Thirty-three year old Nija Dalal-Small has been working professionally in radio since 2012 and has just finished producing her first BBC radio documentary. She also runs the Manchester branch of In the Dark Radio, curating innovative, creative radio from around the world for live listening events.
And when she's not producing great radio, Nija writes creative nonfiction and co-edits The Real Story, a celebration of creative nonfiction in blog form.
We were lucky enough to catch up with Niji and get some real insight into the business.
What does a day in the life of a radio producer look like?
It depends what part of the production process you're in! If you're trying to get an idea commissioned, then you're doing research, looking for the crux of your story and the best place to pivot to other points of view or other areas from. You do the research - maybe call up some experts - and then you write up your pitch. The pitch has to be extremely well-crafted - it needs to be intriguing but crisp.
If you're commissioned, but not yet in production, then you wait. Look for more ideas that you can get commissioned at a later date. You have to generate ideas all the time in radio - so always be on the lookout for them.
Once you're officially in production, you need to do some more research - what is the story you want to tell? You need to have an idea of a beginning, middle and end - what points need to be made for this story to make sense to the listener?
Who will be your contributors for the documentary? Who will make the points you need to tell the story? You'll probably have to do a lot of research to find the right person or people - and then you have to make sure they're available for recording. You spend lots of time on the phone to agents and universities.
On recording days, you need to be really well-prepared. You need to know what each of your contributors is likely to say - and you need to pay attention, to interview them well and give them room to surprise you. It's the bits you aren't prepared for that are often the best, most surprising, most wonderful moments of radio you hope for.
Recording days are exhausting. Keep decent food, like fruit and nuts, with you at all times. Drink lots of water. You will feel like you've been slammed against a concrete wall. Your arm will be tired of holding the microphone in the sweet spot. When you're recording, you have to listen not only to what the person is saying, and respond appropriately, and elicit them to say more - but you also have to listen for the pieces you need. You have to listen for levels and clicks and pops and be sure your gear is working properly. You are listening on at least three levels at once. It's exhausting.
You will be tired. Regardless, you need to transcribe all your audio. Don't be tempted to use an automatic transcription software... the concentrated listening while you transcribe is actually an important part of the editing process.
Editing days are physically less demanding - but mentally taxing. This is where you make your decisions and kill your darlings. This is where you go back to your structure, match it up to your transcripts and start organising your story. This is probably where you're going to need a paper edit and to begin final scripting. Do you really need that very interesting and funny point to tell the story? If not, it's probably going to have to come out. Shame.
Did volunteering or work experience play a part in getting you to where you are today?
Hell yes. I learned all my recording, story-finding, and audio editing skills in college and community radio. I also got a work experience at the BBC, which led to me freelancing, as I do now. I don't think I would have gotten the work experience without all the skills that I'd already built up volunteering. They knew they could send me out with a recorder and a microphone, and that I'd come back with usable audio. Radio is so competitive these days that no one will pay you while you get trained in the basics - you have to do that on your own.
It also took a lot of networking to get there, too.
What advice would you give to any aspiring young people who want to work in this field?
There are easier ways to make as a little money as I do. If you don't have a passion for it, don't bother. It's not worth it. If there's something you'd rather be doing, go do that. If you're trying to do it because it looks fun or because it's the next thing on your list of careers you might try, skip it.
If you think it might be your passion - then start listening. Listen hard. Listen more than is normal. I spent two years listening, falling in love with how radio tells stories, before I considered trying my hand at it. I couldn't shut up about my favourite producers. I still can't.
Find out what you like to hear - find out why you like it.
Most people are surprised by the amount of writing involved in radio - pitches, briefs, research notes, scripts, cues - you have to be able to write well and quickly.
Who inspires you and why?
Scott Carrier, because he tells beautiful human stories, exactly human-sized. He's gentle with his contributors and careful. His writing is always beautiful and boy, does he know how to hold a mic.
Sherre Delys & Julia DeWitt, because they tell important stories - untold stories, and they know how to use sound to make you worry and make you angry and make you cry.
Ira Glass & Julie Schneider & Nancy Updike, because they were the first, in many ways, to take journalism and make it into crafted beautiful radio. To use news skills to tell new stories.
Jad Abumrad, because he's literally a genius. Of course.
Gregory Whitehead, because it's art, what he does - not just storytelling, but storythinking.
Nina Perry, for the ways sound and music permeate her world.
What are your favourite and least favourite things about the job?
Favourite things: making the pieces, trying to find creative ways to use sound and music, finding the stories. Thinking about them. Striving to make the best thing I've ever made.
Least favourite things: Getting in. Getting in was tough. And I'm not sure I'll ever feel like I'm really in. There's always a better documentary out there that you haven't produced yet. Striving to make the best thing I've ever made.
Find out about more exciting and creative careers by reading our interviews with an Evening Standard journalist, an EastEnders script editor and comic duo The Phoenix
The Reading Activists programme for 13 to 24 year olds will soon become Reading Hack. Reading Hack is due to launch late 2015 and is currently in its pilot year! Watch this space for more updates.