The Presenter of Radio 1's Future Sounds on how he grafted his way into the biz.
‘The World is noisy, and it’s only going to get noisier’.
He’s got a point. In between radio, podcasts, streaming, even audiobooks… the ways to consume Digital audio have grown exponentially within the last decade. An entire industry has been revolutionised; if you don’t keep up, it’s all too easy to fall off the board altogether.
There is no one ‘way’ to become a star… there are endless. Yet, Radio has managed to maintain it’s place atop the pyramid… and perched on the bricks, dangling his sneakers and looking up to the sky… is Jack Saunders.
“I always knew that I wanted to be a presenter, literally when I was probably about fifteen years old. I think I was one of those strange kids that knew what they wanted to do straight-off”, he begins, recounting his early youth and the steps that he’s taken, that have led him to such a coveted (and well-earned) pedestal. Confessing his experience of school was quite “academic”, his creativity was largely self-made, and self-enforced. “I had to find my own way in”.
It was at university that Jack had his first taste of presenting with student radio – it’s impressive to note that whilst hosting Nottingham Trent Uni’s show, it won a milestone seven awards. When he left uni, he found home at Kerrang!, which he hails as “an amazing place to cut my teeth because it was music that I really loved – rock. It was a smaller station; some of the shows were pre-recorded so it allowed me to get to grips with who I was, on air, and what I wanted to be”.
After this called Radio X, a slightly grittier offering. A strict 4-6:30am shift was “amazing, working for a huge company…they probably made me the presenter I am today. It was the hardest part of my journey in that I just had to grind and grind and grind. When all of my mates were going out and partying, enjoying themselves and keeping me up when I was trying to go to bed at 8pm on a Friday night, the anxiety… there were a couple of times I just didn’t know if I could do it, but I soldiered on through, put my absolute all into the gig knowing if I did that an opportunity would come out of the other side.”
And luckily, it did. As Vernon Kay stepped down, Jack Saunders soldiered up; brick-by-brick, guided by fierce hustle, and deep gut-instinct. With his year+ at Radio X’s 10pm-1am stint he honed his craft, and soon got a call from Radio 1, who wanted to launch an indie show. Jack has now developed this into exploring and shining spotlight on multiple genres, with his Future Artists segment, for example. “I pride myself on being able to adapt. I quite like the idea of a challenge, learning further”.
“There were a couple of times I just didn't know if I could do it, but I soldiered on through"
Saunders had a clear vision of how he desired to approach audiences when launching the show, and is very perceptive of his listeners’ wants and needs. He’s aware of radio’s ‘linear’ medium, and yet fuels this into an almost-exclusive mentality; it’s a blink-and -you’ll-miss-it, tune-in-now approach that just adds to his integrity. You can’t package up and re-sell Jack Saunders; to witness his magic to it’s maximum capacity, you really have to be there (tune in).
He voices of radio’s dependability in what has become unprecedented and unforeseen times for us all, describing it as a ‘friend’. Which is exactly how he approaches his guests, too. “I’ve found that I’ve connected with artists that are a lot more personal in their lyrics… they feel that it’s just you two, together, hanging out, music like that has grown on me more”.
Adaptability is also at the forefront of Jack’s approach. “When lockdown started last march I went pre-recorded for three months”, he professes, “and it was awful because I couldn’t connect with audiences. I couldn’t chat to them, I couldn’t shout them out. So I set up this Discord server (server platform where you can set it for various chats). It started off with just five or six people for each show, dropping in and out, and now it’s got to the point where we’re back live and there’s a good 50-or-so people for each show, talking about the music, hanging out with each other, when lockdown wasn’t so harsh they were going to the park and meeting up with each other. They’ve created this whole community around this server which I think will go on for as long as I run it for. It’s such an important thing.”
Saunders’ show is directed towards a younger audience, a naturally-rotating axis due to the synergy between listener and presenter, and the music played. “Connecting with young people is something I’m intensely passionate. They really dictate what is cool, what is up-and-coming. It’s egotistical to ignore it. For me, it’s paramount for my job and something that I really enjoy doing”.
“It’s about paying attention to what you think will connect with the world and make a real difference”, he continues. “People will start looking to you to shift their cultural intake.”
It’s impossible not to acknowledge TikTok, which has made stars of Lil Nas X and Olivia Rodrigo, to name but two musicians you’ll no-doubt recognise. “Everything has a chance of being successful”, he says. “It can create a star in a day. It’s a fast-food X-Factor; you can turn up and be famous on it in literally seconds, it’s amazing. Radio’s initial attitude is ‘it’s not cool, we decide the future of music’ when in reality that stubborn attitude is not going to anyone any favours. You’re not listening to the kids, this is what they’re listening to. This is what they’re consuming, this is how they’re living their lives. If you’re not living your life and listening to what they are, you’re not relevant to them’”.
It’s taken a very admirable amount of persistence for Jack Saunders to reach this far. His words of encouragement on mirroring his journey are just as endearing, and honest. “The stand-out thing that will impress people is your ability. If you’re driven enough, keep going and keep practising, and you’re able to adapt into any environment, that’s a testament to your ability as well. If you can show a radio boss or music exec that throughout this time you’ve made the effort to get their attention, they’re going to be blown away”
“It’s like a pyramid. The further you get up, the more people stop trying, until you’re left at the top with only two or three [competitors]. You only have to put in that extra bit of effort to be better than those other two or three people. Put everything into what you do, be flexible”.
And for his own intentions with the future of his Radio 1 show? “I want to bring energy. That’s what people feed off. I just want to have a raw reaction to most things. I wanna get my feet stuck on sticky dance floors, and have sweat splattering from other people, run head-first into someone in a mosh pit. I want to bring genuine energy to the occasion because that’s what people respond to. On the flip-side if you look at the other side, keep building those relationships with the artists”.
“Now is the time to shine and show everyone what we can do”.