Where budding media talent learns the ropes

29 Apr 2024

Mediaschool Bayern is a place where students can experiment and hone their skills. Live and in front of an audience. Its flagship: the radio station M94.5. Its mission: to train the next generation of media talent.

The self-op studio is the most important room in any radio station. It is where presenters can fade songs in and out by themselves or interrupt a program to make a live announcement. The audience hears every little mistake immediately. For this reason, a real traffic light is hung up in front of the studio that lights up bright red when broadcasts are live on air.

“The studio is the beating heart of our station,” says Andre Wengenroth, supervising editor at M94.5, which is located in the small town of Ismaning just outside Munich. And then he does something which should ordinarily never happen: While the music is running, he pushes the stop button without warning. Silence reigns. In the studio – and for the listeners.

Wengenroth grins. “It’s test time at the moment! Mistakes are allowed to happen,” explains the 28-year-old as he clicks on the next song. But then and only then, it should be noted. M94.5 is a training station where new talent can explore their abilities. During the test times in the morning and the afternoon, they can try out their own playlists and scripts live in front of an audience. “If you fluff your lines there, it’s no big deal,” assures the editor.

After every program, the presenters get personal feedback. “Keep it simple” is the most common piece of advice. “Many newbies write their scripts as if they were college essays,” says Wengenroth. But after six to eight test slots, most of them are ready for their first primetime broadcast.

On-air at the training radio station M94.5 in Ismaning.

Some 160 to 200 students do an apprenticeship at M94.5 every year. So that the studio’s resources are not overwhelmed, they only have to come to the station one day a week – although most students are on site more often than that. In addition, there are scholarship places, traineeships, and many internships, which are awarded for a maximum of three months. “Most of the students are between 18 and 21 years old and want to find out whether media and journalism are right for them,” explains Wengenroth.

Every morning in the editorial meeting, the topics of the day are discussed. After that, everyone goes about their research and interviews and recording their pieces. The senior duty editor is always appointed from the ranks of the students. Today it is Tim, who is currently going over a podcast on working conditions in research and providing feedback.

Gaming and singing in new Twitch studio

In addition to Recording Studio B, there is an extra studio where audio and video podcasts can be recorded. In one of the many offices, LMU politics student Sebastian is working at a computer. He is currently producing a social media post for the satirical program Late Night 089, which goes out on YouTube and München TV. “We have a slot there every day,” says Andre as he takes a few steps and opens the door to the control room.

Two apprentices are sitting there recording a show. In the TV studio next door, aspiring presenters and camerapeople can get a taste of real television. Behind the heavy metal door across the way, meanwhile, is the new Twitch studio, which is used for gaming, small concerts, and special broadcasts.

The point of Mediaschool Bayern is not to make money, although student managers, apprentices, and permanent employees are of course paid. “It’s mainly about giving young people the means and the freedom to explore their creativity,” observes Andre Wengenroth.

Everyone is provided with the courses, tools, and contacts to pursue their interests. The school is funded by the Bavarian Regulatory Authority for New Media, various private radio and television broadcasters, and assorted schools of journalism. “The training prepares students for careers in media, so they can get off the ground running at whatever outlets they find themselves at,” says Andre. This explains why so many organizations are willing to contribute financially. LMU is also a cooperation partner.

The school is not set up to make profits, and all revenue goes toward the nurturing of new talent and the salaries of permanent staff like Andre. He definitely wants to stay at M94.5 for a while longer, as his role as supervising editor not only helps him master all kinds of media practicalities, but also develops his team leadership skills. “But some day you have to move on,” he says, alluding to his age. “The station lives from the changes brought by young people.”

Unusual CVs have their own advantages

Philip-Johann Moser holding a microphone

Learned to present at Radio M94.5: Philip-Johann Moser | © Simon Fischer

Philip-Johann Moser studied physics at LMU and Cambridge. After his apprenticeship at M94.5, the Munich radio station for training new talent, he is now among the first batch of trainees at ZEIT Online.

MUM: Mr. Moser, you were chosen from among over 500 applicants to be one of the first trainees at ZEIT Online. How did you achieve this?

Philip-Johann Moser: I had to write a comment against the clock, which made a good impression. But more important, no doubt, was my interview. I put forward the opinion that journalism is currently in a state of upheaval. Not so much due to artificial intelligence, which cannot replace good journalism. But the requirements of journalism have changed; it needs a wider range of perspectives and specialists. As such, my rather unusual CV presumably also helped my cause.

MUM: Indeed, it’s quite rare that somebody who studies mathematics, physics, and philosophy switches to the media sector.

Moser: Before completing my master’s degree in Cambridge, I still wanted to go into research. But then somehow my interest in the topics waned and I wanted to get out of the theoretical ivory tower. It was more important to me how we get a handle on climate change or where our economy and society are heading. And then it dawned on me how important good science journalism is for sustainable change. I knew the M94.5 radio station through my brother. On my very first day working there, I talked to the leading climate researcher Professor Julia Pongratz from LMU. I knew then right away: This is it.

MUM: What’s special about M94.5?

Moser: M94.5 is the only place where you’re not only allowed to do almost anything, but where you’re actually taught that you can do it – or at least learn how to do it. Completely free of charge. You are trained in by colleagues who themselves hadn’t a clue about the subject-matter just a year before, and the error culture is marked by a corresponding atmosphere of tolerance. Moreover, you get to know really interesting people. The station has been going for 27 years now, and it has produced highly impressive alumni.

MUM: You were a presenter, senior duty editor, and head of the Knowledge department at M94.5. Naturally, a physicist would bring a lot of specialist knowledge to the role. But that doesn’t mean you have a good voice for radio.

Moser: Well, voice training is there to help with the radio voice. A selection interview decides who can work at M94.5. But candidates are not expected to have any prior knowledge. Applicants don’t have to submit samples of their work. It’s a very low-threshold opportunity to come into contact with the media world. That being said, you should be somewhat interested in what’s going on in Munich and the world. And you should come across as motivated.

MUM: You certainly did that. You were known for staying behind after hours.

Moser: Yes, I was definitely driven after the pandemic and my time abroad [laughs]. I immersed myself in my work at M94.5 and produced one podcast episode after the next. I still remember the time I was in the editorial office till five in the morning, went home to shower, and then went straight back to the office. That was overdoing it, no question – after all, I still had to earn money for rent on top of the radio work. But it was a mixture of perfectionism and the desire to try out new things. I didn’t want to be just the physics nerd anymore [laughs].

MUM: Speaking of nerdiness: Is it true that you did your presenting in the studio in your socks?

Moser: Your research has been thorough, I see [laughs]! My housemate likes to call shoes “prisons for the feet” – I liked that expression. So when a colleague at M94.5 told me to feel at home while presenting, I followed her lead and took off my shoes. I do the exact same now at ZEIT Online. I would encourage anyone to find what works for them in the studio.

MUM: What made you decide to practice your writing skills on top of your speaking?

Moser: First and foremost, because writing allows me to work with data – that’s difficult to do on the radio. When handling more complicated subjects there, you actually always need a special edition. Radio pieces simply have to be shorter and more to the point. That said, I’m not just writing at ZEIT Online either, but am also making podcasts and later videos thank to my training at M94.5.

MUM: You’re still a recent graduate. Is there anything you think could be improved in the university system?

Moser: I wish professors put more thought into their teaching and didn’t just run through their lecture notes. And I wish so many students weren’t forced out through merciless testing. Everyone who studies physics has a passion for it – for me, it started when I read a biography of Werner Heisenberg, the former LMU physicist. I gave a lot of tutorials. When students were getting poor marks, it’s often enough to offer them some guidance. There’s certainly some specialist knowledge I won’t need in my current job. But the skills I learned are essential and will continue to be so in the future.

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