Reaching the Top in Radio

Grace Hopper, Radio One Producer

  • “I was very lucky I always knew I wanted to work at Radio 1 and be a producer there,” Grace Hopper tells me over the phone in her usual chirpy voice. And with hard work and determination, that’s exactly what she does now.

You may recognise Grace’s upbeat tone of voice from Radio 1. She is currently working on The Scott Mills show, which broadcasts on weekdays on Radio 1, and she used to work on the Greg James drivetime show before he moved to his current morning slot. Her CV boasts working with some of the most well-known voices on national radio, but the road to being a Radio 1 producer wasn’t easy: it required a lot of perseverance, and putting in a lot of hours… 

Grace first tried her hand at radio when she was just 15 years old at her local hospital radio in High Wycombe. “I knew what I wanted to do, and was lucky to have that drive, ambition and vision… I threw myself into it as young as I possibly could.” And she took all the jobs (paid and unpaid) along the way.  Following her degree at Exeter University, her first freelance position was at BBC Radio Devon. She also worked at Exeter Hospital Radio, Heart Radio, BBC Cornwall and BBC Somerset – and squeezed in a few shifts at her local pub!

“I got lots of beginners’ experience, but I was working seven days a week and doing loads of different roles,” she said. “Local radio is a great starting point – one minute you’ll be producing a sports show, then reading the travel news, then playing and discussing a band featured on BBC Introducing, then taking call-ins on a political story.”

She then moved back home to South Buckinghamshire and started freelancing at BBC Berks and BBC London – sometimes a double shift. “I wouldn’t advise working seven days a week, but as a freelancer sometimes you have to take all those opportunities when you want to get further up the ladder.” She got her foot in the door when she got a job as a freelance team assistant for Radio 1 for six months, before she gained a fulltime position in the role at Radio 1. “It was nice to get that first full-time job – because I thought, ‘This is where I want to be.’ All that hard work, like working at 5am on a Sunday morning all paid off! And then it was my chance to work my way up the ladder at Radio 1.”

Grace with presenters and fellow producers at Radio 1’s Big Weekend, Hull 2017

Producing the Scott Mills Show

The role of a producer is being responsible for the output of the show, ensuring that everything runs smoothly. “We make sure the presenter knows exactly what they’re saying, and they’ve got all the accompanying audio and facts. I prep callers before they come on the show and keep things to time. We have to hit the top of hour, hit the news on time, and make sure the programme is going to plan.”

There’s plenty of prep work involved too. In the morning we have a team meeting to see what they can bring to the table for that show. “For live radio you have that personality and voice… Scott Mills and Chris Stark bring so many stories and input, it’s great. You have to have the presenter’s buy-in, or it won’t work.

“Then we go set things up for the show, find some callers, edit a funny clip from TV the night before, and provide the supporting tools for Scott and Chris to use in the studio. We’re an entertainment show, but also a music show, so that needs to be put in the schedule.”

Grace in a Scott and Chris sandwich

Plus, if they have any celebrities in for interviews, they need to think of a way to make it novel and interesting.“We have a no-straight interview rule now. We get them involved in a game or regular show feature and it lifts the chat.” Then the interview will have to be edited (if it’s not live) and Grace has to highlight potential press lines, make sure the social media team have all the details they need, as well as videoing segments for social media and TV. All while making sure the show is reactive and reflects what the audience are experiencing and expecting that day.

Hello, from Sir David Attenborough

Grace fondly looks back on the two years she spent with Greg James on his afternoon drive time show. “We did some amazing content together. We had the royals come in and co-present which was so rare, and so brilliant.”

The Gregathlon was another highlight for Grace. Greg climbed the three highest peaks in the UK for Sport Relief, but it coincided with the Beast from the East storm in February 2018. “We travelled around with a mobile radio station and he did the show from there. The Beast from the East felt like it kind of reflected the mental health story and challenge that people go through. Sometimes these things in life come and you have to pause, and that’s ok.”

Grace and Greg James at the finish line of the Gregathlon for Sport Relief

She’s also met and worked with numerous celebrities during her time on Radio 1. She admits she was nervous briefing high profile guests when she started out, but now she can greet them with complete confidence.

“I try to be really professional when briefing guests, but sometimes it’s easier to maintain the coolness. I have been starstruck when I met The Killers. I’m such a big fan! I think meeting so many celebrities has also made me realize that they are just people.” She also says she got starstruck when meeting Sir David Attenborough. And it ended up being one of her most memorable moments from working on Greg’s show.

“Adele’s video for ‘Hello’ had just come out… We wrote [Sir David] a script to narrate over the video and it had all been signed off and pre-approved. But when he came in, he was a little nervous and said do you mind if I didn’t do it, which obviously is fine – David Attenborough is allowed to say ‘no’. So, Greg and I tried to make him feel as comfortable and at ease as possible because we knew it would be a big moment and really fun, good content. But he decided just to have a chat.

“Then live in the middle of the interview, he said ‘Don’t you want me to narrate something?’ And he took this script without having read it before and read over the video so perfectly. And it became a massive global video and was written about in the press. It felt like a real success story. He said afterwards, ‘You created such a comfortable environment for me, you made me feel comfortable enough to do it.’ And that’s what it’s all about. You want the radio to be friendly and be a voice of comfort. We did that with him, and that’s why he did it.” The video now has 4.5 million views on YouTube alone.

Grace’s success hasn’t gone unnoticed. She was named in the Radio Academy 30 Under 30 in 2017. “I was so delighted to be named in that line up. It was a lovely moment and I feel immensely proud and grateful for that accolade. It helped opened the door to the Radio Academy, so I feel like it was just the beginning.”

She is now a Radio Academy Trustee. “When you can do something for an organization you have a passion for, it’s a nice thing to do. They do amazing things like launching a benevolent fund to support those who are affected by the current financial climate. We’re overseeing the decisions to support the industry it’s quite a tough role. Now I’m helping lead on the 30 under 30 award, which is a nice full-circle moment.”

Grace receiving her Radio Academy 30 Under 30 Award

Switching off and speaking out

With such a full-on job, it’s no surprise that Grace likes to switch off in the evenings and leave her work at the door. “Although I’ve fallen foul of it on many occasions. Especially in the current climate, working from home makes it hard to distinguish the two. I tend to switch off my emails and get outside for fresh air and exercise. Netflix is my best friend at the moment. But I also love swimming – we live on our phones, especially in my job, as I always need to be up to date with what’s going on in the news. I love swimming because I have to leave my phone on the side of the pool, and I can totally switch off.”

Switching off from work and the digital world can be hard to do sometimes and can have a negative effect on our mental health. This is something that Grace is very aware of. She realizes the pressures that can build up at work, which why she is a Mental Health First Aider for the BBC.

 “Sometimes you get so wrapped up in your line of work, it’s important to stop and think am I supporting others? Am I being supported? Am I looking after myself? A lot of people have taken me up on it, more than I thought would. When you have such a big workload we often don’t stop and reflect.”

As well as offering mental health support to her colleagues, Grace is also mentoring a team assistant – a role that she has done herself before, to pass on some of the wisdom she’s learnt along the way. She especially wants to reach out to women who may have had negative experiences in the workplace. “We women have to work hard to change certain perceptions. If a woman speaks up or speaks out, they’re seen as being cocky, whereas men are seen as being confident,” she says. “Especially as a mental health first aider, I think that comes into play a bit. It’s important to encourage women around me to feel more confident.

“For example, I was in a meeting once where everyone was talking over each other. A couple of males were speaking over a girl. A female producer colleague stopped everyone and gave the girl a chance to speak. She was naturally spoken over, but this woman gave her that platform. That’s what we need more of; everyone championing each other.”

Radio in lockdown

Grace is still working during the Coronavirus pandemic, although she’s not limited to just producing Scott’s show. She’s been working with Jordan North, Clara Amfo and Maya Jama while the BBC work with a reduced staff to aid social distancing.

“I feel like radio is more important now than ever. We’re really supporting our listeners. People have more time and space to pay attention to things like radio, and a lot of people are isolating on their own, or feel lonely or overwhelmed by the situation,” she says.

“You can react [to the current situation] and be that supportive voice… It’s important to strike a balance between letting them know that we’re here, but also being an escape. Radio can sometimes suffer because the competition is so much bigger with TV shows, Instagram, streaming etc. I just hope that continues past the pandemic because we’ve highlighted how powerful radio can be.”  

Grace says that she doesn’t do radio for the praise. She does it because she enjoys it and she likes knowing that she’s supporting an audience. But with all her success, she certainly deserves any praise that comes her way. Thanks for giving us a peak behind the curtain into the world of Radio 1, Grace!

Quick Fire Questions

  • Books or movies?      Movies 100%
  • Cats or Dogs?    I’m not a big fan of either… but probably dogs.
  • Active holiday or relaxing holiday? Relaxing – my job is so busy I like to relax.
  • If you had a superpower, what would it be?    Teleportation
  • What are you watching on Netflix right now?    Just finished Unorthodox… also Normal People
  • What music are you listening to right now?   I really like Arlo Parks – she’s an emerging artist. Very soothing, she writes about things that are real in a relatable way. Also, upbeat music is good right now – I’m listening to some dance music and old pop classics
  • Biggest weakness?    I’m an overthinker
  • Ideal date night?    Going out for a really nice meal, and watching a movie
  • Favourite food? Italian. Specifically pasta, tortellini.
  • Who’s your favourite female icon?  Fearne Cotton has always inspired me. She was on the radio as I was getting into Radio 1. I love her passion for music and I have a similar style and taste to her. She’s great at talking about her feelings and being a strong female in my industry.

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