Comment from Jen Seyderhelm
I ran a Voiceover course last weekend. On the Saturday we talked about money.
One of the young women did what I’ve heard pretty much every female in my life do at some stage. She mentioned she’d earned above a ballpark amount I’d quoted for some voice work she’d done. She then felt the need to deny her worth by saying there must have been an error. She must have gotten lucky.
I stopped her and gently told her off.
The next day she approached me privately. She had struggled to sleep thinking about my actions. She was also an educator and a trainer. She too would never allow her students to speak to themselves as she had done, and yet it had taken me to stop her from doing the same thing to herself.
In a job interview, women tend to feel the need to only speak confidently of what they know they can do. Men will say and back themselves to be able to do things they may have limited or no experience of. When approached with something totally out of their comfort zones a woman will think, “what if I can’t?” A man is more likely to say, “I reckon I can.” I’m generalising, but my work life has changed since I began applying the, “I reckon I can” principle.
I can. And I do.
I promised myself when I started writing about my experiences of radio that I wouldn’t be one of those people who hark back to the “good ole days”. Days when the prize cupboard was abundant, sex, drugs and alcohol were regular features in the studio, contra was the norm and the greater the excess, the bigger the ratings.
I’ve heard so many stories.
It’s only very recently I realised that I, and every other woman who worked in radio throughout the 80s, 90s and much of the naughties, have no experience of these “good ole days”. We’re never going to talk about them, because we weren’t involved. They didn’t belong to us at all.
I’ve been the only female announcer at several stations I’ve worked at and/or the “other half” of a breakfast team. In the UK I was told that I wouldn’t find a radio job firstly because of my accent, secondly, because I’m a woman. I couldn’t become a talk announcer because “men don’t like being told what to do by a woman”. I’ve accepted these roles and opinions without question; picking up additional skills like production, copywriting, panelling and news reading to make sure I could be adaptable, versatile and employable. I’ve also kept quiet when I would dearly liked to have spoken up because I wasn’t in a position to be heard.
I say the above without anger. It is how it was.
Times have changed.
Now, women head up radio stations (Ita Buttrose, Joan Warner, Cherie Romano, etc), own them (Janet and Alison Cameron, Cheryl Jowitt etc), creatively direct them (Gemma Fordham, Kellie Riordan etc) and lead the next generation of broadcasters too (Fyona Smith, Lisa Sweeney OAM etc). Triple J will have a female duo on breakfast in 2020. Then there’s Amanda Keller, Jackie O, Laurel Edwards, Kate, Bogart, Fifi, Myf, etc. I love how many etc’s are in there.
I recently heard Gemma Fordham speak of the changes she is making at SCA. Not to formats (although of course she is doing that too) but to company ethics. Taking the time to check in with staff. Encouraging a positive mental health environment. Listening. Nurturing.
My podcast partner, Kirstie Fitzpatrick, is 20 years my junior and a TV newsreader and journalist. We were messenger chatting and she responded to something work related I had told her with “Can I offer you my advice?” After replying yes, I found (as I always do with Kirstie) a different and positive change on the way I would approach things. I note that she waited until I replied before offering her advice.
At her age there is no way I would have offered advice to anyone senior within my industry.
I felt fortunate to simply have a job in the industry I love. Every promotion or additional skill came from a man seeing the potential in me, not me seeing it in myself. I also count myself lucky (I’ll come back to that word later) to have worked with some of the best men in the industry. Many women far more talented than I am have left because they have experienced the worst.
Thanks to a new generation of women with a “me too” movement behind them, the worst are gradually being weeded out.
What I’ve realised is that for me, and for women across my industry, RIGHT NOW are our good ole days. We have creative freedom, potential and inspiration everywhere we look. It’s not about access to the prize cabinet but rather opening the door to being unashamedly ourselves both on air and behind the scenes. For me personally, I thought by age 42 I would be too old, irrelevant and insignificant to remain a contributor to my industry. Turns out I can still be a mentor, creator, industry expert, innovator and empowerer.
I just used one of the words that I’m trying to eradicate from my own language.
Not I can STILL. I AM. You are not JUST an announcer. You ARE. You are not “lucky” to get a role. You deserve it. Luck is finding a coin on the road, not the job you have worked towards for the last two years. Why is it that we are never allowed to enjoy the success we have earned? As a teacher, and if I am ever your work colleague, that will be the language I will use with you. Irrespective of your role, gender or age. You are worth it. I am too.
I have a beautiful memory from earlier this year. I am standing in a classroom with a group of younger people who are going to help shape a radio industry I’m proud to be a part of. This particular day one of my students is struggling. While my class and its activities are going on around us, I have this student in a hug. I wait until they are ready to let go.
That young woman has just got her first radio job. She’ll be the type of person to check in with her colleagues when they need it as well as bringing the best out of on-air talent and interviews via her listening skills and empathy. She’s reliable, highly skilled, professional, forward thinking and dedicated. Once you get to know her, she’ll have your back and support you on your radio journey too. That’s what the next generation of radio stars look like. It’s a good look.
This industry has changed. For the better. Our halcyon days are now. The contra is of the emotional rather than Valvoline variety.
I like it.
About the author
Jen Seyderhelm is a radio announcer, producer, news reader, lecturer, Rockwiz victor and podcaster.
Her podcast, 20/40, celebrates friendship and conversation between two women with a 20-year age gap. In her spare time, Jen does stand up comedy, is writing her first book, and posts music trivia around her vast collection of vinyl singles daily, online.