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.
Blown Out Of All Proportion
Went for lunch today in my favourite Inverness restaurant, Cafe One on Castle Street. The place had a festive feel...with one party of ten already having their office Christmas lunch. Hey guys, it's still November!
The Christmas decorations were tasteful...just a few maroon and silver helium balloons strung from place to place... but the manager came over for a chat and complained that the price of said balloons had increased since last year.
"Well, that's inflation for you, " I said.
You could have heard a knife drop.
I caught the train from Glasgow to Edinburgh this morning and found myself sitting next to a fellow passenger and something of a kindred spirit.
I never got her name, but she told me she works for the Lottery Fund and travels a lot from Glasgow to Edinburgh, Inverness, Aberdeen etc. In fact, she seems to do the same journeys that I do except that she starts from the south.
We compared notes about Inverness which she thought was a lovely place, but not so lovely she'd want to live there...and we both decided that Edinburgh was a pretty city, especially at this time of year with all the festive trimmings.
But because we both tended to leave home in the early morning and return late, there was real agreement on the thing we missed most.
Michael Buble Does Mrs Doubtfire
Ten thousand people packed into the SECC in Glasgow last night to see the Canadian crooner, Michael Buble. I was one of them, thanks to the generosity of a friend with an extra ticket.
Not a bad singer, it has to be said, although I would have liked to have heard a few more tunes from the Sinatra era.
Buble also fancies himself as something of a comedian and he spent so long joshing with his backing band that my friend wondered aloud if they would eventually get round to throwing custard pies at each other.
This kind of extended banter seemed to annoy one man in the crowd who shouted out something along the lines of "just get on with the singing, ya diddy." (It was a little more rude than that).
The great singer looked a little hurt but delivered his retort in a Robin Williams-style Scottish accent.
"I don't care if you say mean things.. you still sound like Mrs Doubtfire to me."
Cue laughter and applause from the audience and a lot more singing from Michael.
Many moons ago we ran a one-off comedy set around the court of Mary, Queen of Scots. It was called the Queen's Heid. We has request for a sequel, but somehow it fell of the edge of our plans....until now.
This Friday morning - St Andrew's Day - we again go back in time for some hysterical history with The Knox Factor.
Imagine a world of treachery, rivarly, religious persecution and beer. But don't spoil the magic for yourself by imagining what you see in this photograph!
Maybe It's Because I'm Not A Londoner...
...or maybe it's because Mrs Z. has to shoe-horn me out of bed at half past four in the morning to catch the early flight from Inverness to Gatwick, but somehow, at some point in the past, the thrill of visiting London just disappeared.
Yet I know lots of people, not just BBC colleagues but sensible people too, who wont say a bad word about the place. Instead they talk about all the things this city has to offer; theatres, nightclubs, museums, bridges that go up and down in the middle. Except that when you dig a little deeper you find that those same people rarely visit the said theatres, museums, bridges etc. Instead they spend a lot of time getting to work and back. They trade stories about horrendous commuter journeys. Never mind that time the Tube got delayed in a tunnel for four weeks, what about the time my taxi driver took me to Fulhan via Swansea. That kind of thing.
But maybe you do have to live here for a while to really appreciate this great metropolis. Perhaps, after a couple of weeks, you start dressing like a Pearly Queen, eating jellied eels and going down the Strand to have a banana.
I'll never know. I'm sitting at Heathrow airport wiating for my flight to Glasgow.
Now where did I put my kilt and sporran? Och aye the noo.
How Radio Really Looks
In London today, meeting with Heads of Radio from Wales and Northern ireland and station managers from English Local Radio.
A good chance to share ideas - I've been talking about Scotland's Music 07 and being quizzed about the reaction to No Music Day - and enjoying glimpses of a multi-media project from Wales called The Coal House.
The biggest laugh of the afternoon, though, came from Northern Ireland colleagues who have been showing us some how an animator took extracts from Radio Ulster's output and imagined what was really goin on behind the scenes.
It's too close to the truth...
It Keeps Us Off The Streets
To the Headquarters of Highland Council this afternoon, to meet with the Convenor, Sandy Park, and the Director of Highland 2007 Fiona Hampton. I was there with our Senior Producer, Pennie Latin, to talk about the BBC's involvement in this year's celebration of Highland culture and how we might continue the partnership in the year ahead.
A good meeting with an action plan quickly decided but a few eyebrows raised when I told Fiona that it was good to finally meet with her indoors instead of out on the street.
You see, for some strange reason, I keep running into Fiona at all sorts of places that we'd both probably not be seen at. Like the chip shop, the burger joint and, one Sunday morning, we were both down in the dumps - or the Inverness Recycling Centre as it is officially known.
All of which goes to prove that Inverness - the fastest growing city in Europe - is still a small place really.
Four Go Mad In Stayfat Woods
Oh the joys of the 'great outdoors'! Who cares if the weather is wet and miserable...it is November after all. What were you expecting? A heat-wave? You know, you can take this global warming stuff too far.
Anyway I managed to drag the Zed clan away from their various goggle-boxes and we climbed the steep road through Slackbuie to Tomfat Woods, high on the southern slopes outside Inverness. So steep a climb that the car barely made it out of second gear.
Ah but then we parked, donned our waterproofs and set off through the mud and into the trees. I carried a small rucksack filled with 'emergency rations'. We were walking for five minutes when Zed-son asked if it was time to eat yet. Clearly he was having difficulty with the concept of an emergency and seemed to think this involved being two miles away from the biscuit tin.
We walked for another ten minutes. I led the way, pointing out some of the natural features along the route, such as mushy leaves and fallen pine cones. I then asked for silence so that we could eavesdrop on nature's own
"I can hear the A9," said Zed-son, with no thought for the magic of the moment. He then led a small - but successful - mutiny which forced me to disgorge the contents of my rucksack and distribute the 'rations'.
Fizzy cola, crisps. chocolate eggs and oatcakes. Yes, exactly the stuff they take up Everest in case the don't make it past base-camp.
And then we turned around, retraced our steps to the car park, and went home feeling good about ourselves.
Plus...we still had some oatcakes left over.
A Dramatic Article In The Herald
There's an article on our radio drama and comedy plans in today's Herald newspaper. It was written by Anne Simpson and based on an interview she conducted with me a couple of weeks ago.
Pudsey Still Going Strong
Children from across Britain – indeed from around the world – are still contacting BBC Radio Pudsey, our automated internet station which we devised for this year’s Children in Need appeal. It’s month-long life cycle comes to an end next week with Des Clarke sitting in the hot seat as the last of our four presenters.
I have to confess that we launched the project as a bit of an experiment and with no real idea if we’d be able to capture an audience within such a short time frame. But we should never have doubted the appeal of Pudsey himself . That bear has some kind of magnetic halo around him.
Friday night was the big Appeal Night for Children in Need and, as you can imagine, that’s when Radio Pudsey came into its own. The e-mails – hundreds of them – came flooding in and the vast majority came from children.
The little station’s target audience was the fund-raisers themselves and that’s why it continues throughout November. People across the country continue to donate cash weeks after the main event.
Of course BBC Radio Scotland was also doing its bit for Children in Need last Friday and, with apologies for being a little late, I’m finally posting a few photographs taken
in the entrance lobby at Pacific Quay where audiences were invited to watch some of our shows go out live.
Hope to see you there next year!
No Music Day - The View From Singapore
Proof, if you needed it, that people in Singapore have more sense than me.
and here's another debate on music from my favourite blogger Scott Adams.
No Music Day
I was interviewed by Radio Norway yesterday about our participation in No Music Day. We've also featured in the New York Times and, if you do a quick Google search, you'll see the project pop up in all sorts of websites around the world.
Not our idea, of course. It was the brainchild of KLF frontman Bill Drummond and we were persuaded to take part because this year we've been celebrating Scotland's Music 07 with special programmes and outisde broadcasts from all over the country.
BBC Radio Scotland strives to support live music as much as possible and our playlist is certainly different from commercial radio.
But we agreed with Bill that music is something you can easily take for granted.
It'[s become a cheap, downloadable commodity and it's something you appreciate much more when you have to live without it - even for a day.
On Radio Norway yesterday, the presenter asked me what reaction I would expect from the audience.
"Well normally we don't like to upset our listeners, " I said, "but in this case I will be disappointed if some are not outraged."
The End Of Broadcasting
Every month or so our Head of Technology, John Maxwell Hobbs, invites some guest speakers to host an informal "masterclass" for BBC staff at Pacific Quay. This morning we heard from two senior figures- Ken Devine and Dan Goldman - from a public television station in New York.
They described their own issues with public subscription and private sponsorship and the complicated relationship between their own station..WNET..and the parent PBS network.
They talked about how the people making the decisions about content distribution in America tend to be married to the idea of broadcasting, because that's been their own careeer route. The trouble is that younger audiences are giving traditional television a collective bodyswerve and spend most of their time consuming online content.
"You can't broadcast your way of out these problems," was Ken's memorable quote as he went on to explain his various plans for finding viewers through online portals.
"Of course," he said, "we're miles behind you at the BBC."
Which gave us all pause for thought.
BBC Radio Pudsey Goes Live
At six o'clock this morning a little bit of broadcasting history was made. That's when we went live with BBC Radio Pudsey, an internet radio station being produced by BBC Scotland for Children In Need.
The aim is to provide a platform for all the fund-raising activities that takes place in the run-up to the big day...and indeed in the weeks afterwards.
But it's also a bit of an experiment in what might be possible with this kind of automated, looped audio service.
Do give it a listen.You can access it through the following link...
A Break With The Past
My ten year old son broke his arm a couple of weeks ago. He was trying to reach the top of the school goal-posts, mis-timed his jump and fell in a twisted heap. I was in Glasgow at the time, waiting to be interviewed by Herald journalist Anne Simpson, but I felt a million miles away. I felt, in fact, like that Dad-With-His-Priorities-All-Wrong character that seems to crop up in fifty percent of the movies I see with my family. You know those films where the Career Dad has to make a decision between his kids or his boss and chooses his kids? But it all works out right in the end, because the Boss, too, has an epiphany and actually hands over his entire company to the Dad-Who-Did-The-Right-Thing.
Now, I don't think I said any of this to Anne Simpson. We were talking mainly about the new batch of dramas coming to BBC Radio Scotland next year, but my mind was elsewhere.
In fact my mind had drifted back to that day, forty years ago, when my sister pushed me off a low wall and I fell badly and broke my own left arm. The pain was horrific (well, I was only four) and then I was taken to Glasgow Royal Infirmary where I had to stay in overnight! Apparently the break was so bad that they had to re-break and re-set it and this required expert handling by the muscle-bound morning staff.
So I knew what my son was going through but... I wasn't there. I eventually spoke to him on the phone and promised him, as a special treat, a trip to the cinema when I got back to Inverness. I must have been looking forward to that more than him but, in the meantime, he got a better offer from a school-mate and I was told to stand down.
You see, this is what happens when you don't have your priorties right. Do you think my boss would understand?
And They Call It Puppy Love?
I return, by popular demand, to the adventures of Rascal, our Lhasa Apso puppy who has now been part of the Zed family home for 3 weeks. In that time he has been to the Vet four times prompting me to look at the mounting bills and remind the children that “a dog is for Christmas, not for life.”
I shouldn’t joke about such things because we’ve already had one veterinary scare after what we thought would his first routine check-up. All went well until the vet noticed that he didn’t have any teeth and, given that he was seven weeks old this was “very unusual.”
Mrs Zed then fell back on her academic training. She scoured the internet for research papers on canine dentistry and concluded that it wasn’t so unusual after all. Apparently Lhasas are slow developers in this regard. But, still not satisfied, she sought a second opinion.
The next vet was altogether more reassuring if, perhaps, a little less scientific.
He concluded that the teeth would probably arrive soon but that even if they didn’t we had no choice but to keep the dog because he was “too cute”.
Anyway the good news is that the teeth have indeed arrived and Rascal has been testing them out on my fingers. Today I got my own back as we went back to the vet for more injections, worming tablets and the insertion of a micro-chip locator under his skin. All of which we have to pay for as there is no NHS scheme for pets.
Never mind, Christmas is coming.
The Music Man
Yesterday morning I spent two hours in the company of Professor Nigel Osborne, a man who believes that music can transform lives and that politics and art make for a bad combination.
“That always makes me think of Hitler and his watercolours.” He said with hint of a smile.
The Professor was guest speaker as I joined colleagues from BBC Scotland for a day-long conference at the Stirling Management Centre on the campus of Stirling University. He describes himself as a ‘creative musician’ because he dislikes the term ‘composer’, but one glance at his career history tells you he’s being modest to the point of absurdity.
Over the past forty years he seems to have travelled the world and always seems to have been in the right place at the right time when history was being made. He was there in Poland prior to the launch of Solidarity. He was chums with Vaclav Havel as Czechoslovakia broke free from Soviet control. He describes his sense of frustration at watching the Bosnian war unfold on television and so went there to help the orphans who had been left traumatised by their experiences.
More recently he’s been working in Kampala and, indeed, with a special education project here in Scotland. He’s also been working on a music therapy device which will detect a person’s heart rate and breathing and then offer appropriate music to help regulate the rhythms of your body.
He told story after story and I’ll share two of them with you. The first concerned his time in Iran where he worked with students on a project that combined music and dance.
“Of course dancing is banned in Iran,” he explained, “so I had to go to the censor and ask for special permission to perform the work. The censor agreed saying the work could be described as expressive movement – not dance.”
And then there was his bafflement with the cult of John Lennon among those groups who were fighting for democracy in Eastern Europe. Many seemed to see Lennon as a hero because he had “suffered so much”.
The Professor explained that he had actually met John Lennon and that he was a nice guy. But he had been brought up in Liverpool by his Aunt and his suffering was nothing compared to the people behind the Iron Curtain.
“Then one night I found myself shouting ‘you’d be better off with Lenin than Lennon!’
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