I Want Your Job: James ‘Breko’ Brechney
By Kate Iselin.
Meet James: media personality, DIY Rainbow founder, and the breakfast host of OX Live, Sydney's only radio station focused on the gay and lesbian community. We spoke to James about podcasting, panelling, and the importance of self-belief.
So James – explain your role to me.
I am the breakfast host of OX Live, which is an online digital radio station focused on a gay and lesbian audience. It's the only gay radio station in Sydney – the big LGBT community radio station in Australia is called JOY and that's based in Melbourne; but OX Live has been running for a couple of years now and we're doing really well.
How did you get started in the radio industry?
I started recording a podcast with a girlfriend of mine, many years ago, just to try to learn about the craft of radio and how to speak to people through that medium. After our podcast, we started working as a kind of comedy duo at a community radio station here in Sydney, called Northside Radio. We did part ways, and I ended up having my own program on the station and also eventually becoming Programme Director. I have a lot of fingers in a lot of different pies, but radio is something that has always been a passion of mine and I did community radio for about four years before I moved over to OX. That was a role I got very naturally: the previous breakfast show actually interviewed me on-air last year when my Facebook page, DIY Rainbow, went viral. I met the team who were producing the show and we got along really well, and pretty quickly I started hosting a Friday afternoon show for them and then ended up doing the daily drive-home show. This year, the previous breakfast team moved on, and I got upgraded to breakfast host! It's been a very quick fifteen months with OX, but it's really exciting.
When you first got in to the industry, did you have a clear idea of what you wanted to do?
In the very early stages, I was just trying to navigate my personality and my skill sets and find out what it was in the world that I wanted to do. I studied law and business at university and did quite a few years in various law firms, but I decided that it really wasn't for me and it wasn't what I was going to get happiness from. I love performance but I'm actually a really bad actor and I can't sing! So I felt that becoming a media personality or a host could be something that I might be really good at, and something that I'd really enjoy and get a lot out of. A lot of actors and performers actually fall back on hosting gigs to make money, while their general passion is working on these really beautiful plays and films; whereas I actually just really like hosting. I do a bit of MC work as well: I host the Lebowski Bash Australia nationally and I've hosted Eurovision at the Oxford Art Factory, so it all sort of builds and feeds in to each other. But radio is what I really love.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
It's really hard to say – because I have a few things burning, it can be difficult to know what's really going to take off. I have quite a number of different passions; but I would love to see myself doing a more high-profile radio show and build from the place I'm at now. It would be awesome to be doing, for example, breakfast radio on one of the major commercial networks at some point.
How do you make yourself stand out in your industry?
I think it's really cool to develop a niche. When I first started doing radio, I almost kind of fought the 'gay' label – obviously I was gay; but I don't think I necessarily sounded, on the air, stereotypically camp. As much as being gay was a part of me, it wasn't all of me. But I quickly worked out that if you have a niche, you have to use it! I think you should embrace what makes you different and I've definitely embraced being gay and being a part of the 'gay scene'. I think over the last couple of years, I've really learnt to fight for myself; and I think that in the early stages of any career you really do need to learn how to do that. Sometimes people can't see in you what you see in yourself, and that's not really their fault because they haven't gotten to know you over the thirty-odd years that you've gotten to know yourself. So you really have to believe in yourself and fight for what you think your worth is. But simply, in radio, it's all about keeping it fun and keeping people engaged. It's all well and good to want to talk about interesting topics that engage you, but if you're not engaging your audience as well, then what's the point?
What's the best thing about your job?
The best thing about my job right now? In radio, there's a thing called 'panelling' – mixing and levelling the audio. I've done that for a number of years on community radio for my own shows, but now we have a team on the breakfast show and I can just sit on the beautiful pink couches at the Stonewall Hotel, where we record, and chat to people and not have to think about audio levels! That might be a really bad answer, because a lot of radio people really love to have that control and it is kind of nerdy to panel your own show as well as host it, and I will do it again one day; but right now I'm just focused on having fun with the show and playing around. The panelling and all the audio mixing is done up on the desk by a producer; which takes the pressure off me and lets me focus on the conversation.
What's the worst thing about your job?
I suppose if there had to be something, it would be that at the moment, digital radio doesn't pay enough for me to work on it full-time. I love everything about my job, I really do; but everyone at OX has it as a part-time job rather than a full-time job right now, so it would be cool if it could become a permanent role for us all.
What advice would you give to people wanting to take the same career path as you?
Oh my god – don't do it! No. When I first started podcasting with my girl friend, I would say we were very naïve – beautifully naïve, but naïve – and we thought within six months we'd be hosting a late-night top forty show on a huge commercial network. Obviously that didn't end up being the case; but I really do not regret taking the extra time to learn the craft and develop the skill-set I needed. My advice is just to be realistic with your ideas of how long things will take to build, and how long it takes you to learn how to do things. I always find it funny when people use terms like 'overnight success', when really you've been working for many years behind the scenes and coming up to the moment you're experiencing now. I try to think in terms of three- to five-year timelines, whereas previously I was thinking more of six- to twelve-month timelines, and I think that can be a bit unrealistic.
What advice would you give to yourself, five years ago?
I think the media industry is really interesting – it's a real combination of talent and luck. Obviously, you can't do much about luck, but you can maximise your talents. You have to always believe in yourself, and for me, there were certainly moments in the first few years of my career when I felt like things were getting a bit stagnant and I wasn't really going anywhere; but then, all of a sudden, it turned around for me very very quickly. So just keep the belief going that you're worth it and that it's all going to work out.