Sonita Alleyne: My Life in Media

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The Independent Online

Sonita Alleyne, 40, is the co-founder and chief executive of Somethin' Else, the cross-platform production company she set up 16 years ago with an initial stake of £1,500 from her and her two partners, who included the BBC radio DJ Jez Nelson, now the company's creative director. Somethin' Else is now the biggest syndicator of radio programmes in the UK, outside of the BBC, distributing shows to more than 200 radio stations in 65 countries. Alleyne is a keen fly-fisher and lives in south London with the screenwriter James McCarthy and their son.

What inspired you to a career in the media?

I was a passionate early reader and I liked telling stories. Stories are about creativity and such a primal instinct for people, and whether you're doing a documentary or music, media is all about stories. That's what I find exciting.

And what were your favourite TV and radio programmes?

I was brought up in Leytonstone. At that age the edge of my world sort of stopped at Walthamstow Market and, as a teenager, the television was so exciting. I was very into Hill Street Blues. I begged my parents to let me stay up to watch Soap, a fairly anarchic sitcom which they didn't quite get, so I knew it was good. I was astounded by Boys from the Black Stuff. In those days you couldn't find any jazz on TV so when George Duke turned up on The Old Grey Whistle Test playing "Brazilian Love Affair" that was major. I also remember watching Carl Sagan presenting Cosmos. I thought he was possibly the cleverest person I'd ever seen and I'm sure that I affected a slight Carl Sagan twang in my accent for at least a month. I bonded with my dad by watching a weekly dose of westerns and war films. I listened to a lot of pirate radio: Radio Caroline and the black pirate radio stations that were around.

Describe your job

I think I've got a really exciting job. It's about being a forward thinker, not worrying but finding the solutions to things.

What media do you turn to first thing in the morning?

Radio 4. At the moment I get up at six and go for a swim so I get a bit of the Today programme as I'm driving to the pool.

When you were 15, which newspaper did your family get, and did you read it?

We always had a paper and we probably got the Daily Mirror, but I don't remember looking at it too much. I think I was reading a lot of books at that age. I was also quite into computers and read computer magazines.

What is the best thing about your job?

The people I work with.

And the worst?

Not enough hours

Do you consult any media sources during the working day?

I'm an online person but don't look at many music sites – there are about 90 people here, many much younger than me, who do.

I look at things like StrategyEye, which has tech news.

If you didn't work in the media what would you do?

Probably be in some sort of organisation about change. Maybe the UN.

What's the proudest achievement in your working life?

Last year we bought a building and I am very proud of everyone being in a

fantastic new space.

How do you feel you influence the media?

We are seen as a very modern company which works completely cross-platform. We sell creativity, but we encourage our people to have the ability to do radio and television and interactive – don't just record something, getting the skills to be able to film something as well.

And what's your most embarrassing moment?

Life's too short, but I had an almost embarrassing moment when the firm had got to a certain size and I spoke to someone for the first time, and it turned out he had been there for two months.

Name the one career ambition you want to realise before you retire

To grow the business.

Who in the media do you most admire and why?

I used to be on a panel run by Ben Verwaayen, the chief executive of BT. I thought he was great.

The CV

1988 LeavesCambridge with aphilosophydegree to work asa financialadviser at RoyalLife, soonrealising sheshould follow herinterests andfinds a job atJazzwisePublications.

1989 Joins JazzFM's publicitydepartmentbefore climbingonto theproduction ladder

1991 After beingmade redundant,Alleyne sets upSomethin' Elsewith two formercolleagues.

1996 Lands firstweeklycommission forthe BBC for Jazzon 3, presentedby Nelson