A teenage LGBT+ radio presenter from Yeovil has spoken out about how building a broadcast career has been instrumental in feeling ready to come out during the pandemic.
Jake Hunter, 18 is a DJ who graduated from the realm of local radio to a national platform earlier this year.
He got his first break into broadcasting on Yeovil’s community radio station, Radio Ninesprings.
He came out to family and to his radio listeners earlier this year and is now working for LGBT+ radio station Gaydio, based in Manchester.
Jake said: “I honestly think if it wasn’t for getting that job at NineSprings or getting into the radio industry I would not have come out.
“As isolating as it sounds being sat in a studio talking, being myself on air was what made me question why I was pretending to be someone I’m not.
“I came out to my mum in a Zizzi in London, and I came out to my dad over FaceTime, because we were in lockdown. That was hard. We talk about it now and it’s all good, he’s really supportive, but how 2020: coming out over FaceTime.”
A Preston School alumni, Jake entered the radio industry in 2018, when he joined the then new station Radio Ninesprings, having moved near to the studio.
He said: “Back when I was little, my mom used to drive me to school and we’d have Heart on and I’d say that must be a cool job.”
Despite his proximity to the offices, Jake found getting his foot in the door was harder than anticipated and came about through a combination of serendipity and determination.
He said: “I sent persistent emails and after the fourth or fifth one the station manager said to come and have a look at the studio.”
Around the same time, Jake enrolled in a free six week radio presenter training course at Exeter College, aimed at 16 to 24-year-olds, which he had seen advertised on Instagram.
He said: “I walked into the studios and it was the exact same system I had just been taught on that six week course.”
Jake was initially taken on as a sports reporter, but was soon manning Drivetime, the show’s 4-6pm flagship programme.
During Local Radio Day 2019, an event organised to celebrate community radio, he was promoted as the 16-year-old Preston whippersnapper taking over the reigns.
Jake said: “I did it as a one time thing, and the reaction from it was mad. Everyone was loving it and from that day on I did the Drivetime show.
“Starting off from knowing absolutely nothing, then eight month later having my own show, I still look back on it now and think that’s crazy.”
When starting out in the prime spot, Jake’s show preparation was rigorous.
He said: “For the first three months, every single bit of that show was scripted. I would write down everything I was going to talk about and how I was going to say it. My show prep would be about six pages long.”
Jake described how most of the Ninesprings staff fell into an age group vulnerable to the ravages of Covid-19, forcing them to isolate during the pandemic. Jake was left solely responsible for producing his show from home.
He said: “It’s been a challenge. I had to pull out as much equipment as I could from Ninesprings and set it up in my bedroom.
“I was in my room doing my show every day, with a few technical issues…”
Jake noted that broadcasting three hours of radio from his room left him keen to get back into the studio when restrictions were relaxed.
He said: “I did go through a stage during lockdown where the show was so consuming. You wake up, do the show, go to bed, wake up, do the same again. Doing that month after month, week after week was so draining.
“Then having to get on the radio each day and be that positive person everyone tuned in to, because I know that person tuning in is looking for some positivity. When you’re not at your happiest, trying to be happy for everybody else was tough.
“Because it is such an intimate medium, I think if I make one person who’s listening smile or chuckle or just make them think a bit more positively of their day, that’s my job done.”
Jake now covers the breakfast news bulletins for Gaydio, and admits he still suffers from pre-broadcast nerves.
He said: “Every single morning when the alarm goes off, I think ‘I can’t do this. I can’t read the news to over a million people.’”
Moving to the Gaydio airwaves after the summer seems to have been a transformative experience for Jake, offering a more diverse and wide-ranging listenership.
He said: “The listenership to Ninesprings wouldn’t tune in to hear me talking about somebody that binned me on Tinder last night. Whereas on Gaydio, that is a perfect link. My boss would be in the studio applauding me and the listeners would be saying that happened to them the other day too.
“Whereas 45-year-old Karen who listens to Ninesprings wants to hear what’s happening at Yeovil Showground next weekend. She doesn’t want to hear my dating life on Tinder.”
Before his Gaydio debut, Jake poured over the best way to introduce himself to the fresh listenership and decided to say a little bit about himself. A friend had dutifully reminded him the listenership was the equivalent of 10 packed Wembley arenas.
He said: “The nerves were massive, but I just completely opened up and explained my background. I only squeezed into a minute and a half, but the reaction from that was crazy. I think that’s the most nervous I’ve been doing a radio show, because the LGBT community can be very welcoming, but they can also be very unwelcoming.
“For me, it’s been massively rewarding for my mental health because hiding my sexuality had been such a massive part of my life for three or four years.”
As Jake prepares to fly the nest of Somerset for city life, he reflected on his experience of growing up in Yeovil, particularly given the fact he did not feel comfortable coming out for years.
He said: “I was so scared to come out, and you shouldn’t feel worried or anxious about your sexuality.
“I do wonder sometimes what it would have been like if I had come out somewhere different, if I was in a big city somewhere, where it’s a bit more inclusive. I don’t feel Somerset is as inclusive as it could be.”
Jake described growing up gay in Somerset as “tough” and admitted to having suffered at the hands of school bullies, despite not being openly gay at that stage.
He said: “When I was being bullied, I knew what they were saying was true. I knew I was gay but I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to come out yet.”
Jake described the additional pressure from around him to grow up to have a wife and kids and to foster what he described as a “stereotypical way of life”. He also noted he had seen homophobic Facebook comments on LGBT content posted to Yeovil group pages.
He said: “I remember reading through these comments and thinking, Oh, okay, great to feel I can’t come out because the community that I live in isn’t supportive of that.
“I don’t go around saying, Oh my god you’re heterosexual and taking the mick out of them for that, so why should someone take the mick out of me for my sexual orientation?”
Ultimately, Jake identifies education as a primary cause of such homophobia, adding: “They don’t really know about it so I think that’s why they frown upon it a bit. I just feel like the education surrounding it is so poor and the older generation don’t go seeking out more about it.”
Jake is still living in Yeovil and working remotely until the coronavirus restrictions are eased, after which he will be making the move to Manchester early next year.
He managed to squeeze in one week at the northern studio while house hunting, before the second national lockdown was announced and he returned to Somerset.
He said: “Everyone has always said to me that I was seven going on 17. I’ve always been very grown up for my age.
“I must admit, I love Yeovil. It has been a great place to grow up but I am so eager to get out and move into a city, get the city life, the city buzz.
“Of course, it is a bit daunting having to cook my own food and wash my own clothes, but I am really looking forward to it. It’s just the case of playing the waiting game.”
Radio is a notoriously competitive industry and Jake was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time, but acknowledged radio is harder to break into now than ever before.
He said: “For the media in general, there’s such a lack of opportunities. It’s something that I think needs to change because I shouldn’t have to move to Manchester just to pursue the job I want to do, I should be able to do it wherever I am.
“The industry is massively shrinking. Trying to get opportunities is really hard, but people still need to present, people still need to do the shows so I will fight and fight and fight my way there.”
To those trying to break into the industry, Jake advocates perseverance above all else.
He said: “Keep emailing. Throughout the lockdown I went on a LinkedIn splurge and I went through every company that I thought I might want to work for, and then just added as many people as I could to message them.”
Ultimately, the dream for Jake is to be a presenter on Capital or Radio 1.
This year he was one of five nominees to be awarded the national recognition of ‘Young Person of the Year’ in the annual Community Media Awards.
Ninesprings station manager, Steve Haigh, said: “Not everyone is cut out to work in broadcasting but Jake showed from day one that he had the potential to make it with our listeners. Everyone at the radio station wishes him continued success with his career.”
For Jake, 2020 has been a seminal year.
He said: “Although everyone’s saying what a bad year it’s been and I know it’s been a bad year, I’ve had highs and lows, but I’m safe and healthy, and things aren’t going awfully. It’s been a whirlwind.”
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