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What I’ve Learnt: Julie Cullen, Managing Editor, BBC Radio 5 Live

Julie Cullen

Julie Cullen has been managing editor at BBC 5 Live since March 2020, working alongside Controller Heidi Dawson. 

Prior to this, Cullen was BBC 6 Music’s Editor in Salford responsible for the network’s output from MediaCity. This included working on live events and shows from Glastonbury Festival, South by South West in Texas, the BBC Proms to the Mercury Music Prize. 

She joined 6 Music as a music journalist, a role that brought her close to the issues of the music industry and the challenges it faces, working at the heart of, and collaborating with, some of the BBC’s brands including Radio 1, Radio 2, Radio 3 and BBC News, to name a few.

As BBC Radio 5 Live turns 30 this week, Cullen shared what she’s learnt during a fascinating and exciting radio career.

Which single daily habit or practice could you not do without?

At the risk of sounding like a 5 Live super fan it is waking up to the Breakfast show with Rick and Rachel – it’s just the best way to start the day, you get your news fix with side of sizzling sport and the best witty repartee on the radio, there’s a reason they won the best speech breakfast Arias y’know.

What’s been your luckiest break?

I was working as a journalist at Inside Housing magazine when I won reporter of the Year. This gave me the confidence to apply to the BBC for the regional news training scheme as a broadcast journalist for Elstree and Greater London Radio, it was my introduction to the TV and radio journalism and I loved it.  My other luckiest break was signing Mary Anne Hobbs to 6 Music as the weekend breakfast presenter in MediaCity, she singlehandedly changed the sound of the station and changed the landscape for female presenters and how 6 Music was perceived in Manchester and beyond.

What’s your best failure? 

I didn’t make it as a musician despite being in a number of wannabe indie bands as a teenager, but my passion for music stayed with me and led me to a wonderful career as a music journalist, presenter, commissioning exec and editor at BBC 6 Music.

What is the best investment you’ve ever made, either financial or time?

Financially it was my flat in Crouch End in London which overlooked the disused railway line that goes up to Highgate woods, and my best investment of time is every minute I get to hang out with my teenage daughter – when she lets me.

Which podcast or book would you recommend others to read and why?

For a brilliant insight into the New York music scene in the early 2000’s – and who doesn’t? – the book ‘Meet Me in the Bathroom’ by journalist Lizzy Goodman describes in vivid detail the meteoric rise of bands like The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s, The Strokes, Interpol, LCD Soundsystem and Vampire Weekend. It’s a unique period in music’s history, drawing on original interviews it’s fascinating and beautifully written. My favourite podcast is Elis James & John Robins twice weekly dose of hilarity, they are the self described ‘UK’s youngest and most relevant broadcasters’. Check it out.

What one piece of advice would you give your 21-year-old self? 

Believe in yourself.  As a young working class woman from Wigan it was difficult to break into journalism and the BBC at that time, and it took me longer to get to where I wanted to be. Thankfully the BBC is much more inclusive and the fact that there’s now a huge BBC base in Salford will hopefully mean that young, working class, Northern aspiring journalists, producers and future presenters will come and find us and get involved.

Who or what has had the single biggest influence on your working life? 

Wanting to make a difference.  I believe passionately that the BBC should reflect the audience it serves and I am an advocate for inclusivity and equality of opportunity. I’ve championed some new voices to BBC airwaves and been lucky enough to be in a position to offer opportunities to some very talented producers and journalists to join the BBC.

Tell us something about you that would surprise people

I’m a massive fan of Northern Soul music – in 2014 we launched the inaugural 6 Music festival in Manchester I managed to persuade the director, Elaine Constantine, to screen her yet to be released film Northern Soul at the Cornerhouse. It was an amazing night with the likes of Ian Brown showing up to see the movie, it felt like a homecoming and remains a very proud moment.

If there was one thing you could change about your career, what would it be and why?

I’m very happy to be where I am, I think everything happens for a reason so I’m not big on regret.

What does success look like to you? 

An audience that is informed, educated and entertained!

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