Tommy and I hosted a brilliant(?) student radio programme together when I did my undergraduate degree at Örebro University. He was a radio natural who transformed into a proper radio personality when the on-air light in the studio was turned on. We shared a nerdy interest in pop music, his more electronica leaning than mine, and a love for niche print magazines (which both of us seemingly hold on to). We spoke in mid-May when we were both stuck indoors during lockdown in Denmark and UK.
Originally from Finland, Tommy has lived in Copenhagen for the past two years. In his current role he helps facilitate collaboration between public service organisations in the Nordic region. This includes co-productions of dramas, development of youth content, coordinated investment in technology and third party platforms, just to name a few areas his team is involved in. Tommy’s main focus is to broaden this out in his main area of interest - audio.
“I love radio, which hasn’t had the best of years as podcasts are taking over more and more. My main objective is to get people to collaborate; we’re all facing the same challenges and we’re all trying to reach the same audiences, so why not use each other?”
Before he decided to focus on facilitating collaboration, Tommy spent ten years as a radio show host in Finland. I ask him what kind of support he can provide in his current role to someone in his previous role.
“Let’s say I’m a radio show host wanting to do a podcast for 15-20 year old boys focusing on feelings. That sounds difficult. But what if you could learn from someone who has done something similar in Iceland or Norway? They can share their audience research, what format they opted for and why, the approach they chose to engage with the audience, and data on how long they listened. Audiences behave quite similarly across the Nordics, so it’s really valuable to be able to access data and insights instead of having to start with an empty sheet of paper.”
His move wasn’t part of a deliberate career plan, he barely knew what Nordvision did when he saw the job posting. But having worked with a young target audience since starting in radio in Helsinki, he started feeling disconnected from his audience.
“I didn’t think about student life or how to plan a perfect night out anymore. What is relevant in life shifts a bit as you get older. I thought it would be nice to use my content production experience to broaden my perspective.”
Public service organisations are facing big challenges at the moment, from media platforms such as Netflix, and formats such as podcasts, which have quickly become significant competitors for key public service audiences.
“I know many don’t agree, but I think it’s a positive development since it forces us to be sharper. Public service is generally highly valued in the Nordics, especially now when there is a huge demand for trustworthy information. The competitive landscape is changing but you can’t do everything with Game of Thrones money. You can make it look great, but there is enormous value in locally rooted content, which is about you and your life.”
Tommy admits to sometimes wondering if he’s part of the last generation that consumed radio. The listening numbers only pointed one way when he was doing his show, and did not make for good bedtime reading.
“Live radio is unique, everything happens immediately and you can quickly adapt if something unexpected happens. We shared our shows online so people could listen back if they wanted, but that wasn’t the intention. I wouldn’t listen to a live radio show if it isn’t live. We did four hours a day, and we knew the average listener was with us for 20 odd minutes, so you have a short time span to make an impression.”
Tommy during a live radio broadcast
For Tommy, the difference between how people listen to podcasts and radio is clear.
“If I’m not into a podcast in the first two minutes I just turn it off. Live radio is more about listening to someone talking about something that is hopefully fun, with some good songs in between. So you’re more forgiving, it’s like having a cup of coffee with a friend; everything doesn’t have to be interesting since you can quickly move on to a different topic.”
While Tommy admits to a slightly reactionary love of traditional media, like print and radio, he thinks it's important that public service is available where the audiences are. But with some third-party platforms restricting editorial independence, that's easier said than done.
“For example, if a public service programme would like to focus on teenagers it will most likely involve talking about sex and relationships. But a third-party platform might restrict content if it’s considered sexual, which is a big problem since it means our editorial decisions are controlled by someone else. We want to host content on our own platforms, but it’s clear that’s not enough, so we need to be on other platforms while maintaining our ability to express ourselves unhindered.”
Audio provides lots of interesting future opportunities, a few days before we spoke Tommy attended a Spotify presentation where they mentioned that they received 200 drama script ideas for podcasts during a three days pitch in Stockholm.
“I’m more into documentaries, but drama does really well on TV so it will be interesting to see if it can work as a pod as well. It could be the next big thing, although I don’t think it will be for me.”
You might assume that someone who spent such a long time as a radio show host would be a natural extrovert, but Tommy has done a number of personality tests that all put him squarely in the introvert bracket.
“The fact that I’ve built a career around needing people to listen to me has no real logic to it. I’ve spent lots of time working on accepting who I am and not needing other peoples’ approval. When I started doing radio I needed to be appreciated, and you get instant feedback when you’re on air. People tell you if they like what you do, or if they think you are a piece of shit. I can miss that, but perhaps it’s part of the process of becoming less reliant on other people's approval.”
During our conversation Tommy regularly returns to his need to do good job and ensure that people like him. It might seem like a positive trait, but Tommy is increasingly aware that it comes with downsides.
“I’ve realised it isn’t good for me, or my work product. But the step from realising something to actually changing your behaviour is big. It can be frustrating to know why you do things in a certain way. It’s almost like an addiction. But discarding your own needs for others can cause lots of issues, it’s something you need to learn from, but it’s almost been etched into me.”
Tommy’s need for validation means he has struggled to trust that his views are important. It isn’t enough if he finds value in something, someone else must also think it’s worthwhile.
“I’m rarely happy with anything I do and it even makes me hesitant when it comes to hobbies like music. I might feel I need five synths to get the right sounds, rather than seeing what I can do with the one synth I have. So I get stuck in this feeling of questioning what people might think, which is really tiring and problematic.”
It turns out both us of struggle with positive feedback, and we agree that it boils down to low self-esteem while growing up. I tend to protect myself by being my own worst critic, which means that I struggle to take other peoples’ positive feedback on-board, something Tommy recognises.
“I find positive feedback awkward and just want to move on to something else, which is in direct opposition to my need to feel validated. It’s an unsolvable equation! Wouldn’t it be great to love what you do, who you are, and how you look.”
And on that note we said goodbye after one of the most open hearted conversations I’ve had in this series so far. Even though this might have been since Tommy wanted to ensure I was happy with the interview, I’m convinced many people will share these feelings.