Gavin Puszczalowskyi worked in a biscuit factory for seven years from the age of 17. For six of those seven years he volunteered at various radio stations, clocking up around 59 hours a week, before his bit on the side materialised as a job. Now he's a presenter and manager of The Pips, his current bit on the side, a website devoted to helping people get into radio. Essentially, Gavin is a master of bits on the side.
How did you balance the biscuit factory and the radio presenting?
I worked with people who had been doing the same job for twenty years and didn't think they could do anything else, so it gave me a constant determination to aim high, pick a spot on the horizon and work towards it. It was really tiring though- I lived in Sheffield but travelled to Nottingham as that had the best hospital radio channels.
How did the factory deal with your bit on the side?
It caused one or two concerns at the biscuit factory but i quite simply didn't give up on my dream. They started to put me on split shifts which I couldn't do because I wouldn't have been able to do the radio. They said "well you've got employment here and the radio is just voluntary stuff" and I told them the voluntary stuff will lead to a career, but I don't think they quite believed it was achievable.
How did you get into radio initially?
I had a friend working at Trent FM and, when Brian Harvey was attacked in Nottingham, I texted my friend jokingly asking if it was him who did it. He texted back saying no, thankfully, but he invited me down for a coffee. It was late, I had work in the morning but I did go. I sat in on his show, then he kept inviting me back until I ended up being part of the furniture. It was the contacts I made at that station that got me my job. If I hadn't texted him - or if Brian Harvey hadn't been attacked - I might not have got into radio.
Did you apply for lots of jobs while working at the factory?
I sent demos. Peak FM, where I ended up working, said no to me a number of times, but I just improved. I worked hard at hospital radio, student radio, regional licensed radio stations that pop up for four weeks broadcasted from somebody's garage, then disappear. I also worked behind the scenes at Trent FM (now Capital).
When did you get your first paid job?
In April 2003 I got the Saturday breakfast slot on Peak FM, so for five days a week I was in a factory then at the weekend I was a professional radio presenter. There were four months of two worlds clashing. I skipped around like I was a member of the Von Trapp family. Two years later, I got headhunted and was on a breakfast show at what is now called Heart FM in Gloucester. Then years later I decided to set up The Pips website.
How did you fund it?
I started work at BBC Radio Manchester and got talking to someone else at the BBC on a night out. I told them the idea, but didn't pitch it, and she liked it so much she decided to invest 15% of the money. That started in 2009. We did a lot of research but decided we didn't want loads of money, we wanted to put people first and be credible and reliable: but you do have overheads. We don't charge £400 for an afternoon of radio training, we wanted it to be realistic. £4 a month subscription is do-able for students, and unemployed people... and that's why we are, I think, the number one place for people wishing to go into radio.
How much time do you devote to presenting and The Pips?
50-50. I get up at 4.30am on a Saturday and 6.30am on Sunday to do the Peak radio breakfast show. Then four days a week I work for William Hill radio, which is the best job I've ever had. So much fun. The rest of the time is devoted to The Pips, which doesn't feel like hard graft because I once worked in a biscuit factory! The people there didn't believe I could do it, but I proved them wrong. That's a great feeling, and I love my job. If I can do it, anyone can.
Any tips for people wishing to get into radio?
1. Don't give up. Never ever. You'll get a lot of setbacks and rejection, nobody decides they want to work in radio and does it straight away. I got rejected from my local radio station numerous times, they told me I wasn't good enough, now I've given them them the best figures they've ever had for drivetime and Saturday breakfast. People can be wrong, but it's up to you to prove them wrong. We have this saying "persistence mixed with a little luck will eventually bring you an opportunity." If you keep going, you will get an opportunity and it's up to you whether you take advantage of it.
2. Find contacts and work them. Does your local radio station know you exist? If not, you're never going to catch their attention. Send them a demo tape. Just be yourself, show them what you can do, don't pretend to be someone else. I know what got me into radio: it's because I'm a very normal, relatable guy. The person who listened to my demo connected to me, not Chris Moyles or Simon Mayo. I don't consider myself to be a radio presenter, but a normal bloke who's just on the radio.
3. Work hard to get into radio; if you get a chance, work harder to stay there. A lot of people get an opportunity and when it comes along, they think the job is done. Half the job is getting onto the radio, the other half is staying there. It's going to test you every stretch of the way and you can never rest on your laurels. I meet people who do every day of the week, and for every single radio presenter doing a show on a commercial radio station, imagine 500 people queuing outside the door wanting to take that gig.
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