how do I land that radio internship?
January 20, 2011 11:38 PM   Subscribe

Am I going about landing an internship in public radio the wrong way?

I've written about making radio here a few times and have received wonderful advice that I've tried to take to heart. Before the final semester of my college career begins, and I go crazy finishing my anthropology thesis, I have taken the time to apply to a variety of paid and unpaid internships in radio. I completed a fellowship a few years ago that introduced me to radio and community-oriented media, have put together a few radio pieces in the years since and promoted myself through Public Radio Exchange, and blogged/wrote reviews for the youth radio site Generation PRX (I'm a fan of all things PRX, ha, if that wasn't already clear.)

2+ weeks after applying to a half-dozen positions that seemed a perfect fit, I have heard nothing. A follow up call with a great little production team was never returned. Meanwhile, I've been reading about these super-competitive times, and while I thought my experiences would make me a good contender, I'm becoming nervous that I'm missing something, could approach things differently, etc.

For those out there that made a path for themselves in public radio (and i'm thinking the investigative/quirky/inventive side of radio), how did you make that first leap? Is there any productive action I can take at the moment?

I started to build a resume website after reading a suggestion to do that to make yourself stand out, which is currently here (no bio yet!) Should I follow up after some of my growing-cold apps with a link to that?

One final question: I've been considering studying at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies for a semester. I know it's a great launching pad for young radio people, but I'm unsure if, at this point, it's more financially responsible to find some direct work now, perhaps an unpaid internship + taking out a loan to support myself, than go the (brief) grad school route.

Thanks for any and all thoughts.
posted by elephantsvanish to Work & Money (7 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Call everywhere you applied to follow up. Two weeks is a decent amount of time that doesn't make you look pushy or desperate, just committed.
posted by paindemie at 1:21 AM on January 21, 2011

I was a public radio producer but now I make more money writing about policy and raising money. I love producing meetings - it's as fun as radio!

I suggest you do these jobs this spring and summer:

Freelance Radio Documentary Producer (January 2009 – Present) - Compose radio documentaries on community responses to local issues. My pieces have aired on KUOW, Listen Up! Northwest, the alt.NPR podcast Youthcast, and NHPR.

WMCN College Radio: On-air DJ (January 2008 – May 2008; January 2010 – present) - Co-host theme-based music shows; use broadcast equipment; improvise with Ableton Live.

The Mac Weekly: Contributing Writer (November 2007 – Present) - Write feature-length articles; contribute arts reviews

And also get a job at a sandwich shop, homeless shelter, or college admissions office.
posted by parmanparman at 2:37 AM on January 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

Agreed on the need for calling to follow up.

You've probably done this, but maybe not, so I'll throw it out there. Have you done a ginormous blank networking email? Essentially, this means writing down in a well-crafted email exactly what you've told us here, the range of positions you would consider, and your geographic limitations, and then sending it to everyone in your address book, and asking them to relay it around their own networks as it makes sense? This is actually one of the single most effective job-hunting techniques I've ever done. It may surprise you that people you know have connections and leads they never thought to mention.

Also, are there reporters or hosts whose work you like? Send them the same email, modified to discuss why you appreciate their work, and ask for a few words of advice if they have time to respond. One never knows.

Have you done some informational interviewing? Similar to the above, contact people working in radio who you think could help you identify a way in to a career path. Who is where you want to be in 5 or 10 years? Get in touch and ask for 20 minutes of their time to talk about how they got into radio and what advice they would have for someone beginning a radio career. Be sure to ask about resources you should be aware of. This sounds scary but is actually easy because people LOVE to talk about themselves, and being targeted for this kind of interview is flattering.

Look at your list of places you've applied...are you aiming too high? Large urban stations and popular shows are more inundated with interns than community and rural stations, who may be more hungry for your help.

Are you applying only to posted opportunities and established positions? You don't have to. With the help of Google or a good reference librarian, make a list of the stations or programs within your target area (s) and send a letter of inquiry to them, making your interests and ability to get work done known. Include links to your audio content online. Many people who would consider an intern never post an opportunity. It's one more thing to do.

Parmanparman's route is excellent too. Don't stop producing just because you don't have a job doing it - freelancing is a great way to build your resume, too.

Are you a member or volunteer at your local and regional public radio stations? Also an excellent way to meet people working in the field and extend your contacts. Attend their events and find useful ways to assist.

Attend conferences, at your own expense, like the NCFB's or the one for program directors --- I'm sure there are others.

I do want to say a word for Salt Institute. I don't think there's any way in the world you would regret going there. One of my friends who attended became a much better triple threat producer - writer, audio producer, photographer - and has since done lots of good freelance work, interned on Here & Now, and taken her career to another level. Also, she loved it. If you can afford to attend Salt now, I would seriously consider it - but not because it's going to lead you smoothly into the working world - it's not - but because it's an excellent program, and one you might find it harder to afford down the road after you take on some more serious living expenses. It's just great training, and of course, you'll make contacts.
posted by Miko at 4:50 AM on January 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

ginormous blank networking email

Er, I definitely didn't mean to recommend sending a blank email. Sorry. That should read "Blanket."
posted by Miko at 4:51 AM on January 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Have you joined The Association of Independents in Radio (AIR)? My own membership has paid for itself every year in phone sync work alone and I think your inquiry would be well-received in its discussion forums.
posted by LinnTate at 5:58 AM on January 21, 2011

I went to Salt, though not for the radio track. It's a great place, a very, small supportive program, full of dedicated people. However, tacking on loans has consequences and you have alternatives. I would suggest contacting Salt and asking to speak to Rob Rosenthal, the radio instructor. I bet he'll be willing to give you some frank advice about your options for breaking into radio. Naturally, he'll have some biases, but he's not the sort to sell you a bill of goods and he's worked with so many seeking to break into the field that he should be able to give you a sense of the paths people take.
posted by reren at 6:32 AM on January 21, 2011

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