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How Does the Radio Industry Cope with Mental Health?

A recent study conducted by Skiddle has shown that an alarming 82% of music industry workers – including promoters and event organisers – suffer with persistent stress as a direct result of their work. With this in mind, how do more overt areas of the industry handle the inevitability of workers suffering with poor mental health? I investigated across Southampton and Bristol – two zones of the nation with high music statures.

The radio industry is a pivotal area of the general music business – with presenters acting as a gateway for fresh music releases and promotion for upcoming artists, the pressure to fit the bill and please a nation can become encompassing. In Southampton, Voice FM broadcast to a weekly audience of 80,000 and commit themselves to enabling those trying to break into the industry a space to get creative and build their portfolios. Jay Radcliffe, volunteer co-ordinator and PR Manager at the station, prides himself on the fact that the station encourages their presenters to “talk openly about mental health”. In terms of ensuring that the sense of community within the station is maintained, Radcliffe says the most important aspects are to “treat all equally and promote health and well-being” within the team.

Solent University is home to a student-run radio station, Radio Sonar, where students have the freedom to host and produce their own radio shows which are aired online. Station manager Ben Winter is the main point of contact for presenters and told me of how he has managed the emergence of mental health issues. “We had a new member that felt they had to pull out of presenting a show due to stress from the workload of their degree” he says, “I had very little choice but to offer them my full support and have made them well aware that they are still very welcome to be a part of the social events”. In terms of providing future care, he mentioned that “if they still wanted to give the presenting a go, I would sit in with them for as long as they needed to until they felt confident doing it by themselves”.

Managing a radio station often has its own strains on the mental state, which Winter tells me of. “I expected it to be tough balancing what I essentially treat as a full-time job with the final year of my degree, and sometimes it does get on top of me. I’m fortunate to have a really supportive committee, and the structure of the committee was set up so that everyone has been kept as in the loop as possible, therefore making it feel like a team of 10 managers rather than one”. Whilst the teamwork that comes with managing a radio station can help individuals to balance out workloads, the small scale of student stations can cause its own issues, with Winter explaining that “the sense of community is even stronger within the Studio Radio Association and its member stations than it is within my own station to be brutally honest”. Whilst building funds and exposure is a difficult mountain to climb, he says that “things like quiz nights, going bowling, having team drinks – despite some requiring minimal effort – have had a really positive effect on the work ethic of the station’s committee. Just being able to talk about things other than radio with my team has really benefitted me in terms of getting to know them as people better and has helped me to empathise with their situations a lot more”.

Further afield in Bristol, James Christian has just started his career within the radio industry and assists in the production of his local radio station. He says that colleagues have been affected by compounded stress and anxiety within his workplace and notes that with the radio industry being “a high pressure environment”, “it’s noticeable when someone’s workload is starting to make them feel snowed under”. Christian goes on to state that during his short time within the industry, his personal mental health needs – which he describes as leading him to “feel quite disconnected from [his] immediate environment” – have always been respected.

Whilst Skiddle’s research is a cause for concern in terms of the mental health of music industry workers, it seems as though the radio industry itself is teeming with support and a sturdy sense of community.

words by Sophie Barnden