10th April 2017 

I Can Be... a Radio Producer

i can be meets rachel humphreys, a freelance radio producer who has worked for LBC radio, the bbc and channel 4, amongst others. at the time of our interview, rachel was a producer at Lbc radio. 

Have you always wanted to be a radio producer?

I think I have for quite a long time. I remember when I got to university I wanted to do student radio, but then I was having too much fun doing other things, so I didn’t get in to it until my third year when I was in America. I did student radio there and I really loved it. Off the back of that I applied for a work experience placement at the BBC at Woman’s Hour, which felt like the best month of my life. I was at Woman’s Hour and at You and Yours and from that point on I started answering ‘radio producer’ to the question of what I wanted to be when I left university. When I got this job I thought, actually this is quite cool because it's something that I've said that I’ve wanted to do for quite a while and I think it suits me very well. I’m very happy and very lucky that I’ve got a job that I like doing.

What advice would you give to a young girl who wanted to work in radio?

Well, radio is really fun because it’s different every day. I work in news radio so obviously the news differs every day but I work in the same office as Capital FM, XFM, and lots of other big music radio stations and it is the same for them as well. It’s always different; there are always different people in the studio so if you are someone that likes meeting lots of different people then it would be a good job for you.

One thing that makes you good at producing radio is listening to a lot of radio and knowing what you like. If you think you’d like to work in radio, listen to lots of different types of radio shows and lots of different stations. We’re so lucky now because, with the internet and apps, we can listen to radio from all over the world and the more you hear the better because it gives you ideas. The best thing about my job is that I can hear something on the radio or see something on the news or read something in a magazine and think, ‘oh, I’d like to put that on my show’ and I can!

For example, last year I went to see the film Gravity and I thought, wouldn’t it be cool to get an astronaut on the programme? There was a guy called Chris Hadfield, who is an American astronaut and the captain of the international space centre and he used to make videos of himself in space. He became a sensation in the world media. I saw that he was doing a book tour so I got him in to the studio and he did a Q and A with listeners about space. We asked him what happens when you fart in space! Apparently, you don’t fart in space, you just burp a lot. If you're someone who likes to be in control of things and who can cope well under pressure then you will be a really good radio producer.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

It sounds really clichéd, but it would probably be when you make a difference to someone’s life. You are in charge of somebody who speaks on the radio and they have a voice that can represent other people.  

A while ago the station had a call from a man who needed a kidney transplant. He was on the waiting list and he found a match in his sister who lived in Jamaica. She wasn’t allowed a visa to come over and donate because she couldn’t prove to the Home Office that she wouldn’t overstay her visa. He called in and I thought, I’m going to make this a story. We’re going to try and see if we can get it in the papers. We emailed a lot of journalists and they ran the story on the front page of The Independent. Off the back of that the Home Office granted the visa. We raised money for his sister’s travel and Virgin Atlantic donated a flight so that she could get to London. She is now waiting to give him the kidney! Something like that is amazing because you could make something really great happen.

The other part of my job that is really fun is when people call in who are really funny. Once we were running a phone-in about lying on your CV. A woman called in from Florida to say that she had once lied on her CV. She got to the job interview and they put her in a room and said, “you’ll know what to do”. She didn’t and she panicked and jumped three floors out of the window! Things like that are really funny. The unexpected is what I like about the job, as well as the things that you can orchestrate and make really fun.

Do you feel that being a woman has made any difference to your career and if so, how?

I think that I would be where I am if I was a man or a woman but there’s one big issue that I have with the way that I am treated because of being a woman. In my job I have to tell people what to do quite a lot and if you are producing the show then you are the final say on what happens quite a lot of the time. You have to be quite assertive and I am naturally quite assertive. What annoys me is that if I act a certain way I am labelled as bossy but if a man acts that way then he is assertive. There was a ‘Ban the Bossy’ campaign in America and it really made me think. Whenever I tell my presenter what I want she’ll say “stop being bossy”. If I was a man she would never say that to me, because he would be being himself and assertive and being how he should be.

I always feel that I am quite masculine in my role because I have to tell people what to do. Before I started my job my presenter was told that she needed a male producer as she would work better with someone like that. The reason she picked me for the job was that she said I was “a blokey woman” and I really resented that term. I am just a woman who is assertive, it doesn’t make me manly. I think that that attitude is something that you have to be aware of.

 When men start their first job, more of them will debate their salary than women will. I think you shouldn't be scared to be assertive. Talk to your friends about what they are earning and push for the best. You shouldn't be paid less because you're a woman.

We had a national radio producers day at work, with producers from all over the country. There were forty people there and only four of them were women. There are loads of women in radio but not that many on radio. Be confident and don’t worry about being perceived as ‘blokey’, just be you. I do think that we are lucky now though. The generations before us couldn’t do the jobs that they wanted to do, they did what was expected of them. I am the first generation of women in my family that has really just been able to do what I want.

What do you have for lunch at work?

My show is on between 1-4pm so I work my lunchtime. I don’t get a lunch break but when I finish at 4 I have a nice lunch. I make it at home and make sure I have something really good to eat in the studio. If we have a breaking news day then you don’t get time for lunch so I send someone to get me some sushi. I eat on the hoof. The difficult thing is trying to get my presenter to not eat on air. She eats in the ad breaks but it doesn’t sound good when we come back. I have to shout at her before the ad break ends and say “stop eating!”. It’s a bit like looking after a child because I tell her when she can eat and when she can go to the loo... and she’s 46!

How do you get to work?

I cycle every day. It's the quickest way. It’s also quite controversial because everyone at LBC thinks it is bizarre that I cycle and that it’s very dangerous. We report news and there are a lot of cycle accidents in the news. People always say to me “I can’t believe you haven’t been hurt”. I love cycling though and I hate public transport. It means I do half an hour of exercise before I get to work and I can shower at work. When there is a tube strike, I don’t even notice.

Finally, if you hadn’t been a radio producer what would you have been instead?

I was going to be an archaeologist. I used to watch Time Team [a programme about a team of archaeologists discovering artefacts in England], which some younger girls might not know about, but I loved it. I used to buy those little dinosaur kits and dig the dinosaurs out of the sand. I was obsessed with Pompeii and had lots of books about it. I think I must have been in my teenage years when I thought, ‘This isn’t ever going to earn me any money’ and so I left it behind. It was something I was really passionate about though and something I thought about doing for a long time.

The one thing that I would have liked about that, which I miss in my job now, is being able to focus on one thing and becoming a real expert in that field. Now I work across lots of different things and I know a little bit about everything. I spend a lot of time making things up. I would like my career to go in a direction where I could focus on one thing. I’d like to be a reporter or make documentaries in the future.

You go through school and university thinking you have to know what you want to do and in your twenties you realise that you have so much time to experiment career wise. Just do what comes along and if you don’t like it then leave it. I think I’d be digging in the ground if I wasn’t a producer!