Jenny West, the co-host of the afternoon drive on Pattison Media’s The Zone @ 91-3 (CJZN-FM) in Victoria, was recently named the 2023 Allan Waters Young Broadcaster of the Year. The BCIT graduate started as an intern at the station in 2014, had a 6-month period in Prince George at 101.3 The River, then landed a position as the Zone's full-time swing announcer in 2015. She has since taken on the responsibility of Afternoon co-host and director of a program called Band of the Month, which educates and connects local musicians with the radio industry. In 2021 she helped out at 102.7 The Peak by filling in middays remotely for a few months as they transitioned to a new team. Through her work in radio, she found a passion for activism, working with a menstrual equity group called the "Period Posse" and co-hosting/producing the podcast series "The Rag", with the purpose of breaking period stigma and having open conversations around sexual health. Outside of radio, she competes as an amateur boxer and teaches others to use their mental and physical strength through boxing fitness. Dave Charles digs deeper into her background and motivation for choosing radio broadcasting as a career.
DC: What attracted you to a career in radio, Jenny?
I was a theatre kid in high school, so I spent a lot of time performing and doing stage production. I also loved discovering new music and going to concerts. I remember making my first song request and the idea that there was someone on the other side of the radio, thousands of people listening, all about to share the same experience, was absolutely mind-blowing! That magical feeling of live, the human connection, started my active listenership with local radio stations. It wasn't until my sister told me about the 2-year Radio Arts and Entertainment program at BCIT, that I had any idea you could actually choose "radio host" as a career path. It was an obvious decision when I realized that radio included everything that I loved.
DC: Who were some of your radio heroes and influences growing up, and how did they inspire you?
Tamara Stanners, the woman who started The PEAK, was an early inspiration to me. Though I loved the music at other Modern Rock stations in Vancouver, what gravitated me toward The PEAK was the fact that I felt celebrated and empowered as a woman listening to that genre. I remember listening to other modern rock stations and feeling isolated as a young girl, thinking if I like this kind of music and want to be accepted in this community, I have to be treated in a degrading way. Tamara did an incredible job of creating a space for everyone to enjoy rock while also giving huge opportunities to local bands to break into the Canadian radio industry. I then discovered The Zone @ 91-3 through a friend at BCIT. The full-time hosts at the time--Dylan Willows, Jason Lamb, Pol Plastino, Jeremy Baker, Jade Nixon and Jon Williams-- were super inspiring. They all had this ease and approachable nature that I was super drawn to and made me believe that there could actually be a place for me on that station. I honestly just wanted to be buds with all of them, and I will do anything to make a friend.
DC: Tell our readers what, in your view, makes a great radio show.
A good show will have the basics down. It's informative, local, timely, engaging etc. When it comes to a great show, the hosts are genuinely having a good time. If they're having fun, the listener is likely having fun too! This usually happens when the hosts have a sense of self and play into their character when they are consistently presenting their content in creative ways by using their tools to the fullest and are great storytellers.
DC: Radio A.I. is happening. What are your pros and cons on this from your perspective?
I honestly don't think this is something we should be scared of. Now I am imagining myself looking back at this interview and thinking, 'Oh gosh,' was I ever wrong? I just think that we have control over our future in radio. Radio's biggest strength is the live, human connection. I am in no way an A.I. expert, but anything you may fear as competition can be used as an opportunity to learn and grow. We can learn from A.I. and use it as a tool instead of fighting it and allowing it to be the downfall of our industry. Could it help speed up our prep time? Sure! As a listener, will you form a deep personal connection with an A.I. host? Well, I sure hope not!
DC: You need to have multi-skills to be relevant in today's radio workplace. What are your specialty skills, and which of these skills are vital to your development?
The more technically useful you are, the more likely you are to keep your job. So, having a strong understanding of social media is important. But, I find what has been most vital to my development is what I do outside of work. Being active in the live music scene allows me to run the Band of the Month program comfortably. Having a background in acting and singing means I get called to voice and sing on ads daily. Being active in menstrual equity gives the station podcast and community content. The more I dive deeper into my hobbies, like boxing and petting my cats, the more stories I have to pull from and the more the listener has to relate to. When my focus was only on radio and what I did at the station, I felt like prep was a constant struggle. An added bonus is that focusing on life outside of work has done wonders for my mental health!
DC: What are the key things you do to prepare for your radio show each day?
Other than our basic prep, my cohost Pol Plastino and I pre-produce a daily unique intro for our show. It is usually a theatre of the mind comedy piece that gives you a sense of the day. We give ourselves a quick deadline of 30mins to write, record and produce the intro. Pol is a wizard at production. That tight timeline can be great for comedy eg. SNL, Late Night, and South Park. Sometimes we stumble upon gold, and sometimes you just have to crank it out because it has to air in 2 mins. The tight deadline also gets our adrenaline pumping and focuses us before the show.
Prep is different for everyone. I work best when I am over-prepared and have a security blanket (anxiety, lol). While my cohost works best on the fly. We have found a prep method that I guess you could call "planned spontaneity". We have a security blanket, but we allow ourselves room to improvise and receive gems and energy from the listener. The listener often has no idea what's going to happen next, and sometimes we don't either. You can find gems in those moments, but you have to trust yourself and your co-host.
DC: What social media platforms do you use to achieve better two-way connections with your audience?
Instagram seems to be the most effective for our show. Our like-minded people and target demo often spend their time there. TikTok is something we want to spend more time on; we need to get those younger friends to discover how fun radio is! I guess we are joining Threads now too.
DC: How important is texting in your radio outreach?
So important! On average, we see around 200 texts per show per day. Responding to each text is also so important; it adds to the magic that initially drew me to radio. People are more comfortable texting than calling these days, which is a shame because a phone call makes for such great content. Tip: call back a listener if they text in a nugget.
DC: What are your goals and ambitions in radio and beyond?
I know it would make sense to have a goal of working in a larger market, but I am obsessed with Victoria and see myself living here for a long time (if I can afford it, haha). Pattison Media has been so great in providing us with opportunities to grow within the company, and I plan on continuing to explore avenues in management with them. As for on-air, my next main goal would be to host the morning show. Outside of the station, I would love to host more info sessions and industry nights to help local musicians break into Canadian radio, hold more boxing events and classes for women, non-binary, and trans folks to feel more comfortable in the sport, and finally put together an at-home studio so I can lean into voice over and re-launch The Rag: Period Podcast!