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.
So When Did Banks Become Exciting?
On Inverness High Street this afternoon I noticed that a former bookshop is being transformed into a bank. There are wooden hoardings which proclaim this to be a matter of great excitement.
But tell me...other than when they were being blown to smithereens in old cowboy movies...when did banks merit the use of the word "exciting"?
Perhaps this one will be different. Maybe the cashiers will also be trained acrobats. Maybe the display unit on the cash machine will play music videos.
Perhaps the procedure for getting a personal loan will involve a roulette wheel.
Or maybe the bookshop was more exciting than all of this.
Holidays In Easterhouse
“I went on my summer holidays to Easterhouse,” said the man from the Glasgow Evening Times.
I waited for the punchline, but it never came. I was reminded of the late writer and broadcaster Frank Skerrit who once wrote that “you can tell if a letter comes from Easterhouse just by looking at the stamp. The Queen will be holding her nose.” Most of us who lived there at the time thought this was hilarious. Really.
Brian Beacom, however, is above such cheap gags. He explained that he had cousins who lived in Easterhouse and that he would spend school holidays with them when he was young. That got us talking about our respective childhoods. I described my own as “idyllic” despite one or two bizarre incidents.
“Such as?” said Brian, switching on his little tape recorder.
“Well there was the time someone pulled a gun on me on my way to school. I think it was an air pistol, but I didn’t hang around long enough to find out. Oh...and there was the night me and my pal were train-spotting and we got caught between two rival gangs wielding cavalry swords.”
I paused. This seemed like such an unlikely episode that I began to doubt my own memory. Brian confirmed it was very possible.
“They could have been bought as ornaments,” he explained, “then used as weapons.”
Indeed in photographs of Frankie Vaughan’s infamous weapons amnesty you can clearly see swords being placed in the sin bin.
It’s almost thirty years since I lived in Easterhouse, but reporters seem fascinated with this part of my biography. I often think it gets in the way of me talking about our radio plans but then, just the other day, something happened to make me realise it’s no bad thing to be reminded where you come from.
I was walking down a flight of stairs at Pacific Quay when I came across a group of schoolgirls being given an official tour. They were leaning over a balcony looking at David Robertson in the newsroom.
I asked their tour guide which school they were from. One of the girls hesitated and then answered.
“Lochend Community School,” she said.
“Oh I know that, “I replied, “It’s in Easterhouse. Not far from where I used to live.”
And there was something about her look of astonishment that told me I had made a big mistake.
I should never have laughed at that Frank Skerrit joke.
Meeting Jimmy McGregor
In our rooftop restaurant at Pacific Quay this morning I spotted Tony Currie talking to (another) broadcasting legend. It was none other than Jimmy McGregor. He's been in recording material for one of our new audio zones (details soon) but I took the opportunity to shake his hand and say hello. I also asked him if he was still walking the hills.
"Yes, " he said, "but the trouble isn't getting up the hills, it's getting back down again."
He explained that gravity tended to put a greater strain on his joints.
I told him the story of a friend who once sprained her ankle at the top of Ben Hope and discovered that the only way she could make it back down again was to walk backwards. It was either that or calling the emergency services and she was just too embarrassed to do that.
Jimmy seemed quite astonished by this story and sympathised with my friend because he knows that Ben Hope is a fair old climb. He seemed equally astonished when I told him that I had immediately sold this story to the Daily Record. This was in my early days as a journalist when I had little cash and few scruples.
"Shy Scots lass walks backwards down a mountain," I explained, "it was too good to resist."
Electric Braes And Gassy Bananas
It’s that time of year when nervous, twitching school teachers across Scotland are told to trade their corduroy jacket for a white one with extra long sleeves. I refer, of course, to the season of the school trip. I’ve suggested we cover this on the MacAulay & Co Show because, if I’m right, thousands of listeners will have their own memories to share and exorcise. Call it communal counselling if you like. An on-air support group. Just another example of your public service BBC in action.
Let me start the ball rolling with my own experiences. My name is Jeff and I’m a survivor. As your gentle applause fades, let me transport you back to the early 1970’s. It was the era of MB bars, Whizzer & Chips and Stylophones. Junior Showtime was on the STV and little Lena Zavaroni was duetting with Glynn Poole. (boy did I want to slap his smug little face). Over on BBC 1 the Blue Peter team were explaining how you could have hours of fun by collecting pebbles at the seaside and then washing them at home. Who needed to sniff glue when Mother Nature offered this kind of excitement?
All you had to do was find a beach.
That’s where the school trip came in. Glasgow schools invariably bussed their children to the Ayrshire coast in the hope that a few hours on a windy seafront would expunge twelve months of industrial pollution. In those days soot was one of the five recommended food groups.
Our school favoured Ayr or Troon as reachable destinations. I recall that parents of the better-off pupils had to fork out cash for this annual treat. There was the veiled threat that anyone who hadn’t stumped up the money would be left behind doing really hard sums in the Headmaster’s office. In the end, of course, even the poor kids who hadn’t paid were allowed on the bus. This caused a brief flurry of resentment among the rest of us and sowed the seeds of Mrs Thatcher’s eventual rise to power.
But I digress.
Negotiations about seating positions on the bus usually began a week or two before the actual trip.
“Who are you sitting beside on the trip to Troon?” became a frequently posed question. I liken it to American High School kids asking each other who they have invited to the Senior Prom. No one wanted to be left without a partner. This would invite ridicule and, for the boys, the possibility that one might be forced to sit next to a girl. The girls, it should be said, tended to be much more sensible about the whole business. They would behave themselves – indulging in whispered verbal assassinations of classmates - while the boys ran up and down the aisle stealing sandwiches from each other and generally messing about until a red-faced teacher would bellow a “final warning” that anymore nonsense would result in the bus heading back to the school where the Headmaster was already devising some sums that were even harder than the last lot. This “final warning” tended to be repeated six or seven times on each leg of the journey.
The journey itself had its own moments of excitement…even the interior of the bus impressed us. Hitherto most of us had travelled on big yellow and green double decker Corporation buses, complete with slashed and repaired vinyl upholstery. School trips tended to involve a single-decker “luxury” coach where, to our astonishment, the seats appeared to be covered in carpets. Carpets, I tell you! And this was when most of us boasted that we had linoleum in our bedrooms.
The journey also had moments of sheer magic. Once we diverted through the Ayrshire countryside so that we could experience the famous Electric Brae. This is a kind of optical illusion produced by the skewed landscape. The idea is that you switch off the engine and your car or bus appears to roll uphill all by itself. Many who witnessed this phenomenon became hysterical and lost control of their bladders. Others – and I was one – couldn’t actually see what the fuss was about but pretended to see the illusion anyway. I can never get those Magic Eye things they do in newspapers either. Unless they say it’s a sign of intelligence in which case I pretend to see those too.
On arrival in Troon or Ayr, we would we given a stern warning about our behaviour and a spiel about how we were representing the school and, oh, more stuff about hard sums waiting for us in the classroom. Then we would disembark with the kind of restrained excitement shown by the Zulu warriors who charged at Rorke’s Drift. Only the promise of food could get us back into line and this came in the form of school packed lunches. Now, my mind may be playing tricks on me, but I could swear these packed lunches involved a carton of warm milk and a cold mutton pie.
Yes, that must be true because I remember we all gave our pies to one of the very poor kids who we quaintly termed a “grubber” He tried to eat the lot but failed and so we fed the leftover grub to the gulls. They would swoop down, lift entire pies in their beaks and then glide over the town dropping globules of greasy mutton on unsuspecting pensioners.
Ayr was a decent enough location for a school trip. It had a beach and funfair and lots of chip shops. I played my first and only game of bingo there and won a table lamp…as well as some hard stares from mutton-stained pensioners sitting next to me.
Troon would have been fine in the sunshine, but there was little for us to do there when it rained. I recall the entire class cramming into a steamy amusement arcade where, having frittered our pocket-money away in the penny falls, we spent the rest of the afternoon watching our teachers play ‘Pong’, little realising we were witnessing the birth of a billion pound video games industry.
The worst disaster was the year our teachers decided we were in need of a bit of cultural enlightenment and set a course for Culzean Castle. This beautiful historic property once provided a home for General Eisenhower. It’s managed by the National trust for Scotland and I’m afraid those gentile ladies from the NTS did not relish the prospect of thirty oiks from the east end of Glasgow rampaging around their pristine rooms. We were allowed to enter on a staggered basis, two at a time. After that were allowed to make our way across the castle grounds and down to the little beach below the cliff tops.
Well, you can imagine how much time each pair spent in the actual castle. Put a stopwatch on us and you’d have had contenders for the Commonwealth Games.
Finally, there was the journey home. This was usually a more subdued affair, but with frequent stop-offs for vomiting. It was only on the way home that we tended to open the little bags our parents had given us for the journey. These usually contained sandwiches and bananas. Of course, after so many hours baking on a bus, the bread was crisp to the touch and the bananas were black and producing enough methane to power a small country.
But all in all, I take my hat off to those teachers who were prepared to supervise such trips. Without them we wouldn’t have all these wonderful childhood memories.
Feel free to add yours.
A Voice From The Loft
Our new series, A House With a Past attracted this positive review from the Guardian's radio critic Elisabeth Mahoney. I'm glad because our Features teams are building a repuation for themselves in this area. Programmes like Magnetic Memories, Digging Up Your Roots and Tracing Your Roots (for BBC Radio 4) seem to be capturing the interest of audiences who have a fascination with social and family history.
A House With A Past gives you the chance to be your own property detective and there are even some videos available on the website to accompany the series.
As for me, well, with the exception of a crumbling Victorian student bedsit in Cardiff, I don't think I've ever lived in a house that was more than thirty years old.
Not much scope for ghosts or historic happenings there.
My sister once lived in the top floor of a tenement in Glasgow's Dennistoun area. She came across tangible evidence of its previous inhabitants when she found an audio casette in the loft. When she played it she heard a woman's voice describe some recent tragic events that had befallen her family and then outline some of the alterations that she and her husband were planning for the flat.
This might have made an interesting little piece for Magnetic Memories had my sister not immediately tossed the tape in the bin.
"Too creepy," was her verdict.
Nazis With The Laughing Face
“What do you call those German guys?” asked Zedson, as we sat in the foyer of the Vue cinema in Inverness, watching the overhead monitors screen the trailer for the Indiana Jones movie.
“Are they Nantcies? Nancys?”
“Nazis”, I corrected him, “The Nancys are those girls on the telly who are competing for a part in Oliver!”
But his mistake prompted a rather tasteless flight of fancy in which we imagined Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber auditioning swastika-clad cabaret artists for the revival of a Mel Brooks musical. We then watched the trailer for Ironman and speculated about an alternative plot in which the leading character could press shirts faster than a speeding bullet. Then we saw the big diorama display for this summer’s sequel to The Mummy and we invented a plot about an ultra-caring parent who saves the world using only cuddles and bedtime stories. I did the rasping voice-over for that one:
“It’s never too late…to be tucked in!”
All of which seemed much more logical than the Indiana Jones film itself. I mean, don’t get me wrong, we enjoyed all the action sequences…even though the sword-play was reminiscent of Pirates of the Caribbean. Zedson gave the movie nine out of ten, which is generous for him.
But on the way home he was still confused about the actual story. I couldn’t help much, mainly because I’d nipped back to the foyer half-way through in search of coffee. Or anything with caffeine in it.
Still, nine out of ten. Just one point deducted.
Not enough Nancys, I guess.
The Story I Forgot To Tell The Press & Journal
I hadn't realised that Susan was writing a piece for the paper's jobs section, otherwise I might have offered some more practical advice on how to begin a career in broadcasting. I might also have shared the following story about how I almost missed by big chance.
You see, halfway though my post-graduate course in journalism, I was sent on a two week student placement to Moray Firth Radio in Inverness. The news editor at the time was the legendary Mike Hurry who probably taught me more in that two weeks than I had learned in the rest of my time at University.
On Friday nights, Mike would invite the news team to join him for a drink in the Clachnaharry Inn. We'd have a couple of pints, some stovies and then retire to the back room for a game of pool. On my second visit to that pub , after the last day of my placement, he made me an offer. He said that, if I played pool and beat him in just one game, then he would offer me a full-time job.
Well, as you can imagine, I played my socks off. I studied every angle for every ball..chalked my cue at every turn and approached the game with the kind of mathematical integrity that you seldom see outside the realms of NASA.
And, of course, I was soundly beaten. Thrashed. Don't think I even sunk one ball. Yet, a few months later, after I had graduated, Mike gave me a call and offered me that job anyway.
Now, if only the BBC's recruitment policies were so simple.
A seven o’clock flight from Glasgow this morning got me to London in time for the start of the Radio 3.0 Conference, organised by Broadcast magazine. One of the first speakers was Bob Shennan, former Controller of BBC Radio Five Live and who is now in charge of Channel 4 Radio. Everyone wanted to know more about his plans, but he was giving little away other than that he believed there should be more to public service radio than just the BBC.
In the tea-break he came over for a quick word and told me that the one thing he had taken with him from the BBC is the need to ensure that his new station reflected the whole of the U.K. including Scotland. That should be good news for the independent producers working here.
The rest of the conference was interesting but there was very little that was new.
A panel discussion on the future of DAB radio tended to rehearse the familiar arguments for and against. Trevor Dann, from the radio academy, was keen to stay neutral on the subject and argued that content was more important than technology. He got one of the biggest laughs of the day when he described the media habits of London girls and how they wanted information about Hollywood celebrities as well as the location of local drug dealers.
In another session we heard about the new generation of digital radios which will combine DAB with FM and also WiFi internet. Sounds ideal.
I had sympathy for one of the speakers who got himself into a fankle when talking about glasses that were either half-empty of half-full. He couldn’t make up his mind which one he meant and at one point said “let’s be optimistic and look at the glass as half-empty.”
I not sure we heard much of what he said next as we tried to solve this riddle.
I woke up this morning and officially became the father of a teenage daughter. Suddenly and with only thirteen years warning. I mean, how the heck did this happen? It seems like only ten minutes ago I was teaching her how to ride a bike. Five minutes ago I was spooning baby rice into her mouth. Two minutes ago I was a teenager myself.
If the horror stories of other parents are to be believed, I'm in for it now. Sulks, rebellion, bad boys in fast cars...that's all I have to look forward to. After that it will be student debt, rehab, wedding expenses...why, any time now she'll start objecting to me writing about her in this blog. I can see litigation, court cases, public scandals.
I wonder if I can keep her on the straight and narrow with the promise of a new bike?
By popular demand I bring you the latest photograph of the Clyde Arc - Glasgow's famous Squinty Bridge. I'm no expert but it looks to me like they may be close to completing the repairs. There was a bloke on an elevated platform dabbing paint here and there.
More news soon
There's nothing we radio bods hate more than dead air. Yes silence may well be golden, but when it happens unexpectedly then time seems to stretch. Seconds feel like minutes and minutes like hours.
Today our Inverness studios were hit by the kind of combination of problems that engineers liken to your chances of winning the lottery. Well, check your numbers folks because they all happened this morning. Power failures, computer failures, phone lines dead.
It wiped out most of the morning news bulletins and might also have been the cause of weird transmission gaps during other programmes. I say 'might' because these things have to be investigated and that takes time. In any case these problems all stem from the refurbishment work happening in the Inverness building and that's finally coming to an end.
Although, looking at the latest photograph, that seems a wee bit hard to believe.
Those Ugly Scenes At The Big Match
I was listening to our commentary team at the Inverness-St Mirren game but, to be frank, they missed the big story. Sure we got a ball-by-ball description of the actual game and, yes, they captured all the drama of this thrilling, goal-less battle for ninth place in the Scottish Premier League. But they didn't tell you about the ugly scenes off the pitch.
I was there, however, and it's time you knew the truth.
For starters, there was too much drink taken by fans...mainly Bovril and fizzy cola – and there was anger at the snack bar (openly huffy faces and pouting) when, just after half-time, a small red-headed boy bought the last macaroni pie.
I personally witnessed the obscene spectacle of the club mascot Nessie wandering around the ground with his baggy trousers slipping down his waist, exposing his green furry nether regions to small children.
As the sun shined it was obvious that some of the younger fans would fall victim to the temptations of the ice cream van. I saw three teenage girls return to their seats, high on vanilla flavouring and with hands dripping with raspberry sauce.
An upset was on the cards, albeit a stomach upset.
I tell you, this heady cocktail of sunshine, fun, food and football is only fit for families.
If only other clubs could be like this.
Many years ago I found myself spending nights by the bed of a convalescing patient while reading aloud from a Stephen King novel. The book was Pet Sematary, the story of a father who brings his dead son back to life after discovering an ancient burial ground just beyond a pet's graveyard in some eerie woods. My late-night reading sessions would usually last an hour and, when the patient started to nod off or snore, I would climb on my bicycle and ride home. My route would take me past one of those big municipal cemeteries in the east end of Glasgow and,as you can imagine, I tended to pedal just a little faster at that point...especially when the street lights failed.
Of course, thinking back about those midnight rides through the east end, I realise I had a lot more to fear from the living than the deceased. But if my luck ran out there was always the chance I would be set upon by a gang of dead neds. I mean, we're all familiair with zombie movies...but imagine zombies on Buckfast! And what if they also had dead Rottweilers?
I hadn't thought about any of this until the other night when I persuaded the Zedettes to join me on a sunny evening stroll through the Ness Islands in Inverness. They, in turn, persuaded me we should take the dog with us. Just as well really, because lately I've been trying to distance myself from him. Well, what with the current credit squeeze I tend to regard pet food and vet bills as the kind of luxury items we may have to sacrifice so that I can continue to afford beer.
But then we came across a little pet cemetery. The Ness Islands are a favourite haunt of dog walkers and, it seems, they have been for over a hundred years. One stone - marking the final resting place of "Ruffie" dated back to the turn of the last century, while others for 'Mac' and 'Lucky' had been placed over the past thirty years or so.
It made me look at our wee dog and think what joy he has brought to our own little family. I made a mental note to place more value on his every bark and sniff.
I just wish I could remember his name.
Power Of The Press
This morning's BBC Radio Scotland Investigation programme looked at the "crisis" facing the Scottish newspaper industry. Former Scotsman Editor, John McGurk described how falling sales and falling advertsing revenue are forcing many newspaper owners to cuts costs or seek new sources of finance.
The latest blow comes from local authorities who are planning to move their recruitment advertising on to a special website. Apparently the Scottish Government may have to do the same thing if auditors decide that it would be a waste of public money to do anything else. Newspapers are following that trend and many now have sophisticated online editions.
Now, I'm a enthusiast for most things online but I have to confess that I would miss actual paper newspapers if, as predicted, they disappear within a decade.
But we've heard the same gloomy prediction for books and, frankly, I've always thought that was nonsense.
The truth is that no one in the media - press, radio, tv - really knows what the future holds. We're all hedging more bets than a bookie in a maze.
Newspapers doomed? Next you'll be telling me that global warming is for real.
What I Miss About My Old Job
This morning I was sitting in the office in Inverness being interviewed on the phone by Susan Welsh, a reporter with the Press & Journal newspaper. She's also based in Inverness and I had offered to call in at her office but she declined - possibly because of my reputation for demanding cream cakes with menaces.
The interview had been suggested by our press and publicity office as part of my efforts to spread the word about the new schedule, new drama, the online audio zones and so on. As it turned out Susan seemed more interested in a human interest piece about my Polish background and my decision to relocate back to Inverness.
She asked about my early career as a news reporter and if there was anything I missed about my old job. I thought about this for a moment and then realised that I did miss the thrill of chasing a strory and getting out and about with a tape recorder and microphone.
One thing I absolutely don't miss is appearing on the radio. I know this because our Zones producer, Elizabeth Clark, asked me to present next week's edition of the comedy zone. It's themed around multi-award winning Edi Stark and her interviews with top comedians and comedy actors. As well as paying tribute to Edi, Lizzy thought it would also be a chance for me to get hands-on experience of our new digital studios and see what was really involved in compiling the content of each zone.
I wont tell you how many takes were required for me to get things right, but if she ever puts together one of those blooper tapes then there should be enough material for me to have my own themed night.
Judge for yourself. I appear at half-midnight on Friday night - Medium Wave and am then available for online ridicule via the website for seven days.
Johnny Is On The Ball
I've changed the desk I use at Pacific Quay and now sit outside the nest of radio studios on the fourth floor. It means I get to see all the guests coming in for our programmes and, this morning, I found myself face to face with Johnny Ball, veteran presenter of Think Of A Number and various science programmes for children. I was reasonably excited by this encounter but our business manager Jenni Minto was almost hysterical. You see, her background is accountancy so Johnny Ball is to her what Pele would be to the guys in our sports team.
Johnny was appearing on the MacAulay & Co Show and then, at lunchtime, he was giving a talk to our programme-makers about his experiences in television.
People were leaning over balconies to get a glimpse of him and hear what he had to say. He worked with minimal notes and just a simple flip-chart with ink markers. He had some controversial views on environmental technology such as solar panels and wind farms...which he said were useless because they were so inefficient.
"solar panels in Scotland.., " he said, and left us to fill in the blanks.
As for television presentation, he thought the key to talent was always in the eyes of the person on screen. If they had that sparkle in their eyes and could communicate their passion without using slides and fancy animation, then they would be able to hold the attention of the audience.
He certainly proved that point today.
The Legendary Peter Fraser
I spent just under an hour this evening being interviwed by a local legend. Peter Fraser MBE came to the BBC at Pacific Quay so that he could record our conversation as I guided him around the studios and offices. It's intended as a programme piece for Playback, which provides talking newspapers and magazines for blind listeners.
Well, as it turned out. there wasn't much I could tell Peter that he didn't already know. In fact every time we turned a corner there would be someone who knew him or had worked for him. He let slip that some of our staff actually record regular items for Playback.
If you click on this link you'll be able to read about the background and history of the service and, indeed, about its long associations with BBC people. It was interesting to hear Peter describe how they have moved from sending out returnable cassettes and then to CDs and now the programmes are available online via their website.
At that point we realised we were both engaged in this great new online audio adventure. I told him about our Zones and he told me about his downloads.
It will be interesting to hear how he'll edit our conversation in a way that doesn't sound like a geek-fest.
And The Winner Is...
We picked up two awards at the big Sony Radio Academy bash in London tonight. Give Me A Voice won silver in the 'Community' category and Edi Stark emerged with a bronze the the five-way tussle for best 'Speech Broadcaster'.
The judges had great things to say about both entries and you can read those here together with a list of all the other winners.
So a good night, lots of famous names and voices around in the Great Room of the Grosvenor House hotel. There was a moment when I became convinced we were being stalked by Jason Donovan. Have a look at the figure lurking in the background of these two photograps of our Inverness trio.
My favourite moment was when Tony Benn appeared on stage with a few questions for broadcasters. What, he wondered aloud, is the difference between a terrorist and a freedom fighter? What is an insurgency? Who exactly is the 'international community'?
Least favourite moment was when Chris Moyles ruined a perfectly sweet situation. He'd won the breakfast show award and the organisers had secretly arranged for his parents to appear on stage and give him his gong. His Mum read out a lovely tribute and explained how much she loved her son. Awww.
But then Chris launched into a foul-mouthed rant about the event itself and some of the other nominees in his category. All this in front of his parents!
You're never too old for a spanking, was my thought.
So we were laughing and joking on the flight to Gatwick and I was telling the story about the time we went to the Sony Awards and the airline lost some luggage and one of our producers had to do a mad dash down Oxford Street to buy a new frock and shoes for the big night.
What a laugh! Until, that is, we got to Gatwick and 87 pieces of luggage failed to materialise on the baggage belt...including the one belonging to my PA, Joanne.
A man in a yellow t-shirt had the words "I'm here to help" emblazoned across his chest, but he didn't see to know what had become of the missing bags. He told the thirty or so distraught passengers they would have to enquire at the airline desk.
So, off we all trooped. I explained to Joanne that we operate a 'buddy' system at the BBC and there was no way we would leave her behind. At least, not until the bar opened at the awards ceremony.
The airline staff made phone calls to Inverness airport and confirmed the bag had been put on the plane...but that someone had forgotten to take them off. We all trooped back to the baggage belt where the man in the yellow t-shirt took refuge inside a little cubby hole and tried to hide the 'here to help' slogan.
Finally, after many calls back and forth, the missing bags appeared. All was well and the smile returned to Joanne's face.
But, as I explained, it wouldn't have mattered. She could easily have turned up at the ceremony in t-shirt and jeans.
People would have simply assumed she was one of the celebrities.
Off To The Sonys
A little group of us from the BBC's Inverness office is just about to catch a plane to London. We're off to the Sony Radio Academy Awards in Mayfair - a posh, black tie affair which always degenerates into a verbal bun-fight by the end of the night. There's a certain point in the evening where the assembled big-wigs from the radio industry begin to resemble well-dressed football hooligans. I'm not joking. The whole horror of the event was perfectly captured by Paul Donovan's Radio Waves column in this week's Sunday Times. I think he suggests that televising the event might curb the tendency of high-profile presenters to litter their acceptances speech with colourful lanaguage. I'm not so sure. Radio people, who sepnd so much their lives watching their 'p's and 'q's and 'f's seem to need this annual outlet for their dark side. This year I'm taking some carbolic soap to wash out some mouths.
BBC Radio Scotland is up for two awards - Edi Stark for Speech Broadcaster and Give Me A Voice for the Community Award. I was one of this judges for this year, but not for either of those two categories. It was an interesting experience. There were five of us on the panel and we had more than seventy entries to listen to. Despite that, and desite the fact that we listened in isolation, there was remarkable unanimity on the winners.
As for tonight, well, fingers crossed that we come back with a gong or two. Either way I should be able to report back tomorrow with some juicy gossip and maybe some shocking photographs.
Let's hope neither involves me.
It's In The Bag
Sometimes you switch on the radio and it's almost like the presenter has been spying on you. Today, for example, I got in the car and heard Lesley Riddoch talking about these proposed laws to ban the sale of plastic carrier bags. Uncanny, because I'd just been buying my lunch in the Inverness branch of Marks & Spencer (roast chicken, fruit salad, chocolate-covered shortbread) and had been given the third degree after requesting a bag to carry it in.
"You do realise we'll have to charge you for that bag?" said the bloke on the cash register.
"No I didn't but that's fine."
"Well..if you're sure.."
I'm not complaining about the cost. Well, not much. But it was the look he gave me and the tone of his voice. I might as well have been asking to buy heavy ammunition. I mean...it's just a plastic bag. I'm not trying to destroy the world.
But then that's the point. Apparently these plastic bag are going to be the end of us. And, to be fair, the M&S bloke was very polite to me after I'd paid for my food. He pointed to the little rack of paper napkins and cutlery and told me to help myself.
It was plastic cutlery, of course.
The Magic Millions
The latest listening figures for all U.K. radio stations are published this morning. You can guarantee that every station manager in the country will use mathematical wizardry to find something positive to say about them...and I'm no exception. So, let's do the sums:
In the first three months of 2008 BBC Radio Scotland had more than a million listeners a week. That's up by 65,000 on the previous three months, but not quite as high as the eight-year-high figure we peaked at twelve months ago. Still, in such a competitive market we're very pleased and a big thank you to every one of you. Our share of the audience (9.6%) is also up compared to both last quarter and the previous year and, indeed, the figures are very good for most BBC radio stations available in Scotland.
So it's very good news for us and allows me to be candid in my reaction. If the figures were going in the other direction you might suspect that I was trying to lessen the importance of a bad set of results. You see, the trouble with these figures is that they are a pretty blunt instrument when it comes to making future plans. They gives us a snapshot of what was happening three months ago. The truth is we can really only make educated guesses as to why the audience has grown and we always have to do further research to discover anything useful. A programme with a smaller number of listeners might also be one that is highly valued by that audience. For a public service broacaster that kind of information is vital. It just doesn't make for very sexy headlines.
For commercial radio, the Rajar figures are crucial. They determine how much they can charge for advertising and, in some cases, they can influence the share price of an entire company and lead to takeover bids. That's scary.
For me the interesting figures these days are coming from our own online server logs and they tell us how many people are listening via the internet. They tell us which programmes are most popular and allow us to map trends on a day to day basis. We can also tell how many of those online listeners live in the U.K. - licence fee payers - compared to those logging on around the world. The level of detail available is incredible...at least compared with the quarterly Rajar figures.
I could probably pinpoint the exact listening habits of one particular female listener in Scottsdale, Arizona...but frankly, Nancy, that's none of my business.
I can tell you that this website - BBC Radio Scotland, not just this page - now gets well over a million page impressions a month and that doesn't include the millions more for our news and sport pages. In those areas we've seen growth of about 44% a year.
So...a million a week for the radio station...a million a month for the website. I wonder how long it will be before those figures are the same. Gosh, I wish I'd stuck in at maths.
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