All in the mind

You don’t have to do media studies to become a DJ – Xfm star Rick Shaw talks to Dan Poole

Rick Shaw may have eschewed media training in favour of a psychology degree, but a flair for broadcasting soon got him tuned in to a career in radio, working his way up the ranks from his local radio station to the lofty position he currently occupies on XFM’s morning show. YouCan spoke to the Sony Award-winning DJ about university life, avoiding comedy cul-de-sacs and his advice on a media career.

You went to the University of Liverpool – did you enjoy your time there?

Yeah, it’s a brilliant city for students. We had a really good relationship with the locals, there is plenty of nightlife, a good music scene and really good facilities. Personally speaking I didn’t want to go too far from home, which made it ideal because I’m from Leeds –though I was far enough away to escape the influence of my parents!

What made you decide to study for a psychology degree?

On leaving school I didn’t really have a clear idea of what sort of field I wanted to go into, so I decided on a degree that would be relevant to any number of careers I wanted to pursue. I thought psychology would give me a good understanding of why people behave in the ways that they do.

Did you work hard?

For the first two years I didn’t really do much work as I hadn’t taken a gap year after leaving school, so the freedom was extremely appealing. In the second year I did a little bit more, but still not a great deal. However, by the third year I realised I had to start knuckling down and doing some work!

How did you get into radio?

I love music and listened to a lot of radio growing up, so I got involved with the campus radio station while at university. I found I had a bit of a flair for it but I didn’t really expect it to come to much. I sent demo tapes of stuff I had done to stations across the country, and after hundreds of rejection letters I got a positive response from Radio City in Liverpool. I worked there in my third year and got offered a full-time show, but it would have meant jacking in my degree so in the end I rejected it. Eight months later another position came up at the station and I ended up staying there for three years.

After that I found out that Kerrang! Radio was about to launch in Birmingham, so I went down there, managed to get a job with them and did the morning show for three-and-ahalf years. I ended up winning a Sony Award before moving to XFM in January 2007.

What does your job involve?

I present the morning programme from 9am until 1pm. It’s predominantly a music show, but I produce it myself so I have to devise features to run between the records.

I get into work around 7.30am and do some quick research before I go on at 9am. We finish the show at 1pm and have a debriefing session with the senior producer before starting work on the next day’s show, so I very rarely leave before 5pm. People think that presenters on radio stations just do the show and go, but it’s not really like that any more.

We like to have plenty of interaction with the callers so it involves going through the papers to find out what’s going on in the world and seeing if we can deliver it in a way that will appeal to our audience. It’s quite a difficult trick to pull off, because the link material has to be interesting, entertaining and topical but also succinct and snappy, so that the next record is only moments away.

It’s about finding a balance really. I usually know how I’m going to get out of every link, because there is nothing worse than hearing a presenter walk into a comedy cul-de-sac.

What do you like about the job?

I love the music we play and the interaction with the audience. I get an immense buzz out of it on a good day, when the audience become part of the show and really get involved in it.

Any advice for budding DJs out there?

I think it is important to get some kind of educational back-up, because the broadcasters who are going to enjoy the most success in the future are the ones who can turn their hand to a number of different tasks. You don’t necessarily need to have a media studies degree though – people who work here have history degrees and science degrees, for example. The fact is that if you have a flair for a certain element of the media then you can get on in the industry that way, building up contacts who can help you in your career.

Rick Shaw presents the Morning Show on Xfm from Monday to Friday between 9am and 1pm. You can listen in on 104.9 FM in London and 97.7FM in Manchester, or visit

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