Three years ago, Tommy Dixon was working as a mechanical engineer - commuting every single day from Milton Keynes to London to work in his job at the railway station. It was during those long two-hour commutes that Dixon discovered podcasts on Spotify and fell so deeply in love with them that he had to create his own. So, when the opportunity showed up to apply for funding through BBC Audio Lab, Dixon was all in.
A year since becoming a member of the BBC Audio Lab Class of 2022, Dixon has launched his podcast, Colouring in Britain, on the lives and stories of influential British people of colour and has been met with great reception, leading him on to win Best New Podcast at this year’s UK Audio & Radio Industry Awards (ARIAs).
We asked Dixon to share what he learned on his journey so far and what he would advise to people who want to start a podcast with little experience - just as he has successfully done.
How would you describe your podcast?
I would describe my podcast as a storytelling experience. You get to unpick history, you get to relive that history, and then after you're done all of that, you get another episode. It's a walkthrough of British history and a lot of stories that I think everyone should know.
Why did you start your podcast?
There are a lot of factors, but a really prominent one was a lot of things that were happening during COVID. Off the back of the murder of George Floyd, and during the Euros in 2020 with Marcus Rashford… as a Black person, seeing that happen and seeing the racism, the abuse that they faced, I was shocked but I wasn't surprised. A lot of the conversations we were having about race, what it means to be British, and almost seeing those players being stripped of their Britishness because… of their skin colour and absolutely nothing else; it just really hurt me and I really wanted to do something to sort of challenge that notion of what is Britishness, what makes someone British, and what gives someone identity.
I wanted to tackle all those things and when I saw Audio Lab, it was an opportunity to be able to create something that would almost act as a Trojan horse. What I wanted to do was unpack bits of British history, and show people that British history is world history. In showing you these amazing people who've influenced and impacted the way in which we live our lives today, I wanted to show you that Britishness has always been a wide array of people and that it is a collective.
What advice do you wish you'd been given when you first started?
It takes time to be able to nail down a story. You can have a really strong concept in your head, but it’s about being able to conceptualise and translate it in a way that is entertaining, informative, and keeps somebody engaged all the way through. Your program, your podcast, or whatever it is that you are making takes time to be able to get down.
Whether that's picking the right music, whether it's making sure that the scripted drama is on point, whether it's doing your research to make sure that you're including all of the really, really important parts; getting that right is super duper important because that forms your story and that's what people connect with. So give yourself time to be able to make sure that you get what it is you’re creating, to the point in which you're happy and it's going to connect with your audience.
How many people does it take to create an episode of your show?
For some of my episodes I had a lot of drama, and for some episodes there was less. The episode with Claudia Jones, for example, she's no longer with us. So in being able to create an experience, I had to employ different tactics, like getting people and to act out Claudia or different people. That’s just the drama side - sound design and editing, that was me, but mixing, technical, mentors, it takes a lot of people. I think that improves the overall end product because you have a lot more eyes, so you get to share a lot more ideas and you find different ways that you might have envisioned how you're going to tell the story.
Do you monetize your podcast?
The BBC is all publicly-funded; I think BBC Studios does, but BBC studios is a different arm, so they can pitch to different people.
How do you promote your podcast?
Socials like instagram, creating audiograms and visual assets; we worked with an amazing company called the Bearded Fellows. They’re up on Twitter too - and I probably should have done Tiktok as well, but my main channels were around Instagram.
What have you learned about yourself since starting the podcast?
What I think my limit is and that I can really push that boundary if I give myself the opportunity to do so. When I came up with the idea for Colouring in Britain, I didn't know how I was going to be able to do it, but now that I've done it, I know I can create something like that. I did it whilst having a full-time job as well, so being able to balance that and know that my limit, my potential, is a lot bigger than I currently think it is.
Who listens to your podcast?
Well, my mum is someone! I created Colouring in Britain with the [target] demographic of 18 year olds to about 30 year olds. I wanted to create for a younger demographic just because of the language and the style in which I present and at the same time because of the historical content of it. Quite interestingly enough, I've had a lot of older people be able to come to me and tell me how much they enjoyed the podcast. Like for example, I was talking about what it was like to be in Bristol in the 80s and the 90s and I had people come up to me and talk to me about the Bamboo Club which was like this really old jazz club that was set up during that time.
What was the last podcast you listened to?
So the last podcast I listened to was a podcast called Before The Hype; it's a new podcast that I’m producing. It's all about fashion, and I was listening to it because I wanted to make sure that I uploaded it okay on to Spotify!