Matt Tancock – Timing Is Everything
I never used to listen to the radio. I was always one to put on my favourite CD and escape into another world whilst I travelled from A to B. However, in recent years I’ve found myself listening more and more to the radio and I think I can put that down to the fact that hearing people talking makes you feel a part of a conversation – a sense of connection. If you think about it, the best DJs on the radio today are people who manage to create that connection with their listeners. I recently had the pleasure of meeting just such a chap and one of the brightest prospects in regional broadcasting. Meet Devon’s own Matt Tancock who has just been given his own show on BBC Radio Devon at the age of just twenty-three.
Having grown up in Willand, Devon, Matt didn’t really know what he wanted do with his life. He told me,
“I remember feeling like I was destined to drift a bit and fall into some job or other. I certainly didn’t have a firm idea of what I wanted to do after I left school. At around the age of fourteen, I found myself getting really interested in music and lighting and I started saving up all of the money that I could to buy DJ equipment and lighting rigs.
“It only started off as a bedroom hobby really but then I started getting people asking me if I could come and DJ at their discos, private functions and weddings. Me and one of my best mates started doing gigs together and I’ll never forget the sense of satisfaction and reward that came with knowing that we had played a huge part in creating an enjoyable experience for people. As we were in our mid-teens, we needed driving everywhere and my parents were always happy to help. Cheers Mum and Dad!”
As a secondary school student, Matt would listen to Radio 1 every morning in the car. This was back in the halcyon days of Chris Moyles hosting the Breakfast Show and Matt would often sit in the car as long as possible, until just before school was about to start, so that he could hear every last bit of the show. He explained,
“I loved the rapport and banter that Chris had with his team of producers and with the callers who would ring in. It felt like being around your mates and was significantly more interesting to me than the school lessons that awaited me every morning. I remember thinking what a cool job they all had, getting to do that every morning.”
TAKING ADVANTAGE OF OPPORTUNITIES
Fast-forward past a course in Television and Film Production at Exeter College (which Matt absolutely loved) and Matt had a brief stint studying a similar subject at Bournemouth University. He quickly realised once arriving at Uni though, that the course was no more detailed than what he had already studied at college and he couldn’t help feeling that he would be better served gaining some industry experience rather than sitting in a classroom and racking up a sizeable amount of debt for the next three years.
So, he left uni and took on a part-time role working at Waitrose in Wellington as a delivery driver. The flexibility of that role meant that he was able to take odd-jobs within media as and when they came up. Matt commented,
“Timing is everything in media and I made a decision early on in my journey that I just needed to put myself in the right places, even if it was doing something fairly menial, in order to give myself the best possible chance of taking advantage of one of the rare opportunities that occur once in a blue moon in the industry.”
In one of what I came to realise were an abnormally large number of ‘lucky breaks’, a friend from his job at Waitrose said to him one day, “We always have such a laugh at work…you should come on the radio sometime!” Little did Matt know that this colleague of his presented on a local community radio station in Taunton and, so, Matt tried it out. He reflected,
“It just felt really natural. The MD of the station just so happened to be listening to this one particular show and was so impressed that he offered to provide me with some training and airtime with a view to giving me my own show.”
“I was dead nervous and, to start off with, I just let my friend do most of the talking and I chipped in whenever the right moment arose. I then moved on to the only thing that I felt confident doing – reading the weather from a script. Even that was petrifying! But eventually, I got into the groove and actually invited my friend who I had done discos with years before to join me on air. He took on the scripted content (mainly the weather and news) and I took on the more freestyle conversational stuff between songs.”
Matt told me that his dream back then was to one day have either a breakfast or a drivetime show on this small local community station. After several years of hard graft, he eventually did achieve this. It was shortly after getting his own show that he was attending the Taunton Flower Show on behalf of the radio station and another woman who was volunteering for the station said to him, “I don’t know why some of the others are taking this so seriously. None of us actually want a career in radio, we’re just doing this for fun.” This remark had a huge impact on Matt and he couldn’t get the comment out of his head. He realised that, if he was going to make a career for himself in radio, he had to expand his horizons and look at working with bigger commercial radio stations.
MAKING YOUR OWN LUCK
As previously mentioned, Matt’s journey has been one where timing is everything. The next step in his journey was to be no different. His Dad regularly encouraged him to pop into radio stations to introduce himself and try to talk to other people in the industry – after all, sometimes you make your own luck in life.
So, with his Dad’s words echoing in his ears, Matt made one of his routine drop ins, this time to Radio Exe in Exeter. He explained,
“I changed out of my delivery clothes and into a suit in the back of my van, googled who the MD was, puffed out my chest and walked confidently into the reception area to ask for her. When I asked for her, the receptionist replied ‘Yes, she’s in that room waiting for you!’.”
Somewhat perplexed, Matt played along and popped his head around the door of the room where the MD was sitting. She looked up and said, “Oh, you’re here for the job?”. Again, Matt improvised and replied, “Yep…I’m here for the job!”.
As his luck would have it, the station were holding interviews that day for promotional staff to represent them in the community and at events. He did own up to the fact that he had somewhat stumbled across the interview opportunity and shared with her his longer-term dream to work his way up through the industry. She could obviously see something in him and agreed that, if he took on the role working in promotional events, she would do her best to give him some airtime and training so that he could gain some experience and improve his demo reel.
True to her word, over the coming months, this happened and slowly Matt carved out a place for himself in the Radio Exe team. He slowly gained confidence and realised that his dream of forging a career in this industry was an actual possibility. However, there were three salaried presenters, all of whom were excellent at what they did and, without one of them moving on or retiring, the opportunity to step into one of their shoes was incredibly slim.
So, again, he went searching for doors to push and he touched base with a key player at Heart Radio, based at the time in Exeter. He once again offered to come in at the bottom rung of the ladder if it meant that there was a chance that he might be able to progress in the long-term at the station. With the experience that Matt had gathered thus far in his young career, the station agreed that they would train him up to take on the ‘travel slot’ on the flagship breakfast show. This meant that he was on air every fifteen minutes and, therefore, was able to make a good impression quickly at the station. It also gave him the opportunity to play his part in that same type of on-air banter which he had loved about the Chris Moyles breakfast show on Radio 1 in his younger years.
NEVER TAKE NO FOR AN ANSWER
Out of the blue, he received an email saying that the opportunity was no longer available for him to carry on in this capacity. Absolutely gutted and with no ‘Plan B’ (as he had stopped working with all previous stations to allow for as much time on Heart as possible), Matt was now left with nothing to show for his hard graft and sacrifice.
It was around this time that the BBC Radio 1 Big Weekend came to Exeter and, the week before the festival, the station had organised a schedule of workshops and Q&As around Exeter with many of their prominent DJs in attendance. Clearly this was of real interest to Matt so he made his way to a Q&A with Greg James, Nick Grimshaw and Clara Amfo at the Exeter Phoenix. He got there late and, much to his dismay, they’d stopped letting people into the venue. Undeterred, he switched on the charm and blagged his way into the session, even managing to get a question in to Greg over the mic.
Afterwards, Matt hung around and he saw that Greg was broadcasting his show from a small side room. It was a pre-ticketed show and all of the seats were taken except one in the corner, so he sidled in and sat down. He got talking to a producer on the show and told her about his career aspirations in radio, mentioning that Greg James was a personal hero of his. The producer then went off, chatted to an assistant on the show and came back to ask Matt if he wanted to speak with Greg live on Radio 1!
“I pretty much ran to the front of the room and sat down next to Greg, who told me that we’d be live on-air in a couple of minutes’ time. So I texted everyone I could think of to tell them to listen in as I was just about to be on Radio 1. It was an amazing experience and, as well as laughing a lot, we actually had a really great chat. It was a great encouragement to me and gave me a real boost to get back out there and find my next role in radio.”
So, with this fresh spring in his step, Matt approached the BBC where he had done a small amount of shadowing in the past. With a boldness beyond his years (or maybe, come to think of it, we are bolder when we are younger?), he got two of the bosses of BBC Radio Devon together and enquired about the possibility of taking on some work with them.
This ballsy move paid off and, although they had no vacancies at the time, they offered to bring him in as cover for the ‘travel slot’ on their shows. He was given immediate training and they instantly started booking him in on their broadcasting schedule. Matt commented,
“Things in the world of media just don’t happen that quickly usually. I was prepared to go back to driving vans and wait for something to come up.”
MAN ON A MISSION
Since then, Matt has quickly gained momentum at BBC Radio Devon, covering for the promising young Sarah Gosling as well as for Rick Edwards’ afternoon prime-time show for a week – a huge opportunity for someone at the stage of career that Matt is at, as the listenership of the show is one of the largest that BBC Radio Devon has.
Plenty of positive feedback later and Matt told me excitedly that he has just been offered his own show on BBC Radio Devon every Tuesday night. With a love for music of all genres and an affinity for on-air banter, listeners to his show are sure to find something familiar as well as something a bit fresh (and have a few giggles along the way).
“I come from a Christian family and I can’t help but feel blessed when I think about my journey up until this point.”
Concluding our time together, Matt reflected back on his 2016 meeting with Greg James, commenting,
“Greg joked live on Radio 1 that I was twenty years younger and twenty times cheaper than him, so he had better watch his back as I might be after his job someday soon. Who knows what the future holds!”.
Greg James, I listen to you most mornings on the way to work and, in my opinion, you’re one of the few ‘good ones’ when it comes to modern DJs. That said, maybe your words in 2016 were more accurate than you could’ve known at the time. I’d keep an eye out if I were you. Matt Tancock is a man on a mission and, if his journey so far is anything to go by, he just might pull it off.
Follow Matt’s exciting journey @Matttancock on Instagram and Twitter or tune in every Tuesday evening from 7pm on BBC Radio Devon (FM, DAB or on BBC Sounds).
All content by Joff Alexander-Frye