© 2016 By Gareth Cottrell  

Biography

"From childhood I had suffered with a serious stammer, which made speaking difficult and sometimes even impossible. The idea of any involvement in radio seemed, for me, completely impossible"

When I decided to go out for a few drinks with my friends one night, little did I know I would find my career path and begin a long and difficult journey in order to achieve it.

 

I didn't realise the bar we had chosen was hosting a promotional night for Key 103 (once upon a time Piccadilly Radio). At the time Key 103 was the station everybody listened to. Their party nights were the talk of Manchester and you listened intensively to hear where they'd be next. It had been announced early that morning that they'd be in Ashton Under Lyne (3 miles away from where I lived in Hyde). I was so excited and started planning to go down with my friends.

 

We arrived in Ashton and it became obvious which bar the radio station and its presenters were in. It was heaving with what seemed like several 

hundred people already in and getting drunk. Amazingly we got in, even thought none of us were over 18. There at the bar were the Key 103 breakfast show presenters JK and Joel (later to be promoted to Radio 1, but that’s another story). It’s strange but one of my most vivid recollections from the evening was the tale that Joel Ross was refused entry into the club because he was wearing flip-flops. Joel’s producer quickly pointed out that it was their radio station renting the club for the evening. Hey presto, groveling apology from embarrassed bouncer and all was well. 

 

It seemed these two young blokes had the life of Riley. 4 hours a day in a studio playing music and having a laugh together, with of course a tidy wage at the end of it. Wow, now that would be fun !!! But of course the major requirement for such a job is a voice and at the time I didn't have much of one. From childhood I had suffered with a serious stammer, which made speaking difficult and sometimes even impossible. The idea of any involvement in radio seemed, for me, completely impossible.

 

I woke up early the following day to catch the breakfast show with JK and Joel, hoping they would talk about the night before and perhaps even give me a mention. They did eventually comment on the evenings action, but sadly no mention of me. I even e mailed the studio hoping they'd mention that, but still nothing. I was gutted, but something was telling me this industry was the one for me. But how would I possibly be able to work in a business were your voice is your essential work tool. I could hardly say my own name, never mind present a radio show.

 

Before I continue let me make it clear that during my childhood I'd undergone several attempts at NHS speech therapy, with very little success. The help available seemed to focus more on psychological causes rather than possible treatment. Also, In the 80's and 90's stammering wasn't as widely reported as is it today. Gareth Gates and the King's Speech have done a lot to publicise the problem. With this in mind I felt there was no hope and I would be lumbered with this problem for the rest of my life. Through my early teenage years I felt like giving up. Having a stammer doesn’t just effect you physically it also effects you mentally and zaps your self-confidence. I was always teased and bullied at school. If I was having a bad spell I would occasionally fake illnesses in order to have a day off. This obviously didn't help because the next day I’d still have to face the same problems and struggles. Some teachers understood my disability and would sympathise and give me support. Others would force me to read  aloud in class, which was a terrifying experience. This would knock my confidence even more and just deepen the problem.  

 

Although teachers and other people would mock and laugh at me, my family were always near by to pick up the pieces and offer me a loving hug. I was brought up in a loving Christian family who supported me in anything and everything I ever did, and continue to do so. However even they had their doubts when I told them I wanted to become a broadcaster. As a family we were regular churchgoers. However, I suppose like most teenagers I didn't take my faith completely serious. I felt that church was boring, religion was sometimes irrelevant and wasn't something I really wanted to live by. But as the bible teachers us, God touches and uses the unlikeliest of people. That's exactly what was about to happen with me.

 

There's an old saying that "everybody on a sinking ship believes in God ". Translated this mean that when you've tried everything else and you've no other hope you may as well pray. I believe that God sometimes lets us hit rock bottom before he decides to show himself. Some people are stubborn and need to have everything knocked down before God can rebuild. Now of course I am not saying I was completely broken. I'd been blessed with a loving family, good health and education. But I wanted a voice and one that I could use at a professional broadcasting level.

 

So I started to pray and see what the bible said about healing. Within a few days something happened which would change my life forever.

 

My mum returned home after picking up my younger brother Fraser from Primary School. She asked how my day had gone and like most days then I replied "rubbish". She told me she'd found herself in conversation with a parent who also happened to teach drama. As the conversation unfolded mum explained about my condition and how I was struggling with my stammer. Mel (the parent and drama teacher) replied confidently, "Here's my number. Tell him to give me a call and I’ll help him".

 

For anybody who stammers a phone call is a terrifying thing. In fact even to this day making phone calls is something I really struggle with and try to avoid. But with nothing to lose I attempted to ring Mel. As the dialing tone begin I started to feel sick with anxiety and Just before anybody answered I quickly hung up. This happened for about 5 minutes and I dread to think what anybody in Mel's house must have thought. On about the 4th attempt Mel’s husband answered. I remember I had to literally force the sentence out. He shouted Mel and eventually she came to the phone.  

 

After a long conversation (although I only said about 6 words) Mel was insistent that she would cure me. As you can imagine I was skeptical, but this was my last hope and I was willing to give anything a go. The first session I remember was a hugely daunting experience, I didn’t know what to expect. I had this horrible fear that she would send me out in the street to talk to strangers. Or even worse, she would make me read a script out to her drama class. She didn’t do either. The first session went well and each week it became easier. However it wasn't until the second session that the hard work really began. I quickly learned that speech, as with singing, is all about breathing. If you breath correctly you will sing correctly, or in my case speak correctly. Mel introduced me to the technique of wrapping a belt around my chest and beginning each sentence with a big breath. The belt tightens the more air you take in and when you feel its tight enough you begin to speak. I'll admit this sounds weird and for anybody watching I imagine it looked even weirder.

 

I practiced this technique daily and eventually the improvements started to show. I could now say 1 or 2 sentences stammer free (although a little broken up). The next step to work on was my confidence. Although a stammer is generally a physical condition, it also affects you psychologically and attacks your confidence. My worst nightmare gradually came true and after a few sessions Mel suggested we mock up a radio interview situation. Begrudgingly I said yes and the date for the interview was set. I prepared my questions and practiced my breathing exercises. The mock interview went reasonable well and although it was an embarrassing and terrifying experience I was glad I had agreed as I felt an immediate sense of achievement and my confidence began to grow.

 

My belt, breathing and confidence exercises continued. I felt the more I did, the quicker I'd be on my way to recovery. The final sessions with Mel involved speaking with a cork in my mouth (strange I know). This is a technique actors often use to strengthen the muscles in the jaw. This worked wonders for me and added greatly to my burgeoning self-confidence.  

 

After 6 months vast improvements in my speech were noticeable and I had been blessed with the use of my voice. I could now speak on the phone, ask for things in shops, and be included in conversations expressing my own views and feelings.

 

While all this was going on in my life, I was nearing the end of a college course in ICT. With my new found interest in radio and my new found voice the ICT course bored me. However I struggled on and managed to pass the course. What to do next? The majority of my friends had taken A levels and were preparing to start university. I knew that if I went to University the only subject I wanted to study was Radio.

 

I managed to get a University place by the skin of my teeth! The radio production course I applied for had a few spare places. Thankfully they accepted me with the ICT qualification I had. For the next few months I remember worrying myself sick wondering how I'd tackle the course. My major fear was having to broadcast something live and not being able to get my words out. This is a fear I still sometimes get. Especially when I have to do something out of my usual routine.  

 

As my start date approached I decided I'd try my best to hide the fact I stammered. Thinking back I don’t know why I thought this would be a good idea. But I suppose I didn't want the sympathy vote. I wanted to achieve and be successful simply through my skill and ability. It wasn't until the 2nd year that I decided to 'let the cat out of the bag'. I'd been naïve enough to think people hadn’t already guessed.          

 

In July 2005 I managed to fulfil one part of my dream when I graduated from Manchester University with a degree in Media Radio production. This was a very special moment and one that I will never forget. For anybody to graduate its a great achievement, but for me it held a special significance.

 

Like most new graduates this is where the real challenge begins, finding a job. Each year thousands of Media graduates leave University and struggle to find jobs. This situation has worsened since I graduated and I believe there are simply not enough jobs to cater for all the graduates. Like most industries you need to start at the bottom and eventually (fingers crossed) make it to the top.

 

Throughout my time at University I'd be in contact with a group of people who were aiming to open a new radio station in my local area. They'd successfully completed several trial broadcasts (RSL's) and I'd been on hand to make the tea and coffee. In 2007 Tameside Radio won a full time broadcasting licence and they took to the air. It was a very exciting time and presumably on the strength of my brilliant tea making skills, they offered me an evening show, (this show is still going strong and is one of Tameside Radio's oldest shows).

 

As my voluntary show on Tameside Radio continued I started sending off demo's and CV's hoping that something would come up. After 6 months of trying and without any luck I took a job at a supermarket. This wasn't perfect but it at least brought in some money until a job in the industry came up. Then out of the blue Radio Aire in Leeds replied and offered me a weekly work placement. I jumped at the chance and without fail every Tuesday I would jump on the train to Leeds and work with the production team at Radio Aire. This was my first proper experience of a professional radio station and I loved it. Although my role was unpaid I was learning invaluable skills and making great contacts. These contacts later led to me leaving Radio Aire and starting a work placement at their sister station Key 103. As a Manchester lad this was my dream come true. I'd listened to the station as a boy and I'd be meeting the presenters I’d admired.

 

I specifically remember my first day at Key 103. It was so posh, everything made of glass, fancy cars parked outside, and the hustle and bustle of one of the countries biggest radio stations. I worked voluntary at Key 103 for over 3 years, although now and again they would slip me a few quid for editing interviews or assisting staff. I still look back at my time at Key 103 with fond memories. Who knows one day I may end up back there.

 

It was an offer from XFM Manchester which prompted a move from Key 103. I felt it was time for a change and XFM Manchester was the place to enable that change. My role was an assistant on the breakfast show. I'd work twice a week in producing podcasts, welcoming guests, editing interviews and anything else the producer needed help with. Although I enjoyed my time at XFM it wasn't meant to be and after just 3 months along came that dreaded word reorganization, I was made redundant. I was heart broken and felt rejected. It was at this point that I decided to give myself 1 year to get a full time job in the industry. If after this 1 year I hadn't managed it I’d give up on my radio dream and try something different. Basically it was time to knuckle down and invest everything I had into fulfilling my dream.

 

I started to get more involved in Tameside Radio. In fact when I wasn't working in the supermarket I’d be at the radio station making adverts, welcoming guests and covering evening presenters who were off. Eventually all my hard work paid off and I was offered the early breakfast show. Again, this wasn't paid, but it was my first experience of being on the radio daily. This opportunity enabled me to learn a lot in a short space of time. Before I knew it I became a co-presenter on the main breakfast show. Every morning I'd arrive at the station for 5am and not leave until 1pm. Then I'd race over to the supermarket in order to start my shift for 2pm. Needless to say by bedtime I’d be truly exhausted. I knew this pattern of long hours and very little sleep couldn't continue. I hoped and prayed something would come up, meaning I could leave the supermarket and concentrate on radio.

 

They say God answers prayers and one Monday morning he certainly did. My early breakfast show was coming to an end with only 5 minutes remaining. But the breakfast show presenter was nowhere to be seen. As the 7am news started I began to get worried. Not only had I never presented a flagship radio show, but I'd never read the traffic and travel, that was now only 30 seconds away. It felt like one of those make or break moments. It wasn't until 8.30am that the breakfast show presenter turned up and by this time I had my feet under the table and was enjoying it. As the weeks went on the breakfast show presenters punctuality deteriorated and I found myself covering frequently. Eventually this led to his dismissal and guess who got the permanent job!

 

I'd finally managed to get a full time job in radio and it felt great. I remember receiving my first pay packed and I couldn't believe I was being paid to do something I loved so much. Although my on air duties would finish at 11am, I’d often help the programme controller for the rest of the day. My tasks would range from supporting presenters, picking new playlist music and also finding cover for presenters who were off. Gradually as the months went on I learnt more and more about how to manage a radio station. It was never official but I'd become the deputy programme controller. I even covered for the boss when he took holidays.

 

As my skills and knowledge grew so did my confidence. I started hosting events and even switched on the Christmas Lights around my local area. Then as the radio station faced new ownership, positions and changes were made. Thankfully for me this meant even more progression and unexpectedly I was offered the role of Programme Controller. Within just 1 year I'd gone from volunteer to boss. A very proud moment.

 

Although I feel I've achieved a lot in a small amount of time, I continue to develop. Just before Christmas 2014 the Programme Controller of Silk FM called to offer me Saturday Breakfast. He'd been tuning into my Tameside Radio Breakfast show and liked what he heard. It was due to my work at Silk FM that 2 years later my prayers were answered yet again. National radio is something every radio presenter dreams of and for me that dream was about to come true. It was early March 2016 and I received an e -mail from the head of radio at UCB asking me to call him. It took just 30 second from receiving the e - mail to speaking with him on the phone. David Taviner explained he was looking for a presenter to front his afternoon show on UCB 1. I jumped at the chance and as of June 2016 that's where I remain. Looking back it's clear to see Gods hand in my life and career. I really have been blessed in so many ways and I am proof you can achieve your dreams.

 

 

“I asked God that I might achieve…..

I was made weak that I might learn to obey.

I asked God for health that I might do great things….

I was given infirmity that I might do better things.

I asked for riches that I might be happy….

I was given poverty that I might be wise.

I asked for power that I might have the praise of men…

I was given weakness

That I might feel the need of God.

I asked for all things that I might enjoy life….

I was given life that I might enjoy all things.

 

I got nothing I asked for but everything I hoped for.

Also, despite myself,

My unspoken prayers were answered.

I am, amongst all people, most richly blessed.

(Author Unknown)