On Monday 28th September I headed off to the British Library to attend the Radio Academy's 2015 Festival. This annual event brings together extraordinary speakers from around the world, talking about the future of radio and extraordinary global projects. The line-up of speakers was jaw-droppingly good, including my podcast hero Helen Zaltzman, and the BBC's Fi Glover, Emma Barnett, Chris Evans, Annie Mac and Beats 1 DJ , Zane Lowe.
I was lucky to attend, as I had won a place from the brilliant organisation Sound Women, who support raising the profile of women in audio. I was so thrilled to have the chance to spend two days just listening, learning and meeting people who work in audio. And to be honest, as mother of small children I was genuinely excited about having two full days out of the house with a buffet lunch. Dreamy.
And it did not disappoint, it was amazing to be inside an auditorium filled with leading presenters and producers from around the country, actual proper audio professionals, as well as nerds, such as myself. For the first time I felt the work we do on Scummy Mummies was part of something bigger than our lounge. Podcasting, is for the most part is a lonely occupation, whilst Ellie and I record episodes together, the pre and post production side is done alone in our tracksuits sitting in our kitchens, usually eating cheese. At the festival however, I was brushing past the heads of BBC and commercial radio stations - it was my first 'photocopier chat' moment with imaginary colleagues. Going to these events by yourself can be overwhelming and daunting, however most people were chatty and smiley. And of course, they have to talk to you when they are waiting in awkward silence in the toilet cue and buffet line.
The festival was split into two separate days, the first being the technology focussed TechCon. I was prepared to be utterly confused by new technologies and industry speak, but came away inspired, enlightened and slightly less confused. Hosted by the fabulous Helen Zaltzman, the day was filled with speakers from the Head of the British Library, to Norwegian Digital Radio specialists to presenters from South Sudan's Eye Radio.
It was Eye Radio's presentation that struck me the most. They explained the vital importance of radio to the South Sudanese communities, especially as many lacked electricity, telecommunications and were facing war. During their presentation, they also made a plea for design engineers to create 'bullet-proof equipment', as they had been attacked several times during periods of conflict. The photos of transmission equipment with bullet-holes will stay with me for a long time. It was grounding to consider that radio is still a lifeline to so many, and not just entertainment or that podcast that keeps you company on a commute. I also felt encouraged to continue my path in audio, especially as there seemed very few women were in attendance, and I was reminded that the tech-based professions are still very much dominated by men.
Day Two, was the main event! It started with the BBC's Helen Boaden and Sue Ahern, discussing the importance of networking in your career and the do's and don'ts. It was heartening to hear many people from the audience talk about how 'weird' and 'difficult' the whole process of networking is for them. Sue Ahern recommended to always offer something first, before asking anything of a new contact and Helen Boaden emphasised the value of 'grabbing a cup of tea' with peers. I instantly wrote down all my potential 'cup of tea' dates and felt inspired by these fabulous women.
Following this impressive start, the conference continued to be a rapid fire of extraordinary speakers and topics. From 9am until 6.30pm we sat in the Auditorium listening to Chris Evans talk about filling Wogan's shoes, Christian O'Connell talk about his hilarious encounters with negative online feedback, as well as Max Greaf from RadioActive talk about his work in developing countries, setting-up radio stations in isolated communities. We also watched Richard Curtis via skype talk about the Global Goals project Radio Everyone and were linked up to Canadian, Indonesian and Eastern European radio announcers who were involved in the project, it was like a mini-Eurovision. I also have to mention the lunch, not just the buffet, but that Jamie Cullen serenaded us in the British Library Atrium as part of a launch of Jazz FM. Swoon. What a morning!
Cullen aside, one of the real highlights was Fi Glover's presentation about Radio 4's Listening Project. Having listened to the programme on Radio 4, I was both keen to hear Glover speak, as well as visit the caravan where the stories have been recorded around the country. Before her talk began, each audience member was handed a Radio 4 blindfold, which caused much hubbub and a few whispered filthy jokes. As a group, we all sat in the darkness and listened to a recording of two hilarious women chat about their friendship. We all laughed together and it felt like they were sitting next to us sharing a cuppa. This moment encapsulated why I love audio and why most people were there. It is the simple act of sharing stories and personal experiences that drives people in the industry and is why it will always remain so culturally valuable.
And it was Janet Street Porter's presentation that brought this message home to me even more. In her presentation "The BBC: Time to Get Humble" she criticised BBC executives for not representing their audiences, saying that it had become too middle-class and like Waitrose. Whilst there was some guffaws and cheers, there was some nervous laughter as well, as Street Porter stated that more regional accents needed to be represented and that the BBC needed to reflect the real people sitting at home like the Goggleboxers. Her talk was short, sharp and direct, she then exited with cheers and applause.
I didn't think anyone could top Ms Street Porter, until Nicky Pattinson marched onstage holding a bottle of Diet Coke and large smile. Her presentation of 'How to tell the world who you are' blew the audience away, Pattinson's skill is in transforming businesses into selling machines, and I it was clear she was brilliant at it. She gave advice about selling yourself to your audiences, with honesty and heart and her presentation was littered with swears, laughter and explosive enthusiasm, just the lift we needed at 5.30pm . It was sadly cut short because an earlier session went on far too long, which was a real shame, as an independent podcaster, any advice about promotion, branding and engaging more listeners is so valuable.
The day ended with drinks in the British Library and an opportunity to 'network'. I met and drank a lot of wine, as well as spoke to many inspiring women working in all aspects of the audio industry. As I walked back tube station, I felt warm with wine and also with a greater sense purpose for what the Scummy Mummies podcast does. We might just share filthy stories of motherhood and parental shame, but these are the stories that our listeners value around the globe and what makes them laugh and feel normal, and for me, that is so rewarding and is what drives my career in this extraordinary industry.
Thank you to Sound Women who enabled me to go to such brilliant event. If you work in audio, then join up with them today. http://www.soundwomen.co.uk/
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