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Alumni Profile

Jay Sykes

Jay Sykes

MA Radio 2014

Jay Sykes, who graduated with a master's degree in Radio in 2014 and now works as a part-time lecturer in Radio at the University, is officially one of the world's best radio practitioners. Jay won the Gold Award for Best Student Radio Drama at the New York Festivals World's Best Radio Awards.

We caught up with Jay recently and found out about his experiences in New York, SeaBurn and beyond...

When did you win your award and what for?

It's a long title, so get ready! In June this year, I accepted a Gold award at the New York Festivals World's Best Radio Awards, for my radio drama SeaBurn. It's a dark, psychological tale about a young woman living in Sunderland, who suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  I made SeaBurn in as the final project for my postgraduate study, MA Radio (Production and Management), so it would not have been possible without the support and teaching from staff at the University of Sunderland.

In fact, it was my lecturer Richard Berry who suggested I entered SeaBurn into the New York Festivals, and although I was originally skeptical that it would even be worthwhile, I threw caution to the wind and thought "why not?". I was on a Megabus heading back from London, actually, when I received an email of congratulations. I had been nominated for the "Best Student Drama Program". I was so thrilled. The University kindly paid for my flight, and in June I found myself in the Big Apple.

What were your impressions of New York?

New York is such an incredible city. People work hard, talk staccato and move fast; faster even than London. The city is utterly breathtaking. It was very warm, so I was swimming through crowds at 35 degree heat, completely overwhelmed by this swarm of people that stretched seemingly endlessly. I visited Times Square, the Brooklyn Bridge, Central Park, and went to see Chicago on Broadway with an old friend called Jade who's now an actor in New York.

But mostly, I spent my time as wisely as I could, and filled the week with interviews for my weekly podcast "99% Perspiration", which is catered towards helping creative and artistic people find their way into the industry. For me, the highlight of the whole trip to New York was visiting the studios of BBC Radio 4's equivalent, WNYC; meeting and interviewing the producers of RadioLab and SideShow, two of my favourite podcasts.

How did you feel when you received your award?

In all honesty, receiving the Gold award was one of the best moments of my life. There I was, sipping champagne in the penthouse of a skyscraper in the financial district of New York, accepting a Gold award for the "Best Student Drama Program" in the world. As I was making my speech, stood in front of a room filled with radio professionals from all kinds of backgrounds and experiences, I caught myself shaking. I met some wonderful people that day; and now the challenge continues to make the most of those contacts and those opportunities.

How do you hope you award will help you/what does it represent at this point in your career?

Receiving the New York Festivals award has given me a huge sense of renewal, the confidence in knowing that my work is top notch. That all those hours in classroom, recording studio and the editing room have paid off. And that award is against my name now, for the rest of my life. And it's still weird to say out loud, in all honesty, but I am a global award-winning radio drama producer. It's become my calling card. One of my goals over the next few years is to have a drama produced specially for BBC Radio 4. Whilst before it felt like a huge pipe dream, if I continue to work hard it really could become a reality.

What are your plans for the future?

I have rejoined the academic staff at the University of Sunderland, and will be teaching three media and journalism classes this coming semester. So for me, it's a very busy time of year. But I have never been known for a minimal approach to life, and am attempting to juggle more projects than I've ever juggled before.

I'm continuing to produce my weekly creative podcast 99% Perspiration, continuing my role with the artists' networking and support organisation ArtWorks-U, continuing the occasional bit of work as a freelance media producer as "Jay Sykes Media", and working on a few other side projects.

It's hard for me to believe, but it's almost been a whole year since I've released a radio drama. That's about to change. One of my side projects at the moment working with a talented young graduate writer from the University, Matthew Watson, on bringing his new Sunderland-based radio sitcom "Cyber Cafe" to life. My passion for radio drama, which was ignited by the incredible staff at the university of Sunderland, lives on.

You can read Jay's Podcast, 99% Perspiration here

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