Johny Pitts on how to be a TV continuity announcer

Presenter Johny Pitts

IdeasTap member Johny Pitts has presented for Blue Peter, MTV and BBC Radio 1Xtra. As a continuity announcer, he also gets paid to watch TV and talk about it live on air. Bethany Minelle finds out more…

What exactly is a continuity announcer?

My job is to tell people what’s coming up on Sky 1 and why they should be excited about it. I have to be across everything that’s on the channel, and put it across in as pithy and as interesting way as possible. Sometimes I have to pinch myself – I’m in the booth watching football or Modern Family and getting paid for it. It’s the dream job!

Is it scary just you and a mic, broadcasting live to the nation?

Not anymore, but for the first six months I made loads of mistakes. You can’t get it out of your head that when you press that button you’re talking to upwards of 200, 000 viewers! Now I actually don’t think about the huge number of people I’m talking to – one of my mates always watches Sky 1 and I just think that I’m talking to him and I try to do it that way.

Do you write your own scripts?

Yes. I write my scripts at Sky during the afternoon, then my producers approve them and I go into the recording booth to set up ready for broadcast. I have a sacred zone of five minutes before going live when I just hone in and make sure everything’s right with the next link.

What’s been your biggest on air cockup?

One night, the film Indecent Proposal was on. I’d never seen it before, and I ended up getting really engrossed. At the end, I had a lump in my throat and I had to do the voiceover. You could really tell! But as long as it’s not happening too much, I think it’s OK to stutter your words every so often– then people know it’s live!

How did you get into continuity announcing?

I started out as a TV presenter, which I still do now. Through that I got an agent and they looked after TV, radio and voiceover work. I got sent for a continuity announcer audition at Sky, they liked what they heard and I got the job.

Did you go to drama school?

No, I didn’t. I feel like as a presenter and a voice artist I’m quite raw. I’ve not had elocution lessons or anything like that, and it means I’ve retained a bit of where I’m from. I was brought up in a council estate in Sheffield and there aren’t many people from that area who’ve gone into TV, so in a way I’ve placed myself in quite a unique category. There are different kinds of presenters, but I think for continuity in particular it’s important to try to come from a real place.

What’s your advice for someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?

The first thing I’d suggest is to get an agent, which I know can be difficult –to get an agent you need experience, and to get experience you need an agent. I always say the best way to get into this kind of job is through work experience and just get a feel for the environment.

One of my friends has just finished presenting Blue Peter [Andy Akinwolere]. He did it for five years – and he started as a runner. They just thought he had a great voice, and a great energy, they gave him a screen test and he ended up being a Blue Peter presenter. Put yourself out there and meet people.

Is it important to have a voice reel?

Yes, we’re in an era when you’ve got no excuse. You can set up a blog and make your own voice reel cheaply. When you send it to agents they aren’t necessarily looking for a really professional sound, they’re listening for your tone and for your delivery, and if you can get that across well, your reel’s done its job.

What would your biggest career tip be?

Don’t be afraid to email important people. That’s been important in my career. A massive door was opened for me from an email I sent to the agent of an author I admired. We met for coffee and he agreed to be my mentor. Through that I’ve just signed my first book deal.

If you could go back in time, what would you tell your younger self?

Don’t get in an ice-bath with Jedward… There was a phase in my career where I was just accepting any work. I found myself presenting a kids show and as a forfeit I had to have an ice-bath with one of Jedward – at that moment I thought, “I have to have some integrity, I just can’t keep saying yes to everything”. Presenters who I admire like Lauren Laverne and Reggie Yates do things on their own terms, and I think that’s a good way to be. It’s hard, but don’t be afraid to say no.

Johny also runs Afropean, an online journal exploring the social, cultural and aesthetic interplay of black and European culture. Follow Johny on Twitter.


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