Head of BBC Radio Scotland, Jeff Zycinski, with a sneak preview of programme plans and a behind-the-scenes glimpse of his life at the helm.
It's Hogmanay. You can tell by the queues of cars trying to get into the supermarket car parks and the wild-eyed shoppers with armfuls of Madeira cake and shortbread. Except in our house we add a Polish touch and have rings of Wiejska sausage (great when boiled and served with hard-boiled eggs, salt, pepper and crusty bread).
There seems to be many more outdoor parties happening this year. I can remember when Hogmanay was all about staying close to home, perhaps hoping a friend, neighbour or relative would drop by and be your first-foot. In fact, many a year we sent my dad or an older brother outside just before the bells so that he could be our first visitor of the New Year.
Inside we'd gather around the television set waiting for the stroke of twelve...those on the doorstep outside would have to rely on a portable radio. Then there would be much hugging, shaking of hands and my father's traditional toast of "absent friends" which becomes more emotional as every year passes.
So, tonight on Radio Scotland, we have a mix of the traditional and the new. Robbie Shepherd has a live band in Studio 1 in Glasgow and that's followed by the dynamic duo of Vic Galloway and Bryan Burnett taking us though midnight.
But if you want to know more about Hogmanay then try out the new online site and meanwhile have a good new year when it comes. And special greetings to my family in the Polish town of Rozprza. Hope you have a good sausage.
I always talk to taxi drivers. They listen to more radio than most people and are never shy of offering an opinion. But they can be predictable. When they find out I work for BBC Radio Scotland they ask one of two questions..
1. When is the BBC moving to that new building on the banks of the Clyde?
2. When are you going to sack Jim Traynor?
Oh, how Jim laughed when I told him about this second question. Actually, I think he was laughing. I was running away from him at the time.
As for our new building, well, we take ownership of it in the summer of 2006 and then begin to install all the new high-tech digital equipment we'll need. It'll be like the starship Enterprise by the time we move in the following year.
So what else for BBC Radio Scotland in 2006?
January...a new series from Lesley Riddoch and a Big Day of Live Music
February..a campaign to support listeners who want to write a book
March.... loads of new comedy recorded at the Glasgow international comedy festival..and coverage of the Commonwealth Games
April... the launch of our new summer music schedule...including a new show presented by Colin McAllister and Justin Ryan
Just a taster of things to come...and, of course, Jim Traynor going from strength to strength on Saturday afternoons. No wonder I can never get a taxi.
The Mind Bloggles
Having maintained this diary for just over two weeks, I am now full of admiration for those bloggers who have been at this sort of thing for years. Indeed our afternoon presenter, Tom Morton, believes blogs may soon kill off newspaper columnists once and for all. Tom's own blog records life in his adopted home in Shetland.
I have a friend in America who has maintained her own blog since the dawn of time, often posting three or four entries in a single day.
It reminds me of the news story I read this week about the experiment going on at Microsoft where a man is photographing almost every minute of his life and storing the images on a huge computer server. Microsoft is working on the best way of organising the material for easy retrieval.
Never mind the death of columnists, this could mean the end of having to remember anything.
Hark the Herald (Sunday)
So we're heading out to the sales, with the children dressed for the polar conditions that have been forecast, when I get a call on the mobile from the BBC Scotland Press Office. A Sunday Herald reporter is asking for a comment on a statement the SNP is planning to make about radio in Scotland. I provide a long-winded lecture on the need for a variety of provision from both BBC and commercial broadcasters. Meanwhile my family sit shivering in the car waiting for me to dismount from my high horse and start the engine so they can get the heater to work. But I always like to help any reporter looking for a quote. I remember what it was like, working on a newsdesk at this time of year. It seemed like the whole world went on holiday and you couldn't get anyone to comment on anything. If you were desperate enough you would end up doing a piece on the sales. If anyone wants a comment on that, I'm also happy to oblige. Not sure it's fit to print, though!
Friends All Over The World
Every week, Robbie Shepherd sends me a copy of all the e-mails he has received from listeners. It's really useful because the comments that people send to their favourite programme presenters are very different from the e-mails that come directly to me as a "faceless BBC manager". You can imagine!
Robbie's e-mails are usually full of warmth and praise and about half of them come from listeners outside Scotland. This week, for example, I see comments from listeners in New York, Ottowa, California and Australia.
His programmes have always had a loyal following from ex-pat Scots, but now I'm noticing a new audience who are enjoying Radio Scotland on their broadband connections, where the quality is great and less prone to buffering problems. That's why the BBC Radio Player is becoming so important to us.
But this international praise always reminds me of that line from the Tony Hancock programme, The Radio Ham, in which Tony extols the virtues of his new short-wave radio set as "the best ten bob I ever spent. I have friends all over the world...all over the world. I mean, none in this country, but all over the world!".
I'm sure that's not true of Radio Scotland.
A day spent delivering present to relatives and wrapping up more for tomorrow. On the car journey across Glasgow we listened to One Night in Cardiff, a really moving documentary about Jock Stein, followed by On Thin Ice, which was a fascinating insight into the selection controversy surrounding the women's Olympic curling team. It's a sport I played once - just once - while based at the BBC in Selkirk. My technique was all wrong and I crashed my knees off the ice every time I threw a stone. I was black and blue for a fortnight.
A friend who was doing some last-minute Christmas Shopping tells me that singer Michelle McManus features in a new book based on the TV series You Are What You Eat. In it Michelle tells of her day in Wick, as a star guest on the Radio Scotland series Let's Do The Show Right Here. The new series begins in January.
Music and Goodbyes from Fred
A day of goodbyes as many people begin Christmas leave, but some wont be returning after the New Year. I visit the MacAulay & Co production office in Glasgow where there's a small farewell presentation for producer Richard Melvin. He's leaving the BBC to set up his own independent production company. Fred says some encouraging words and, for once, Richard is lost for words.
Meanwhile we conclude a little musical experiment. All this week we've been playing music within the MacAulay & Co format. It's not been universally popular with the audience. One listener described it as the equivalent of bringing in games at the end of term. Yet as the week went on, we received dozens of requests for partcular tracks.
So a question for diary readers...music in MacAulay & Co?
Where There's Brass..
Does anyone else like brass band music? Earlier this year we had a Week of Brass on Radio Scotland, which I have to confess was pure self-indulgence on my part. I played the baritone horn (badly) in my school band and have been drawn to the music ever since. As I was today when I was walking along Princes Street in Edinburgh and came across some Russian musicians busking with brass. In exchange for a donation, they let me take this photograph.
Arts & Business
In Edinburgh again today for a lunchtime meeting with Barclay Price at Arts & Business on Randolph Crescent. A&B is an organisation that links business people with partners from the arts and creative community. It oversees skills-sharing and mentoring projects among other things. We discuss how some Radio Scotland programmes could link up with a sort of "secret art" exhibition next May. I tell Barclay that we have dozens of paintinings hanging in the corrirdors of BBC Scotland in Glasgow, but they've been there so long that most of us don't notice them anymore.
Scotland's Lost Shops
Is there a radio or television programme to be made on the lost shops of Scotland? The street frenzy of Christmas shopping prompts this thought and also memories of how my Mother trudged around the various department stores of Glasgow. In Argyle Street there was Lewis's (no connection with John Lewis) which had the best toy department ever, as well as the best Santa's grotto. There was also Stirling & Stevens, a strange place which, long before store cards, offered a line of credit which you paid back in weekly instalment when the collector called at your home. In Jamaica Street there was Paisleys, which stocked school uniforms....Goldbergs in Candleriggs. I wonder if listeners have particular memories of shopping in these long-gone stores. The list goes on...Galls (sold balls of wool), Galbraith (grocers) C&A, John Menzies...please add to the list if you can. It might make a nostalgic feature for next Christmas.
Today I'm in London for a gathering of BBC managers at the White City conference centre. That means a morning flight from Glasgow and a journey to West London via Paddington. I'm on the steep escalator down to the Heathrow Express when an elderly man who is heading upwards on the other escalator loses his footing and tumbles backwards, crashing all the way down to the bottom. I run around to help him and he's cleary dazed and shocked but still conscious. Now we're both heading upwards again, but his various bits of luggage get to the top before us, creating a block. Just as I get him to his feet, we both tumble over his bags and almost fall back again. We make solid ground and catch our breath. There's no one else around but I'm sure this whole drama is being recorded on CCTV cameras somewhere. The man tells me he's fine. His voice sounds Carribean. I find his glasses on the floor and he puts them on. We sort of shake hands and pat each other on the back. See how travel can bring people together!
I get to White City just in time and meet Roger Wright, the Controller of BBC Radio 3. He's proudly sporting a Bach Christmas sweatshirt and jokes that this is the extent of marketing at Radio 3 these days. "Basically, it's me walking around various city centres wearing this." I ask him if he has a sweatshirt for everyone at the meeting. He shakes his head but does offer me a mini mince pie instead.
Our Director General, Mark Thompson, kicks off the meeting with a heartfelt tribute to BBC journalists in Baghdad. It's a potent reminder of the hard work of our journalists throughout the world. Mark also updates us on other BBC initiatives including the success of Strictly Come Dancing on BBC 1 and how the format is being picked up by an American network. There's also a highly entertaining presentation from the guys who schedule TV programmes on BBC 1 and BBC2. They tell us how the special episode of Dr Who is such a key ingredient of the Christmas Day schedule this year.
After the meeting I walk over to the BBC shop at Television Centre in search of toy Daleks. No luck.
The Voice of the People
Listening to Gary Robertson on Morning Extra today it's clear that listeners across Scotland have very strong and very different opinions about the new partnership ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples. The Bible was quoted by many callers and more than one person said that God created Adam & Eve, not Adam & Steve. The programme was the talk of the steamie at the BBC, with one senior colleague in television popping his head around my door to tell me how much he'd enjoyed it. So what does that add to our current thinking about the phone-in format? We discussed it at our fortnightly creative management meeting this afternoon. The consensus was that radio phone-ins provide a useful, if not scientific, snapshot of public opinion. More than once I've heard that many of our MSPs listen to Morning Extra for that reason.
Someone Must Have The Negatives!
Amazing what people now send you in their Christmas cards. I open one from a long-lost colleague and out falls a black & white photograph from my time in the Radio Clyde newsroom. It's actually a group photograph which includes half-a-dozen other people who have since gone on to pursue high-profile careers in the media. Web etiquette dicates you shouldn't publish photographs without the permission of the people involved. So I've trimmed this one to show you just how proud I seemed to be with our newly installed computer way back in 1992. Does anyone remember floppy disks?
Sneaky Lunch with a Married Woman
They have a system at the BBC. Either you use all your leave before the end of the year, or you lose it. So I find myself well into December with too many days left over and try to take a few odd days here and there. Today is one such day. I surprise my wife with the news that, instead of going to the office to make important decisions about car stickers, I'm taking her out for a slap-up lunch in Glasgow. Her initial suspicion is that this treat will be the all-you-can-eat-for-a-fiver buffet at one of the big pizza chains. Instead I've booked a fairly fancy restaurant on St. Vincent Street. We even manage to beat the rush of office parties and we're out the door before the twelve girls from a nearby insurance office descend into shrill hysteria as they unwrap their Secret Santa presents.
Which reminds me, we had our office party last week and my Secret Santa gift turned out to be a radio alarm clock that changes colour. I was really delighted and add it to my household collection of radios. We now have three for every room in the house!
I Just Called to Say...
What do you think of radio phone-in shows? I ask because I recently had coffee with Jim Traynor. ( He told me it was the first time anyone from the BBC had ever bought him a coffee.) We got to talking about his phone-in show Your Call. Jim suggested it was time we had a good think about the phone-in format. As it happens this is a subject very close to the heart of the BBC's Director of Nations & Regions, Pat Loughrey, who believes the radio phone-in is at its best when it allows people the time to share their own experiences and tell personal stories.
This year on Radio Scotland we launched Morning Extra. Some people told me that 0900 might be too early for a topical phone-in, because the audience needs time to think about the news agenda and formulate an opinion. As it happens, Morning Extra has turned out to be one of our most popular programmes, with no shortage of calls. Not every call is a personal experience. Many callers seem to welcome the chance to comment on events.
But I'm interested to know what listeners think about phone-in shows. We're discussing this at our Creative Management Meeting on Tuesday. That's a fortnightly meeting in which producers and programme editors from across BBC Radio Scotland gather to talk about the output. I'd like to use this diary to alert listeners to the topics we discuss there and take any comments to the meeting.
Imagine getting the chance to run a school, just for one day! Well, I'm to get that chance in a few weeks when I swap jobs with the head teacher at Elgin High School in Moray, which is BBC Radio Scotland's SoundTown school.
Then, later in the year, the headmaster gets the chance to run Radio Scotland for a day.
Well, I don't suppose they'll really let me run riot and do all the things I dreamt about when I was a pupil. You know...abolishing P.E., extended holidays, field trips to the chip shop...but I might get an inkling of what life is like in a modern Scottish school.
As a parent, I see it from the other side and worry about the amount of homework our two children have to do at evenings and weekends...and why there seems to be endless fund-raising activities for the PTA.
Yet it makes me nostalgic for my own schooldays. Sadly, all three of the schools I attended in Easterhouse have now been demolished. I managed to grab this photograph of my first primary school just before the bulldozers moved in, but not before the vandals had made their own mark on the place.
Christmas in June
We've started promoting our Christmas and New Year schedule, but the planning for this started way back in June. Exactly six months before Christmas we gathered in a conference room which we'd decorated with tinsel and Christmas trees to get everyone into the right frame of mind. I came along at the end of the day dressed as Santa.
This Christmas we have a great variety of prgrammes. Fred MacAulay is live on Christmas morning - again co-presenting with his wife - and the Hidden Gift is the umbrella title for four short dramas, all with the theme of giving. We also have some new sitcoms, which we recorded in front of a live audience earlier in the year and also some fascinating features and documentaries, including one on the first peace-time Christmas in Scotland after the second world war.
But it's a funny job this. Now that everyone else is gearing up for the festive season, I find myself in meetings to plan new music programmes for April next year. In my head, it's already springtime.
Radio at the Movies
Back in my office in Glasgow I go through my diary for January and February. I'm organising an event for students at Telford College in Edinburgh under the banner of the Radio Academy in Scotland. Hopefully we'll team up with Radio Forth for a workshop on the difference between BBC and commercial radio. I've also agreed to take part in Glasgow University's Media Week. I'm giving a fun, illustrated talk about how radio has been represented in the movies - and how that compares with reality. On my list are films such as Woody Allen's Radio Days, The Fog, Play Misty for Me, Private Parts, The Truth about Cats & Dogs. Any other suggestions would be welcome.
On the train to Edinburgh this morning I realise I've become one of those loud and annoying people who has one mobile phone conversation after another. Of course I would blend in with all those suits in business class, except the BBC doesn't allow us to travel by anything other than standard fare. Quite right! Anyway, Gareth Hydes calls. He's the Senior Producer of Topical Programmes and Events and is planning a big health campaign in January. We want to gets lots of listeners involved and Gareth suggest we make it a challenge format with involving a big prize. We can't get involved in commercial sponsorship, nor can we spend too much of the licence fee buying a prize, so we discuss a "money can't buy" prize. I suggest mentioning it in this diary to see if listeners have any suggestions.
I go to the BBC studios at The Tun and, as ever, have forgotten my little security fob to get me through the various double-doors. Luckily my colleagues take pity on me and let me in. I'm here to talk to the Arts & Features teams who are all working flat out on programmes for our Christmas schedule, including a gem of a programme which tells The True Story of Whisky Galore. The Radio Cafe team tell me they have unearthed some archive material involving Rikki Fulton and Frank Sinatra. We talk about a special programme - Sinatra in Scotland. I've already commissioned a programme on the Beatles in Scotland. I wonder what other big names have arrived on our shores. I guess the story of Elvis at Prestwick has been told too many times.
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