James – Merging Radio and Technology

James – Merging Radio and Technology

#29 - James Cridland knew from the time he was a teenager that radio and technology were two of his biggest passions. Given that, he had a fairly easy time deciding where to try and get hired after high school; a radio station. In a weird twist, early on in his career he was fired and rehired by the same person, but he realized that being the on-air talent full time didn’t allow him the creativity he desired. Using his other skillsets, over the next number of years he ran a radio station website, created a media directory, and was involved in the world’s first phone app for a radio station. Then a head-hunter approached him about a job with the BBC and while he took it, it proved to be a terrible decision. Since leaving, James has found his place consulting for radio stations around the world and ventured into the world of podcasting where he now runs Podnews, a daily newsletter and podcast that allows him to utilize both of his passions in tandem.

You can find James at the following websites and social media accounts:

Podnews Website: podnews.net 

Personal Website: james.cridland.net

Twitter: @JamesCridland

Transcript
Jonathan Collaton:

good morning good afternoon or good evening this is career crossroads and if you're new here welcome otherwise welcome back i'm Jonathan Collaton and this is the podcast where i talk to one person each week but all the decisions that led them to their current career path this week i talked to james cridland a radio futurologist from the united kingdom while he is still radio adjacent he's definitely not doing what he thought he would be doing earlier in life so let's listen to his story and then afterwards i'll share some lessons that i think we can pull from his experiences james welcome to career crossroads thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today

James Cridland:

oh it's a great pleasure to be here thank you so much for asking

Jonathan Collaton:

well i should give a shout out to Lindsay Graham who connected us it's always nice when people who get interviewed on this podcast go and and reach out to someone else and say hey i think you should do this so shout out to to Lindsay for that and today we're going to talk about your career path and i always like to start with every guest by talking about what they were like when they were a teenager because i really do think that is when a lot of people begin to think about their own career and if for you what was earlier than that that's great and what we'll talk about what it was like earlier than that but as a teenager in high school or the equivalent of high school and wherever you were raised what was your life like where were you raised was your family a big influence was there a specific you know family friend that had a job that was a big influence or really what led you to whatever decision you made when you were done high school

James Cridland:

well so i was i went to boarding school and i started going to boarding school when i was eight which seems a tremendous early age to me but still but there we are. and one of the things that i would do at night is they would play they would play music to get you to go to sleep for a while and and when we were a little bit older than some of us had radios under the under our pillows so we would listen to the radio and i think that's what got me interested in radio and audio generally. it was there was a guy on the radio on one of the local radio stations that i used to listen to called graham rob and he had a cast of characters that were come into his late night show and you know when i would listen to him and i'd listen to you know the cleaner would come in and she was a character and there was another character who would speak with a with a plastic bag over his you know a paper bag over his head don't put plastic bags over your head kids. Thats bad.

Jonathan Collaton:

yeah that would be more difficult to talk through

James Cridland:

but yeah so i think that's what got me involved in audio and in radio in the first time so yeah pretty sort of early on and by the time i was a teenager i'd worked out that i really wanted to work in radio and so i ended up doing three exams one exam was in music one was in physics one was in politics these are the exams that typically we take when we're 16 years old in the uk which is where i was at the time and of course that was music for the music side of radio physics for the for the engineering side and politics for the journalism side because i was pretty sure that i would be in radio and that's sort of basically what ended up happening

Jonathan Collaton:

you know when you first said those three things i thought in my head there had to be some sort of well you know your parents were pushing you in another direction like what's your backup plan and physics is a good backup plan but it's interesting to see that for you that was they were all tied together so having such a clear direction at that age once you do those those exams what's the next step then to get into that type of career where you are

James Cridland:

well i was lucky in that back in those days there were lots of local radio stations they were local radio stations that needed an awful lot of people working there because there was no real technology at that time so i spent a little bit of my own money and did a little bit of training in terms of i thought i was doing training to become a radio dj what you call a personality in the us although quite a lot of them don't have any and so i was there thinking okay well what what should you know i should i should learn how to do that but what i actually ended up learning over that weekend was how to edit magnetic tape and edit magnetic tape hugely hugely important thing in terms of radio back then because it meant that you could edit audio you could edit the answers out of things you could edit music you could do all kinds of things and so i learned how to do that my first job in a radio station was coming in as a bit of unpaid help when i was 18 reclaiming tape which is taking the leader tape off the off the tape so that you could reuse it and re record another interview over the top of it and that was my that was my initial job and i managed to wheedle my my way in and really enjoyed it

Jonathan Collaton:

okay so you start off you said volunteering and then at some point sounds like they they offer you a job and so what's the kind of progression like starting off as someone who's who's they're quite young and volunteering. how do you sort of move up within the station and and was there like a specific...as you mentioned you wanted to maybe be an on air personality, so is there a specific path that you wanted to follow to get to that

James Cridland:

i mean at that time there was always opportunities for you know young freshly out of school people to get on the radio so this was a radio station which was reached about 1.3 million people so it was a pretty you know sensible sized station weren't too many radio stations in the uk at that point and so this was you know a big thing and so my first job was actually playing radio commercials so there were two radio stations coming out of that building and one of the radio stations the studios and the personalities were about 100 miles or so away and i would sit there and play the commercials for our local area into the gaps and i would help the news journalists you know do the news at the top of the hour and all that kind of stuff and that's what i started doing and i got paid what $7 an hour for that and yeah and it was a great first sort of start you were really in charge of a radio station which was quite amazing for somebody that was as young as i was so yeah so that was you know an interesting start but you know really back in those days when there weren't computers in the radio studios it meant that you know there were always opportunities for young people who were starting out to get in front of a microphone and that might be you know overnights it might be very early in the morning on sundays it might be you know any of those sorts of times and one of the first jobs that i did for the fm station was playing out the rick dees weekly top 40 and rick dees was a big us radio star we took his show in the uk as well and you know one of my jobs was playing that out on the fm station on a sunday evening and i ended up having to do something on that radio station that meant that i had to open my mouth and say something at one point in my four hours behind behind the mixing desk and so because i had to say something it meant that the program director suddenly heard my voice on the radio when maybe maybe he would it be okay to fill this space that nobody else can do and so that's basically how all of that worked

Jonathan Collaton:

that's funny i have interviewed a friend of mine who actually works on XM radio right now for the NHL Network and he i was going to ask you if you didn't bring it up the idea of like yeah well someone's got to do the radio at two in the morning when maybe not a lot of people are listening and somebody's got to fill in on the weekends when they need somebody so it's interesting to hear that it's a similar path for for you. and it very much sounds like what you were doing was a lot of the administrative side of running a radio station and then you get that opportunity all of a sudden were your voices heard and you've got a radio voice and it provides some sort of opportunity is what it sounds like so how did that opportunity progress when when that station director whatever the title was that you mentioned when they heard your voice had it what was the next thing from there

James Cridland:

well it was strange so i mean i've sort of slightly skipped ahead but one of the i was given a job doing saturday evenings very late at night doing a four hour show and that didn't last for very long because the person that gave me a job the program director at the time left two weeks after giving me the job the new program director a man called steve came in and one of the first things he did was to Get rid of me. And and I thought, Oh, well that's, that's a bit of a shame. So I was currently I was writing radio ads during the week for a different radio station actually. And then over the weekend working at this one. And as soon as he came in, the first thing he did was fire me. And I thought, well, you know, well, there we go. And, you know, he just said, We don't need your show anymore. Thanks. Thanks very much. And I thought, well, you know, I'll just, I'll just concentrate on other things. And that's all fine. And so what was slightly weird is that he was the person that, after about a year, he came to me had no recollection of the fact that he'd already fired me. No recollection of this whatsoever. And he said, I'm looking for somebody to do the afternoon drive. And you know, and I've heard your voice on the air. And, you know, and I think you might be, you might be capable of doing it. What he didn't tell me is, I think you might be very cheap. But nevertheless, you know, and then gave me a job. And I thought to myself, this is this is very strange, because, you know, you fired me, You crushed all of my hopes. Not remember whatsoever. So yeah, so I ended up doing drive time for afternoon drive for a year. And I did evening drive for a year. And partially, thoroughly enjoyed it, and partially realized that this was probably not a full time career for me. So it was a really interesting, it was a really interesting time, I think.

Jonathan Collaton:

Okay, and just to clarify, when you're saying afternoon versus evening drive, what's the timeframe for you for those two,

James Cridland:

so often to drive is, afternoon drive is three until seven, it was and then I was shifted to do evenings, which was six until 10.

Jonathan Collaton:

Okay, so I'm in Canada and the afternoon drive or the after work drive, really, it's like a four to seven slot. And I listened to a lot of sports radio on my drive home. And that is like the most contentious battle in Ontario anyway, where I am. So for me to hear that you went from being fired by this guy. And then a year later, he picks you up for what is like prime time as my understanding on the radio, that's impressive to go all the way to kind of like the premium slot right away.

James Cridland:

It was a very strange thing. And so he gave me one week to you know, test me out and see if I actually sounded really any good doing afternoon drive, which I thought was a, you know, a ballsy move. But yeah, and I, you know, and I really enjoyed it. And I understood, you know, need to he told me, I couldn't, I couldn't call myself my real name, because it was too confusing. So we ended up coming up with a different name and everything else. But yeah, and it was it was a really good step. And it was a really helpful, you know, helpful move. So but yeah, you're right. I mean, in the UK, I think radio listening is slightly different. This would have been the number four show on the on the station. So obviously, breakfast is number one, but actually, then you get mid mornings and early afternoons still have more of an audience, certainly in the UK. But it nevertheless, it was still a pretty good time in terms of, you know, in terms of audience. So yeah, it was certainly a thing.

Jonathan Collaton:

Now, you mentioned that it was a good experience, because it kind of taught you that that maybe wasn't what you wanted to do, or it gave you some some more direction. So tell me a little bit more about that. What was it about the experience that helped you realize you maybe wanted to do something a little different than that?

James Cridland:

Yeah, I think I realized pretty early on that I really enjoyed being on the radio, I enjoyed the human connection, that it gives that shared experience of knowing that you are talking to many people at the same time, but always thinking of that of that person as one person because it really helps the sound of the station. But knowing that you've got lots of people who are working at the same time, and all of that is is very, you know, is very exciting. But what I also realized is that you are doing literally the same thing, every single night or every single afternoon. You're pretty well in most radio stations playing the same songs. One point I was playing the same song at least twice in my four hour shift. And I thought to myself, you know, where's the future? You know, where is my long term career? Here? Is my long term career doing this job. Could I move up from being, you know, on a local radio station to a regional to national radio station as there are lots of national stations in the UK? Is this really what I'm going to excel at? Or is there something else that I could be doing around radio that I would do a better job at. And I realized that, you know, I like music, but music isn't the only thing I, you know, I have a slight stammer and so therefore, wouldn't necessarily work too well on talk radio. And so it was all that sort of thing of, you know, is this the right thing. And you know, apart from anything else, I just got bored with playing the same songs over and over and over again, you know, this was at a time this was in the early 1990s, and 9394. And at the time, there were all of these sorts of stories about Michael Jackson in the, in the news and everything else about what Michael Jackson might have been doing. And the computer was giving me a Michael Jackson song every single night. Normally, he'll the world that I would either have to play and sound enthusiastic about, or I would have to, you know, forget to play, which is what I ended up doing. But it was just, you know, I just thought to myself, this is a great job. But it's also a very repetitive job. And it's not actually as creative a job as it could be. And so my parallel sort of career of also writing radio commercials was something that I knew was a skill and that I knew I could fall back on. And so I fell back on that. And I ended up writing radio commercials for the next five years or so for a radio station in in the UK. And what was lovely about that is they eventually reckons that I might be good behind the microphone as well, offered me a full time job of being a radio DJ. I said, No. But I said I would love to do weekends, I would love to do swing, you know, when somebody is off on a on a holiday, I'll do that would love to do all of that. So it kept my itch of being a radio presenter still going. But it also meant that I actually had a real career of writing radio commercials, helping clients, you know, move them move their, you know, organizations forward. And so that was a good, that was a good step forward.

Jonathan Collaton:

Okay. And I want to get more into that. But first, I want to know, do you remember the song that you had to play twice in every four hour shift?

James Cridland:

It was whatever the song was. So by the by the time I'd moved to this new new radio station, I was doing Sunday breakfast was my standard shift. And they had an even tighter rotation. So any song that was on the a list, the list of the big hits at the time, was was getting played three times in one of my shifts.

Jonathan Collaton:

So fun.

James Cridland:

Yeah, so I had to endure, you know, whatever it was. I'm trying I'm trying to remember any of those songs. They've been sort of purged from my memory, but you know, still it's Steal My Sunshine by Len. were one of those. You Get What You Give by The New Radicals. Man, I Feel Like A Woman by Shania Twain. Huh?

Jonathan Collaton:

Canada's own?

James Cridland:

Oh, yes. Well, that would have been played every single hour on on, you know, on your stations because of the wonderful CAN-CON rules.

Jonathan Collaton:

That's right. 30% I think at the time is Canadian artists.

James Cridland:

yeah, so that was that. But having said that, it was only once a week. So therefore it didn't feel as if it was really annoying. It felt like fun. And I really enjoyed doing it. And you know, every so often, they would get me to do you know, the drivetime show or mid mornings or something, or they would get me to do at one point, I was doing a show at the same time, weirdly, on both the FM station and the am oldies station. And so one of them was obviously on computer by then, and one of them was not, but that, you know, I really enjoyed doing that, but not as a career. And I think that's the difference. I realized that this was not a career for me. But it was something that I enjoyed doing. It was something that I got paid for, which was nice. And something that I think I've got, you know, some skill for, or at least had some skill for back in those days. But it wasn't necessarily something that I saw myself doing as a full time career.

Jonathan Collaton:

Did you have any thoughts about what you might want to do then full time because it seems like from the outside, you're, you're in a pretty good spot, you're happy with the work but but you know, if it's not, when you're still quite young, it's hard to think like, okay, what's the next 30 or 40 plus years of my life gonna be like, did you have a thought about what that might be?

James Cridland:

Yeah, I mean, you know, I remember talking to one of the guys who, who was one of the presenters on the on the oldest station, and he said, I've been doing this job for 30 or 40 years. He said and What's really frustrating about it is that you do the job for a bit, then your boss changes and the new boss for for whatever reason thinks that you don't fit on the on the station. And so your contract ends, and you need to find another job, which always means moving house always means moving to a new community, because there aren't that many stations in any particular place in the UK, because it's a fairly small place. And he said, you know, and I've been doing this for 40 years, and I've not progressed, I've not moved forward. I don't really have anything to show for it. Other than I've been on the radio for 40 years, well, what what, what, what use is that to anyone so, so that really gave me pause. And, you know, I was enjoying writing radio commercials, I wrote some for a number of national brands in the UK. But I thought I wonder what else there might be for me, but one of the things that the the radio station had just invested in is this thing called the internet. And they had started that started, you know, sort of playing around with allowing you to surf the internet, from your office computer. And all of this. And I thought to myself, this is very exciting. I wonder if there's something here that we can do. For the radio stations, I started doing a website. And I think it was one of the first local websites for one of the first web sites for a local radio station anywhere in the UK. And I'd already been reading out email addresses and stuff like that when I was on on the air as well. So I thought, well, maybe, maybe something that I could do? Well here is to look at how we can take radio from being just an analog, you know, AMFM thing into what we do on on the websites, how we use email, how we use, you know, chat, messaging, all of that kind of stuff, what I can, what I can do there. So playing around with the internet, I thought would be really exciting playing around with, you know how you could end up using that. So I've been doing a number of different things online for for a few years by that point. So I've been running a media Directory Online on a compuserve forum originally moved it onto a website. So started that in 93. So figured that there was something here around the passion that I felt for radio and audio, and also the passion that I felt around what you could do with this new medium of the internet. And so started, you know, spending my, my my weekends learning a little bit more about all of this kind of stuff.

Jonathan Collaton:

Well, what did you come upon when you when you began learning all of these things? because it sounds very much like you're headed in a in an entrepreneurial direction where where maybe you're going to create your own company or figure out how to take the internet and turn it into something bigger than just, well, I can't really say bigger than just because it was still so new that people didn't really know the potential maybe at that point in time. And and I can't even really speak to that, because I'm only 31. And so when all this was going on, I you know, I grew up and we had the internet in my house or my dad's office or something by the time I was 10. So it was kind of always around by the time I was old enough to really understand it. So it's hard for me to grasp really what it would be like to, to be there and see it grow and figure out the potential of it.

James Cridland:

Yeah, and I think, you know, this goes back to school. And the reason why it goes back to school is that I was I was not particularly keen on sport at school. And it was very sporting school. So everybody else used to go out and play rugby. And I used to manufacture some reason why I couldn't play rugby. And in the end, the school gave up. And the best place for someone like me was in the computer room, learning how computers works. And we were very lucky at the time in that the BBC had spent some money in getting these cheap, but very good computers built by a company called acorn. And they were the BBC Model B, that all of the schools had. And so I learned how to program on those I learned how to do you know, sort of fun things on those computers and things. So by the time that I had left school and you know, started working in radio, I was also you know, playing around on on computers and stuff like that. So I was quite lucky to have that background. And one of the things that I did with this media directory which is still going is that I started selling advertising on it. And I started, you know, it started earning money. It didn't earn an awful lot of money. But it did start earning earning money to the point where, at the end of my radio at the end of my initial radio career when I got bored of writing, write writing radio ads, because again, what do you do? You know, you can't really move that career forward much. I was sort of, you know, beginning to get a little bit restless. And there was a computer company based in London, who said, we like what you're doing with this media directory, we think we think we can help you grow that. Why don't you come and work for us, and we'll take on your, your media directory, and, and we'll make a big success of it. And this was, you know, at the height of the.com, boom. And I thought, well, maybe maybe I'm onto something here. So we ended up moving to London, I ended up, you know, working for that company for for a bit and learning how, you know, a software company worked and made the website much better, which was nice. And then that company, ended up going bust. And I very nearly lost all of my work, but I didn't in the end. But yeah, that was that that was a good sort of progression, because it both moved me out of radio for a short time. But it also moved me to London. And the UK is a very sort of, you know, centrally focused economy. Anyone who is anybody is in London, they're not up in Sheffield, or Bradford, where I was working there in London. And so therefore, being in London, and having moved to London, when I did was a really helpful thing.

Jonathan Collaton:

It's actually it's similar in Canada. I'm Toronto based, but I live for a number of years away from Toronto. And I think now, having a having a podcast being in Toronto was so much more beneficial than if I was anywhere else. I mean, absolutely, there are great services like what we're using today, Riverside, so I can speak to people all around the world, but it's not quite the same as being in one city where I can, barring a pandemic, I could have somebody just come into my house and record with them. So I totally get the idea of, you know, a very centered, major city like that, and how beneficial that can be.

James Cridland:

yeah, and tremendously beneficial in a way that, you know, you have a capital city for each province. And that means that, you know, you still have large cities that are, in many cases, the economic hub for those particular areas, whereas in the UK, it's London, and possibly Glasgow and Edinburgh and Cardiff. And that really is kind of it. And yes, there's Manchester and Birmingham and everybody else, but the main economic hub is in London, so it was very helpful and useful for me to move there. Because, you know, as the company was going bust, somebody who I knew who I would, who I had worked with, in a radio station in the north of England, came to me and said, Would you like to come and work for this station running their website? And I thought to myself, that sounds like a fantastic thing that sounds right up my alley. And, and yeah, and so ended up working for this station. So it was marrying my love of audio, my love of radio, again, with also doing doing all of the internet stuff, which I had, had also been, you know, really into, so it was a perfect thing.

Jonathan Collaton:

That's it sounds like that. I mean, as you've said, it's a perfect fit, and how deep into your career. Were you at that point in time when you found that job?

James Cridland:

Oh, so this was this was in 2001. So I had been working by that point since 89. So I'd been working for what 12 years. So it was a good sort of time to move on and to and to understand what it is that I was doing next.

Jonathan Collaton:

Yeah, and I think that just goes to show that for so many people like you've got to work jobs that are beneficial but not always like the perfect fit until you can find something that is the perfect fit. And and so for you about 12 years, that's why I asked just because I personally I work at a university and and I think that there are a number of students who listen to this and I like to give them an idea of the amount of time it might take that you don't walk out of out of university and get that job that's the perfect job for you right away. It takes some time.

James Cridland:

Yeah. And also you don't know what the perfect job for you is. Which is another thing and and you know my perfect job, originally of being an evening show, you know radio DJ, which is where I have the most fun, that perfect job is no longer got a job that exists in most places, because that's, that's programming that comes from a big satellite in the sky, that somebody else is doing many, many miles away from where you are. So, you know, there's a whole sort of, you know, technology changes as well as you change as well, you change from being, you know, young, free and single to having a family to having a house and having local roots that you want to keep pulled off. So I don't think anybody leaves university with the idea not that I went to university, but I don't think anybody leaves school with the with the idea that the first job that they move into is going to be their perfect job for them. And I think, you know, just sort of learning learning stuff is what part of life is all about, isn't it?

Jonathan Collaton:

Absolutely. And what you said about that local evening radio not really existing anymore, I understand because I don't know how many cities I could go to within an hour drive of me where I can turn the radio on and John Tesh will be on the radio no matter what. So he is

James Cridland:

Well I'm sorry to hear it.

Jonathan Collaton:

I'm glad you know, john Tesh. So yeah, he's He's everywhere these days. All right. And so you've, you've got this job, then you get this new job, it seems like the perfect mesh of the software side of things and the radio side of things that you've, you've found that you really enjoy. And how was it when you got there? Was it exactly what you thought it was gonna be?

James Cridland:

It was, it was really, it was really good. Yeah, it was really good. So I knew my boss, which was nice, because I had worked with him in a previous station. I realized that I knew a bit more about this than I probably thought that I did. And so, you know, my, the previous person who had been doing my role was not a radio person. And I understood radio, people having been buying the mic, having understood, you know, what goes into a successful station. So that was a really useful set of skills for me to bring to this. One of the best things that my boss gave me is said it was a relatively small station, it had about a 5% market share, which I know is alarming in some of canadia in some of Canada's, you know, numbers. But when you look at, you know, UK numbers, it was relatively small. And one of the reasons that we did a lot of interesting things online is that we wanted the ad agencies to notice us. And one of the nice ways of doing that is to do some fun things online. And to get some news stories. So one of my KPIs, one of my reasons to exist was James, every quarter, you have to help us come up with a press release about how technologically clever our radio station is. So this was a radio station called virgin radio. And so every quarter, I had to come up with a good story that they could feed out to the press about, you know, this is a new thing that virgin radio has started doing. So a year before, two years before I arrived, Virgin radio was the first radio station in the whole of Europe to broadcast 24 hours a day on the internet. So we then did you know, one of the first mobile phone websites for a radio station, a web site, if you can remember web. So it was, you know, all of this stuff was deliberately there to make sure that the ad agencies saw us and thought, oh, they're being really, really cool. They're a cool station, we should be spending some of our money on that, on that station. But of course, as someone who is they're looking after a small team, that is a team, which is very, you know, interested in excited about doing new and exciting things. This was a perfect, this is a perfect thing, because it meant that we had a good excuse to just try new things and see what works and what didn't.

Jonathan Collaton:

Yeah, it certainly sounds like you were involved in a lot of innovation at that at that place, which works very well, from what I've heard from your past of your running that media directory and working in software after that, like all of that seems to require a fair amount of innovation. And this, obviously, was right down your alley. So at some point, something must change for you to not end up still doing doing that role. And so how long were you there and what was it that kind of led you on to something else?

James Cridland:

Yeah, so I was there for more than five years and really enjoyed it ended up ended up being asked to speak at lots of conferences worldwide, which was great because that meant that I got to see the world a bit meant that I got to get my name out there and meet new people that would then obviously help me with new ideas for what the radio station could end up doing. So by 2005, the radio station had just launched the world's first mobile phone app for a radio station. So you could actually have a listen to us through your mobile phone, which was a big thing. Similarly, at that point, we had also launched the first daily podcast from a radio station in the UK. And I ended up writing the RSS feed. So this was before the iPhone existed, of course, it was before podcasting was in the iPod, it was quite, you know, pushing the boundaries quite a lot. And I got noticed by a headhunter who was looking for a senior manager at the BBC, and the BBC, being the largest broadcaster in the world, is a very exciting thing. And obviously, the only radio group that I really wanted to work for other than virgin, which I was really enjoying, because so much larger, covers so many different genres of radio and audio. And I thought to myself, this sounds amazing. Oh, and the pay was extraordinary. Good. So I thought to myself, this sounds amazing. I should go for this job, went for that job. And, and ended up leaving virgin radio in early 2007. And went to work for the BBC.

Jonathan Collaton:

That's a, that's a pretty good way to end up leaving one place for another right? a headhunter comes for you and says, of all the places you might want to work more than the place you work now.

James Cridland:

Yeah,

Jonathan Collaton:

I'm recruiting for that place. And here's a truckload of money to ease the process for you. So, yeah, sounds like a pretty easy transition for you.

James Cridland:

Well, it was an easy transition in terms of, would you like to do this job? Yes, absolutely, I'd like to do this job. It was the worst possible transition for me in terms of, frankly, in terms of my career, and certainly in terms of my satisfaction, because all of a sudden, all of the fun things that I was doing, I wasn't allowed to do any more, I wasn't allowed to come up with weird and wonderful ideas on a whim. Because that's not how the BBC works, I wasn't allowed to go and speak in overseas conferences, because the BBC has rules about that sort of thing. I wasn't allowed to make a name for myself, because I was a middle manager. And, and, and so therefore, you know, my boss would take the credit for some of the things that I was doing, or if I, you know, or not, and so and so. And I had underestimated moving from a company that had 80 people working for it. When I was on the board, I'd underestimated moving from there over to a broadcaster that had 24,000 employees, and where the job isn't doing something to the best of your ability, the job is navigating the politics and the nightmare that a large organization brings to you. And, and I very quickly realized how deeply deeply unhappy I mean, it was great. I paid off my mortgage. Thank you very much, BBC. But you know, I, I mean, the alarm bells should have gone off when they explained my my reporting lines, and I was answering to one person, but my day to day reporting was to somebody else who was in a different department, who had different goals for me. And essentially, these two people didn't agree with what I should be doing. And, and, frankly, the two departments were at war with each other anyway. And so I was there stuck in the middle. And it was, it was not a fun time. And so I was literally working out how long do I have to stick it here? In a place where I would always wanted to work? How long do I have to stick it here? Before I can actually get out and it won't look stupid on my, on my list of jobs that I'd done. So yeah, that was that was definitely a grounding, a grounding moment. I'll tell you.

Jonathan Collaton:

Yeah. And I'm thinking back to like, so so Virgin at the time was small, I imagine is Virgin quite a bit bigger now, though.

James Cridland:

I mean, it's part of a very large organization now. I mean, it kind of Yes, yeah, the the building and the radio station, confusingly, isn't called virgin anymore, but it's part of a lie. For German media group now, so it's, yeah, it's not it's not at people anymore. Okay, so yeah. And so moving from that to, you know, to a company, which is also a much older company, and you know, the BBC, it's been going forever. You know, one of the I remember one of the conversations that I was having with somebody there, you know, they said, so where, where have you moved from? And I said, Well, I've moved from virgin radio. Oh, and who's that then? So I had to explain, you know, national radio station Hello. But I had to explain what it was and what I'd done there. And I said, you know, we were the first to be the first to broadcast insides computer games. And we were the first to broadcast in, you know, to mobile phones, and blah, blah, blah. And he said, he has gems, and it's all very well, but you see, you're working for the BBC now. And here, the BBC, we don't do things. First, we do them properly. I thought, gosh, that's this is this is gonna be a different experience.

Jonathan Collaton:

Yeah, it's as an outsider, it's an outsider from the UK. Yeah, it sounds a lot like the BBC is to maybe radio what, what the crown and the monarchy is to governance in that, that you don't screw up, it has to be done a certain way. And it can be done the right that is the right way to do it. And don't step outside of these boundaries. Is that fair to say? Yeah,

James Cridland:

I mean, I think, you know, the, the BBC don't think that rules apply to them, they are they have a very, in many cases, justified expectation of themselves. And I think that that's, you know, it takes a little bit of getting used to from moving from a, you know, a 5% market share radio station, if if that actually moving from there to a radio station, or to a radio group that had a 56% market share. And that is the largest broadcaster in the world by some, by some token and broadcasts everywhere, and, you know, etc, etc. So yeah, it is a massive, massive change. And, you know, and there are certain things I did there that I'm tremendously proud of, during my two years that I was there, spoiler alert, but, you know, it was not the happiest time of my life, and also not the best in terms of my career as well, you know, I did feel that I did feel that my personal brand was going backwards. And, and also, I was just taken aback by how nasty and mean and rude a lot of the people working in that organization were, because like, they kind of had to be in order to actually get anything done. They basically had to close their ears and say, lalala, not not listening, this is how it's going to be. And regardless of whether or not you've got any better ideas, this is how it's going to be. And that's how it's going to work. And I was completely taken aback by just the lack of working together, which was a real shame. It was like, I talked about it at the time, like, you know, when you go and watch a play, and you're sitting in the audience, and it's a brilliant experience, and you know, and everybody knows their lines, and they sing at the right time, and everything, everything just works. And it's a fantastic experience, and you walk away thinking what a great play that was. And then the next night, instead of sitting in the audience, you sit behind the curtain, and you watch the play from that side of the curtain, and you realize that the leading lady is drunk, and is sleeping with that guy, and the other guy hates him, and, you know, certainly hasn't even bothered turning up and they've forgotten their lines. And it's just an utter disaster. But somehow it still kind of works, and it still looks okay. That's basically how it felt moving from being an avid consumer of what the BBC was doing, to all of a sudden being behind the curtain and seeing the complete and total dysfunction that the BBC was going through at that time. I'm sure it's much better now. But yeah, it's just, it was it was it was it was a thing. Yeah.

Jonathan Collaton:

Yeah, that's a it's a great analogy. And I think that's, in many cases, that is the experience people have when they sort of get to, you know, that phrase, like don't meet your heroes.

James Cridland:

Yeah. Yeah.

Jonathan Collaton:

People, you know, it's it's that type of type of thing where suddenly you you see the flaws of something that you never saw before, and it changes your perspective.

James Cridland:

Yes, yes. Absolutely. And I, you know, I'm sure that the CBC is like that.

Jonathan Collaton:

Oh yeah

James Cridland:

I'm sure that you know, I'm sure that NPR although NPR works in a very different way is like that. But it came as a real, you know, shock to me. And I think, you know, just in terms of how it affected me as a person, you know, I was very pleased to be out of.

Jonathan Collaton:

Okay, so anyway, you get your mortgage paid off and and all of a sudden you're free to go. So

James Cridland:

Thank you BBC.

Jonathan Collaton:

Yes, there you go. So how do you decide where to go next? Did you want to go back to something like what you were doing at virgin? Or did you? Did you feel like you needed to go and explore something new?

James Cridland:

Well, I decided where to go next by basically going anywhere anywhere other than here. And I left the BBC without any, without a job to go to, I was lucky enough, I was lucky enough that I had managed to negotiate partially because of the way that I was treated, I've managed to negotiate a sum of money, which I thought would be a useful cushion. And so the next thing I decided to do was to go around the world. And so books around the world flight ticket, thank you Star Alliance, because those are very cheap and quite and quite changeable. and ended up going around the world. And my thought was, this is going to be a nice sort of three month break, I'm going to you know, broaden my, my horizons, you know, and all of that. But what I will also do is, I will meet lots of radio stations. And I will, you know, get some blog posts out of it. And I'll write stuff about what radio is like in other countries. So ended up you know, going to see Voice of America and NPR and, and the CBC in Front Street, in Toronto, and various other places, and then Japan, you know, Korea, and so on, and so forth. And so I went around the world and saw an awful lot of interesting radio stations made an awful lot of new friends, which was a fantastic thing. And then realized that perhaps the was an opportunity for me to step up the media directory, which I was still running, stepped that up a little bit more have that paying a little bit more of my wage, if it's, if it's possible, but also whether or not I could be a consultant to radio stations and a speaker. Because I realized, when I came back to the UK, after three months that I had a lot of stories, I had a lot of news about how radio works in other countries, which is actually quite rare. Because normally, we just look at how radio works in our own country, because that's all that we really care about. But actually, there are some great ideas from other countries. So I thought, well, like maybe, maybe there's something in being a conference speaker, which is something that I enjoyed doing, talking about radio stations all all around the world, and talking about where the future of radios going. And being a radio consultant as well. So luckily enough, ended up sort of falling into that and working for myself, having a few clients who I was working for a few days a week, and also able then to begin, you know, speaking in other other conferences and other places across the world.

Jonathan Collaton:

That sounds like an amazing experience getting to just travel around and sort of meet with people at all these places that are already of interest to you, and and it's going to eventually benefit your career and it obviously has so how do you sort of did you grow that that side of your your kind of brand your your business from just all these people that you met was at Bama? Who are bringing you in to speak at conferences initially? Or did you kind of just put yourself out there as it on, you know, Speaker spotlight or an equivalent website and just say, here's what I talked about, please pay me to come speak at your conference.

James Cridland:

I mean I, so I been sort of I've been doing a newsletter about interesting things in radio for quite some time. Since my virgin days, and so obviously, I had that for me. So I was keeping my personal brand warm, if you like in terms of that. And obviously the the stories and tales that I was telling from, you know, radio stations overseas, particularly places like India, which is a fascinatingly different radio market, and Australia and other places, you know, was certainly interesting enough, I think, to keep people reading that. So, you know, I was doing a bit of that, but actually, the radio conference market is so small that as long as you do a good job speaking at some of the bigger radio conferences, then everybody else essentially hires you. Because they've seen you speak and they think that you will be good for their conference as well. And the more conference appearances that you make, that means that the more people will ask you to end up speaking so it ends up being a virtuous circle and i'm lucky enough in that sometimes i could charge most of the time i couldn't but at least i would get travel paid for and i would get new stories because i'd obviously be all of a sudden you know shoved into a you know shoved into an airport hotel in vancouver for example and i would be doing a thing to the to the bcaa be the the association of broadcasters there and i would learn some interesting things about how some of their radio stations worked and so would be able to incorporate that into the next speaking engagement that i did in seoul in korea where i would then learn about korean radio and so on and so forth so it was a it was a you know a nice sort of self perpetuating you know flywheel if you like in terms of keeping that part of my of my work going as well as as well as being able to work with a bunch of a bunch of other folks you know around around their own individual things too so yeah you know hugely lucky in terms of being able to be at the right place in the right time

Jonathan Collaton:

mm hmm and i have to imagine then that being at all these speaking engagements and being one of the people who's there to talk about your knowledge and having traveled around and seeing how people are doing it elsewhere i have to imagine the consulting side of what you're doing started to pick up steam beyond that as well is that what happened

James Cridland:

yeah i mean i, the consulting side is a bit weird in that i don't necessarily go out and push that very much but certainly you know i was getting i was getting a fair amount of work which is nice and it's work that is you know that sort of strange work in the middle of both radio and technology that i've worked in for a long long time now so of course that is relatively unusual there are lots of people who work in radio there are lots of people who work in tech there aren't that many people who sort of straddle both both sides so i was quite lucky in in you know having that but yeah i mean i think there is an there is if there's anything to learn from all of this i think it's keeping your own personal brand going making sure that people know you know who you are and what you stand for and doing that sort of thing is very useful in case everything all goes pear shaped and us stupidly chase chase the money rather than the rather than the enjoyment and you join us large broadcaster you know that that's having having something that you can fall back on you know is tremendously helpful so yeah so i think that that was that was certainly a useful useful trick is just to keep that personal that personal brand going

Jonathan Collaton:

now since you've started doing all that have you ever thought about or did you at some point between when you started this and now did you ever think about going back to a sort of i don't know maybe not nine to five but but a more working for someone else i guess that's the best way to put it or are is what you're doing you're happy with it and there's there's no need to go and explore something else

James Cridland:

yeah i mean i'm super happy with not working for somebody nine to five and what i find is that there is a finite length to the consulting work that i do there's a finite length to that have either i've given you everything that i know now so thanks very much and goodbye or you know i've worked here for a year and a half the politics and the and the boringness is beginning to you know is beginning to get to me and so here are a few other people who i would recommend who could do the same sort of job that i've been doing but you know it's been fun but thanks and it's quite nice actually being able to turn around and say to clients so you've been working with for some time you know it's been really good but i'm you know i'm not going to work for you anymore if that's okay which is strange strange thing but i think you know it's it's probably it's probably a good thing if you're sort of you know always wanting to move things forward always wanting to be sort of relatively creative and i hate that word but if you're wanting to you know always come up with new ideas that actually needs a specific type of client and it's very unlikely that you will get a client that will be happy just to let you do whatever it is that you want and so you know at some point then any relationship like that comes to comes to an end but i've been really lucky in that being able to you know having a that Media directory which, you know, still brings in an amount of money every single, every single month, which sits there and makes money and I don't necessarily have to worry about it. That is really helpful because that enables me to not worry too much about some of the things that I have wanted to end up doing since. And, you know, the two big sort of changes in the last five years have been Firstly, moving to Australia, which is where I live now. I ended up meeting somebody, when I was doing some work for the BBC, I have done work for the BBC after, after leaving them after leaving their their

Jonathan Collaton:

But at an arm's length,

James Cridland:

yes.

Jonathan Collaton:

it changes the dynamic

James Cridland:

the dynamic. It does, it does. And I was working for the BBC World Service, which is a wonderful organization. And I was actually doing some work in Ghana in Africa. And met somebody that was working there as well, working for the BBC, while I was there, and so had the sort of the strange experience of meeting somebody in in Ghana, going back to London, where she lived, but she was actually Australian, and, and so coming back here with her, that was a that was a strange sort of swerve ball. But luckily, all of the consulting and all of the work that I've been doing, I've been able to continue doing that from the other side of the world, at least until COVID hit. So you know, so that's been really helpful in terms of how I can do things. So that was sort of, you know, sort of one side. So the other sort of side of this is realizing that I've been doing a newsletter about the future of radio for many years. So I understand how newsletters work. I was sitting in a radio conference in LA with a friend of mine, and a friend of mine was saying, Where do you get news about podcasting? I hear podcasting is going to be big. Where's the news about podcasting? Where's the Tom Taylor now, which was a very famous daily newsletter. Where's that for for podcasting? And I suddenly realized that A - there wasn't one. B - I knew. I knew a lot about podcasting. Anyway, having been involved in it in many ways, since its start and see realizing that there might be an opportunity here to get in on the ground and start moving that. And so within a month or so I had worked out how to produce something that was a daily newsletter, about podcasting. And I thought, well, let's give this a go. And let's see if this works. But I'm lucky enough in that I've got all of my other things to keep me going. So let's see if this works. And if I can make any money out of it, then great. Wouldn't that be nice? And so that's the basic story about how the Podnews newsletter came, you know, came about,

Jonathan Collaton:

you know, the funny thing about Podnews for me is that I've been podcasting for a little over six months now. But it was only sometime in February when I came across Podnews. And I think it was because you were at pod Fest, maybe random panel, I'm not sure there were 5000 odd people at that. But I, I saw your name in the guest list. And in your name was hashtag pod news. So I looked it up. And I subscribed to it in I don't know, mid February. And like, literally days later, when I was talking to Lindsay over emails, he mentioned that he thought you would be soomeone good to be on my podcast, and I was James Cridland. I know that name. Where do I know that name from? But I think and immediately, I just finished reading what he had written. And you're a pod news. I was like, oh, okay, this is fantastic. So I've been getting Podnews now for probably only about a month. But it's a great read every day. I love that you have the the amount of time it's going to take you to read right up at the top. But it's always incredibly deceptive. Because every time I click on an article, there's another 10 minutes down the drain. It's all positive, of course. But it takes me much longer than I would expect, in some cases to get through it because there's so much good content in there. And I wanted to ask about that. Is this something you're working on solely on your own? Or do you have anyone else who works on this with you?

James Cridland:

It is just me.

Jonathan Collaton:

Just you.

James Cridland:

And you know, given that this is a conversation about my career. Let's just have a quick flick back in that it incorporates understanding about audio, and radio, which of course has been my entire career. It incorporates writing stuff, and I used to write radio commercials. One of the jobs about writing radio commercials is to try and get a message over in as short and as succinct way as you possibly can. And then thirdly, I write all of the tech for it as well. So Everything that you see on the website is all my own code. And that, of course, is the other, the other skill I have. So it's kind of a perfect marriage of all of the three of the skills that I learned, which has been super, super useful. And so that has enabled me to really cut the time down of how long it can take me to do if I really have to. So I can do a newsletter for pod news, which includes a podcast as well, in about an hour if I really need to. And a lot of the work has been working out, okay, what scripts can I run? To make this bit easier? How can I make that bit faster? You know, there's a little bit in the newsletter, which has, you know, images of every single podcast that we mentioned, and, you know, and all of that kind of stuff, how can I automatically put those in? And so it's all of that stuff. And so very much the focus has been on workflow has been making sure, you know, what's the best time for me to put this together? How can I do it so that it works, you know, fast, and then easily done. And that, and that I think has been, you know, the big learning from this has been just, you know, sitting there and working out the best way of doing something, and the most time economical way of doing something so I can focus on the creative side of actually reading the the news and understanding what's going on, rather than the drudgery side of laying out a newsletter, which I have no interest in do.

Jonathan Collaton:

Well, that's a great way to sum up, everything you've done so far has very much led to what you're doing now, at least all the skill sets you've acquired or something you're using in your career now, even if you weren't using them all in tandem, at various points of your career, which it sounds like you were anyway, in a lot of cases.

James Cridland:

Yeah, I think so. And I think you know, sort of playing around with the language that you use when I was at virgin radio of understanding, you know, how to, you know, those little AB tweaks that you do on websites of what's the best word to use here. And all of that stuff, you know, all of that is, is learnings that never go away. So that's a very helpful side to it. I mean, the the weirdest thing about pod news, which now pays my entire salary, the weirdest thing about pod news was the classified ads. So when you go into the newsletter, you'll see that there's, there's some classified ads in every single in every single episode. I wrote the code for that. But I set myself a target of I know, this will be a waste of time, because nobody will buy these things. Because I've tried them before. And it's a waste of time. So I'll set myself a goal of one day, one day writing the code for this and I had to write the account management thing in the morning. And then I wrote the actual, the actual add stuff in the afternoon, and the accepting credit cards and everything else I wrote it in in one day, because I thought it'll be a complete waste of time, no one will bother buying any of this stuff. That one of the beauties of being in in Australia is I am working on the website while you are asleep. Which is great, because it then means that I can, I can then go to sleep, wake up the next morning and just have a look through my logs. And I woke up the next morning had a look at my email, actually, first of all, and one of the emails said thank you for your order. And I thought, hello, what's this? It's from my website, it's copied to me, but it's to its to somebody who's bought some advertising. This is amazing. Not just they bought advertising that bought $500 worth of advertising on the first night, and I thought to myself, okay, I should probably you know, make it look nice now and make the password you know, the forgotten your password thing work and all of this stuff that I hadn't bothered doing. So yeah, so you know, just great being able to iterate stuff, find out what works, find out what doesn't, but not spend an awful long time doing it has been a real, you know, useful learning. For me, I think.

Jonathan Collaton:

James, that's a tremendous story. I like it that you just figure it out as you go, as so many people...will not figure it out as you go, but do the amount of work that you need to at any given time. Because you set yourself a target and then you kind of surpassed your target. So you have to do a little more work,

James Cridland:

Yeah, do the minimum amount of work, see if it works. And if it works, then great. And if it doesn't work, and there's been a whole plenty that hasn't worked, then then forget about it and move on. And that's been that's been really interesting to you know, play with but you know, so lucky in you know, and I would say to any anybody that is a writer that is a journalist and learn how to code. It's so so useful, even if you're learning how how to code apple scripts on your computer so that you can just automate you know a response to somebody who sent you another press release you know just just learn how to code it is one of the most useful skills that you will ever have and it goes along with your main job in a tremendously good way

Jonathan Collaton:

fantastic advice now before i let you go i just want to ask where is it that people can then find you if they want to hire you to hire you to be a speaker at any conferences if they want to sign up for pod news where can they go to do all these things

James Cridland:

well you can you can sign up to Podnews, please do, at podnews.net if you're interested in podcasting there's also jobs in there and there's events in there and there's all kinds of stuff so that's a good thing it's free to sign up so just go to podnews.net and if you want to either see me speaking or you know hire me for speaking in the future hopefully at some point i'll be allowed out of this country currently we currently can't can't go anywhere there's probably a good reason for that then my personal website which is very bare bones at the moment is james.cridland.net

Jonathan Collaton:

perfect i highly recommend sign up to pod

news it shows up at about 7:

30am every day for me i think so it's the perfect time get up have my coffee read the newsletter and it's been a really good resource i've gotten some really good articles off there that have taught me some things i didn't know so hopefully some other people will sign up for that and find it quite useful. James i really want to thank you for coming on the podcast today it's been a really interesting story to hear how you've melded all of these different skills you had into what is what is your career now but how they've also kind of helped you along the way by by coexisting and making you better at the job you've had so thank you so much.

James Cridland:

you bet thank you so much for asking me Jonathan

Jonathan Collaton:

all right so that is james's career path so far i think i've mentioned it on the podcast before that i'm very much a traveler and so i'm trying to find the right balance of being happy about his experience traveling the world happy for him while also being extremely jealous and i think there is a little bit of room for for jealousy in there. now james might not be the dj he thought he would be when he was younger but radio consulting podcasting running a newsletter and a media directory are all related to the skills he chose to practice as a teen so with that in mind what can we learn from james's career path? one of the things that stuck with me in james's interview was when he said he hates the word creative so i've been trying to think of a different word to use to describe him and the word i think is most appropriate is innovative. it seems to me that driving innovation is one of his passions in life. another passion is being involved in radio which he originally thought meant being on air all day but he's changed a lot in 30 plus years. over his career there have been times where those two passions were at odds with one another but there have been other times where they were symbiotic and they've allowed them to thrive so let's recap some of his career and i'll point out where i think each passion sticks so at the beginning volunteering at a radio station pure passion right there starts a media directory innovation then you get some airtime gets hired then fired then rehired you got to have some passion for radio to stick around through that and then headhunted by the bbc for all the great work he had done which as he kind of indicated the grand mecca of broadcaster so he was thrilled the bbc however did not allow him the room for the innovation that he enjoyed and ultimately he chose to leave since then he's been flying around the world speaking of conferences consulting at radio stations and is turned to podcasting more recently where he answers to no one but himself. so it seems like he's found the perfect way to live a life where it gets to enjoy both passions simultaneously. i think the lesson in this is that you might not get everything you want out of your career at every moment. there's going to be ebbs and flows times where your passions can coexist and you'll be supremely happy and times where something will feel lacking. so in that case do what James did and be proactive and do something on the side that satisfies your other passions. and that brings me to lesson number two. i think that james has shown us that when you put in the work and obtain the skills required to get paid for your passions you can buy a certain level of freedom. freedom from the constraints of someone else being your boss. freedom from being stuck in one location. James's media directory provides some passive income and his consulting allows him to work for whoever he wants, wherever he wants, whenever he wants, for however long he wants, and that allowed him to move to Australia when he met his partner, and she wanted to go back home. Now, you might be thinking that James is lucky, even when he was 16 he knew he wanted to work in radio. And he already had an interest in tech from his times and the computer labs in school. And that might be true but none of this happened overnight for James. he worked to build that skill set over time. And even if that had been the case, and his work as a teenager, set him up for the rest of his life, who cares? This isn't a contest. There's probably something you can start doing today that will mean that one year from now or five years from now, you'll be happier about where you are in your career. So don't let yourself say I should have, instead say I will, and then actually go and do that thing. And I've definitely been that person who looks back in the past sometimes and thinks, what could I have done differently, but it's not really relevant anymore and I'm ust going to spend my time ooking at what can I do to make y next dream a reality. So all hat jealousy I feel over ames's trip traveling around he world. I got some cooking hat hopefully will mean that ne day I can do the same thing. And those are a couple of the things that I think we can learn from James. Thanks for listening to this week's episode of career crossroads. And if you know someone who would be interested in James's career path, please share this episode with them. If you want to get notified of future episodes of Career Crossroads, sign up to my mailing list at careercrossroadspodcast.com or follow the podcast on Apple podcast, Spotify or any other podcast player you might use. If you like what you hear, I'd love if you would leave the show a five star review. Come back next week to hear from Helen, who had a 20 year career in public relations before leaving it all behind and heading back to school to start an entirely new path.