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Archives for March 2010

Bruce Takes A Bow

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Jeff Zycinski | 14:09 UK time, Tuesday, 23 March 2010


Bruce-McGregor-BBC.JPGIt's about time someone told Bruce McGregor that he has to choose between playing the fiddle or playing rugby. I'd do this myself, but my credibility as a sportsman doesn't stretch much further than the ten pin bowling alley. My reputation as a musician, meanwhile, was badly dented by a ill-judged kazoo performance some years ago. Basically, I sucked.

Bruce, on the other hand, was the founder member of the legendary Blazin' Fiddles as well as being the presenter of our weekly Music Cafe programme which will be launched on our airwaves next month. Every Wednesday afternoon, Bruce and his guests will be hearing about all that's good on the Scottish music scene...everything from rock music to opera with lots of organ stops along the way.

That's if Bruce can keep himself fit, of course.

He's just been telling me how he was persuaded to take part in an over-30's rugby match and ended up exacerbating a hand injury to the point where he had to neck a half bottle of painkilllers and actually strap his fiiddle bow to his arm with gaffer tape for a gig.

Now if he'd strapped the rugby ball to his hand....

The Company Of Women

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Jeff Zycinski | 22:22 UK time, Thursday, 18 March 2010


Despite what you might have heard about us media types, I actually feel a bit awkward when people offer me free tickets to gigs. It's not that I worry about some Daily Mail expose of my free-loading lifestyle, it's more about the potential for something to go wrong when you turn up at the venue and tell them your "name's on the list". I think you're supposed to feel like a VIP in these circumstances, but I always feel like a scrounger.

Well, the Glasgow Comedy Festival is in full swing and my nervousness started tonight at Oran Mor where comedian Ali Park had invited me to see her 'Company of Women' show.

"No that's not on tonight," said the girl in the box office. This was confusing, to say the least and having just walked from Pacific Quay to Byres Road (on doctor's orders) I was trying to work out how much I could claim back in shoe leather. But then the girl continued.

"No it's a comedian called Ali Park tonight."

"Yes, that's who I mean. I think... my name's on the list."

And so, a few minutes later, I was sitting in an audience of several hundred laughter-seekers only six of whom were of the male persuasion. I was one of those six, in case you were wondering.

Now, I thought it was a good show. Ali - and her two co-stars - do a fine job with their observations of womanhood in 21st century Scotland. She divides her spiel into different episodes including one about a dieting class and another involving a Govan mum preparing for a hen-weekend in Spain. It's funny stuff.

I smiled, I laughed, I clapped.

But some people just don't know how to keep their emotions in check. There were women behind me actually weeping with laughter...others were screaming and squealing and literally falling off their chairs. I mean it...actually slipping onto the floor and still laughing like a drain. That's what I call getting your money's worth.

When the show finished, I hung around in the bar for ten minutes, sipping a diet cola and hoping that Ali would appear so I could thank her for the invite. But I was now the only man in the room and I began to think that my "hanging around" might be misconstrued as "lurking". You know the type of blokes I mean. They usually look like me.

Besides, I had another venue to get to...another place where a friend in the comedy business had told me he would leave my name at the door.

But of course he hadn't and the girl at the box office left her post to consult two different managers before telling me I couldn't get in. Well, to be fair, I noticed the queue of young guys behind me was turning into an ugly mob so I told the girl not to worry and made my escape.

Of course the "friend" phoned fifteen minutes later, full of apologies and clearly worried that I would hold a grudge against him for the rest of his life.

Now, does that sound like me?

Look Who's Coming To Inverness

Jeff Zycinski | 16:09 UK time, Monday, 15 March 2010

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A few weeks ago I was told a secret. It wasn't just any old secret, but a huge, important BBC secret. No, it wasn't the details of the Corporation's Stategic Review or anything as trivial as that. It was about Doctor Who coming to Inverness later this month along with his new assistant.

It's all part of a series of screenings and live appearances ahead of the new series of the TV show. The new Doctor - Matt Smith- and his assistant Amy Pond (played by Inverness acress Karen Gillan) will be turning up at Eden Court Theatre to meet some local schoolchildren. There are no other tickets, I'm afraid, which has disappointed the many people who have been calling our reception desk here at Culdithel Road.

I got let in on this secret because the tour organisers wanted to involve BBC Radio Scotland in some way and so it has fallen to our very own Bryan Burnett to host the event. He's also planning a special Science Fiction theme for his Get It On request show that week.

Now as soon as I was given this information I wanted to blab. But you don't mess with the BBC Press Office, especially when it comes to 'the doctor'.

Not unless you want your career exterminated.

The Joy Of Text

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Jeff Zycinski | 16:09 UK time, Friday, 12 March 2010


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Comedians get huffy when you steal their jokes, so I have to be careful how I proceed here. I want to tell you about a funny routine I saw Miles Jupp perform at our Funny Turns gig in Glasgow this week. He talked about news programmes that invited viewers and listeners to respond to stories by texting in with their own opinions. He wondered if this would eventually lead to reporters doing no work at all and simply asking the audience for their stories...even weather predictions.

He was, of course, going for laughs, but the issue is one that does seem to divide people. There's no doubt that texting is incredibly popular. As an experiment, try asking a group of friends or colleagues if they have ever sent a text message to a radio show. Then ask how many of them have ever taken part in a phone in. I reckon the texters out-number the callers by at least ten to one. That's a bit of a problem for a medium that relies on audio.

But now ask that same group if they actually like hearing other people's texts read aloud on the radio. You'll probably get another divide...fifty-fifty perhaps.

And there lies the problem. You hear something on the radio, you want to agree, disagree or share your own story and a few thumbles on your mobile phone allows you take part with relative anonymity.

Then again, you tune in half-way through a news programme and you hear text comments on a story before you've heard the actual story. Do you care what 'Jeff from Inverness' has to say about Iraq? Sometimes? Often? Never?

Here at BBC Radio Scotland we've had a few robust discussions about this. There's a feeling that texts (and e-mails) work best in music programmes - like Tom Morton and Get It On - when listeners get a chance to influence the actual content of the programmes.

But what about news programmes?

Perhaps texts work well in those bad weather situations when people are sharing their own experiences and allowing us to build up a picture of what's happening on the ground.

Or when listeners have direct experience of a particular issue and can add real journalistic value to the debate. A teacher talking about class sizes, for example.
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For one silly moment I had thought that we might raise this issue during Good Morning Scotland and ask people to text in with their opinions. Then I slapped myself and sat in a corner for half an hour.

So, instead, I'll ask you. What do you think?

And while you're at it....any idea if we're in for a good summer?

What To Tell The Students In Ayr

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Jeff Zycinski | 22:25 UK time, Thursday, 11 March 2010


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From time to time I get invited to a college or university to talk about myself for an hour. I rarely refuse these opportunities. This afternoon, for example, I was in Ayr speaking to the Broadcast Production students at the University of the West of Scotland. It seemed to go well and, on reflection, there was no need for me to have parked the car by the emergency exit with the engine running.

At the start of these campus visits, I always ask which other "guest lecturers" have been speaking to the students. Often I hear that embittered newspaper journalists have blazed a trail of misery, describing an industry on its knees and warning that no jobs are available. Indeed, before I set off, I went on to Twitter and Facebook to ask for tips for my speech and that discouraging sentiment was echoed by a few - but not all - who commented.

Tell them to train as a plumber, said one. The implication being that a job in the media isn't a real job..or that it has no future.

Now I'm not saying there isn't an element of harsh reality in these downbeat messages, but I'm not sure how useful that is to young students. I tend to the view that hard work, determination and, yes, a bit of good luck will see you long as you keep your options open and are flexible in your approach.

That's what I tried to say today in Ayr and I also tried to communicate something of the sheer fun and variety that comes with a career in radio. I didn't mention the bad days or the hours spent trying to keep pace with the latest BBC strategy announcements.

No, I played them some clips of radio programmes and told them how much the producers enjoyed their work.

Was that wrong of me?

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Bloggers Of Tomorrow (Well, Monday)

Jeff Zycinski | 12:24 UK time, Wednesday, 10 March 2010


Thumbnail image for Karen-Alan-Simone.jpgLook at the people in this photograph. What can you see? Cheerfulness? Enthusiasm? Intelligence?

Or treachery?

For be not fooled, these are the people aiming to usurp my position in the BBC blogosphere by launching the all-new Radio Scotland Blog. They plan to give you a proper behind-the-scenes glimpse of the programme-making process and are promising photographs, videos and all sorts of fancy bells and whistles.

They'll take your questions and get answers from the "decision-makers" and they'll provide timely information on how to get tickets for forthcoming events. There will also be "guest entries" from our presenters and producers.

It all sounds wonderful, but of course this means I'll be pushed to the sidelines with my ramblings about delayed train journeys and failed diets. The beginnining of the end.

The new blog starts on Monday. Alan Braidwood (the chap in the middle) will be the Editor ably assisted by Karen Miller (left of the picture) and video specialist Simone Byrne.

So, a rival blog. This will be a test of your loyalty, dear reader. Don't betray me.

But I might even read it myself.

Funny Turns

Jeff Zycinski | 23:26 UK time, Tuesday, 9 March 2010



A few weeks ago we came up with a funny idea. We wanted to create an annual event that would be a sort of showcase of Scottish comedy. Once a year we would invite some of the hottest names on the circuit and ask each of them to perform about ten minutes of material. We'd target those names who had an existing relationship with BBC Scotland either on Tv or radio. The tickets would be free and this would be a small gesture of thanks for our listeners. We called it Funny Turns.

The trouble was, we had no idea of how popular the event would be, so booking a venue - especially at such a late stage - would be tricky.

Finally we settled on the Ferry (formerly the Renfrew Ferry) which is now moored at Andserston Cross in Glasgow.

We made five hundred tickets available on the BBC audience line website and, well, they were all snapped up in under two hours. So if you didn't get to hear about this that's because the tickets were gone before we could do much publicity.

Anyway, it all happened tonight...the audience turned up...laughter was achieved and next year we're gonna need a bigger boat.

You can hear an hour of the best bits in a special programme at the end of the month. Meanwhile, here are some of the pics.



Just Passing Through

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Jeff Zycinski | 17:13 UK time, Tuesday, 9 March 2010


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Driving down the A9 has little to recommend it compared to sitting in a cosy train waiting for the food trolley to make its third pass. But it had to be the car today because I'm horsing around Ayrshire later in the week and I don't own a horse. Still, one advantage of driving alone is that you can listen to the radio at full volume, sing along to the music and shout back at the news headlines. Is it just me or have things come to a pretty pass when politicians now boast that they are "no longer being investigated by the police" or that they "plan to pay" their taxes? I mean, they're actually boasting about this. Honestly.

Another good thing about the car is that you can pull off the road any time you like. That's how I found myself in Pitlochry this afternoon. I stretched my legs one at a time and then went for a little wander around the side streets, taking photographs of old churches and so on. Call me Captain Excitement.

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"Do you want me to take one of you?" said the old man in the bunnet.

Quick as a flash I retorted that I didn't want to ruin the picture, but he was a bit deaf and I had to have three attempts at explaining this little jest before I gave up.

"Pitlochry is such a lovely town," I told him, simply to change the subject.

Now I've had experience of Pitlochry folk before and I've noticed they don't handle compliments very well. They either frown or give you a kind of suspicious glance.
The man in the bunnet went for all-out disagreement.

"Things have never been as bad as they are now," he began and then gave me a ten minute lecture on how the town had changed so much since his days as a local councillor. I got the impression his political career might have coincided with Neville Chamberlain's, but I couldn't be sure. He told me that, in the good old days, the trees were taller and the birds sang sweeter. There was a lot of talk about quarries and how special slate had been sourced for local buildings...but not some modern houses were being built with...(and you could tell he could hardly bring himself to use the words)...with Marley roof tiles! I actually thought he was going to vomit right there in the street.

This chance encounter was going along very nicely, but I could almost have predicted what was coming next.

"and now they're building these affordable flats and you've got no idea who your neighbours will be. Could be people of any skin colour."

Ah well, time for me to be on my way. I wandered down through the main street and noticed more than half a dozen empty shops. But the information boards were packed with notices for forthcoming events and activities and there was a lively throng of people crowding into the box office for the Festival Theatre. Signs of hope after a long winter.

You don't see any of that when you're on the train.

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