Mentoring Radio Talent

By Earl Pilkington

Recently, I chatted with my personal ‘mentor’ Mat Cummins and also a recent graduate of a radio school, Christian Dichiera, to discover their thoughts on the world of mentorship within the radio industry in Australia.

When you take on the role of mentor “…you are not doing it for any other reason than to genuinely try to help someone to get better,” says Mat Cummins.

Uncovering, coaching and growing that new talent is a challenge for anyone in management in radio. Who are the next generation of producers, copywriters and on-air talent? What are they doing right now? What are they listening to? And, how do we find them?

“There is no one perfect solution anymore… now you can find people in the strangest of places…”

From copywriting to production, on-air voice talent and even behind the scenes, all of these new initiates into radio need help and guidance.

While there are the traditional radio schools where they get an understanding across the board in multiple departments “…I have also found people through competitions, people that I didn’t even know existed.”

“They have to have just the right ‘attitude’, and that’s when you’ll say ‘Hey! Have you ever thought about a career in radio?’”

But, how do you grow that talent, and mentor them to become more?

From a programming perspective it used to be “…here’s you big chance… do it or die”, and some people just didn’t cope with the pressure.

Now, “you need to establish where they feel most comfortable, make them feel good about where they are coming from… and then add challenges to them at different levels.” You need to help set their immediate goals, and establish what it is you both need, then discover how to achieve those goals.

There is no one size fits all process either. Some people in radio need their hands held and guided. Others you can just point them in the right direction and they ‘GO!’ It’s the structure of your mentorship and coaching (the type of guidance and duration of it) and the work environment around them that can make all the difference.

Through social media and the internet, people are now able to reach out across the world and find their own mentors too. I came in contact with Christian Dichiera through Linked-In when he was seeking guidance with commercial scripts.

Christian says that “It’s a bit scary at first. (It’s my) first time in the industry and at the start of my career.” His PD at Redwave is one of Christian’s mentors, “I can go to him and he gives me lots and lots of feedback.” But people from outside his current employment play a huge role for him too, from past and present lecturers, to fellow students and his social media contacts.

It is the honesty of mentorship and the 360 degree feedback you get when something is working or not working that can inspire you, and can drive you both to do more, and do better.

Mat feels that “the most wonderful and exciting and fulfilling feeling you get from the industry… is when people succeed beyond your expectations. I love it when people that I used to mentor (and work with) win ACRAs (Australian Commercial Radio Association Awards) and get recognised with other awards too”

However, “…as a mentor it’s devastating when someone doesn’t perform” Mat reflectively says, “in the back of your mind you would like to know as a mentor of people that you have given them enough tools to hopefully reach great heights… it may not be the way that you are coaching them, it may be just them.”

Mat adds that, “it’s a wonderful industry, and in Australia we have really set very high standards, which is a great thing… but I do find it a shame that there is not more mentoring across networks.”

“We are very, very lucky (to work in radio) and sometimes I think we forget that. We take certain things for granted. It is great to work every day in such creative surrounds… and that’s where it’s fantastic to give back”

Mat doesn’t mind doing the ‘mentorship thing’ because “if they feel passionate about it, it’s inspirational and a great gift” and “…ultimately it’s very rewarding.”

Mentorship in all its forms is about helping someone to grow, become better, and to improve the radio industry one person at a time.

Mat Cummins is the Program Director at TR FM and GOLD 1242 in Victoria, Australia, and lectures at the Radio Training Institute in Melbourne. Christian Dichiera is an announcer and recent graduate of the Central Institute of Technology in Perth, Western Australia who now works at Redwave Media, Perth.

Earl Pilkington works as a copywriter for West Coast Radio in Western Australia. He has mentored on-air talent, audio producers, journos and others inside and outside the industry, including TV, newspaper, voice talent and students. Earl welcomes your correspondence at theboss@shedloadofgeeks.com.

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