Radio DJ Gareth Cottrell first appeared in Speaking Out in 2003 and then again in 2006, when he was just starting a career in broadcasting. In this update he tells us how, through hard work and determination at different radio stations, he ended up running one!
It has been eight years since I last featured in Speaking Out. Back then I had just graduated from the University of Manchester with a degree in Media Radio Production. The course was very tough and consisted largely of speaking, which terrified me. Since then it has been a rollercoaster of a journey.
To give you a bit of background, I found school very hard, particularly as a teenager. I felt scared to speak and in the end decided it was best to just talk less. I felt worthless and feared the future - I didn't see how I'd achieve anything having the stammer I had. How would I get a job or find a wife? A friend of mine suggested a local drama teacher to help build confidence. I plucked up the courage to call her and attended weekly sessions. My speech then started to improve.
Like most media graduates, finding a job is difficult and usually consists of starting at the bottom and working your way up. It was no different for me but I had the added hindrance of a stammer. In my previous article I mentioned how I was involved at my local radio station Tameside Radio from the age of 15, answering phones and making coffee. Eventually I was offered my own Sunday evening show. Although I'd hoped this would lead to paid work, after graduation it became apparent this wouldn't be the case, or at least not for a very long time.
I started sending off demos, hoping that something would come up. After six months without luck I took a job at a supermarket. This wasn't ideal but it at least brought in money until I found a job in radio. Then, out of the blue, Radio Aire in Leeds offered me a week’s work placement. I jumped at the chance. It was my first proper experience of a professional radio station and I loved it. Although it was unpaid I was learning invaluable skills and making great contacts, which later landed me a placement at its sister station, Key 103. As a Manchester lad this was my dream come true. I'd listened to it as a boy and I'd be meeting the presenters I’d idolised. I worked there voluntarily for over three years.
I then got an offer to work at XFM Manchester as an assistant twice a week on the breakfast show, producing podcasts, welcoming guests, editing interviews and anything else the producer needed help with. I enjoyed my time there but it wasn't meant to be and after just three months I was made redundant. I was heartbroken and felt rejected. It was at this point that I decided to give myself one year to get a full-time job in the industry. If after this year I hadn't managed it, I'd give up on my ambition and try something different. It was time to knuckle down and invest everything I had into fulfilling my dream.
Presenting a radio show to 96,000 people doesn't seem to faze me. However, making phone calls to strangers still does.
I began getting more involved at Tameside Radio. When I wasn't working at the supermarket I’d be at the station making adverts and covering presenters. Eventually all my hard work paid off and I was offered the early breakfast show. Again, this wasn't paid but it was my first experience of being on the radio daily. I learned much in a short space of time. Every morning I'd arrive at the station for 5am and not leave until 1pm. Then I'd race over to the supermarket in order to start my 2pm shift. By bedtime I’d be truly exhausted. I knew this pattern of long hours and little sleep couldn't continue. I hoped and prayed something would come up, meaning I could leave the supermarket and concentrate on radio.
My prayers were answered one morning. My early breakfast show was coming to an end with only five minutes remaining. The following breakfast show presenter was nowhere to be seen and I had to fill in. As the 8am news was about to start I began to panic. I'd never broadcasted to over 90,000 people before! It was one of those make or break moments; my first go at a flagship show happened by default. It wasn't until 8.30 that the presenter turned up and by this time I had my feet under the table and was enjoying it. As the weeks went on the breakfast show presenter’s punctuality worsened and I found myself covering frequently. Eventually this led to his dismissal. Guess who got the job?
I'd finally got a full-time radio job and it felt great. I remember receiving my first pay packet - I couldn't believe I was being paid to do something I loved. Although my on-air duties would finish at 11am, I’d often help out for the rest of the day. My tasks ranged from picking new playlist music, supporting presenters and finding cover when they were absent. As the months went on I learnt more and more about how to manage a radio station. It was never official but I'd become the deputy programme controller. I even covered for the boss when he took holidays.
As my skills and knowledge started to grow, so did my confidence. I started hosting events, like Tameside's Party in the Park in 2012, which had a crowd of 20,000, and I even switched on the Christmas lights in my local town. Then, as the radio station faced new ownership, I was unexpectedly offered the role of Radio Service Manager. I became the boss and to this day it was the proudest moment of my life.
When the microphone is in front of me it feels like something takes over. Something switches on and the stammer vanishes. It’s funny, but presenting a radio show to 96,000 people doesn't seem to faze me. However, making phone calls to strangers still does. There's something about waiting on the phone for somebody to answer which scares me. In this situation I often find my breathing goes to pot and the words won’t come out. This isn't usually what people would expect from a radio presenter!
In November I am due to get married. Sam is the love of my life. She picks me up from the bad speech days I still have. Although the general public may not notice my stammer, those close to me do. I feel blessed to have met such a wonderful girl who inspires me to follow my dreams. I am looking forward to the wedding, although many people may be shocked to hear that I am a little nervous about the speech. I speak daily on the radio to audiences of over 96,000 but something as personal as a wedding speech does make me slightly nervous.
I feel hugely lucky to work in the radio industry. I’m now 30 and although I feel I've achieved a lot, I realise I am still progressing. I recently launched my own podcast with my brother, ‘The Cottrell Cast’, which attracts downloads of up to 5,000. In the future I hope to become an ambassador for people who stammer. I don't want them to feel they are on their own. I want them to understand that with or without a stammer you can achieve your dream.
Details of where to hear Gareth’s radio show can be found at www.facebook.com/garethcottrellradio. Listen to ‘The Cottrell Cast’ at www.youtube.com/cottrellcast. Follow Gareth on Twitter using @weekendwireless.
From Speaking Out Summer/Autumn 2014, p.13 & 15