Ann Charles gets honoured by the Radio Academy

Ann Charles Ann Charles sits long enough for a photo

Ann Charles speaks in much the same way she appears to live her life - she rushes from one idea to the next and seems to juggle a myriad of things at once.

At 29 years old, Charles is already more accomplished than some people who are a decade her senior, a fact that has seen her honoured for her contribution to the radio industry.

Charles is one of a group of people to watch, called the 30 under 30. Chosen by the Radio Academy, these young professionals (all under 30) are making a name for themselves in their respective fields, whether in radio production, sales or behind the scenes.

The project manager in technology is, in many ways, a pioneer. Of 100+ people in her team, she's the most senior woman, apart from the finance manager.

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When I talk to producers who claim to be terrified of technology, well, it's just about curiosity”

End Quote Ann Charles Project manager, major projects infrastructure

She believes this is one reason why she was chosen for the Radio Academy's list of 30 to watch. 'Practically speaking, I was probably picked because I have a technical background and they were trying to balance it up,' she smiles.

287m listeners

But this comment downplays much of the hard work the manager has done for the last three and a half years. Charles has just finished delivering the VCS Dira radio playout system to all of Salford and W1.

It's a computer database on which production staff can plug in their recordings, edit them and schedule them for playout. The system will become standard across the BBC, and everyone who has been using different bits of kit will be migrated onto this platform eventually.

It's a huge piece of work - there are 287 million listeners consuming content created on systems installed by her team. Soon, Charles will embark on introducing VCS Dira to Radios 2, 3, 4, and audio and music production. 'You get to know stuff that you never wanted to know about HTML schemes. How did I ever get to a stage where I knew what the setting was for this tiny little bit of code?' the project manager asks rhetorically.

Asked if she's a perfectionist, the young manager replies that it's not so much about perfection as getting the right balance. 'If you have people who have to move on time because they have rearranged their mortgage and need to get their children into a school … you have to weigh up getting something perfect with going, You know what, you can on air with that.'

General curiosity

This pragmatic approach is probably a result of Charles' programme-making background. She started off in regional radio, where she believes you have to learn to do everything, including the more technical aspects of radio production - 'It was in your interest to mend stuff,' she says. From there she went on to make programmes for Radio 4 and the former Radio 7. When a three-month attachment came up for an engineer specialising in VCS Dira, she went for it and got it.

Charles - who has worked in radio for about 12 years - believes more programme makers could straddle the editorial and technical worlds. 'I think it's just about general curiosity. When I talk to producers who claim to be terrified of technology, well, it's just about curiosity. It's just like when you interview someone: why are you doing something, why did that situation happen, what is going on, what are the trends, what is happening here?'

She argues that learning what's wrong with a computer is much easier than trying to understand 'why this country just invaded that country and why this person did that thing'.

As a woman in a male-dominated field, Charles would like to see more female engineers. Outside of the BBC, she's a guide leader with Girls Guide UK and encourages this future generation to approach their careers with open minds. 'There's a lot of research that women do jobs they can see, and girls are attracted to jobs they can see. They can see doctors, they can see nurses, they can see people who work in shops, but they can't see engineers or people who work in labs.'

An Olympic moment

Charles is also a member of Sound Women, a network of women working in audio, and has been asked to help organise this year's TechCon, the Radio Festival's annual technical conference. As she talks her voice literally goes up an octave or two: 'I'm really excited about TechCon - if anyone could put together the ideal things …'. She trails off and then adds: 'It's about radio but also about technology - yes, it's so exciting!'

The prospect of TechCon is almost as exciting as Charles' brush with the Olympics, where she performed as a dancer for the opening and closing ceremonies of both Games. How she managed to find the time remains a mystery - but all the effort was worth it.

'On the night I was really near to the Olympic flame, I could feel the heat from it. I couldn't believe I was there - it was one of those moments.'

The moment has passed and, like any once-in-a-lifetime experience, can leave a void in its wake. Charles, however, seems to have bounded from one high to the next.

Is she one to watch? Yes, if you can get her to sit still long enough.


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