these famous people lost their lives this year, the coverage has been, arguably, suffocating. If you’re a Twitter user there’s no point in looking at your feed for hours after the news breaks unless you want to read the same tributes a thousand times over. And unless C-listers who-sort-of-vaguely-knew-the-celebrity-in-question relaying tenuous anecdotes at length is your thing, you must avoid any radio/tv/online outlet which deals with breaking news. World leaders pay tribute. And so on it goes.

Of course – for fans of the person who has just died – this coverage will always be appropriate. I’m not saying any outlet got their coverage wrong this year. I just wonder if we need to think more about how it’s done in the future because I believe it will happen more and more. And what do we do when two massive ‘names’ pass away on the same day as a massively important news event (eg. EU Referendum day)? The news world could implode.

The rate of ‘celebrity deaths’ will increase

In the age of The Beatles there simply weren’t enough media outlets to facilitate many big celebrities. Since then…radio blossomed, TV became commonplace in every UK household, the numbers of channels increased, magazine publishing went into overdrive, the internet arrived, smartphones and tablets came on the scene, and blogs and vlogs have recalibrated how easily and quickly people could become significant celebrities and role models for an entire generation. There are LOADS of celebrities these days.

I know, I know…the likes of Bowie and Prince truly are unique due to their position in history. When there were fewer world-famous artists each one had a deeper meaning (arguably) to a greater number of people. But in the same way that humans are capable of having anywhere between two and 200 friends they know and care about, I believe we are all capable of liking and caring about a huge number of celebrities. And there are simply more celebrities now.

We’re entering an era of mass-celebrity-death

The only news that ever gets reported will be about death. We’ve had a taste of that this year – and it ain’t right.

Sorry, I don’t mean to sound crass. But if the ‘media revolution’ happened in the 50s and 60s – then the increased number of people we nationally love and care about are becoming more and more at risk of their lives coming to an end. Five, ten, twenty years from now that trend will increase massively. So if a daily ‘celebrity death’ becomes the norm – how should the media deal with it? Should there be rolling news coverage of each one? Should regular TV and radio programming be replaced by tribute programmes every time? Should big news stories be pushed aside for obituaries?

Of course – the answer will depend each time on who it is. Personally, I think the way forward is less blanket-coverage.

Immediate tributes – yes. Well-crafted and thoughtful obits on the evening news – yes. Hours/days of rolling coverage? No. A few years from now, if ‘celebrity death rates’ increase, I just don’t think that will be possible. Otherwise, the only news that ever gets reported will be about death. We’ve had a taste of that this year – and it ain’t right.


I’ve just listened back to last Friday’s episode of ‘More of Less’ (Radio 4, 15th April 2016).
They looked at whether more celebrities have died in 2016 than in other years, and discovered how many ‘official’ BBC obituaries have been run in the first quarter of this year compared to the years since 2012.


I was pleased to hear the BBC’s Obituaries Editor, Nick Serpell, sort-of agree with part of my argument. Here’s what he said on the programme:

Before television arrived in the early 1950s, the only really famous people that people came across all the time were movie stars – because they went to the cinema.

In the 50s we had television, that brought more famous people into people’s rooms. Music in particular; we had the growth of rock and roll. Remember The Who sang about ‘my generation’, hoping that they’d die before they got old. But whilst some of them did, the majority of them didn’t. And all these people, in the ‘rise and the growth of celebrity’, if you like, are now reaching that period in their 70s and 80s where they’re going to start to die, and I think that’s causing this.

I did a talk on this subject at this year’s Student Radio Conference in Cardiff.

Clearly everyone had the time of their lives at this talk

Clearly everyone had the time of their life at this talk

Yes, some of it is blindingly obvious, but I thought it needed saying because I see people come in for radio placements/internships/shadowing at Radio 2 a lot. And so often, people get the little things wrong.

Don’t be useless at making phone calls

If you’re asked to pick up the phone and book a guest, take a deep breath and go for it. You need to be charming and persuasive. It can be slightly daunting making this first phone call in an open-plan office but if you come across badly and the guest says “no” that’s not great.

The more 'student-friendly' title of the talk

The more ‘student-friendly’ title of the talk (Pic: Jen Thomas)

Be nice

Take this one with you for life. It goes a long way. No-one in radio likes the person with the massive ego. Or the one who’s unfriendly or bossy. Just…be nice.

Sitting in on a show? Turn your phone off

Well, ok, you can keep it on but put it in your pocket and leave it there. Sure – take a photo. Send a tweet. If the programme needs some urgent fact-finding done get on the Google. But as much as you can, put it away and give your absolute undivided attention to the programme you’re there to watch. I asked Jeremy Vine for a hard-line view on this:

Offer to help

If you’ve been sitting around in the office for a while wondering what to do, ask people if you can help. If they’re clearly right up against it, maybe wait a while. But be pro-active. And if they say “not just now, thanks”, then don’t worry about it. At least you asked.

Make tea

Look – I thought about leaving this one out. It’s such a whopping cliché. BUT British broadcasting is fuelled by tea and coffee. It is VITAL. If it makes you feel better, I may be a Producer and reporter for Radio 2 but during our programme every day it is my job to make the tea! I somewhat enjoy it.

Radio 4’s Paddy O’Connell backs me up:


You’re never too senior to make the tea, people are always grateful to be asked, and you can’t go wrong by asking. So do it.

Ask good questions at the right time

Every bit of this sentence is important. Ask good questions. It’s the easiest way to show you’re keen, engaged and interested. BUT – never ask a question for the sake of it. You need to be genuinely interested and inquisitive. If you are, your question will probably be good. You also need to ask them at the right time. Some people are unable to sense when everyone around them is chaotically busy and continue asking questions regardless. Hold fire until there’s a good moment.

Know the basics about the station you’re visiting

Basic basics, right? But people genuinely get this wrong. Here’s some advice from BBC 5Live:


This isn’t like work experience you did at school when you were 16: ‘just to have a look’. If you want to work in a competitive industry then this is now about having a look but also making a great impression. Treat any placement like a mini job interview. It’s often the thing that leads to an actual job interview. And you’d never turn up at a 5Live job interview not knowing who the station presenters were. (Right? Please – never do that!).

Here’s a crucial thing…

Suppose you shadow on a programme you probably never want to work on. Perhaps you got an offer to come and visit; maybe you just love the industry and want to have a look at different radio stations. You still need to take it seriously. Do your research. Know about the station.

Why? Because the radio industry is surprisingly small. The assistant producer who thinks you look a bit bored when you shadow at Radio 3 could be the person who turns you down for your dream job five years later at Kerrang.


I don’t mean be well behaved. I mean be good at what you do. Be good at making and understanding radio – following advice like the above isn’t enough. ‘Asking good questions’ won’t get you a job on its own. Putting your best link at the start of your demo won’t get you a presenting gig if your best link is a bit rubbish. Always keep practicing and improving. Find out what you’re good at. Follow that.

Good luck! And finally, listen to Jacob from Radio 1 because he’s very wise and would like to apologise on behalf of us all for why part of your work experience might be a teeny bit rubbish:



Since posting this I’ve had some delightful responses from other radio-folk about how people have messed up their work experience. Here are just a few real-life stories:

“One person from the local university FELL ASLEEP in the studio!”

“I remember a guy who refused to make tea when the producer asked. He said it was ‘beneath him’. I explained that if he wanted to get on – it’s part of the deal! The producer was livid. In contrast, someone else on placement made tea every ten minutes. I preferred them.”

“My favourite was sitting next to someone on work experience who was on the phone to a guest. I heard him say: “the frequency?”. Then he turned to me and said “what’s a frequency?”.”

“Sometimes they don’t turn up on day two of work experience, and say ‘I don’t think this is really stretching me’.”

“Answering calls on the phone-in with the wrong station name was a personal highlight of mine for one work-experience person recently.”

“I like the ones that call me for work experience. I say “email me”, they then ask for my name, email and the name of my company! Come on people!! We now only go for people who present ideas when they approach us.”

“Someone on work experience once missed me off a tea round. Never forgiven him.”

“Well…there was someone in for work experience at Radio Lincolnshire who thought they were at Lincs FM…”

“As a press officer I set up an interview for a reporter who was on radio work experience. Her questions were ok but she didn’t ask for the interviewee’s name and title until two hours later.”

“I had someone ‘keen’ to shadow a show. I know it was a breakfast show but she came late, left early and never said thank you.”

“Not listening to the breakfast show on the day you arrive…not dressing for work…not knowing the name of any of the presenters…”

Here’s a fantastic bit of advice for anyone on radio work experience:
“Have a headphone splitter in your pocket – watching people edit is v useful; hearing it is even better!”

And here are some words from my former boss:
“There was the girl who didn’t know that the water had to be boiling to make tea…and the one whose mum came with her…and the lad who spent most of his time picking bogies out of his nose and eating them. We have some lovely ones though! And we’ve employed a lot of them. You are right to point out that it IS an extended job interview and those who prepare even a tiny bit will benefit. I’m amazed that some people don’t bother.”

You can mess it up…but go on to great things…

Many people survive a disaster and live to tell the tale! Radio supremo boss-man Matt Deegan says this:
“As a work experience at 2CR when I was aged 14 I recorded over Classic Gold’s pre-recorded news with me practicing. It went out for a few hours. Eeek. When asked if I did it, I denied it. I wasn’t sure what I was denying at that point.”

Here’s some more from the very successful Steve Martin:
“During my BBC traineeship I played out entirely the wrong Schoenberg piece on Radio 3. Nobody noticed.”

There’s this too:
“I know someone who played a Christmas carol service out with wrong side of the tape hitting the head.”

And this:
“When I did a placement year at Virgin, I somehow deleted the WHOLE website… Still got hired after uni. :D.
The colour of my face that day is one unknown to the usual human skin palette. I WAS MORTIFIED.”


Got more stories? Let me know and I’ll add them.