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Archives for August 2008

Farewell Xfm Scotland

Jeff Zycinski | 02:35 UK time, Friday, 29 August 2008



My former Moray Firth Radio colleague (and new best chum) Jim Gellatly presented his last show for Xfm Scotland last night. The station - our near neighbours at Pacific Quay - is soon to be rebranded by its new owners and it seems they'll be chasing a different kind of listener.

These are tough times for the industry and, yes, there is a lot of rivarly between commercial radio and the BBC...but those of us who work on the wireless are always sad to see any station bite the dust.

Anyway, I spotted this very funny benind-the-scenes video on You Tube, and thought it was worth sharing with you as a kind of salute to the X men and women.

Oh...and we do exactly the same as this at BBC Radio Scotland!

We Knew That Stuff Backwards

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Jeff Zycinski | 20:22 UK time, Wednesday, 27 August 2008



Sitting in another BBC meeting today, I was reminded of French people regurgitating snails. It was a vivid image from my childhood and I can remember exactly where I saw it. Room 17 - a special classroom tucked behind the school stage - was where the teachers screened educational films on a big, whirring cine projector. Sometimes we saw Disney films in which an irritating Jiminy Cricket warned us against the dangers of forest fires. I suppose this was a precaution in case Glasgow Corporation decided to plant a huge forest in the east end of the city...during a heat wave. Others films depicted the lifestyles and cultures of faraway lands, like Perthshire, Edinburgh and France. Always, always, when the film finished, we would clamour for it to be run backwards. That's how we saw those stereotype French families stuffing themselves with snails and then, with much hilarity, we watched those snails being barfed back onto the plate.

How things have changed! At today's meeting my colleague Nick Simons (pictured above with his hero Johnny Ball) clicked on his MacBook and screened a demonstration of the educational goodies contained within his BBC Learning website. There were films, radio programmes, revision tips and games. It was spellbinding and, when he finished his presentation, we gave him a round of applause. He had also thought to bring biscuits, which helped.

Teachers these days use electronic whiteboards to dazzle and inspire their pupils. The children even get the chance to make their own movies and slideshows and then display them to their classmates.

The closest we ever got to that was when the movie snapped in the projector and we all made rude hand shadows on the screen. An art in itself, of course, and let's hope that kind of creativity hasn't disappeared completely.

I'm all for progress, mind you, because there's no point going backwards. Unless it's really funny.

Plastic? Oh No...Banned!

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Jeff Zycinski | 23:08 UK time, Monday, 25 August 2008



New BBC rules on chronology mean I have to begin this particular blog entry with the most boring incident from my day. It involves a trip to the Black Isle and a stop-off at a late-night grocery store in Avoch. You see, I've been making the most of these lovely summer evenings by taking the Zedettes on post-homework drives to places of historic interest. They'll thank me for it when they're older. Well, once they're through therapy they will.

As you might imagine, these vaguely educational trips come with the added incentive of in-car snacking. That's why we called in at a shop in Avoch. We had to replenish our stock of crisps, milk-shakes and extra strong mints. Necessities, we call them. We stripped the shelves and bundled our booty on the counter. I handed over the cash, collected my change and then stared at the man on the till. He blinked first.

"Do you want a carrier bag?"
"Yes please."
"Hmmm...they're phasing these out, you know."
"Really? Well then I'll just have to give up shopping."
"Hmmm. No, we'll just have to go back to the old ways."

The old ways? What can he be talking about? The old ways before plastic carrier bags or the old ways before late night mini-supermarkets? Are we going to bring back bartering? I mean, for goodness sake, why do I have to put up with these episodes of self-righteousness every time I pop out to the shops without a wicker basket strung on my back? I mean, they lecture you about plastic bags but they still sell shrink-wrapped apples!

Sorry, got carried away there. Let me get back on track and tell you that tonight's destination was actually the Clootie Well just outside Munlochy. It really is one of the creepiest places we've been. The idea, as most of you know, is that you can cure a sick friend or relative by dipping a piece of their clothing into the well and then hanging it from a nearby tree. As a result, the surrounding trees are festooned with rags and desperate messages of prayer and hope. Many have been there for years.


The origins of the Clootie Well are explained in a helpful notice erected by the Forestry Commission who manage the site. Yet even here, the work of the plastic police is evident. The notice explains that only environmentally friendly materials should be hung from the branches because - and I kid you not - "the Celtic spirits might not know what to do with nylon, polyester and plastic."

I wonder if ghosts go shopping.


The Empty Chairs

Jeff Zycinski | 15:24 UK time, Friday, 22 August 2008



Can you help us solve a riddle? Why do chairs appear to be breeding in our Inverness studios? Let me explain:

Two weeks ago, as part of the refurbishment project, the old, battered chairs from our main radio studio were taken away. In their place we were given some nearly-new chairs that had previously accomodated the bottoms of BBC staff at Queen Margaret Drive in Glasgow.

I pause here to speculate on the legacy of programmes that may have been created from people sitting down on the job on these very chairs? No, best not to name any names. Let's move on.

Anyway, the old chairs went away, the nearly new ones came in. We we're told they took away the same number as they gave us...yet, here's the puzzle, we can't seem to fit them all into the studio. At least. not when we have a band in studio as with today's edition of The Highland Cafe.

Why is this? They don't look any bigger, but perhaps they are. Perhaps chairs designers have gradually and secretly been forced to accomodate bigger buttocks. It's like those shops that put smaller size labels on bigger garments so that we lardies feel better about buying them.

So now we're stuck with all these extra chairs and, from time to time, they have to be scattered around our new reception area like a small mob of comfortable Daleks.

It's a bum deal.

Let's Not Be Sniffy About Caley FM

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Jeff Zycinski | 11:34 UK time, Thursday, 21 August 2008



The bloke on the right of this photograph had to be medicated before he met me. His name is Patric Donnachie and he's allergic to the BBC. He walked through the doors of our Pacific Quay H.Q. and his eyes began to water and his nose began to run . A kindly passer-by offered him one of her anti-histamine tablets. At least, that's what she told him it was.

Suitably doped up he began to tell me about his new podcasting venture for Glasgow Caledonian University. It's to be called Caley FM and will allow students to make their own programmes about music, comedy and, well, all sorts really. He asked my advice.

"You'd better not tell Inverness Caledonian Thistle football club about your choice of name" was my first point, "because they might be thinking of something similar."

Anyway, I explained that I was often at a loose end during my Wednesday nights in Glasgow and offered to lend a hand if he needed it.

The man on left of the photograph, by the way, is Jordan Martindale. He's working for the University Alumni department and is trying to track down former students like myself. He asked me if I had any fond memories of my days on campus.
I could recall the many hours sitting in the student union bar, but precious little about the lectures or the library.

"I'll get back to you on that," I told him.

The Bomb

Jeff Zycinski | 23:13 UK time, Wednesday, 20 August 2008



It was a bomb. Right there in the middle of Inverness, a bomb, with one second left on the timer. I was rushing for an early morning train when I saw it and I couldn't help but stop and stare and take this photograph.

Tasteless guerilla marketing? Who knows? Do you?

Now Hear This

Jeff Zycinski | 01:20 UK time, Tuesday, 19 August 2008


Sometimes I get home from work and tell Mrs Zed what happened at the office that day. Sometimes she doesn't believe me. She goes silent, her jaw drops and her mouth just sort of hangs open like an oven door. Well, like our oven door. I must get that seen to.

"Today we had our fortnightly meeting of all the BBC Scotland department heads and a guest speaker arrived and told us to munch on shortbread fingers while pressing the palms of our hands tightly against our ears."

This is a true story. It happened just last week when Richard Bates - who works with the RNID and other organisations - came to talk to us about the problems some listeners and viewers have in hearing our programmes. 8.3 millions listeners and viewers in the U.K., to be precise. It's all to do with sound frequencies. As a general rule, children and teenagers can hear a wider range of frequencies than people in their late forties, fifties and older. That's when we lose the ability to hear the higher frequencies. One consequence of that is we can't make out speech if there is too much background music, or a competing soundtrack of effects.

We programme makers tend to mix the audio in sophisticated studios with top-of-the-range sound systems. Listeners and viewers, on the other hand, might only have a tiny mono speaker or a duff TV set. Others might be listening in cars or watching the telly in noisy rooms. You can see how the problems begin to mount up.

Then again, music under dialogue is often used to create a mood or emotional impact. Get that wrong, however, and listeners will be left in a bad mood with anger being the only emotion provoked. If you can't imagine how bad it might sound then try watching telly while crunching on shortbread and pressing your hands against your ears. Yes, that was the point of that little exercise. Not so silly after all.

Anyway, since last week, I've been making a list of some of the possible problem areas on BBC Radio Scotland. Music under headline sequences in news programmes, presenters speaking over the travel sting, and the opening menu of a live programme with audience applause running underneath.

Oh, and we've found another problem too. Apparently there's a high pitched tone that sometimes appears on our DAB transmissions. We oldies who run things around here had no idea it was happening. A couple of teenagers e-mailed us about it.

Now doesn't that take the biscuit.

Corpses, Whores And Cesspools

Jeff Zycinski | 11:31 UK time, Monday, 18 August 2008



They say you can tell a lot about people by the books they read, but you can probably tell more about yourself by those that people lend you. A few weeks ago, for example, I met the comedian Susan Morrison. She had come to Inverness by train and had spent the journey reading a paperback edition of The Ghost Map

"Here, you'll enjoy this, " she said, fishing the book from her bag and handing it to me, "it's all about cholera, cesspools and contaminated water in Victorian London. "

"Thanks," I said, "I'll read it, but I'm more of a bubonic plague man, myself. You know, boils and stuff."

Then, in Glasgow last week, my colleague Gareth Hydes handed me Mary Roach's book Stiff. It's all about dead bodies and, well, what happens to them in the hands of medical students, morticians and the people who research car crashes.

I think he had heard me talk about how much I had enjoyed the series Six Feet Under having bought the lot in a box-set frenzy.

Fast forward to Edinburgh last week and another encounter with Susan Morrison, this time in the Spiegelgarden. Again she went fishing into her handbag and this time she pulled out a slim little volume which was essentially a guidebook to the prostitutes of old Edinburgh town. Each lady of the night had a little review attached to her name and location and there was many mentions of "good teeth" or "blackened teeth".

I threw Susan a quizzical glance which she caught easily, converted it into a look of know-it-all smugness and tossed back at me.

"Syphillis, " she explained, "rotting gums is one of the more visible symptoms."

So death, disease and prostitution. Now you know what to get me for Christmas.

Gull Attacks Chick

Jeff Zycinski | 23:26 UK time, Sunday, 17 August 2008



We were driving home from the Caley Thistle match yesterday afternoon and feeling pretty miserable after that one-nil defeat by Hamiton. But then, on Sportsound, we heard Chick Young interviewing the Rangers boss Walter Smith. All was going well until Chick spluttered to a halt and told us he had just been hit by a sandwich. In fact he had been struck by a crispy baguette dropped on him by a seagull.

Chick's attempts to continue the interview were thwarted by an outbreak of giggles from both men. It was one of those moments of high farce that reminds you that anything can happen on live radio.

And that football is supposed to be fun.

Fred And Co

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Jeff Zycinski | 17:23 UK time, Thursday, 14 August 2008


hosptalradio.JPGThe queue of free ticket-holders for this morning's MacAulay & Co show snaked its way through the Spiegelgarden at George Square. There was also another, shorter line of people waiting to find out if there were any spare seats. No problem with audience numbers then, despite the reported chaos about the Fringe ticketing system. It was a full house as Fred appeared on stage to do his pre-show warm-up, which is actually funnier than some of the Fringe shows you have to pay to see. Quizzing the audience about how far they had travelled he discovered one man was actually a member of the Finnish Parliament.

 "Is your part in power at the moment?" asked Fred

"Of course!" said the MP

"Ah..I can tell from that response that you must be a Conservative."

 The MP confirmed that he was, indeed, the Finnish equivalent of a Tory. As the show went on air, Fred introdced the Ivan Brackenbury. With broken glasses, dayglo t-shirt and headphones, Ivan's act involves the cruel but hilarious send-up of a hospital radio disc jockey. He left us all in stitches


guardianpodcast.JPGAt 12 noon I sprinted up to the Gilded Baloon where I'd been invited to watch a recording of the new Guardian Festival podcast. It's being produced by former BBC Radio Scotland producer, Richard Melvin and is presented by Miles Jupp. It's a lively mix of music and chat but I can't say I'm impressed by the endless stream of comedians who tell us how tired they are, or how they are losing their voices after a dozen or so shows. Who knew that today's entertainers were so fragile? More to the point, who cares? Luckily Richard has time to edit out some of that nonsense before the podcast goes live.

festvalcafe.JPGAfter that, back to the Spiegeltent for honest-to-goodness live radio, this time from our Festival Café programme presented by Janice Forsyth. A skilfully produced show which included interviews and performances from a new theatre group who are staging a play about the life of Vivien Leigh. The young actor who plays Laurence Olivier drew some gentle mocking laughter from the audience when he proclaimed that he and the great Knight of the stage "actually had a lot in common" As the Café came off air, the team were keen to show me one of the new audio slideshows that are available on the website during the run of shows in Edinburgh. They mix clips of the programmes with some first-class photography. Be sure to have a look. Then, a trek across the old town to the Pleasance where I had been offered free tickets to see the comedy double Act Will & Greg. Alas there was a tickets mix up here. A irl at the box office apologised and actually ran with me down to the venue in the hope that she could persuade them to squeeze me in. No joy. I was literally turned away at the door. Well, these things happen when you're not a genuine paying customer. At least I got some exercise. All was not lost, later that night Richard Melvin called and invited me to join him for a performance by Fringe newcomer Josh Howie. In his show - Chosen - he uses a projected slide-show to tell the story of how own bizarre upbringng and his forced or voluntary flirtation with Buddhissm, Judaism and hip hop. I laughed out loud several times, but I think I was one of the few who did. It wasn't a traditional stand-up show. Instead it fell like a very witty and intelligent lecture. Or like someone reading aloud from a New Yorker article. Josh admitted he wasn't on his best form.

 "I have a sore throat, " he told us.


On The Fringe

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Jeff Zycinski | 08:39 UK time, Thursday, 14 August 2008


fringeconflict.JPG fringearthurs.JPG fringeghoul.JPG fringecarriers.JPG Fringe.JPG

I arrived in Edinburgh last night and will be spending the next two days here in Our Nation's Capital to soak up some of the festival fun. This morning I'm off to see Fred MacAulay at the Spigeltent and then the Festival Cafe after lunch.


Why I'll Never Make It To The Olympics

Jeff Zycinski | 16:04 UK time, Tuesday, 12 August 2008


So it seems that sweet litle girl who sang at during the opening ceremony of the Olympics was actually miming. The real singer...another wee girl..was deemed to be too chubby and had uneven teeth. Well, if that's the criteria, it means I'll nver make it to the Games. Not even as a competitor.

That hasn't stopped me appearing on this little home-made video in which I try to explain how our new audio zones work on a new wifi internet radio.

I made it it on the assumption that some people...including some in our own production teams..might not fully understand the concept. I'm probably wrong about that. Today, for instance, I picked this e-mail from Chris Frear who describes himself as a listener in Dumfriesshire

"The new zones idea seems to be working from this listeners point of view.
Will they be podcast as mp3 anytime in the future? Using Real Audio on the web seems to be somewhat of a backward step."

Well, we do have plans to launch new podcasts and we do have plans to migrate to better quality online audio, but we can't podcast The Zones because we dont have the rights to allow listeners to dowload and retain the various programmes. That's why each Zone is offered on a continuous loop which updates once a week.

We've also had requests for more schedule information on each Zone and we'll soon be adding that to the website too.

Meanwhile, I'm going to practise my singing for the next video.

Is This A Golf Club I See Before Me?

Jeff Zycinski | 03:32 UK time, Friday, 8 August 2008



Another day on leave, another promise delivered. This time I ticked the box on my offer to take up golf with Zed-son. Mind you, we had to go all the way to Cawdor Castle where they have a nine-hole course that's ideally suited to absolute beginners like us. You can even hire clubs and balls and those cute wee plastic things you stick in the grass before the kick-off. Look, I told you we were beginners!

We had the course to ourselves except for an annoying tractor pulling a grass cutter. The driver would wait until we reached each green before mowing down the fairway behind us. Sometimes he had a long wait.

As our balls rattled into the cup on the ninth green, we compared scores. Mine was identical to the PIN number for my bank card. All four digits. Uncanny.

Then we rejoined the other half of the Zed family (Inverness branch) for a gawp round Cawdor Castle itself. You can tell that the family who own the place are sick to the back teeth of people asking about Macbeth. "Hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor" and all that. Apparently the castle was built hundred of years after Macbeth's death so there's no chance of seeing his ghost on the drawbridge.

Plenty of bogey-men on the golf course, mind you. Well, two, if you count us.

Horror In The Camp

Jeff Zycinski | 08:52 UK time, Wednesday, 6 August 2008


tent.JPGMy back is killing me this morning and frankly I blame one of our news reporters. Yesterday Mrs Zed said she had seen Aileen Clarke on the telly talking about the growing popularity of camping. This reminded the Zedettes that my list summer promises had included a camping trip in the Highlands. That, after all, was why we had bought that six person tent in the supermarket two months ago. I mean, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Cut to midnight and there I am on a deflated air-bed, writhing inside a sleeping bag while engaged in mortal combat with the biggest daddy-long-legs you've seen outside of an H.G. Wells' novel. The Zedettes are in the adjoining pod playing a giggly game of I-spy.

"..something beginning with T"
"Yes. Your turn."

Mrs Zed, by the way, is back home, snoozing peacefully under a soft duvet and dreaming about a breakfast of warm croissants.

"Someone has to stay and look after the dog," she had explained.

Meanwhile, back under canvas, the Zedettes had asked for a ghost story and that's when I played my trump card. I pressed a button on my new internet radio and soon we were tuned to Horror Theatre. This American station runs old Hollywood radio plays from the forties and fifties..complete with the original adverts for Lux soap flakes and the like. I tell you, there's nothing as creepy as listening to spooky dramas in the dark. It all went quiet pretty quickly.

In the morning, Mrs Zed put in an appearance and told us that breakfast was on the table. We all trooped back into the house. Technically, sleeping in the back garden of our house in Inverness does qualify as an overnight camping trip in the Highlands.


The Dark Knight

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Jeff Zycinski | 23:24 UK time, Monday, 4 August 2008


I'm on leave this week and am trying to cram a summer's worth of family promises into seven days. Included on that list was tonigh's trip to the cinema to see The Dark Knight. The subject of Batman creates a real split in the Zed ranks. Mrs Zed hankers after the old Adam West TV series, while Zed-son believes there is no such thing as too much on-screen violence so long as it is accompanied by a huge tub of popcorn. Zed-daughter now prefers flicks about teenage chicks and adventures involving dogs. I don't get a vote...I just drive the car and buy the tickets.

As for the Dark it as shocking and gruesome as the reviewers are saying? Well, maybe, but it also has that perplexing moral ambiguity when you find youself rooting for the psychopathic Joker. The audience in the Inverness cinema broke into bursts of nervous laughter every time he appeared. I probably went too far when I started cheering him on.

But it's a strange movie in that the story divides into two equal halves. Just when you're preparing for the lights to go up so you can find out how many melted Maltersers are stuck to your trousers, the story begins a new chapter and you realise you're in for the long-haul.
Put it this way, we parked the car at seven o'clock and didn't get back into it until half past ten.

A dark night indeed.

Time To Button It

Jeff Zycinski | 09:02 UK time, Friday, 1 August 2008



Don't tell Mrs Zed but I've just bought another radio. This, of course, means taking food out of my children's mouths, but a month or two on tap water and cream crackers will do them no harm. I need that new radio. It's as simple as that.

It's one of those new sets that lets you to listen to FM, DAB or the thousands of Internet stations. There are various models advertised in that know, the one where you flip through an in-store catalogue, use a miniature pen to fill out a slip and then sit in a row of plastic chairs until a grumpy bloke brings your stuff from a secret storeroom. Then you steal the pen. I went to the Inverness branch but they had sold out. So I've ordered my radio from that online company that's put all the little bookshops out of business. I hope you appreciate the lengths I'm going to here to avoid accusations of product placement!

Anyway I need this new radio because it can work off batteries and has lots of pre-set buttons. That's means I'll be able to take it from place to place and demonstrate our new Zones. They began as proper looped and automated streams two weeks ago and that means you can now switch from one to the other at the push of a button. Fed up with Sportsound? Then try listening to some jazz...or comedy...or history...all available 24 hours a day.

Of course, you don't really need the new radio set to do that. You can find the zones here on this website or on sites like Reciva or Radiopaq. But somehow that's not as much fun.

That's all for now, have to rush...I have cream crackers to buy.

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