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.
In Glasgow today and sloped out of the office at four o'clock to give a presentation to Glasgow University students. It's the third year in a row I've been invited the the Uni's annual Media Week and I always try to think of something different to say. I'm not sure why, because the audiences chages every year. I guess I just like to create work for myself. Anyway, this time, I had a sound & vision slide-show presentation about the last twelve months in the life of BBC Radio Scotland. Many of the photographs were drawn from this blog.
The event organiser, David Lamb, was startled to discover a photograph of himself in one of the slides. He'd been in the audience at last year's event and told me the red t-shirt he was wearing is "still a favourite".
A good turnout but not too many questions from the audience. There was more enthusiasm when I set a little quiz just to check they'd been listening to what I'd said. Lots of hands in the air and the prizes - plastic ponchos and t-shirts - seemed to go down well.
Yes, plastic ponchos! Very fashionable.
Passport To Kelso
Producer David Stenhouse has invited me to attend the big count in Kelso High School next month. That's when school pupils will decide whether or not to abandon their self-proclaimed independence. It would mean lowering their new flag, ditching their own national anthem and saying goodbye to their own currency - the Kelso Bawbee.
It also means that the school's Rector, Charles Robertson, would lose his grip on power - apart from the usual stuff about running a school etc.
It's all part of our SoundTown project in the Borders. Pupils have been learning about the Act of Union in 1707 and it was David Stenhouse who suggested this would be a way to engage the entire school in the project. He's also producing a special programme about the experiment - Passport to Kelso - which you'll be able to hear later in the month.
The vote itself takes place on the 15th March and I'm told some of Scotland's real-life politicians are waiting anxiously for the result, just in case it sets a trend.
This is an election year after all.
Out For Lunch
The truth is, I get a bit crabby if I'm forced to skip a meal. It happened this afternoon when I accompanied producer Deirdre Leitch to Glen Urquhart High School in Drumnadrochit. I was her partner for another radio skills workshop for pupils and the forty minute journey along the shoreline of Loch Ness was so entrancing that we both forgot to stop for food.
To be fair, they offered us lunch within minutes of us signing the school's visitor book, but we both declined so that we could get on with setting up our backdrops and other presentation equipment.
But then, after two minutes of manual labour, I realised that I was hungry. I warned Deirdre that this was a dangerous thing. There was every chance that I could become irritable and start throwing small children out of windows. She looked into my eyes and knew that this was true.
So we ventured along corridors, following the smell of school dinners until we reached the canteen. That's when I saw the huge serving tray full of moist, glistening, golden macaroni cheese. I pulled out a handful of change, wiped the drool from my lips and pointed to the pasta.
"I'll have that, " I said, "whatever the price...I'll pay it."
"Sorry, " said a woman with a big spoon, "It's gone."
I blinked twice. Could my hunger be causing me to hallucinate? No.
"I mean the pasta, " I explained, "that stuff there..."
The spoon lady brandished a small notebook and explained that the remaining macaroni had been "pre-ordered". We'd fallen foul of a catering system that was beyond our ken.
"Oh well, " I said, trying to disguise my disappointment with a hollow laugh, "any chance of a cup of tea and a biscuit?"
Another spoon-wielding woman appeared by her colleague's side to explain that this would be possible, but only if I fancied a stroll into the village and gave my custom to a local tea-shop.
Just as I was about to run screaming through the school, a senior member of staff came to our rescue. He escorted us to the staff-room and poured us big steaming mugs of tea.
The workshop went well, the pupils were fantastic and, best of all....
we got muffins to eat at playtime.
Fame For Fred
A couple of weeks ago I was told that our very own Fred MacAulay is to be one of the contestants in this year's Comic Relief editions of Fame Academy. The person who told me this - producer Stephen Hollywood - swore me to secrecy. In fact, he said this secret was so big that having shared it with me he then had no option but to kill me. He reached for a gun. Happily the gun was the kind that fires a little flag with the word 'bang' written on it. Comic Relief, you see.
Anyway, the secret was revealed in the Daily Record this morning. That was hours before Fred was able to appear on BBC Radio Scotland to tell his listeners about it. Scooped again!
Then, in true comedy style, Fred had to appear on air live from a toilet somewhere in London. He's been at the official press launch and the toilet was the only place he could find that was quiet enough to make a telephone call.
Splash news, I think they call it.
The Music Man
I was back on the road with producer Deirdre Leitch this morning, this time we rolled up at Millburn Academy in Inverness for another radio workshop for pupils. We were directed to the music department which is housed in a series of huts at the back of the school and were then introduced to ten of the most enthusiastic teenagers we've yet encountered. We're supposed to be working with groups of eight, but it would take someone with a harder heart than me to send two of them back to double-maths.
The music teacher, Andrew Sutcliffe, seems to be a very popular man. No sooner had we started our spiel than the phone rang. Yes, the phone. Who knew that classrooms had phones? I grabbed the receiver off the wall..
"Music department!" I said. With ten pair of eyes staring at me I tried to sound confident and in control . Later Deirdre told me I sounded like a madman and that she was half-expecting a SWAT team to appear in the playground. The caller was trying to find Mr Sutcliffe. I explained that he'd just nipped out for a few minutes. I also explained that to the next caller and the one after that.
No matter, the Millburn pupils were eager and attentive and were soon roaming the school with digital recorders, interviewing their classmates about global warming and Elton John's plans for a concert in Inverness.
Mr Sutcliffe then put the kettle on for a cup of tea and told us a few funny stories including one about a group of pupils who had been taken to a local hotel to learn about the catering industry. The hotelier finished his presentation and then asked the group if there were any questions. There was an uncomfortable silence, but one eager-to-please girl stuck her hand in the air.
"Good, " said the hotelier, "now what's your question?"
"I just wondered, " said the girl, "did you watch Eastenders last night?"
You can hear more about our day at Millburn Academy in next week's edition of The Highland Cafe and if you want more inside stories about Scottish schools then be sure to catch Larry Sullivan's new series of Teacher's Tales on our Listen Again service.
Planning continues for the new-look BBC Radio Scotland website. I know this because Carol Duncan was waiting for me in my office when I came back from lunch yesterday. She's one of the content producers for the site and had come armed with a few mocked-up pages. It was all looking good but I got to thinking how I might shoe-horn in a few ideas of my own. One in particular you might be familiar with because I was writing about it in this diary a few months ago.
"It's called mirror image, " I explained, "just a different way of profiling some of our presenters."
Carol made the mistake of nodding slightly, which I took as encouragement to drone on about my idea for another ten minutes. I explained that we could commission profiles of our presenters and illustrate them with various photographs of them looking in mirrors.
"You see, it's about how they see themselves compared to how others see them. The photographs could all be taken in different situations....little mirrors for applying make-up, those big ones in the TV dressing rooms, the rear-view mirror inside a car..."
At this point Carol stopped nodding. Truth be told she was edging towards the door and pulling a chair between us to stop me chasing her. Later, however, I decided to arrange a little mock-up of my own. You see, I have a personal dislike of those mirrors that surround you in hotel lifts. I'm sure there's a logical reason for them being there. How many hotel guests would arrive for the buffet breakfast wearing pyjamas if it wasn't for those mirrors? OK, none, but you get my drift.
Trouble is, I rarely arrive at a hotel feeling fresh-faced and ready to confront a full-body reflection of myself in the lift. Usually my tie is askew and I'm needing a shave. Sometimes I make the mistake of thinking there's someone else in the lift...a bulky, sweaty, middle-aged man whose beer-belly is out of control.
Then I realise. That's me, that is.
Dumping The Junk
I need you to work as my spies for the next couple of months. I'll explain that in a moment. You see, everyone working at our H.Q. in Glasgow has been asked to clear out their offices in preparation for the move to our new building at Pacific Quay. This project has been called 'Dump The Junk' and it has led to corridors lined with black plastic bags and big red plastic crates - both bulging with rubbish.
That's not how things are meant to be. The red crates are supposed to be used for all the vital stuff that we need to transport across the Clyde to the new offices. Trouble is, everyone has a different idea of what's "vital" and what's not.
I was in my Glasgow ofice until almost midnight last night...opening cupboard after cupboard and raking through drawers. I couldn't believe some of the stuff that was in there. Some of it dated back decades. It was good fun looking through the various consultants' reports that had been prepared for BBC managers over the years. Each report predicted a different version of the future. Many assumed that radio would be defunct by 2005 and that we'd all be enjoying programmes on hologram projectors.
Then there were all those programme formats that didn't make it to the airwaves.
Why on earth did we reject that idea about football referees roaming the streets and handing our red and yellow cards to city neds? It was maybe just ahead of its time.
As well as all that paperwork there was also the piles of books, CDs and two mobile phones the size of house bricks. None of it would make more than fifty pence at a car boot sale. And this is where I need you to monitor the airwaves for me. Please alert me to any programme offering unusually large "goodie bags" as prizes.
You have been warned!
Give Me Enough Rope
Being one of the BBC's senior managers in Scotland, you'd think my colleagues would treat me with just a little bit of respect. I'm not talking about anything over the top, but perhaps they could bow or salute when I pass them in the corridor - that sort of thing. A little fawning wouldn't go amiss either.
Unlike this morning when I got an e-mail from a colleague in Glasgow asking me if I was planning to drive south this week. When I confirmed that I would be doing that very thing tomorrow afternoon he then arranged for his Mother-in-law to deposit two bags of overdue Christmas presents at the reception desk in Inverness.
"Oh...and could you take two bags back to Inverness with you?"
Just for a second I suspected this whole thing might be a set-up and that I was being duped into ferrying illegal substances around the country. Who knows, maybe those jars of peaches in brandy have been outlawed by the Scottish Executive since I last checked. Oh, and I hope that hasn't ruined the surprise for anyone.
Not that my family show any more respect for my position. There I was at my desk this morning, making big important decisions about, oh, all sorts of stuff when Mrs Z called to ask me if I'd found those instructions for the clothes pully.
There's a back story here involving a weekend visit to an Inverness hardware store. Having asked to purchase a wooden clothes pully I was a little disturbed when the shop assistant then collected the various compents from different plastic tubs and dumped them on the counter.
"There's your cast iron cleat, your laths, single pulley, double pulley and airer ends..."
I felt like I was in an episode of The Krypton Factor.
"any instructions with that?" I asked, nervously.
He gave me a reassuring nod, pulled the pencil from behind his ear and scribbled out a diagram showing ropes going up and down and across. It looked like the preliminary drawing for the Forth Bridge, but I pretended I understood perfectly.
I was at it for three hours last night, but no matter how I configured the rope, I could only ever make one side of the contraption rise or fall. The usual solution in such cases is to go on the internet and print out an idiot's guide to things-every-real-man-ought-to-know..
Of course, we're still without a broadband link at home, so I promised to do that at work today. After more than a decade of marriage, Mrz Z knows how easily I can be distracted by other office activities - such as trying out the new paper shredder - hence the phone call to remind me.
"Don't worry, " I told her, "I wouldn't have forgotten."
"Pull the other one, " she retorted. Which was almost funny.
We're planning a revamp of the BBC Radio Scotland website next month and, among other things, we want to make it easier for listeners to find the programmes that we make for other BBC radio networks.
That includes drama, features and readings for BBC Radio 4, Jazz and Classical music programmes for BBC Radio 3, Vic Galloway on BBC Radio 1 and so on.
The Aberdeen team who produced our recent Digging Up You Roots series are making a similar series for BBC Radio 4 called Tracing Your Roots. In Inverness, the team who produced Dad Made Me Laugh are looking forward to hearing the series aired on BBC 7. That starts on Monday.
What we're finding is that more and more listeners are selecting programmes they like from the BBC Radio Player and using the seven day Listen Again function. To that extent, they care more about finding programmes that suit their tastes than having an allegiance to a particular radio station.
We're also planning a Made In Scotland series where we'll showcase some of this output on BBC Radio Scotland.
Those New Listeners Revealed
It was recently reported that BBC Radio Scotland has attracted 150,000 new listeners. Here's one of them.
and here's another...
My Castle Campaign
The population of Inverness, it seems, is comprised of a high proportion of frustrated town planners. People here like talking about the layout of the city in the way that taxi drivers in Glasgow offer team-tactics to footballl managers. Everyone, it seems, has their own idea of how the city's development should be managed and none of these ideas seem to square with the council's official strategy.
The other day, for example, I overheard an animated discussion about the one-way traffic system and how this should be scrapped. Instead, it was suggested, the whole area between Academy Street and the riverfront should be paved and pedestrianised, thus creating a European-style plaza where Highland Bohemians could gather to discuss art and philosophy.
Hmmm. I'm not so sure. I have my own bee buzzing in my own bonnet: Inverness Castle. This Victorian construction is said to be sited on the grounds of a much older fortresss. Shakespeare thought the original Inverness Castle was home to King Duncan. Until, that is, he offered bed & breakfast to that nice Mrs Macbeth and her hubby. Of course Shakespeare's version of Scottish history was more than a little suspect.
In any case the modern castle dates from the mid nineteenth century and now houses the city's Sheriff Court. What a waste of a beautiful (if somewhat artificial) landmark. How much better if we could relocate the lawyers and alleged neds to some purpose-built complex on the outskirts of town. Then we could recalim the castle for the use of people with no legal qualifications or criminal tendencies or both.
All suggestions for its future use are welcome. Failing that, feel free to offer your game plan for the Caley-Celtic cup tie.
Why I Wont Be Blogging This Weekend
My colleagues who control and monitor BBC Scotland's various websites told me something rather astonishing the other day. Apparently seven thousand people read this diary every week. Seven thousand! I always imagine I'm writing for half a dozen people, mostly made up of relatives and that weird bloke who believes I'm the spawn of Satan.
Now seven thousand weekly readers is nothing compared to other BBC bloggers, but it's a massive jump from the two hundred people who were reading this stuff last year.
So who the heck are you?
And an apology. I wont be updating this weekend because of an ongoing saga involving BT and a strange buzzing on my home phone line. This buzzing is an improvement on the dead silence we've had since the 12th of January...but not much. We call them every day about this and every day they tell us that they'll sort it and that an engineer will call our mobile number or text us "this afternoon".
But every day passes and no one calls. So no working phone line, no broadband connection and hence no blog update.
Such are the joys of life in a new-build house. Almost as much fun as our dealings with Highland Council. They made us cough up for a new bin for our household rubbish, but every week we watch the bin lorry drive past our street. Every week we call them to complain and every week they promise to sort it out.
And indeed they have!
Now they've decided that they will never pick up our rubbish unless we trundle the wheely bin to the end of the street. Apparently a supervisor inspected our street a few days ago and made this decision. Then he communicated this decision using Highland Council's new mental telepathy system.
Of course he could have phoned to tell us, but then there's that buzzing noise...
The World (And Wolfstone) Comes To Inverness
A busy old day in Inverness with colleagues arriving from Orkney, Shetland and Glasgow for various meetings. First up was our new Head of News and Current Affairs, Atholl Duncan. We had a good discussion about how we'll cover this year's Scottish Elections and the extra programmes we'll include in the schedule during April and May.
Then came the party from the Northern Isles - John Ferguson & Caroline Moyes - as we met to review some of the research that's being conducted for BBC Radio Orkney and BBC Radio Shetland. Their flight had been delayed because, believe or not, there wasn't enough de-icer for the plane. All of which conjured up the image of pilots with those little scrapers you get for car windscreens and cockpit windows being covered with old newspapers. In any case, the research findings all seemed very encouraging but I've been warned not to say too much until the official report has been compiled.
Being tied up in these meetings meant I couldn't sneak into the studio here to watch Wolfstone perform live on the Highland Cafe. A pity because this is one of the few Wednesdays when I'm not in Glasgow. Nor did I get the chance to catch up with the band's founder member Duncan Chisholm. We last met while stranded at Perth train sttion when the connecting service to Inverness was running late. We discovered we shared an interest in the second world war, much to the disquiet of the other passengers. Let's face there's only so many times you can mention Hitler and Himmler before heads start to turn.
I'm told the band's live set was top notch. As a consolation, my P.A. Joanne nipped into the studio and captured this photograph of the boys in full swing.
Absolute madness and only myself to blame. Guilt about a certain jam doughnut propelled me into the gym late last night where I worked up a sweat just running the gauntlet of sarcastic remarks from one of the instructors.
"Hello stranger....long time no see....I know the face, forgotten the name.." etc etc.
I strapped on my heart monitor and launched myself on to the treadmill, the cycling machine and that contraption that makes you feel like you're trudging through a snowdrift. Not all at the same time, you understand. Then home for what was meant to be a good night's rest prior to me catching the early flight from Inverness to Gatwick.
But then I started reading The Bullet Trick and it was one o'clock in the morning before I knew it. The alarm went off four hours later and I stumbled into the shower trying to figure out why my legs felt like they were strapped to a couple of tree trunks. Oh yes...the gym.
Even the airport car park seemed to be conspiring against me. In the pre-dawn gloom I could clearly see dozens of empty spaces, but the screen at the entrance barrier proclaimed, and I quote, "the car park is filled up."
This is the way my children described things when they were in nursery school.
"The paddling pool is all filled up, daddy!"
No matter how many times I pressed the button for a ticket, the screen message remained the same and barrier wouldn't rise. Not even when I started shouting at it.
I reversed out and went in search of the alternative "long-stay" car park which, I can tell you, is so far away from the terminal building that I might as well have parked at home. It might have been in Perth.
And now I sit in the wireless broadband zone at Gatwick, trying to remember the important points from my various London meetings and wondering if I should buy a compass in the tax-free shop so that I can find my car when I get to Inverness.
Oh the glamour of it all. And my legs still hurt.
The Mystery Book Club
I've always fancied joining a book club and this afternoon Clare English invited me to do that very thing. Not just me, of course. Clare was presenting the first edition of our new Book Cafe programme which included an interview with the ever-enthusiastic Catherine Lockerbie and an item on the book club in Lerwick.
Then there was a drum roll and Clare prepared to reveal which book would launch BBC Radio Scotland's very own book club.
"It's....fizz fizz, crackle crackle...what do you make of that choice Catherine?"
Well, I'm not sure if it was a static problem on my little desk-top radio or a major transmitter problem, but I missed the name of the book and had to phone the production office to solve the mystery. The senior producer, Ailsa Macintosh revealed all:
"It's The Bullet Trick by Louise Welsh."
"Great, I'll go out and buy a copy now!".
This prompted some unwarranted astonshiment from Ailsa. Clearly I have a reputation problem here. Fair enough, I was once spotted buying pop-up books from a bargain bin, but they were Christmas presents. Honest.
So I sloped out of the office and scurried down Castle Street and into downtown Inverness. The Bullet Trick was being displayed in the window of one shop, but I couldn't find a copy on the shelves. I had better luck in the next shop where the title was in the 'choose-any-3 for 2' pile.
So that's me enrolled in the club. I've even managed to read the first page of the actual book and have already been impressed by the authentic description of the taxi rank at Glasgow airport.
Just can't find any pop-up pictures yet.
Everything In The Garden
A lunchtime meeting in Inverness today with Jim McColl. He's best known as the long-standing presenter of the Beechgrove Garden TV programme, but he's also the chairman of Gardening Scotland. The annual event takes place over the first weekend in June and today we were discussing which of our radio programmes would be involved.
I don't pretend to be an expert on gardening but since Mrs Z has a PhD in botany and biochemsistry you'd think that everything in our garden would be rosy. Alas no. In fact, having just moved into a new-build house, our garden still resembles a building site.
Indeed that situation prompted a suggestion to Frieda Morrison who, at this very moment, is tracking down householders across Scotland who are in a similar situation with new plots. You'll be able to hear these stories when Frieda returns with a new series of the Beechgrove Potting Shed later this month. There will also be a special series of online videos to accompany the programme.
Meanwhile Jim was telling us about some of the innovations he and his team have planned for Gardening Scotland. Apparently there will be a huge walk-through bee-hive.
Now, which of our presenters should I ask to look into that?
Thanks A Million
Yesterday I was writing about the way we measure audience figures for radio. Today brings the official good news. BBC Radio Scotland is now reaching well over a million listeners...that's a increase of more than 150,000 since the last survey and our best figures for eight years.
Our audience research team has spent the night crunching all the numbers so we can learn more about which programmes are doing well, but at first glance it looks like a general improvement across the week.
If you're interested in how that compares with other BBC and commerical radio stations there's a summary here on the allmedia Scotland website .
Meanwhile, thank you very much for listening.
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites