Have You Ever Worked For Free In Radio? Podcast Season 1 free Music Radio Creative

In this episode we discussed everything about the topic, “doing something for free” especially in radio. The topic came from a discussion on the Music Radio Creative facebook page, “if you work in radio have you ever been asked to do something for free?” We received many replies about it and that’s what prompted us to consider this as the next podcast topic. To start off the podcast and answer the question myself, being someone who have worked a couple of decades in radio, yes I have been asked to do something for free on a few occasions.

Doing Something for Free In Other Industries

Izabela previously worked in the banking industry so I asked her to shed some light about their practice with respect to the topic. She answered from her first hand experience that they are asked cleverly by the superiors to stay longer. This is not without benefits because they do get free pizza and the chance to make commission by calling out leads. Izabela however noted that in that particular instance, if you do not stay you will be the odd one out and that puts the pressure to do as others do, to stay.

Is This Free Work a Culture or The Norm?

Since we thought that being asked to render extra hours of work for free is present in any industry, we pondered on the possibility of such practice being the current standard or the norm. We addressed the topic by thinking of what we do at Music Radio Creative. We don’t really ask people to work for free because those who work for us or with us log their hours and they get paid for everything. The only instance we could think of is when we ask voice artists for a sample of their work but even in that it is reasonable to expect it because the nature of the work itself necessitates the giving of a sample. I added however that due to the fact that we are working online we may be, in essence working for free. This is because of the irregular hours that we dedicate when we work on a project for example in a shift from 7am up to 8pm or even 10pm.

Have You Been Asked To Work for Free in Radio?

My Own Experience and Beginnings

We moved on to the radio industry. We had plenty of yes in the comments on our Facebook page and even got a funny one saying “people get paid to work in radio?”. Paul Green said he actually pay to present his shows every week which I know for a fact because there are radio stations in the UK which are community based and earn from this instead of from advertisers. I actually acknowledge this practice because it is just like in clubs where you pay and get exposure or experience. At the end of the day, you still get some experience, exposure in the field, and even training. Sometimes its just being on the air, doing the show and getting feedback from listeners and encouragement from colleagues that is training that money really can’t buy. I actually started in hospital radio and I was very lucky because I only had to pay around 5 pounds per year membership fee but I got the best training possible at Hospital Radio Tunbridge Wells! For those of you who are unaware a hospital radio is basically a radio station inside a hospital that broadcasts to the patients.

The Common Practice in Radio Stations

In the radio industry you used to be able to do a “show and go”. It is where you just arrive and do your work and your show for the actual span of time it runs for example from 9am to 1pm. This is not the common practice nowadays and I gave a lengthy discussion of what it usually is like at the moment. As an example based on my experience, aside from the 3 hour of show that you’ll do you will also have to do about 90 minutes of prep and even stay after the show because people will expect you to do so. So effectively, you will render free hours before and even after your show. I believe however that working in radio is a passion based job and we tend to do what we love thereby mitigating the effects of such practice.

Izabela commented that it is only a matter of setting expectations and that such practice is a failure in management more than anything else. She explained that a good radio station should invest in a good manager who would know how things actually work and take them into consideration in the actual day to day running of the station. I commented by saying that it actually may be more of a culture in radio stations to which Izabela countered that even if it is a common practice, and that people in radio love doing it, a human being would always have a limit.

Of course such practice is not the same everywhere. Izabela also pointed out that it’s different everywhere. Speaking from experience, I’ve also had it the other way around and get asked to do a show wherein they won’t let me stay afterwards. To this Izabela said that it is important to set expectations and how they may be perceived because you might be already asking someone to do something for free but they will not outright tell you about it, hence the practice.

Getting Asked to Do Promotions and Adverts for Free in Radio Stations

I also shared an experience of mine in the radio industry where we usually get asked on our down time in the station to record a specific promo or even an advert but don’t actually get paid. Izabela gave us a good way of addressing such practice by answering in a polite manner for example and just saying “yeah sure, what’s the payment?” Izabela also noted that if you’re not an actual voice artist or just starting out, you can actually make use of the practice as it is a great way of making your demo. However I also commented that there’s a huge difference between a professional voice over artist and a radio presenter.

What’s Your Experience?

How about you have you been asked to do something for free whether in the radio or other industry? Share your experience with us in the show notes!


23 Responses

  1. In France, we have non-profit radios, in which you have to pay each year, as in any non-profit organization, to go on air, and you don’t get paid. It’s awesome for training, or for people like me who just like to present a radio show as a hobby. And it’s quite common here 🙂
    Also, I know a lot of amateur webradios where the staff is producing a very professional work for free!

  2. Yes – I have been working for free in community radio for 17 years:-) Well I’m paid GBP108 per month to produce the breakfast show which is basically for free although they give me 20 radio ads as well which I barter for equipment. I do have my own broadcast quality studio which I’ve built up over the years and it gives me the opportunity to make money in other ways.

  3. I would have to agree with Mike that in the radio industry there are things you are just expected to do for free. I have worked with two different stations and have found that if you won’t do it for free they will find someone that will because so many people want to be in radio. And honestly I don’t mind doing certain things for free if it benefits the station and puts me a notch above someone who won’t. Not to mention that everything you do gives you experience and experience has its own value. Very good podcast, I enjoyed listening to it. Plus I like your accents they remind me of my old PD who was from the UK.

  4. Absolutely agree with Izabela, having somebody working for free is a failure of management. If the work is not returned, if there is no compensation for most people passion will soon go away, and the first time where that person has a chance to leave to another place where it is appreciated they leave immediately. Not to mention is asking somebody to work for free(while someone else is having profit on it) is a kind of stealing 🙂 of course not in the case where the station does not make any money and everybody is volunteering. For rookies and interns of course compensation can be something else too not only money, like concert tickets, vouchers anything. It worked all the time, and when I’ve found someone good we offered a real job and she/he got paid.

  5. I have presented on two radio stations prior to starting my own, and I didn’t get paid for either of them. The first was a community based radio station, a local one, on which I presented the Arts Show. I enjoyed doing it but it didn’t really fit with what I wanted to be doing so I left after a few month. The next was a station aimed at the motorcycling community which is definitely more my bag! I did a weekly two hour show called the Straightliners and Stunters Show, but felt more than unimpressed by the owners attitude towards helping related businesses and causes. The guy made money from advertising anyway so I couldn’t see the harm in promoting causes such as the Poppy Drag Bike (A female drag racer who raises funds for ex-serviceman in the UK)

    I don’t make any money yet from my own station, but having the freedom to advertise the events and people that are doing things to benefit both bikers and other causes is great!

    I learned how to produce and deliver content that listeners want through my “volunteer” presenting positions, so it was definitely worth doing, and I would still do it now if I was offered a position somewhere that catered for the people and projects that mean something to me.

  6. Just a few weekends, on a brand new restricted-service licence community radio, Soap FM, in Hereford. No commercials, so no pay, but what a load of fun and what a way to learn! Most of it ‘show and go’, though we didn’t just natter and play records – we gathered vox pops on the street, took phoned requests.
    Yours truly (Saturday spot Howard’s End, of course) got thrown in front of a DAT machine live on air for the first time ever! Best of all – not an accountant, ranting manager or corporate playlist in sight: real local people radio, something both UK and USA desperately need to get back to.

    But I moved house… and then got the VO bug, which does now pay. How truly valuable that radio experience has been!

  7. I currently volunteer at a community based station in Derry, Northern Ireland and have done since 2010. Everyone at the station works for free. I present two weekly programmes with a third by fortnightly. We have presenters who do up to 5 a week, we have admin staff working 5 days a week for up to 4 hours a day and voluntary cleaners. Every penny made is pumped back into the station to help develop the equipment and personel’s training.

    I don’t think (to my knowledge) anyone is unhappy about volunteering or they wouldn’t do it as it is a hobby. In saying that the one negative I have experienced from working for free with a community station is applying to commercial radio or media organisations. Despite working for 4 years across a range of different programme formats these commercial organisations fail to recognise it as its not in a paid capacity. I can say with great confidence that my programmes are better than most being broadcast across the north west yet these people at the helm of what I would describe as lesser and lazily produced programmes are in a better employment candidate position than I as I have not gotten paid experience.

  8. Iv’e been a Volunteer presenter on Community Radio for 20 years,Iv’e just quit the station because of a new faction has taken over.Their idea of volunteering ,and mine were not on the same page.But I still broadcast across Australia on CRN every/Sat/Night thru a satellite system,pre-recording my programs in home studios.Still have a passion,and an empty wallet,but I still love what I do.Thanks for letting me air my history,and I enjoy reading articles .If anyone is interested in checking out my program,you can get my playlists here: http://teckastracks.wix.com/teckasplaylists
    And if someone wants to have a listen,I could send them a copy of the program,I’m not smart(and not financial ) enough to know how to podcast.Thanks for your time.
    Best.’Tecka’. Terry Iredale. http://www.facebook.com/teckastracks

  9. Another example of how strongly a little nfp startup can grow when it’s not for the immediate buck: Regen Radio, based Manchester UK. Great training, listeners involved, and campaigns on behalf of community radio further afield.

  10. Loads of people work for free in radio in the UK, including me ! I came into the industry as a mature journalist student. There was no other way in, so I accepted this and learned so much. Consequently I have been paid for printed stories, TV documentaries, live discussion, broadcast news and presenter gigs and have my own oldies roadshow. However I did feel at times that some stations involved were taking advantage of my enthusiasm , in fact ideas of mine were stolen and used by paid presenters. I also found that with hospital radio there was a degree of “clickyness” and a fierce sense of territory protection.
    When I make enquiries of my former volunteer buddies it is a sad fact that very few of them have made a living from radio, it is indeed a fiercely competitive industry, but highly addictive and great fun.

    1. Pity about the clickyness, Geoff. It does happen in ‘clubby’ settings. Any group, paid or otherwise, co-operatives too, needs a strong and unselfish leader who sweats blood to ensure that every individual feels inspired and valued, and has a clearly defined role. Then people are less likely to hunker down in safe little sub-groups.

  11. Well Mike ….the wife just has not been there so she won’t understand! It is expected from top to bottom …

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