Radio has always been very important to me as an equal-share aspect of what I do in the music world, so that being a DJ in clubs or playing at parties was always in parallel with being a radio guy. Ever since I got my first decks when I was 17, I also bought my first transmitter. So from the beginning, I was doing radio and clubs or parties, and that has continued to today.
But it's been a long route for me, from DJing on a radio station in a hospital to DJing at Kiss FM and then finally becoming a DJ on BBC Radio 1 with my “Worldwide” show in 1998. Between DJing and releasing artist albums and mix CDs — most recently, Gilles Peterson Digs America: Brownswood U.S.A. (Ubiquity, 2005), The BBC Sessions (Rrm, 2005) and Kings of Jazz (a double-CD compilation with Jazzanova, BBE, 2006) — one feeds the other in terms of promotion. So for those of you who are interested, here are some ideas on how to get involved in radio.
How would a DJ make the transition from clubs to radio?
Being on radio was a means to promote myself and my music on the radio and get my sound across to more people, who would then want to come to the clubs. If you want to get on the radio as a club DJ, you should get a good reputation locally with the best parties. The radio stations are going to want a piece of you because you have the power to bring an audience to the station, which you've cultivated through your club nights. So using the same philosophy, I recommend that if you're going to DJ, then also get yourself on the radio because it empowers you and gives you more freedom. You can educate your audience and tell them what you are about. If not, you are just another DJ.
What DJ skills are the same in radio and what additional skills are necessary?
Radio is different; these days, if you want to do radio like you would in a club, you can do that. People like that energy if you want to do mixes. Of course, on the radio you can be more relaxed about it; you don't have to worry about the dancefloor. But, essentially, that's what I like to do — bring the energy of the club into the radio show. I think that's really important. Radio and clubs are also very different. Obviously, radio enables you to be more experimental and daring with your selection of music. Your whole approach can be different, but the energy clubs bring is what can keep a radio format fresh and connected with the audience.
How would you advise a fellow DJ to go about getting the proper training and experience for radio?
The best way to get experience is to get on a pirate radio, Internet radio or local college radio and get used to hearing the sound of your own voice, which was really weird for me. Personally, I started off on hospital radio, and I was panicking talking to three elderly people lying in bed with nothing else to do! But there is nothing better than getting in there and doing it. Practice at home on your own. When I started, it was difficult feeling natural on the mic. It takes time to get into it and feel like you're talking to one person rather than a whole bunch of people.
What are the best outlets to forge a radio career in today: traditional radio, satellite radio, Internet?
The FM radio is still the one for me, but obviously that's changing in the next few years. But between being on a digital station and an FM station, I'd pick the FM station every time.
How do DJs approach radio outlets to get a gig? What's important in presenting yourself to a station program director or person looking to hire new on-air staff?
To get on the radio, you need to get yourself known by being the hot thing in your town so they know who you are when you call them. If you can't do that, then bombard them with mix tapes and pilot CDs. Failing that, blackmail them!
If a DJ gets a show, how does he or she ensure its longevity?
Like anything in life, to make sure it lasts, you have to play it hard and not get lazy and be good at what you do. At the end of the day, there are a million DJs trying to get shows. It's hard to get on the radio, so when you do, you have to take full advantage to make it last. It took me 15 years to get on BBC Radio 1. I had to get through every type of radio, and I got fired a few times and went through the ups and downs. Ultimately, what makes you survive is to work hard and be good at what you do. You can't be too confident, either, because radio is a fickle world. You might lose your show just because there's a new program controller at the station, but that doesn't mean you're not good. There are bumps along the way and bad times; the most important thing is to be consistent.