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JZ's Diary

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.

Photograph of Jeff Zycinski.
  1. Breakdown Service

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 30 Jun 06, 05:25 PM

    AA Charity Run

    I should be congratulating the team from the AA who have been driving a convoy of modern and vintage vehicles on a charity run from John O'Groats to Lands End. I encountered these guys in Inverness on Saturday while staying at a hotel up near the big retail park off the A96.

    We were all sitting in the room watching Doctor Who when Mrs Z suddenly became distracted by the sound of cars reversing and motorbike engines spluttering. She rushed to the window to investigate and saw all these yellow bikes and trucks trying to make best use of the limited car parking space outside.

    I took the Zedettes outside to investigate and was a little surprised to see one van with a huge skull & crossbones sticker and the legend "or glory". Not the kind of slogan you usually associate with a breakdown service, but I think that was a reference to the age of some of the cars and the possibility that some might not make it all the way.

    Well, this kind of charity run is, of course, to be commended but I was feeling a little less charitable early next morning when the convoy set off on the next leg of the journey south.

    Talk about a wake-up call!

    AA Van

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  1. School's Out

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 29 Jun 06, 02:14 PM

    prize-giving at Elgin

    I was back at our SoundTown school - Elgin High - this week for the end of year prize-giving ceremony. As I said in my speech, I can't believe our year's association with the school is almost at an end. The time has flown.

    When I last visited Elgin, the town was in uproar because the council was planning to merge Elgin High with Elgin Academy and create one large Superschool. That plan seems to have been abandoned and now there will be two new schools built for the town.

    Gary Robertson, a former pupil of EHS, handed out the silverware and certificates and probably raised a few eyebrows when he admitted that, as a teenager, he couldn't wait to leave school. A could see a few of the current pupils nod their heads in agreement.

    Meanwhile today is the last day at primary school for my own two children. Our relocation to Inverness means they've been saying goodbye to classmates and teachers and they both received huge cards with all sorts of good luck messages written inside. Reading the messages it was all I could do to stop from blubbering.

    I dabbed at my eyes with a tissue and said it was hayfever.

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  1. It's Not Just Cricket

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 29 Jun 06, 12:38 PM

    Geoff Webster with Keith Graham and Zulfiqar Shahid commentating for BBC Radio Scotland on the Scotland v Pakistan one day cricket international.

    I don't know if you caught Radio Scotland's coverage of the Scotland-Pakistan cricket international this week, but our sports team got very exicted about it, especially Geoff Webster who provided the commentary and, by all accounts, was like a kid in a sweet shop because he's such an enthusiast for the game.

    Lurking in the background is Dougie Vipond who also presented one of our Saturday sport documentaries - The Speed Kings of Hawick - about the famous motrobike racers from the Borders.

    I love this time of year when in programmes like The Main Event, we're able to cover a wider range of sports, but the small matter of the World Cup means you can't escape football completely. In fact we're just wrestling with the SPL fixture list for next season which means we're likely to have nightly editions of Sportsound instead of bringing back 90 Minutes. So I have to apologise to all of you who suggested new names for 90 Minutes!

    One bonus is that we should be able to continue with a music programme between six and seven each weeknight. We've had a phenomenal response to Bryan Burnett's Summer of Song and Colin & Justin's Musical Makeover. But I suspect we'll need new titles when the summer comes to an end.

    All suggestions welcome.

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  1. They Hope It's All Over...It Is Now.

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 15 Jun 06, 08:13 PM

    David Flynn & Richard Melvin

    England's two-nil win over Trinidad & Tobago might come as something of a relief to my friend and former colleague Richard Melvin. As revealed in this diary some time ago, Richard is the man behind that musical tribute to St. Johnstone player, Jason Scotland - who is also part of the T&T squad in the World Cup.

    Richard, together with MacAulay & Co producer David Flynn, have spent the last week being interviewed by newspapers, magazines, radio stations and TV news crews. He says "it's just got silly" and he's exhausted.

    Indeed this very afternoon I was strolling through Glasgow's Botanic Gardens when I saw them being interviewed live for Sky News. Richard tells me he also got a call from an international organisation which he thought was CNN. Notions of global fame evaporated when he realised he was talking to a reporter from TNN - Trinidad Nightly News.

    I'm afraid I'm a bit wary of this upsurge in Scottish support for Trinidad & Tobago, especially after I overheard one fan reveal his depth of knowledge by saying "some of these African teams are very good these days."

    Someone fetch an atlas.

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  1. Friends Reunited

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 14 Jun 06, 09:31 PM


    One happy by-product of writing this blog has been the number of old friends and colleagues who have come across it and have then been prompted to get in touch. Today, for example, I received an e-mail from Hugh Brown. Hugh now broadcasts in The Borders, but we worked together more than a decade ago in Glasgow.

    A few months ago - also thanks to this blog - I made contact with Danny Pryce, a childhood friend from Easterhouse. He's now working in the south of England but we both had vivid memories of the time we got lost in the fog on the way home from school.

    Now I see that the Radio Academy is launching a website designed to reunite former colleagues from the industry. It all reminds me of when I first discovered the Friends Reunited site four years ago and made contact with the girl I fell in love with on my first day at infant school. She was the prettiest girl in the class, but had eyes only for a boy called Harry who sat next to me. I tried everything to get her attention; sweets, jokes, pulling faces, slapstick tumbles over the teacher's desk. But it was all in vain. She finally broke my heart by telling me that "Harry is much funnier than you!".

    Still, all through primary school and into secondary I retained the slighest glimmer of hope that she would see the error of her ways. Harry, after all, was an unsophisticated oaf who clearly thought his goal-scoring prowess for the school team was the kind of thing that impressed the girls. I, on the other hand, had my own Thomas Salter chemistry set. Beat that football-head!

    So we all left school and I never saw my first love again. Then came Friends Reunited and, sure enough, there was her name on the list of my old classmates. I sent off an e-mail and, a few days later, got a reply.

    She had no memory of me whatsoever. I mean, you'd have thought she'd remember the boy with the strange Polish name. The name that was always called out last in the register. But no. Nothing.

    And there was worse to come.

    She'd only gone and married Harry!

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  1. I'm Sorry, I Haven't A McClue

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 13 Jun 06, 11:17 PM

    The world-famous broadcaster, Mr Scottie McClue, e-mailed today to say that he has just remembered meeting me at Moray Firth Radio in 1989 and has a funny story to tell. Naturally my mind races through all the possibilities. Would this "funny story" involve alcohol, nudity or both? More importantly, does he have any incriminating photographs? I ask my people to make contact with his people and we are soon meandering down Memory Lane with an occasional saunter along Nostalgia Nook.

    Apparently Scottie was touring MFR just before he launched his own radio station in central Scotland. I was working on the newsdesk at the time and, it seems, had just completed a double-shift and had enough shadows under my eyes to support Cliff Richard. He describes me as "young, thin, wearing a tweed jacket and carrying a briefcase". Sadly this description rings true. I have always struggled to keep pace with fashion. I just got the hang of being "Man at C&A" when that chain went belly-up.

    Scottie says I looked desperate to get home to my bed, but my boss insisted I linger on in the office to say hello to this visitor from the south. He alleges I was quite vocal in my reluctance to do this until it was pointed out that the visitor - Scottie - was the managing director of a new radio station with jobs on offer . At which point, it seems, I had a Homer Simpson moment , uttering the Glaswegian equivalent of "doh".

    Now this story may or may not be true. I'm only thankful no one knows about my other shameful episode in Inverness. The one in which I wandered into a local motel just as photographers from the Daily Sport newspaper were staging a topless barmaid competition. Yes, turn to the centre pages next morning and I was the bloke in the tweed jacket lurking in the background.

    A true story but, as I say, no one knows about that.


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  1. Playing Away From Home

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 12 Jun 06, 09:58 PM

    Another long weekend in the north as the Zed family continue the hunt for a new home in the Highlands. The balmy weather on Sunday night has done much to strengthen my claim that Inverness is akin to paradise on the Moray Firth. We head down to Bught Park for a kickabout with a soft ball and then I take the children on a walk through the Ness Islands. We zig-zag across iron bridges and, amidst the trees and footpaths, we come across a old-fashioned street lamp which prompts me to draw comparisons with Narnia. All in all I'm painting our new home town as a kind of magical wonderland when, suddenly, we come face-to-face with reality.

    Here's the truth: there are neds in Inverness too! Six or seven of them are stationed along the river bank, swigging cider and shouting abuse at passing tourists. One of them climbs on to the railing of the footbridge as the others dare him to jump in to the water. I look down and notice that the Ness is quite shallow at this time of year. The rocky river bed is plainly visible. Sadly I can't linger to see what happens next, but I keep listening for the sound of a small splash and the subsequent wail of an ambulance siren.

    Jeff Zycinski at Ness Islands

    Today we hurry through the pesky visits to schools, estate agents and solicitors offices so we can do some important stuff. This involves a trip to the Inverness Caldeonian Thistle shop, which is housed in a little cabin outstide the stadium. Our nine year old son - who was born in Inverness - is keen to support his home team and needs to be kitted out with all sorts of merchandise. I, meanwhile, ask about the cost of season tickets in the family enclosure. It's so cheap, compared to the prices in Glasgow, that I have to ask twice. No second mortgage will be required.

    Strange to note, then, that as we've been viewing houses around the city we've found very few boys' bedrooms festooned with the Caley Thistle colours. Rangers and Celtic, yes, and many English Premier sides too. I dunno...what's wrong with young people these days? Don't they know a bargain when they see it?

    They're never happy unless they're splashing out.

    Inverness Caledonian Thistle

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  1. Return To Radio Clyde

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 9 Jun 06, 05:33 PM

    Jeff Zycinski and Paul Cooney

    Thirteen years ago I was sent packing from Radio Clyde. Literally. My going-away present was a set of luggage which, I'm happy to report, is still going strong after all those years. Having been offered a job with BBC Radio Scotland in Selkirk, I worked my six weeks notice, walked out of those studios in Clydebank and haven't been back since.

    Until today, that is.

    Clyde's managing director, Paul Cooney, had kindly invited me for a lunch in the boardroom and I had to confess to him that, in my four years as a news reporter at the station, I had never once entered the boardroom. In fact I rarely ventured beyond the ground floor of the building. In those days we all knew our place. The programme makers stayed on the ground floor while the money people worked upstairs. I only ever had two conversations with the company's chief executive Jimmy Gordon (now Lord Gordon of Strathblane). I once interviewed him for our news bulletins when Radio Clyde megred with Radio Forth and we had a slightly snippy exchange as to whether this was a merger or a takeover. The second conversation happened in a corridor after a Christmas lunch and I was wearing a Santa hat at the time . Let's not dwell on that.

    After lunch today, Paul gave me a tour of the offices and studios which have all be revamped in the intervening years. I met a few familiar faces, including presenters Bill Smith and Jim Symon. The atmosphere in the building was much happier and more laid back than it was in my day. That's down to Paul's management style, I reckon.

    The building in Clydebank was famous in the industry because it included a heated indoor swimming pool. It still does. In fact I taught myself to swim in that pool. Against all the rules I would sneak in there in the early hours of the morning while on the newsroom night shift. You weren't supposed to swim unless there was someone else around to make sure you didn't drown. But hey, I was young, foolish and the pool wasn't that deep.

    Radio Clyde is now owned by the huge EMAP organisation and I understand there are plans to move out of Clydebank and back into Glasgow city centre.
    I wonder if they'll take the swimming pool with them.

    Paul showed me into a studio and invited me to take the hot seat as we posed for photographs. It brought back so many memories and I told Paul about my recurring dream in which I'm back at Clyde and I rush into the studio just in time to read the bulletin. Except I have no script and so I have to make it all up.

    A nightmare, really, but mind you, some reporters make a good living with that kind of journalism.

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  1. Blood, Sweat and Churchill's Kipper

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 6 Jun 06, 06:44 PM

    Winston Churchill

    In Edinburgh today. A hot and sticky train journey from Glasgow surrounded by a family of American tourists including a little boy whose name I thought was Earache, but it was just the way his Mom pronounced Eric. Mind you...he was a bit loud. And opposite me sat two women who spent the journey talking about blood poisoning and then, just outside Haymarket, one of them rolled up a sleeve to show the other an infected wound. This, it transpired, was the result of a gardening injury and, upon closer inspection, it turned out there was still a piece of rose thorn stuck under her skin. Naturually the other woman then decided to squeeze the wound to see how painful it would be!

    I couldn't wait to get off the train and made my way down to the BBC studios at The Tun where I met producer David Stenhouse and congratulated him on the programme he'd made about Winston's Churchill's early career as a politician in Dundee. The programme was presented by Alan Cochrane - himself a native of Dundee -and included a wonderful interview with Cochrane's mother. She, in turn, remembered her own mother talking about Churchill and how the great man's death prompted her to say that she hoped he would "roast in Hell".

    The programme - The Maggot in Churchill's Kipper - is well worth hearing on our Listen Again site. As too is Stanley Baxter at 80, in which comedian Arnold Brown talks to the legendary funnyman about his life and career. I loved the story about Baxter's childhood performances in the family kitchen. He would use the clothes pully draped with sheets as a makeshift curtain and it would be raised and lowered between performances.

    David Stenhouse

    Back to the office in Glasgow this afternoon and a wonderful e-mail from Catriona Stewart, the Daily Mail reporter who had interviewed me about the ghosts in the BBC basement some weeks ago. It turns out Catriona is a student journalist who was on a work placement at the Mail when she interviewed me on the phone and that article has just won her a student newswriter of the year award.

    Catriona tells me she was surprised to win. I'm happy to report that she did not say anything about not having a ghost of a chance. I'm sure she'll go far.

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  1. Sorry, But I Support Free Speech

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 5 Jun 06, 11:03 PM


    Tonight on Scotland at Ten, a former heroin user gave us a street-level description of her attempts to find help for her addiction. Zoë Ward told how she was prescribed methadone and spoke of the variable quality of service at treatment centres across the country.

    "in some you just get handed a prescription once a week. You don't get any contact with anyone."

    She went on to say how the system itself almost conspired to send her back into the clutches of the drug dealers but then, in Edinburgh, she found treatment centres staffed with psychiatric nurses and an atmosphere of support and trust.

    Scotland at Ten was discussing the story that had been running on Radio Scotland throughout the day: the call for some heroin users to be given the drug on prescription. Reporter Bob Wylie had broken the story this morning as part of our monthly Investigation programme. He'd been to Hamburg to find out more about the supposed success of a project there. It had prompted much heated debate and that debate looks like it will continue in the Scottish Parliament.

    For me, however, it was Zoë’s words that proved how real-life experience can add value to a discussion and instantly remove it from the realm of the purely political or academic.

    Yet there are critics who complain about this aspect of our programming. They seize on words like "human interest" or "accessible" as proof that Radio Scotland is "dumbing down". Such critics - people who struggle to fill columns in Sunday newspapers - often hark back to a supposed golden age when the only people allowed on the airwaves were those who had the proper credentials to be there.

    In other words, people like themselves.

    Only they, it seems, should be allowed access to our studios to voice their opinions, but not members of the public who are "ill-informed".

    I don't buy that. If we're talking about hospitals I want to hear from doctors, nurses and patients. If the debate centres on schools then I think we ought to know the views of teachers, parents and pupils. And if we're talking about drug addiction then who better to voice an opinion than those who have lived through that particular nightmare?

    I'm very proud of programmes like The Investigation and Scotland at Ten and I'll continue to champion human interest journalism if that means journalism with humanity and reporters who investigate the issues that matter to people.
    I'll fight for accessible broadcasting instead of the inaccessible kind. And I'll support the listeners’ right to talk instead of being talked about.

    In a democracy, I think they call that free speech.

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  1. Did I See You At Springwatch?

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 4 Jun 06, 05:04 PM

    red hot chilli pipers

    Let me know if you were among the thousands who turned up for our Springwatch event at Chatelherault Country park. I went along with the Zedettes and used my childcare responsibilities as an excuse for not geting into wellies to help restore nearby footpaths.

    Instead we went to the main stage and enjoyed music from the Hot Chilli Pipers and a brass quintet from the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. At one point they managed to incorporate a hosepipe into their performance.

    We saw lizards, snakes, spider and a display of mountain bike stunts and, of course, there was lots to learn about the environment. In one tent our radio team were showing children how to present radio programmes. Most were frighteningly good at it.

    On the way home I asked my own children what they had enjoyed most of all.

    "The chocolate fountain!" they chorused, wiping the sauce from their faces with a tissue.

    I blame the parents!

    BBC SSO brass quintet

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  1. Speaks, Shoots And Leaves

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 2 Jun 06, 05:56 PM

    Frieda Morrison

    I was halfway along the M8, heading to the Gardening Scotland show at Ingliston, when I suddenly remembered I suffer from hay fever. Naturally I was somewhat choked and teary-eyed when I met up with Frieda Morrison who obviously thought I was being a wee bit over-emotional about the whole thing.

    I was there, in the Beechgrove Marquee, for a special recording of out Potting Shed programme. After many months and hundred of miles on the road, Frieda was announcing the winners of our Budding Gardeners competition. There were some great tales of how schools and communities across Scotland had been encouraging children to learn more about gardening and the environment. One group of pupils is now growing fruit 'n' veg and selling it through the school tuck shop.

    I made a short speech, the text of which had largely been supplied by Frieda herself. In fact, on the few points were I tried to ad lib a joke or two, I could see tumbleweed rolling through the audience. It must have blown there from a neighbouring stall.

    The rest of the programme was a bit more lively. I'm always amazed at how blood-thirsty gardeners become when someone ask a question about insects or animals that threaten their plants. One lady from Fife told the panel that her organic allotment was being attacked by rabbits. The experts' solution ranged from "get a dog" through "build a higher/deeper fence" and finally there was talk of "rabbit hot-pot". One expert declared that the fight against rabbits was "a war...yes a war, not a battle, or a campaign, it's a war!"

    For a moment I thought I was in a Munich beer hall in the 1930's.

    After the cups and certificates had been presented, we all trooped in to the Floral Hall so that Frieda and the children could have a photo--opportunity with First Minister Jack McConnel. He gave me a very firm handshake and looked at me with a vague expression of recognition. This was surprising because I've never met him before. But I nodded cheerfully and was about to ask him why I hadn't been invited to the nosh-up at Scottish Education Awards that morning (which we'd covered on Radio Scotland) when he was whisked away by his minders.

    Then a jolly trip back to Glasgow. Fifteen minutes to get out of the car park, and an hour and a half to get through the roadworks on the M8.

    Yup, it feels like summer already.

    Jack McConnel & Frieda

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