Broadcast journalist Lucy Salem tells JLife about her post at BBC Radio 5 Live and what it is really like working with Paddy McGuiness.
Readers will recognise BBC Radio 5 Live freelance broadcaster Lucy Salem’s name – and voice – from a myriad of successful radio shows past and present, on stations such as Key 103 and Real Radio. However, the Manchester-based journalist, who recently joined the BBC, surprisingly did not always have a ‘voice for radio.’
A graduate of Manchester High School For Girls, Lucy originally attended the University of Leeds to study a drama degree, before switching to broadcast journalism, where she warmed up her vocal chords on student radio and undertook freelance shifts at a commercial station in Manchester alongside her studies and work placements.
Having initially worked as a reporter behind the scenes because her voice “wasn’t up to scratch”, Lucy explains: “when I left university I freelanced all across the North West and landed my first job at Bauer Media, which owns Key 103, Kiss FM and Magic 105.4.
“I started out as a reporter, as they would not let me on air straight away. Then I found this tiny station in Huddersfield, it does not even exist anymore, but for some reason they allowed me to go on air and read bulletins. I have no idea why, because I sounded like a squeaky teenager but, because I’d had that experience, I was able to talk to my boss at Key 103 and it was from there that I actually started to pick up reading shifts, not just reporting.”
For any aspiring radio stars, Lucy, who has interviewed “everyone from old rock stars like Def Leppard to Little Mix”, advises: “You can be the best journalist in the world, but if you do not have a good enough voice you won’t get on air.
“It is about intonation, about having the right inflection and also about sounding authoritative and pronouncing everything really clearly. I was quite high pitched so I had to relax and lower my voice. Sometimes my inflections would be wrong, so I put points on my script so I knew what words to place emphasis on.”
Having impressed at Key 103 for around a decade, Lucy recently swapped “snappy” and “upbeat” commercial radio for hard news, achieving a life-long ambition of working for the BBC.
“I left Key 103 in November 2016 as I had done everything I wanted to do and I had always aspired to work at the BBC. When I was little I grew up listening to BBC Radio 5 Live and I did not think one day I would work there.
“I have been working quite a lot on the summaries team, which is essentially news bulletins, and I have done a bit on programmes as well. It’s a big change going back to the freelance world.”
On the differences between her new post and former roles, Lucy says: “Commercial radio has a laid back atmosphere and is a lot more colloquial, more chatty and bite-size. People are wanting more music than news now and a lot of the focus is online.
“Whereas, 5 Live is a 24-hour, national news service; it is where everyone goes to first for a big breaking news story. It has to be 1,000% accurate, everything is scrutinised. The team is huge and every single bulletin is read over by the whole team before it gets broadcast. Everything has to be meticulously done, there can be no mistakes and the style is very different as well, I have had to become a lot more formal.”
Despite relishing her new role, Lucy still also works on Bauer Radio’s popular weekend show, Paddy’s Sunday Dinner, alongside comedian, actor and Take Me Out presenter Paddy McGuiness. When questioned about what it is really like to work with the Lancashire-born star behind the scenes, Lucy states: “I never dreamt in a million years that I would get to work on a show with Paddy.
“He’s so down to earth, easy to get along with and really fun. He doesn’t take himself too seriously and we have a good on-air chemistry. I think it comes across to the audience if you don’t get on with someone.”
Paddy is far from the only celebrity Lucy has shared the airwaves with, however, as she remembers: “I have also been able to interview some amazing people, famous people and also ordinary people when I have been out and about reporting – that is really fulfilling.”
On her toughest interviews, Lucy elaborates: “A lot of the boy bands are a bit of a nightmare to interview. There is so much testosterone and giddiness. I did the most awful interview with The Wanted, they were just shouting out really rude words because they thought it was hilarious. That can be tough work.
“It is difficult, when there is just you and five young boys staring at you, to hold it together. The more they see that you are getting flustered the more they play on it. They were not bad boys, they were just a little bit over the top.”
Meanwhile, one of Lucy’s favourites to grill is a surprise name: “Katie Price is a very interesting person, she is a brilliant businesswoman and really switched on. She was a difficult nut to crack and I was quite intimidated talking to her but then you have the fun down-to-earth artists like Olly Murs. He was a fabulous person to interview.”
However, for Lucy, it is still the real-life stories that seem to resonate the most. “A lot of things that have stuck with me have been human interest stories, normal, ordinary people. There was one girl I interviewed not so long ago – she was running seven marathons in seven days to raise money for cancer because she was a nurse and she was inspired by the patients she was looking after. Every day was a different theme, one day she was running in a bra and knickers to support breast cancer.”
From interviewing nurses and pop stars to former extremists, Lucy informs that “every day is different, which is why I love it, you can never predict.”
For any budding broadcast journalists out there, Lucy also remembers what it took for her to get her foot in the door: “I have worked hard and it can be done, honestly. It is all about perseverance and being available. You have to be prepared to do all the crappy shifts no-one else wants, really showing you are hungry for it and willing to do anything that is needed from you.
“I was never an A* pupil or anything like that, I had to work really hard to get my 2:1 at university, so I am proof that you can do anything if you put your mind to it.
“I was in the right place at the right time at Key 103 as someone was leaving. I said to my boss ‘give me a chance, you don’t need to put me on a contract, but give me a few weeks to prove that I can do it’.” And she hasn’t looked back since.
Visit Bbc.co.uk/5live for all the latest on BBC Radio 5 Live and listen to Paddy’s Sunday Dinner online at Paddyssundaydinner.co.uk.