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Archives for February 2010

Going Nowhere

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Jeff Zycinski | 18:41 UK time, Thursday, 25 February 2010


passengers-waiting.jpgAt times like this I'm reminded of that old joke about the headline in a London newspaper: Fog In Channel - Continent Cut Off.

Tonight the rest of Scotland has been cut off from Inverness and yet the people here in Glasgow are going about their business without any sense of anxiety or panic. That's except for those, like me, who turned up at Queen Street station only to be told that no trains were running north of Perth and, just in case you thought you'd be a clever dick and catch a bus, well, the road is blocked too. So no luck, suckers.

That's not exactly how they phrased it on the public address system, but I listened very carefully to that woman's voice and there was a definite hint of glee. Well it sounded less like travel advice and more like a telling off.

So I've been wandering the city streets, staring into shop windows and exchanging merry banter with Big Issue vendors. Sadly the exchange rate for banter is not what it was and many have demanded actual coinage.

All being well there will be an overnight thaw and I'll be on that early morning train to my Highland home. If not, I'll be looking for a room to rent until April.

Any offers?

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Glasgow Girl Emma Is Boxing Clever

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Jeff Zycinski | 11:14 UK time, Thursday, 25 February 2010


Emma-Clifford-and-SGR-tablet.JPGYou might just recognise the girl in the picture. Emma Clifford was one of the three Drumchapel teenagers who campaigned for the rights of their four asylum-seeking school friends. Together they were called 'the Glasgow girls' and they became a cause celebre of Jack McConnell when he was the First Minister.

Today Emma is studying journalism and creative writing at Strathclyde University and also presents a weekly discussion programme on Sunny Govan Radio. She came in to ask my advice about a career in broadcasting but she also took the opportunity to sell me an entire box of fund-raising tablet for the community station.

She also told me about a few other strings to her bow. She's one of the volunteers at Team Pinewood based at St. Mark's Church in Drumchapel. For more than ten years the group has encouraged more than five hundred young people to develop their interest in arts and music and Emma said it did wonders for her own self-confidence.

"I'm really proud to tell people I come from Drumchapel," she said, "I went to a great school with good teachers and that's where I got involved with the Glasgow girls campaign."

So what ever became of the asylum seekers?

"They all won the right to stay in Britain," said Emma, "I know two of them are now at university and another is at college training to be a hairdresser."

Then she sold me the tablet. One quid a bar, eighteen bars in a box and no discount for buying in bulk. I handed her a twenty pound note and she told me she didn't have change.

She's going to go far, I think.

Welcome Back Fred

Jeff Zycinski | 19:09 UK time, Wednesday, 24 February 2010



I'm not sure what state Fred MacAulay will be in when he returns to Pacific Quay tomorrow. He's spent the past few days braving sub-zero temperatures on the Caledonian Canal as he and Dougie Vipond shared a kayak for Sport Relief.

Before that he was in Los Angeles performing his stand-up routine on the CBS Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson.

And somewhere along the way he seems to have cracked a rib.

So the production team - including Anna Mills and Amy MacBeath (pictured) have been doing their bit to welcome him home.

Amazing what you can do with a few magic markers isn't it?

Calling Out Around The World

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Jeff Zycinski | 23:41 UK time, Tuesday, 23 February 2010


I'm about to tell you a half-truth. Every month the BBC Radio Scotland website records half a million page impressions and, by the by, this wee blog of mine accounts for "a whopping" five percent of that. Those are the official figures because, nowadays, the BBC doesn't include overseas traffic when publicising those statistics. If it did, the numbers would probably be twice as big.

There are reasons for this modesty, including the fact that people in other countries don't pay the licence fee, but I think it's a pity. I like to believe that we have a role in telling the world about Scotland and not just for the many thousands of ex-pats who come to us because of nostalgia for the 'old country'. I think we should be sharing all sorts of stories - historic and contemporary - and showcasing Scottish talent on the international stage.

Of course to do that properly would take a bit more dosh. Your dosh, to be precise. Oh, stop with the tut-tutting.

Now, just about every one of my predecessors as Head of Radio has complained about tight budgets. Thirty years ago, when Radio Scotland broke free from the Radio 4 mothership, the funding allowed for only so many hours of home-grown output per week. There were whole parts of the weekend when the programming reverted back to London. Over the years, bit by bit, the schedule has expanded and now we also have all these online bells and whistles like our Zones, podcasts and the BBC iPlayer.

We're able to do this because the investment in technology makes it easier to make more hours of programming despite the fact that the money available for content continues to shrink. It's called 'Value for Money'. Compared to commercial radio, of course, we're very well off. Compared to the U.K. networks, we're not so rich.

Finances will always limit creative ambitions but if some deranged accountant suddenly handed me a big cheque then I would pass it to programme makers so that they could travel further and tell the bigger, global stories. Yes, yes, I know. There's already the BBC World Service and it does a brilliant job, but, I don't think people around the planet should hear a version of Scotland that's always filtered through London.

Or Salford, for that matter. Or even Glasgow.

This, I hasten to add, is not a party political viewpoint, it's about self-confidence and an ethusiasm for Scottish culture and talent.

Oddly, I got to thinking about this after a trip to my local Blockbuster store the other night. I don't know if you've noticed, but when they have a foreign movie on the shelves they put a big warning sticker on the front telling you that it's subtitled. You usually get a secondary, verbal warning when you go the counter to pay for it.

That's what happened when I rented Katyn - the Oscar-winning film about the Russian massacre of thousands of Polish officers and intellectuals in the early years of World War II. The film also provides a glimpse of Poland during the post-war period of Soviet control and how the people took different approaches to preserving their culture and identity to "build as much freedom as we can".

It's a tragic, stirring and important story and I noticed that the film was partly financed by Polish television. It made an impact on me and I don't think that's just because of my own ancestry. Some stories simply speak to the world.

So here begins my campaign for BBC Radio Scotland International. Given my current state of health it may not happen in my lifetime, but I'm sure we'll get there.

With or without subtitles.

The Death Card - Part Two

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Jeff Zycinski | 23:06 UK time, Sunday, 21 February 2010



Last week I told you how my first experience of heart palpitations coincided with the discovery of an Ace of Spades stuck to the sole of my shoe. As I said then, I'm not one for superstition but I do wonder if my luck is running out.

In the days since that spooky incident, friends and colleagues have offered their expert advice. Not a single one of them, it has to be said, has a medical qualification of any kind, but they have plenty of theories. The most popular concern my decision to quit alcohol last October as part of BBC Radio Scotland's Under the Influence campaign..

"It was probably preserving you," said one well-wisher, "you know, like the way vinegar does for gherkins."

A psuedo scientific version of this theory has it that the booze was thinning my blood and now my veins are probably coursing with a substance resembling concentrated tomato puree.

"Just have one glass of red wine each night, " said another friend, "and then we'll have the old Jeff back. We miss him."

"The old Jeff?" I asked, "what, you think I came into work sozzled every morning?"

"No...but you weren't so....tense."

Well I'd like to see him stay relaxed when the Grim Reaper starts posting mail to his footwear.

So, anyway, I went to the doctor and was expecting a row about being a tad overweight. Six stones equals one tad in the new metric system. In mitigation I told her about my having stopped boozing, that I had never smoked and that I'd even bought an excercise bike. Pathetic, really.

She didn't even bother with the stethoscope. I was sent off for a batch of tests which involved having my chest, arms and ankles shaved so that they could connect those little sensors to an ECG machine. Then they checked my blood pressure and decided I had more than my fair share so they siphoned some of it into test tubes and sent it off to "the lab". It's like CSI Inverness.

I have to go back at least once a week, for "monitoring" which has meant cancelling a few things. That includes my planned appearance at the Highlands & Islands Community Broadcasting conference. Sorry guys!

In the meantime I've hit on another way to test whether or not my luck is running out.
As chance would have it, I spotted one of those lottery scratchcards themed around the - wait for it - Ace of Spades.

I'm going to scratch it on Friday just before I go back to the doc for my results. If I don't win the eight grand then I'll know I'm doomed.

Well, it's a theory.

The Jennings Collection

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Jeff Zycinski | 16:46 UK time, Sunday, 21 February 2010

Comments (4)


The BBC's Director General has made a huge blunder and I'm only sorry it has taken me so long to speak out. I should have let my voice be heard at the time, but the Corporation's slick PR people would have swung into action, spinning against me and dismissing my protests as little more than infantile gurgling.

And they would have been right.

You see, I'm not picking a fight with the current D.G. Heaven forbid! No, I'm talking about a decision made in 1964 when I was but a tot. That was when the BBC axed Children's Hour from its radio services and that meant I never got to hear Jennings at School.

I became a fan of the Jennings books in the early seventies. The hilarious adventures of this English schoolboy were a world away from my own reality in Easterhouse and maybe that's why I loved them so much. I still do, in fact, and I'm not alone. The likes of Stephen Fry and Alan Ayckbourn have said how the stories influenced their own careers and about the literary flair of the Jennings creator Anthony Buckeridge.

What I didn't realise until I grew up was that Buckeridge originally created Jennings for radio. The first plays aired in 1948 and the first book - Jennings Goes to School - was published in 1950. The last book - That's Jennings - came out in 1994 and between times Buckeridge had authored twenty-four different Jennings titles.
In my attic I found about eighteen of them in various states of preservation or disrepair. I was actually toying with the idea of flogging the lot on e-Bay when my twelve year old son asked if he could borrow one for a look-see. I handed him my dog-eared copy of Jennings as usual and wondered what he would make of it.

To be honest, the style was already dated when I was a boy. Postal orders and tuck box rooms now seem a far cry from PIN numbers and healthy eating schemes. Buckeridge himself tried to update the characters and their settings in the later books, but the results were not great. Somehow Jennings and his friends only seem credible within the closed world of a Sussex preparatory school. Imagine him in an Easterhouse comprehensive and you can see where things might go wrong.

Jennings: Fossilised fishhooks! Wow! I say, have you chaps got per to be smoking behind the bicycle sheds? If Old Wilkie spots you there'll be the most frantic hoo-hah.

Ned: Right guys. You haud him doon and I'll dae the kicking

But, much to my surprise and delight, my son devoured the book in one sitting and asked for another...and then another. Now he's urged me to go online and complete my collection.

And that's where we found this site and one tiny audio memory of Jennings on the radio.


Sunshine And Snow - A Day At The Beach In Scotland

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Jeff Zycinski | 14:59 UK time, Sunday, 21 February 2010


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The Zed family have been trying to hurry along the coming of spring. It's all in the mind, you see. That's why we hit the road to Nairn this morning and enjoyed a lovely hour or so on the East Beach with the sun blazing on our necks while we kicked the snow off our shoes.

Only in Scotland, eh?

Mainly we were there to give our dog a good long run across the sand. A few listeners have asked me how Rascal's doggy diet is coming along. I'm pleased to report he has lost an entire kilo since we got that row from the vet.

If he keeps this up I'm sure he'll be asked to appear in one of those 'before and after' spreads they have in pet magazines.


King Juicy And The Excited Teenager

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Jeff Zycinski | 22:41 UK time, Thursday, 18 February 2010



By the time the Kings Cross to Inverness train reaches Perth, the passengers who boarded in London are either asleep, drunk or far too excited for their own good. You walk into the carriage feeling like an unexpected character in an Agatha Christie play. Tables are strewn with empty coffee cups and discarded newspapers... and that's not the only thing that's trashed.

"So this is King Juicy" said the girl with the empty cider can as she flagged down the drinks trolley and asked for a replacement.

"No it's Perth," said trolley man, "and you mean Kingussie." He pronounced it as "kin-oosie"
the way they do around here.

"No, no, that's wrong," said the girl, "it's King Juicy with a hard 'k' , you're saying that with a 'c'. You're mixing it up with Carnoustie."

The trolley man wasn't in the mood for banter and you could tell he didn't take kindly to a London lass telling him how to pronounce Highland place names. But he sold her another cider.

I always enjoy the last few minutes of this journey into Inverness, because that's when some of the passengers get really excited. You can spot those people who have never been this far north before because they start quizzing people about taxis and hotels.

I do my bit to spread cheer by telling them that the hotel they have booked is within walking distance of the station. In Inverness, most things are.

But this enthusiastic atmosphere always reminds me how lucky I am to live where I do. Especially toinight when I heard an English teenager phoning her friend and announcing loudly:

"I'm in Scotland! How cool am I?"

She soon found out. It was five below zero when we stepped onto the platform.

Would You Let Your Children Do This?

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Jeff Zycinski | 21:11 UK time, Wednesday, 17 February 2010


Thumbnail image for BBC-Radio-Scotland.JPGCan you believe they used to teach schoolchildren how to make ashtrays? It's true. Let me take you back to 1976 and my metalwork class. There I am, cutting and moulding a five inch square sheet of steel and then soldering on a little curved fag-holder. My dad was a welder and I thought he would be so proud when I showed him the final product.

He wasn't.

I remember him pointing to the poor quality of soldering which left gaps at every corner. So what? Aside from its inability to hold burnt tobacco, my ashtray was perfect. But I think that's when Dad realised I was not destined to follow in his footsteps. That was when he stopped taking me on tours of the steelworks.

So the other day someone asked me if I would encourage my own children to pursue a career in radio. I couldn't give a straight answer.

Radio, it has to be said, doesn't figure hugely in my children's media habits. My daughter (14) listens to local radio in the evening when she's doing her homework. Simultaneously she'll be on her little netbook computer, messaging her friends and assuring us she's only asking for help with that maths problem. Aye right.

My son (12) plays games on PS3 and he edits his own video films. He also listens to Sportsound every weekend and can name several BBC Radio Scotland personalities. He was very impressed when I told him that I had actually met Annie McGuire in person and even spoken to her on several occasions. He also likes Richard Gordon, David Begg and Jim Traynor but nags me to punish Chick Young because he used to complain about the long drive up the A9 to cover matches in Inverness. (I recently teased Chick by mentioning the prospect of Ross County being promoted to the SPL and the extra half hour that would add to his journey).

But will either of my children want to work in radio? They're fairly brainy so they might follow Mrs. Z and go for a career in science. Of course I've told them that such a job requires a lot of hard work and that the money is rubbish, but those lab coats are cute aren't they?

I balance that with my description of radio folk as being the nicest people in the world, but that we kind of wallow in our 'Cinderella service' reputation compared to our colleagues in film and television. We like to point out that the budget for a TV "wrap party" could fund a year's worth of output on the wireless. That's not true, but we say it anyway. It makes us feel righteous.

The truth is, though, that there is more money in TV and the big bucks are going to fund innovations like digital services, high-definition and even 3D TV. All that costs millions while, back in radioland, I find myself turning down some great programme ideas for the sake of a few hundred pounds. The financial people call that kind of moan 'shroud-waving' and I'm not allowed to do it too often.

Probably the best and most heartfelt advice I could give my children would be that they should stay clear of a job in radio, because then they'll have more fun listening to it.

But will they take that advice? Well it's a bit like that ashtray.

I have my doubts.

The Death Card

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Jeff Zycinski | 21:49 UK time, Sunday, 14 February 2010


ace.jpgMy ceaseless search for programme ideas has led me into some strange places and explains how I came to be in a Galashiels hotel and sitting in front of a fortune teller as he flipped over a tarot card to reveal 'Death'.

The Reader - for that is what these dealers in destiny are called - assured me that this card rarely predicts an actual death. It was more likely to signify the end of one life-chapter and the start of the next. Having just moved from Glasgow to the Borders, I told him that this seemed like a credible explanation. I was trying to be polite.

The next card - The Hanging Man - seemed to excite my Reader a lot more. It prompted him to ask me all sorts of questions about my health and he left me with the advice that I should listen to my body. By this he meant two things. The first was almost literal. I should listen out for coughs, wheezes, creaks and cracks. The second meaning was all about acting on instinct and following one's conscience. He took it for granted that I had such a thing, but that's always been open for debate.

This all happened many years ago, but I got to thinking about this episode last Sunday night when I was on a crowded train from Inverness to Glasgow. An encounter with four pony-tailed nedettes had left me a little stressed. To cut a long story short, one of them was occupying the seat I had reserved and all four were loudly exchanging stories about some wild party they had attended the night before.

"I started puking about three in the morning, but you were worse than me."

"Oh aye and then you went in the bedroom and snogged big Fergus."


I don't want to sound aloof, but they didn't look like they were in the mood to discuss the finer points of ScotRail's seat reservation policy, so I shuffled past, dragging my suitcase-on-wheels, and finally got sat down on one of those twin-seats next to the luggage rack. I tell you, wee Jimmy Krankie would have complained about the leg-room.

I was hot, bothered and slightly claustrophobic...and that's when it happened.

My heart stopped.

At least, that's how it felt. A strange flutter. No, more like a sinking feeling. A skipped beat. A palpitation.

Then it happened again. Then again. I started listening to my body the way you listen to the football commentary when your team is one goal down in the final and you're into injury time. Anxiously.

And then the next weird thing happened and I swear this is absolutely true. I noticed that I had something sticking to my shoe and it began to annoy me even more. I reached down and peeled it from the sole and do you know what it was?

A playing card.

The Ace of Spades, in fact.

The Death Card.

On my very soul....well, sole.

So here's the thing. I don't believe in the supernatural and I don't believe in fortune tellers or tarot. But tomorrow morning I'm at the doctors for a check-up.

Sometimes you just can't ignore the signs.

Front Page Splash

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Jeff Zycinski | 15:54 UK time, Friday, 12 February 2010


Jeff-Zycinski-poncho.jpgCall it Payola if you like, but I'm keeping this stylish polythene poncho and have already told my children that I plan to wear it the next time they have their friends round for a sleepover. That shut them up.

The poncho arrived in the post after a lively exchange of e-mails with a top executive at the Press & Journal . She noticed that I'd been blogging about my love of newspapers and even posting photographs of the Evening Times vendors in Glasgow.

The Press & Journal has its own methods of attracting readers and that includes turning up at rock festivals and handing out these ponchos to anyone buying copies of the paper. In the photograph I'm modelling one from the summer 2009 collection as seen at the Belladrum festival..

Now, hint, hint, I'm expecting similar gifts from other newspapers because I believe I'm single-handedly responsible for the month-on-month rise in sales that has been reported for just about every Scottish title. You should see me climb on trains twice a week, weighed down with half a tree's worth of newsprint.

The P&J, I should point out, is one of those papers that usually gets ignored by the rest of the media, despite the fact that it has always outsold The Herald and The Scotsman. I have to confess that, until my first working stint in Inverness way back in 1989, I had never even heard of it. That's what growing up in Glasgow does to you.

Now, living in Inverness, the P & J is one of my favourite reads because it does a great job with local news and it isn't stuffed with odious columnists competing for the title of Top Moaner in the I-Know-Better-Than-You awards. Who needs them when we have the blogosphere?

Ahem, if one of those columnists happens to be reading this then, of course, I don't mean you.'re the exception. All that clever stuff you's great. Honestly. What can I do to make amends?

Would you like a BBC Radio Scotland poncho?

For The Secret Romantic In You

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Jeff Zycinski | 23:24 UK time, Wednesday, 10 February 2010


bbc-choice-hearts.jpgYou all set for Valentine's Day then? Bought the card? Ordered those flowers? Booked that
romantic kebab-for-two at the 3-in 1?

Now don't give me no lip about Valentine's Day being a huge scam designed to make oodles of loot for card shops. We all know that's true, but look on the bright side: how often do we get the chance to give vent to our secret passions without a police investigation and subsequent restraining order?

I mean, there's precious little romance left in this world, don't you think? These days a gentleman can't even kiss a lady's hand without her reaching for a little bottle of antiseptic gel and ruining the moment.

But worry not love-lovers, because BBC Radio Scotland is coming to the rescue yet again thanks to our ever-growing archive of Burns poetry. This year we've compiled a small selection of Rabbie's most romantic works and we're making it easy for you to send a link to anyone or everyone you fancy.

The poems are all voiced by some of Scotland's most famous actors and you can even deploy Prince Charles with his rendition of My Luve Is like a Red Red Rose.

But if that doesn't snap your elastic then there's Brian Cox, Hannah Gordon, Robbie Coltrane, Bill Paterson, Daniela Nardini and many more.

We supply the poems and you do the rest.

Just, don't blame us if he or she tells you they'd much rather have had a kebab.


Losing Patrick, Losing Lottie

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Jeff Zycinski | 21:50 UK time, Tuesday, 9 February 2010


Did I ever tell you about the day I became Head of Radio? There was a big ceremony involving lots of hooded figures carrying torches. To the sound of bagpipes and accordion music, I was led into obsolete analogue radio studio and asked to sup from the poisoned chalice. Thereafter I was handed a small wooden chest containing the programme budget.

No one mentioned it was leaking.

Once all the pomp and humiliation was out of the way I sat at my desk, picked up the phone and summoned the Head of Drama.

"Get me Patrick Rayner!" I yelled, "and tell him to bring me some scripts."

Oh, all right, I'm adding a bit of colour to this story, but the thrust of it is true. I did call Patrick and I did start to commission some drama.

The Radio Drama department at BBC Scotland has a world-class reputation. Think of some of those classic plays on Radio 4 - Sherlock Holmes, McLevy, Smiley, Paul Temple - and most of them came from Patrick or his small team of producers. But there was a period when drama dropped out of the Radio Scotland schedule, mainly because it's one of the most expensive genres to produce - on a cost per listener basis, that is.

Of course audiences in Scotland could still hear the work of Scottish writers and actors on the other BBC radio networks, but I always felt that we should be making space for stories that would have a particular resonance for listeners here. Our Head of Drama agreed and we've since commissioned about forty new plays - including many top quality productions that have come to us from independent companies.

I mention all this because we announced today that Patrick was moving on to new pastures and leaving the drama department in the capable hands of Bruce Young. He, plus young producers like Kirsty Williams and Kirsteen Cameron are still part of one of the best radio drama units in the BBC.

Kirsteen directed Sue Glover's recent play Losing Lottie which we aired on Friday but which I forgot to tell you about because I was in such an excited froth about our Grassic Gibbon weekend. It's still available on the iPlayer, though.

So best wishes to you Mister Rayner and here's to a very dramatic future.

Beam Me Up, Scotty

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Jeff Zycinski | 21:54 UK time, Monday, 8 February 2010



I'm in Edinburgh tonight. It's such a beautiful city, but every time I say that out loud I'm consumed with the kind of guilt that only a native Glaswegian can understand. I was brought up to believe that our nation's capital is a dour and unfriendly place whose denizens lack the basic skills of hospitality. I don't actually recall my parents or teachers telling me these things, so these thoughts must have been beamed into infants brains from a big transmitter in George Square.

I guess they must have had similar transmitters around the country because in Scotland it seems you're not allowed to like one thing without attacking another. If you support Rangers, you can't like Celtic. You can choose sauce or vinegar on your chips, but not both. You can like acorrdion music, but not Folk. Church or Chapel. Hibs or Hearts. The Herald or The Scotsman. The Clyde or the Forth.

Yes, there are people who actually argue about the merits of rivers. Some of them aren't even anglers.

Except when we're abroad, of course, in which case it is acceptable to boast about each and every one one of Scotlands natural and cultural assests...even those we've only glimpsed on a souvenir tea towel.

Now, this is going to sound soppy and self-serving, but the first time I really found myself shaking off my Glaswegian shackles was a few months after I had left my jobs as a news reporter in Glasgow and had joined BBC Radio Scotland. As a fresh-faced radio producer, I found myself driving from Selkirk up the A7 towards Edinburgh and then across the Forth Road Bridge into Fife. Glancing across at the railway bridge I suddenly realised that my journalist's "patch" had widened to include the whole of Scotland. It was thrilling and liberating.

Today, many, many years later, I spend a lot of time travelling across Scotland and people are forever asking me if I get fed up with the journeys. Of course I do...sometimes.

But I love stopping off at different towns and villages and, believe me, I still get that sense of excitement when I roll into Edinburgh and find myself walking down Princes Street and gazing up at the castle or the Scott Monument.

That must be where they've put the transmitter.

The Road To Sunset

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Jeff Zycinski | 10:21 UK time, Saturday, 6 February 2010


Sunset-Song.jpgIt's funny how being forced to read a book at school can suck all the enjoyment out of it. That's especially true when a teacher decides that each pupil should take it in turns to read it aloud to the rest of the class. I don't know about you, but in my fourth year English class very few of my classmates had the gifts of a budding Gielgud or Olivier. Sometimes it could take ten minutes to complete a paragraph in stumbling Glaswegian. It was torture.

For many years that was how I recalled my first encounter with Sunset Song - the famous novel by Lewis Grassic Gibbon. Even the author's name would conjur up memories of me with my head slumped on a school desk, sneaking looks at my wristwatch and tapping the glass to make sure the minute hand wasn't frozen.

Then there was the setting of Sunset Song. The Mearns and Aberdeenshire seemed like a million miles away from my Easterhouse comfort zones and the dialect of the characters might as well have been Klingon for all the sense it made to me at the time.

But two decades later I picked up the book again and realised what I had been missing. Sometimes you have to be a grown-up to appreciate a childhood story and an author's genius.

Tomorrow (Sunday) on BBC Radio Scotland we're doing just that with a four special programmes devoted to Lewis Grassic Gibbon (J. Leslie Mitchell) who died 75 years ago to the day. If you're already a devotee of L.G.G. then I'm sure you'll enjoy the dramatisation of Sunset Song that we originally made for BBC Radio 4.

But if you're not familiar with the author then do listen to Road to Sunset. This brand new play - specially commissioned for BBC Radio Scotland - tells the fascinating story of Mitchell's life including his early adventures in journalism and his connection to H.G. Wells.
This production is based on the stage play by Jack Webster which I saw perfomed in Aberdeen and wrote about at the time on this blog.

All the programmes will be available on the BBC iPlayer for the rest of the week.

Hand Me That Digital Pitchfork

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Jeff Zycinski | 23:12 UK time, Friday, 5 February 2010


Rarely a week goes by when I'm not being questioned by some earnest student recording my words of wisdom for an essay, a thesis or - I sometimes suspect - a bet. I imagine that, many years from now, another generation of scholars will unearth the transcripts of all these interviews, sift through them in search of valuable insights and then consign them to a box marked 'kindling'.

What impresses me, though, is how these students always seem to ask the sharpest questions and seem so well informed about modern media compared to some of the journalists who interview me or even the professional academics who get quoted in various articles.

This week, for example, I spent an hour in the company of Michael Park, a fourth year student at Glasgow Caledonian University who is researching issues such a risk-management associated with social networking. A simple example of that might be when an employee of a biscuit factory goes on twitter or facebook to tell the world that his company puts dangerous additives in its chocolate coating. Like shrapnel, for instance.

Michael, however, is also involved in the student radio station, so has been looking specifically at the risks to media organisations. Again, that might include maverick staff posting their views online...("jeff zycinski kicks kittens") but there's also the cyber-mobbing phenomenon when listeners, viewers or readers gather online to shout down a particular presenter or columnist.

By the time Michael had switched off his tiny digital recorder, my hair was standing on end just thinking about all the potential calamities than can befall the careless blogger, twitterer or facebook fan. Never mind the gentle (kitten-friendly) folk who run radio stations.

But what this generation of students understands completely is the connection between traditional passive broadcast media and the opportunities offered by the digital environment. As I've said before, it's going to put schedulers like me out of a job as people compile their own selections of audio and video from multiple sources and then discuss and dissect it with like-minded friends/strangers.

And complaints are now visible to all on these third-party sites and broadcasters and newspaper editors can't sweep them under the carpet.

When the mob gets its hands on digital pitch-forks and holographic torches, then it might be time to start running.

Radio Success Stories

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Jeff Zycinski | 22:15 UK time, Thursday, 4 February 2010


The latest Rajar listening figures were published this morning and they reveal that audiences for BBC Radio Scotland are on the up. This, naturally, prompted one newspaper reporter to ask me if I thought we were a "failing station". That, it seems, is 'the story'.

Welcome to my world.

Admittedly, our audience rise was fairly modest and nothing like the surge that has been reported for Galaxy Radio, our next door neighbours at Pacific Quay. Over there my pal Stuart Barrie seems to be doing wonders and luring young music fans away from other commercial stations.

Perhaps, to avoid accusations of failure, BBC Radio Scotland ought to muscle in on Galaxy's turf.

I'm sure our news presenters could be persuaded to get down with the kids. We could just abandon our commitment to jazz, classical and traditional music and fill the airwaves with Biffy Clyro and Rihanna.

Our political Editor Brian Taylor could get some funky tattoos.

Robbie Shepherd could be photographed falling out of posh London night-clubs.

Now, before you get too excited by these ideas, I should say I'm only joking.

Sorry Brian. Sorry Robbie.

But it does prompt some thoughts about the nature of success.

To be fair to that newspaper reporter (Stephen McGinty in the Scotsman) he did accept that our most recent figures were on the increase, but he was contrasting our audience now with the peaks we've had in the past. Even in my few years at the helm, we've had audience numbers edging beyond a million listeners a week and then sinking lower than 900,000. It's a roller-coaster - always has been - but I'd much prefer to be running a national radio station than editing a national newspaper. I mean, those editors get paid a lot more, but plummeting circulation figures must make you feel like you're on a helter skelter.

Oh what am I saying? Of course I'd take the money.

Our strategy at BBC Radio Scotland has been to commission the kind of content that makes us very different from commercial radio. That includes drama, new comedy, live music, arts programming, investigative documentaries, new conversation formats and big online initiatives like our Complete Burns project, our 11 weekly podcasts and our themed Zones.

In sport we've invested beyond our natural territory of football to include coverage of Scottish rugby, golf, tennis and cricket.

Not one of those decisions guarantee big audiences, but they do offer additional choice for radio listeners in Scotland. We think that's the role of a licence-fee funded broadcaster, but it hasn't deterred one or two well-known politicians from sticking the boot it. The same politicians who appear on our news programmes and then, without any sense of irony or self-awareness, claim there's nothing worth listening to on the station.

Speaking to Stephen last night I also mentioned projects like Under the Influence, our alcohol awareness season. I told him about the listeners who had contacted us and told how that month of programmes had made them question their drinking habits.

"Even I decided to quit drinking for life," I told Stephen.

Well, this brought the conversation to a temporary halt.

"You've given up alcohol for life?" he asked. He seemed incredulous.

"Yes, " I confirmed, "and not even a bad set of listening figures would tempt me back to the bottle."

That was my feeble attempt at humour. He wasn't impressed. I don't even think he'll quote me on that.

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