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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. Well Done Archie And Heather

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 30 Dec 06, 01:19 AM

    Archie Fisher

    I had to wait until after midnight to post this note of congratulations to Archie Fisher who was awarded a MBE in the New Year's Honours list. It's great to see him being recognised for services to traditional music.

    There was also an OBE for BBC's Scotland's most well-kent weather forecaster Heather Reid. She's familiar to TV viewers, of course, but next time you hear her on BBC Radio Scotland please note how she also manges to inject that famous cheery smile into her voice.

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  1. Night At The Museum

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 29 Dec 06, 06:23 PM

    I took the Zedettes to see Night at the Museum last night. We were still in Glasgow so went into the city centre and joined the queue outside the big Cineworld tower on Renfrew Street. Once you have your tickets you have to clamber on to a dozen different escalators to reach the place where they’re screening your movie. This is a problem for me as I’ve always harboured a slight fear of escalators ever since my older brother told me that you have to jump off before the end or else you get sucked into a netherworld of goblins. I’m not sure why I believed him because I was 39 when he told me this.

    Anyway, we eventually made it to the foyer of Screen 7 and almost got stuck in the snack area because the floor was so sticky with spilt cola. Then we picked our way through a corridor where the carpet was strewn with popcorn. Finally we made it into the actual auditorium and, of course, having arrived ten minutes after the advertised screening time the movie had not yet started.

    The place was packed but we managed to find three seats just in front of the absolute charmer of a man who let us admire his Doc Marten boots by resting them on the back of chair next to us. He also provided a whispered (but audible) ‘directors commentary’ during the course of the movie which was let down only by its over-reliance on the F-word and its lack of relevance to anything happening on the screen.

    As for ‘Night at the Museum’ well, the children gave it ten out of ten, but don’t place too much trust in their judgement. We’re talking here about the views of a nine year old and an eleven year old. They’re easily pleased and still laugh when I hold out an empty paper back, click my finger against my thumb and pretend to catch and imaginary coin.

    The goblins taught me that one.

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  1. The Secret Celebration

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 28 Dec 06, 10:16 AM

    The Zed family are roaming from hotel to hotel at the moment, visiting various friends and relatives in the West of Scotland. Last night found us in Renfrew enjoying a post-Christmas feast with the in-laws while sneaking out of the room every now and again to listen to the Inverness Caley-Rangers game on Sportsound.

    At half-time we had to head back to our hotel, but, incredibly, Mrs Z almost ordered me to go into the bar and watch the game on television, so long as I called her on the mobile every five minutes with updates.

    So there I was, surrounded, it seemed, by an intoxicated crowd of very frustrated Rangers fans who were bemoaning their team's performance. I callled Mrs Z with the news that Inverness had equalised and then again to tell her we were now into injury time.

    Then, in the 91st minute, Inverness scored again and I was the only person in the bar cheering. Realising I was in a tricky position I tried to convert my cheer into a gesture of despondency. I shook my head wearlily and sneaked back to the bedroom where celebrations where in full swing.

    Just a pity we hadn't gone to the match. This kind of thing almost makes you homesick.

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  1. Don't Laugh And Drive

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 27 Dec 06, 12:24 AM

    Johnny Beattie and friends

    We set off from Inverness this morning listening to MacAulay & Co and by the time we stopped for lunch at Bankfoot Dave Batchelor was grilling Armando Ianucci about his early years at BBC Radio Scotland.

    "Well it was almost a year," explained Armando who was then forced to listen to some of the sketches he had written and performed when he was fresh out of Oxford University and carving out a niche for himself in broadcasting.

    Jim Gilchrist had written a full-page article about the programme in The Scotsman, which I tried read while Mrs complained that I can't forget about work for a minute. It's true...and as we got back on the road an encountered a tailback just north of Bridge of Allan I felt obliged to phone our travel desk with the information.

    We crossed the Kingston Bridge in the company of Johnny Beattie and guest who were recalling a gentler, golden age of Scottish comedy. Johnny's own laughter was infectious and it was all I could do to stop us swerving into the Clyde.

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  1. That Funny Day After Christmas

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 26 Dec 06, 04:23 PM

    Asley Jensen

    Stanley Baxter

    I've just had an e-mail from our comedy producer, Margaret-Anne Docherty who is back in her Glasgow office preparing for tomorrow's live show with Johnny Beattie. Both of them seemed to have survived the general germ-fest that tends fell so many of our production staff at this time of year.

    As well as her own programme, Margaret-Anne has pulled together the various components of our special Day of Scottish Comedy. It includes Richard Wilson and Ashley Jensen in the first of a new series called The Clan and a repeat of the programme we recorded Stanley Baxter's eightieth birthday earlier this year.

    Later you'll get the first chance to hear the improv show Dance Monkey Boy Dance which we recorded at the Glasgow Comedy Festival and the first of the new series of the Franz Kafka Big Band, which caused a stir a few months ago when I postponed its original transmission.

    There's music too as Bryan Burnett plays the most requested comedy songs in Get It On and Archie Fisher picks up the theme with a special edition of Travelling Folk - called Funny Folk - which includes music from Billy Connolly and many others.

    I hope you get a chance to catch some of these programmes and let me know what you think of these sort of themed days.

    Armando Ianucci
    Billy Connolly

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  1. How Was It For You?

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 25 Dec 06, 06:02 PM

    It's funny how people are always interested in what kind of Christmas you've had. Or at least they seem to be interested. Over the years I've found that no one really listens to what you tell them about your Christmas festivities and you might as well stick with the standard " was quiet."

    As if that's unusual. Do most people have loud Christmas experiences? Perhaps most people are invaded by Heavy Metal bands and freelance fireworks demonstrators.

    The loudest thing that happened to us was the early-morning encounter with a remote control Dalek. Otherwise it was peaceful. So much so that, after popping the turkey in the oven, I wrapped myself in three layers of wooly jumpers and went for an afternoon stroll along the old Wade military road across Drumossie Moor. It was just me, some sheep and Colin & Justin - the last two courtesy of my portable DAB radio.

    Back home a half an hour later I discovered that friends and relatives were not having it so easy. My Dad phoned from Glasgow to say that he had set his own oven alight and that the kitchen was now black with smoke. Meanwhile Mrs Z's friend Shona sent a text message explaining that her gas boiler had packed in and the house was so cold that "the turkey was demanding to be put back in the freezer."

    But how was it for ewe?

    Sheep in Inverness

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  1. Santa Claus - Behaviour Problems

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 24 Dec 06, 06:09 PM

    Santa in Glasgow

    I was listening to Robbie Shepherd's Reel Blend this afternoon and he played a Scottish Dance Band version of When Santa Got Stuck Up The Chimney In case you're not familiar with the lyrics, let me remind you:

    When Santa got stuck up the chimney,
    He began to shout:
    "You girls and boys,
    Won't get any toys,
    If you don't pull me out!"

    "My beard is black,
    There's soot in my sack,
    My nose is tickling too!"

    When Santa got stuck up the chimney,
    "Aaachooo, achoo, achoo!"

    Now this song has always troubled me so I thought it high time I shared these concerns with my own children. I called them away from stocking-hanging duties and deconstructed the lyrics thus:

    1. You'll note he is stuck up the chimney, not down. This implies he has already been in the house and is returning to the rooftop. In which case his threat to withold presents is an idle one.

    2. Would a man whose psychological make-up prompts him to travel the globe distributing toys be the kind of person who makes such threats in the first place?

    3. Why complain that his facial hair has been dis-coloured by chimney soot? Surely this is an occupational hazard. Besides, why make an issue of personal vanity when suffocation is surely a greater concern?

    4. Tickling nose and sneezing. An allergic reaction which, surely, should have been treated decades ago. Othwerise how does Santa sneak about private property unheard?

    I had a dozen similar points to make, but then I looked up from my notes I saw that I was alone. A pity because I was about to move on to the themes of bullying and retribution conatined within Rudolf The Red-Nosed Reindeer.

    Oh...and Merry Christmas by the way.

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  1. The Magic Gym

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 22 Dec 06, 08:50 PM

    The nice young man who showed us around the gym was called Paul Daniels. I resisted the temptation to say things like "that's magic!" or "I like it...not a lot, but I do like it." Mrs Z. was very proud of me and we both retired to the coffee lounge to decide whether or not we should sell some heirlooms to afford the year's family membership. The ample helping of chocolate flakes on the cappuccino clinched it for me, as well as the gym's proximity to the fish 'n' chip restaurant and the video shop.

    I signalled to Paul that we were ready to cough up the fee. I fished around in my wallet for a credit card which seemed to have vanished. Paul looked a bit concerned, but then I produced the plastic with a flourish.

    "Abracadabra, " I said, avoiding Mrs. Z's steely glare.

    Of course, all of this happened last week and was the easy part. Tonight I went along for my first induction session where a bloke called Dave demonstrated the various bits of equipment. I was especially taken by the treadmill which had a little console where you could choose to watch T.V or listen to the radio. Then Dave pressed a button on the contraption and I was almost hurled backwards through a plate glass window.

    "So you've never been in a gym before?" he asked me.
    "Unless you count school," I told him, recalling all those afternoons when I would turn up with a note from my Mum explaining that I couldn't participate in football/rugby/cross country/scuba diving because of a sore toe.

    Dave handed me a strap-on heart monitor and put me through my paces on various weight-training devices. He then filled out a training chart which suggested I should visit the gym two or three times a week. I was amazed the heart monitor didn't explode at that point

    "Or you can come more often than that if you get to like it," he said.

    I'm sure I will. But not a lot.


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  1. Poles In The North

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 21 Dec 06, 04:49 PM

    How many new Polish immigrants are now living in and around Inverness? Well, according to this week's edition of Action Scotland, your guess is as good as mine. The only official estimate is based on the numbers who claimed welfare benifits (about 1900) but those who provide support for Polish people in the Highlands suggest the figure may be nearer seven thousand.

    The Action Scotland programme posed a lot of tough questions. Why, for instance, don't more Polish people learn English before they come here looking for work? Why do they choose to stay here when they struggle to make ends meet? Why doesn't the Scottish Executive have a better plan in place to support new immigrants?

    Producer Suzy Beaumont - who is based in Inverness - tells me that the programme was difficult to make because she had trouble tracking down any Poles who could speak English. She also had difficulty confirming tales of Polish immigrants sleeping rough in the middle of road roundabouts and other unlikely places.

    The programme highlighted the work of Zosia Fraser who has become something of a one-woman lifeline for the Poles who come to the the Highlands because they've been attracted by stories that Scotland welcomes new talent and new blood.

    The reality, it seems, is very different.

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  1. Jazz Santa

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 20 Dec 06, 10:56 PM

    There was a cool festive feel to The Jazz House tonight as presenter Stephen Duffy did his best to get us all into the Christmas spirit. The prospect of live music drew me upstairs to Studio 6 where half the music department seemed to have gathered to munch mince pies. There was even a Jazz Santa on stand-by to perform live programme idents from time-to-time.

    Actually, it wasn't the real Jazz Santa - because he's busy at the North Pole making toy saxophones - but producer Keith Loxam was doing a fairly good impersonation of him. He just lacked the dark glasses.

    The actual programme producer Sushil Dade offered me a cameo role on the show. Fearing I might be asked to assume the character of the Jammin' Elf, I declined.

    I also declined the offer of a mince pie, which is the truly remarkable part of this story.

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  1. Scotland's Music

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 19 Dec 06, 05:32 PM

    Scotland's Music

    Here's a tip: never drive down the A9 in the middle of December without checking you have enough screen-wash for the journey. Otherwise you'll find yourself parked in a layby at Drumochter, trying to melt snow into an empty cola bottle. And all this while the dawn came up over the mountains.

    Still, I made in into Glasgow in time for the informal press launch of Scotland's Music's our big cross-platform project for next year and involves, radio, television, online and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.

    John Purser is presenting the 50-part series on radio and he had to correct me when I announced that his research told the story of Scottish music from the Bronze Age to the present day.

    "No," he said, "it's actually from the stone age."

    Well, it had been many months since I last spoke to John so my information was a bit out of date. Indeed Scotland's Music was one of the first big commisioning decisions I made when I became Head of Radio. The series has been in production for more than a year and I'm told they've recorded almost thirty half hour programmes, with work continuining at the start of next year.

    Among the reporters who joined us for lunch at the City Halls was Fergus Sheppard from The Scotsman. He recalled that I'd taken his photograph for this blog the last time we met. I assured him that I didn't have a camera with me this time.

    He almost seemed disappointed.

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  1. The Last Laugh

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 17 Dec 06, 03:36 PM

    Johnny Beattie

    That chilly week between Christmas and Hogmanay can be a bit of a broadcasting limbo, so this year we're trying something a little different. Wednesday the 27th of December will be our official 'Day of Scottish Comedy' and we plan to pepper the schedule with a good selection of giggles and guffaws.

    The line-up will include the voices of some famous funnymen; Amando Ianucci, Richard Wilson, Stanley Baxter, Fred MacAulay, Billy Connoly and many more.
    We'll have brand new comedy in the shape of The Clan and some classic moments from the archive as selected by our very own Johnny Beattie.

    Johnny will be live on air that afternoon and is already hoping that listeners will get in touch to share their own comedy memories from stage, screen or steam radio.

    I'm told Johnny caused quite a stir the other day when he came in to the studio to record a trails for the programme. He wandered through offices singing jingle bells and entertained the production team with his impersonations of Holywood greats such as Edward G. Robinson.

    So make the 27th a date for your diary. It should be more fun that the post-Christmas sales.

    P.S. You can read more about The Clan in this article from The Sunday Times

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  1. Family Tree

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 16 Dec 06, 03:52 PM

    George Square Glasgow 2006

    The family Christmas tree is sitting proudly in its stand, but still contained within the netting from the local garden centre. We'll set the branches loose later today when the Zedettes are ready to decorate them with lights, tinsel, baubles and chocolate bells.

    Inevitably I'll end up having my usual argument with Mrs Z about those very same chocolate bells. You see, on my side of the family, we had very strict rules about such things. The chocolates couldn't be eaten until after Christmas Day. My wife, on the other hand, believes the children should be entitled to one every day as a sort of advent treat. It's not the only issue which provokes a seasonal clash of ideas.

    Christmas Dinner or Christmas Lunch? I was brought up with the notion that the big Christmas meal should happen in the early evening. Mrs Z thinks we should be stuffing turkey down our throats at lunchtime.

    Then there's the town-centre lights to think about. As a child in Glasgow, my fondest memories of Christmas include the times when my Dad would drive us into the city and allow us to wander around George Square looking at the multi-coloured lights and the Nativity scene. This would be late in the evening, when the shops were closed, and you felt you had the city centre as a personal playground.

    I have to admit, however, that some of my wife's annual rituals are laced with good sense and common decency. On Christmas Day she pulls out a notebook and records the details of every gift received. Then, during the school holidays, she insists that the Zedettes write at least two thankyou leters every day. It's all terribly middle-class.

    Still, it could be worse. At least we don't argue about religion.

    It is Christmas, after all.

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  1. Happy Birthday Blog

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 15 Dec 06, 09:20 PM

    I almost missed it, but it's not too late to tell you that this little blog is now celebrating its first birthday. Time to stick a candle in a cake. Time to decide whether or not to continue.

    Funnily enough I got a call today from the MacAulay & Co team who are planning an item on the subject of blogs this coming Tuesday. Apparently 200,000 people abandoned their blogs in the past year. They were wondering if I was planning to do the same and, if not, why not?

    I'm not sure yet. There are times when I think of my late-night entries are a form of therapy. It's a chance to review the events of the day and file them away. Indeed this diary has proved very useful recently as I whizzed through the past year and decided who should be on my Christmas Card list.

    Well, I think I'll plough on to the end of the year at least.

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  1. Calling Out Around The World

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 14 Dec 06, 05:39 PM

    I got a call from Alistair Gray at the Scotland on Sunday newspaper this afternoon. He's writing a piece about thse new wi-fi internet radios that are selling like hot cakes in the run-up to Christmas. Did I think these devices would threaten stations like BBC Radio Scotland?

    So what was my answer?

    Well, these sexy little gadgets offers the choice of 5,000 audio streams, but the trouble is, as I said to Alistair, we listeners have only so many hours in a day. It's a bit like multi-channel television. You spend a lot of time surfing through the various choices and then you settle down with maybe a dozen or so channels that suit your own interests.

    The expansion of choice in radio, however, does present existing stations with a challenge: to offer something that's different enough to attract a critical mass of of listeners.

    All the research that we've been looking at tells us that audiences demand programmes that are relevant to their own lives. That's not to say they don't care about other people or the rest of the world, but any mix of programming has to offer something they can't find elsewhere.

    BBC Radio Scotland is, of course, available to listeners throughout the world via the internet and it's Scottish sport and music that appeals most strongly to that international audience. Scottish pipe music, for example, draws big hits on our Listen Again service. It's something that's not easily available from stations in other countries.

    Likewise, many listeners in Scotland tell us they can get their international news and mainstream pop music from dozens of different suppliers. They come to us because we mix that with Scottish news, sport, culture and comedy.

    Striving to balance relevance against charges of parochialism creates a tension as does our efforts to provide specialist programming without backing ourselves into such a tight niche that only a few devotees would know we exist.

    So back to the original question. Are wifi-internet radios a threat?

    Of course they are.

    But not to anyone who loves radio.

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  1. The Charming Mister Walker

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 13 Dec 06, 05:10 PM

    This afternoon I recorded an interview with Pat Walker, a former Assistant Controlloer at BBC Scotland and, indded, one of my predecessors as Head of Radio.

    The interview will form part of a programme called Leaving Queen Margaret Drive, which will be transmitted on the 2nd of January. It tells the story of the BBC's Glasgow H.Q. from its earliest days a a private home for two art-collecting brothers and then its next incarnation as a women-only medical college.

    Pat Walker has spent many years researching the history of the building and also had a wealth of stories to share about his own career in broadcasting. I was struck by the similarities of our experiences in charge of the radio output. The complaints and concerns of listeners thirty years ago sounded very familiar. The technology behind programme-making, however, has changed beyond recognition.

    I loved the idea of producing a live radio programme using multiple studios and having an entire orchestra on hand for incidental music.

    Pat also gave me some comforting news about the ghost that is supposed to haunt my old office in Glasgow. This may, or may not, be the spectre of Miss Janet Galloway, who ran Queen Margaret College during the building's Victorian era. She died at her desk, but that desk was not in my office at all.

    It's in the the office now occupied by my television counterpart, Ewan Angus.

    I'm waiting for the first night I see him working late before I tell him that.

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  1. A Face For Radio

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 12 Dec 06, 06:50 PM

    party animal

    Apparently our recent exploits at Inverness Royal Academy made it on to Reporting Scotland today. Mrs Z called me to say she had just seen me on the widescreen TV, which is obviously another hint that I should join the gym next year. Then I received an e-mail from Mike Edwards, a news reporter with STV. Mike is a former colleague from the days when we both worked for Moray Firth Radio in Inverness. Having seen me on the telly he suggested that I ought to stay in radio since I clearly have the kind of face that suits the medium.

    This was confirmed when BBC reporter Jackie O'Brien sent me a photograph that she'd taken at the Inverness staff party on Saturday night. We'd all gone to the Cawdor Tavern for our festive fun, but I wasn't drinking because I'd brought the car.

    Just imagine what this photo would have looked like if I'd had a couple of glasses of wine.

    p.s. the media website have been asking media types to look back at 2006. You'll find my words of wisdom here. Wish I'd said something profound about global media empires...but what, the heck, I still think Doctor Who is great!

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  1. The Immaculate Contraption

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 11 Dec 06, 07:04 AM

    Why Front 2006

    I was in CCA in Glasgow tonight to watch a recording of The Why Front - the Christmas Day edition, in fact. The place was packed out, which isn't half bad for a cold, wet night in the middle of December. The sketches were seriously, laugh-out-loud funny, but I have no idea how producer Margaret-Anne Docherty is going to edit it down to the required 27 minute slot for Christmas morning.

    Fans of the series will be happy to know that many of the much-loved characters make a return appearance, including the Polar Bears and Glasgow nedettes Miranda & Amanda. There was also a running sequence involving a Mother who believes her charmless daughter is expecting a virgin birth as a result of an "immaculate contraption". Later she discovers the daughter has struck up a relationship with a Hebridean sheep-handler who confesses that he "kissed her on The Minch...and also on the mainland."

    As the audience filed out I got a chance to congratulate some of the writers, including Theresa Talbot. She's created some new characters for the series, including a novice nun and her Mother Superior. The novice believes she has to mimic Julie Andrews' performance in The Sound of Music and is somewhat aghast to discover she has to give up alcohol and men.

    I was still laughing two hours later, by which time I was on my own, walking along Byres Road and getting some very odd looks from passers-by.

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  1. More Phone Box Fun

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 10 Dec 06, 03:04 PM

    Regular diary readers - both of us - will recall my encounter with a phone box at Perth train station a few weeks ago. There was a sign on the door suggesting it was to be the venue for a birthday party on the 2nd of December.

    Sadly we all missed that date and I've no idea whether or not the party went ahead or not, but at least the story was covered in the BBC's in-house newspaper Ariel. They republished the photo-montage created by Shona Ferguson with me in a Superman costume.

    Ariel clipping

    Now I've received this photograph from Tracy Stevenson. She tells me she snapped it from the safety of her car on Dundee's Riverside.

    "I very very quickly took the photo, without even getting out my car for fear of looking dodgy and someone asking me what I was doing."

    Dundee phone box

    I know this kind of fear. Last week in London I took a wrong turn out of Victoria Station and found myself passing Buckingham Palace. Uniformed police officers were advising tourists to keep their wallets and purses safe from pickpockets. I decided to take a few snaps of the scene and then I noticed those same police officers looking at me in a funny way. Had I lingered for a minute more I'm sure I'd now be on a plane back to Poland.

    Buckingham Palace

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  1. Read All About It

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 10 Dec 06, 10:43 AM

    I get a bit of a kicking in the Scotland on Sunday this morning. Not good when you have your in-laws staying for the weekend and their favourite pastime is reading the Sunday newspapers. I was thinking of getting a pair of scissors and cutting out the offending article, but I don't think they would have bought my explanation that newspapers are now recycling some of their newsprint before they deliver it to your door.

    That's the trouble, though. These kind of articles tend to upset your family more than yourself. I tend to view these things a bit more philosophically. By that I mean that I burst into tears and pound my fists on the floor until someone brings me my blue blanket.

    Truth is, I've had a failry easy ride in the press compared to some of my BBC colleagues. One of my counterparts in Wales was telling me that some of the schedule changes he made ten years ago actually prompted death threats and organised marches. Again, it was his family that worried more than he did. No wonder.

    Anyway, today's article quotes a BBC insider who, says the paper, has agreed to speak out only on condition that he (or she) remains anonymous. It all sounds like something out of a Mafia movie. Presumably this secret source now has to go into the witness protection programme and wear a false beard. Unless, of course, they already have a beard. Who knows? It could have been anyone. Maybe it was me! No, it can't have been me. I'm sure I'd have been a lot more critical about me. Although I would have mentioned that I'm kind to small animals.

    As for the substance of the article. Well, I do have to come clean and admit that I am trying to retain an audience for BBC Radio Scotland and I do confess that we plan programming in the hope that it will prove - brace yourself - "popular".

    Sadly, try as we might, we don't always manage pull that off.

    But don't quote me on that.

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  1. Caught On Camera

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 8 Dec 06, 10:15 PM

    Inverness Royal Academy

    Another day and another two schools as I joined Deirdre Leitch for more radio-skills workshops. This morning, at Inverness Royal Academy, we arrived in plenty of time to set up all our equipment in a classroom located in one of the school's outbuildings. We even had time for a cup of team in the Staff Base where the teachers were working out the Secret Santa draw for their Christmas lunch. It was all very relaxed.

    Until, that is, the phone rang and we discovered that BBC news reporter Craig Anderson had arrived at reception with cameraman Brian Ashman. They wanted to record a piece about the Highland Promise workshops for Reporting Scotland.
    We zipped back to the classroom to discover our eight would-be reporters waiting patiently alongside Craig, Brian and Fiona Hampton, the Director of Highland 2007. We tried as best we could to stick to our schedule while Brian circled us with the camera and Craig recorded interviews with myself, Fiona and a couple of the pupils.

    Inevitably we found ourselves pushed for time and as the workshop ended we made a mad dash across town to Charleston Academy were another eight pupils were lined up for an afternoon workshop.

    It's a pity I wont have time to join Deirdre at all the other worshops she's involved in throughout the Highlands. She'll have recruited about 200 young roving reporters by the end of January. I think what impressed me about all the teenagers we've met this week has been their refreshing lack of cynicism and positive aproach to the project. They seem really excited about next year's festival of culture and the thought that they might be able to record interviews and take photographs at many of the shows and exhibitions.

    If only we could bottle that kind of enthusiasm and send it out to those people who spend their time telling us what's wrong with Scotland.

    Mind you, I'm not sure we'd have enough bottles to go around.

    Charleston Academy

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  1. Highland Promise

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 7 Dec 06, 08:55 PM

    Dornoch's roving reporters

    It was still dark when producer Deirdre Leitch picked me up in the BBC Radio Scotland car at seven o'clock this morning and we set off for Dornoch Academy for the first of our reporters workshops. These sessions - in up to 30 schools - are part our involvement in the Highland 2007 festival of culture. We're training groups of eight pupils in each school and they'll attend a range of arts and music events and, we hope, provide reports for our weekly Highland Cafe programme.

    Deirdre had devised an action-packed lesson plan which gave us two hours to cover everything from interview techniques, microphone handling and digital photography.

    "Don't worry if you can't remember all of this," she kept assuring the pupils, "because I'll be back in the New Year to remind you."

    The Dornoch pupils were so attentive and enthusiastic and when we set them loose with their digital recorders they came back with a series of hard-hitting interviews with nervous teachers.

    Deirdre Leitch

    After lunch we went to Golspie where, once again, the pupils really impressed us with their ability to absorb new information and put it to the test. One girl got so carried away with interviewing her friends that we had to send out a search party to fetch her back.

    Golspie reporters

    Two more schools tomorrow. If I can keep up the pace.

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  1. Queue Richard

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 6 Dec 06, 04:28 PM

    A day of back-to-back meetings in Glasgow ends with the usual rush to catch the Inverness train from Queen Street. That's where I met Richard Cadey, the roving reporter on the MacAulay & Co programme who was lumbering through the crowds wth two huge steel cases full of equipment.

    "I'm catching the train to Fort William, " he explained, "for a story about a Santa's grotto."

    I suggested that the programme producers might be having a laugh at his expense by dreaming up all sorts of bizarre assignments just to see if he would actually complete them. Richard thought this was very likely.

    Indeed, a few weeks ago, they had sent him into a bakery shop in the west end of Glasgow to test the concept of queue-jumping. Listening to instructions from Fred MacAualy on a mobile phone, Richard ignored the customers waiting in line and went straight to the counter to buy various pies and pastries. Each time the shop assistant thought Richard had completed his order, Fred, safe in the studio, would be on the phone demanding another item...then another...then another.

    Richard told me he lost his nerve when three burly builders in the queue began gving him menacing looks. But that wasn't even the worst of it.

    "Those pies, "Richard explained, "Fred still owes me the money for them."

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  1. What James Bond Can Teach Us About Radio

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 4 Dec 06, 10:13 AM

    It was a Zed family outing to the cinema last night . We saw the new James Bond movie, Casino Royale. Zed-daughter hadn't wanted to come along and had to be bribed with a promise that we'd visit the late-night bookshop after we saw the flick. Then there was popcorn, nachos, fizzy drinks and pick 'n' mix sweets. Well it was either this or a trip to the sports centre and I had the casting vote.

    Of course I did feel a twinge of guilt when the film got going and blue-eyed Daniel Craig emerged from the sea with the kind of perfectly toned body that would make a perfect pair with my own in one of those 'before & after' adverts. I tried not to think about that and instead turned my mind to Hollywood's current enthusiasm for 'back to the start' themes in long-running franchises.

    There was Batman Begins and then Superman Returns - both, like the latest Bond movie, allowed new fans to climb aboard without fear that they may have missed something vital. In other words, you don't have to belong to the fan club to understand what's going on. Take Star Wars movies, for example. I haven't a clue what they're about. And don't get me started on The Lord of the Rings!

    So what's this got to do with radio? Maybe nothing, except that a few weeks ago I was listening to The Jazz House when the presenter, Stephen Duffy, read out a letter from a listener asking him to explain the difference between melody, rhythm and harmony within the context of jazz music. There then folowed fitfeen glorious minutes of the most wonderful explanation, illustrated by a musician live at the piano and augmented by archive recordings of jazz standards.

    Suddenly I felt like I had been invited to the club.

    It got me wondering what other radio programmes make assumptions about the audience. Does everyone really understand the workings of the Scottish Parliament? Maybe the Beechgrove Potting Shed sounds like a foreign language to non-gardeners. Perhaps there are people listening to our football commentary on Saturdays who have no idea about the offside rule.

    Or is that just me?

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  1. Follow That Pink Limousine

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 3 Dec 06, 07:59 PM

    test photo of castle

    Driving back from Fort William early this morning I felt like I was in one of those car adverts you see on television. It's funny how they always seem to film those things on long, empty, winding roads. I saw only five other cars on the road until I reached the outskirts of Inverness and one of them was a stretched pink limousine which passed me on a swing bridge.

    Then, as I neared Urquhart Castle, the sun began to shine through the clouds and I pulled in to the car park for a look a Loch Ness . Its days like this that I remember why I left Glasgow.

    It had been a great night at the Nevis Centre by the way.The Scots Trad Awards provided some fantastic live music and many emotional moments as the winners collected their silver cups. Mary Ann Kennedy and Stuart Cassels were the hosts and what a good job they did. The whole thing ended just before midnight and I resisted all invitations to party on through the night at a local hotel.

    Proof, as Mrz Z always says, that you don't need alcohol to have a good time. How right she is.


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  1. Fort William Here I Come

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 2 Dec 06, 08:56 AM

    Where has the year gone? I can't believe it's been twelve months since I went through to Edinburgh for the Scots Trad Music Awards and now I'm just about to head down the A82 for this year's event in Fort William.

    It should be a good night. Our very own Robbie Shepherd is being inducted into the Hall of Fame as he received the Hamish Henderson Award for services to traditional music.

    If he gives a speech I hope he gets a better reception than one of last year's recipients. The chap who was given a gong for having the best music venue of the year took to the stage and his cheers turned to heckling within a minute of him opening his mouth.

    I think he was trying to encourage other venue operators to host live music, but it came across as a slighlty insulting suggestions that musicians were quite cheap - or that you didn't have to pay them much.

    Imagine the reaction to that in a hall full of musicians!

    Anyway, more tomorrow and photographs if possible.

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  1. Fully Booked

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 1 Dec 06, 07:36 PM

    The final three-month run of Cover Stories ended on a high note this morning when presenter Richard Holloway broke into song for a rendition of My Way. Afterwards I called the producer Dawn Munro who told me she was almost in tears listening to that. She meant it in a nice way.

    Richard decided to call it a day with Cover Stories because he's now so busy with the Scottish Arts Council and the body that will replace it. This prompted us to review our coverage of books and publishing and so, next year, we'll create a weekly Book Cafe programme so that we can do justice to this subject all year round. At the same time we're developing a new biography series and, as I've metioned before, a monthly slot for drama.

    Of course schedule changes like this don't please everyone and today I took a call from Tim Cornwell, the Arts Correspondent at the Scotsman. He'd heard rumours that we were planning to reduce our coverage of events such as the Edinburgh Book Festival. In fact, the weekly Book Cafe should allow us to cover many more book festivals around the country.

    Meanwhile, in Inverness today, I was talking through plans for our weekly Highland Cafe programme which we'll launch in January. It's there to cover the year-long Highland 2007 festival of culture and we'll have a variety of new voices present editions of the programme over those twelve months.

    The Highland Cafe is also part of a community education project which will link us with secondary schools throughout the north of Scotland. This month, in fact, I'm joining producer Deirdre Leitch as she begins some of the classroom training sessions for pupils.

    In a few weeks we'll have dozens of teenage arts critics, armed with digital recorders, ready to review anything that moves over the next year.

    More critics. Yes, that's all I need.

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  1. Blog Jam

    • Jeff Zycinski
    • 1 Dec 06, 12:24 PM

    crabs on the A9

    We've been having massive technical difficulties with this blog over the past week, so if you're reading this it's only thanks to the efforts of BBC boffins slaving under hot servers for days on end.

    Those servers, by the way, seem to be housed in some underground complex in Wales. The actual location seems to be top secret. Presumably it holds all sorts of sensitive BBC information such as the name of the bloke (or bloke-ess)inside the Pudsey costume.

    In any case I am having some trouble publishing photographs on this site. That's a shame because I wanted to show you a picture of some crabs that had been dumped in a lay-by on the A9. There were dozens of them.

    This grim discovery was made by my friend Richard Melvin as he journeyed north to Inverness this morning. He tells me he stopped at Lay-by 100 to admire the view and almost fainted when he saw the piles of dead crabs.

    How they got there remains a mystery, but all entertaining theories would be, well, entertained.

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