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Archives for May 2009

David Flies To Americana While We Spend 30 Days In Europe

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Jeff Zycinski | 23:29 UK time, Saturday, 30 May 2009



One of our most creative radio producers is on his way to Washington D.C. this week after a special request from BBC Radio 4. David Stenhouse (who is currently presenting our online Arts, Classical & Jazz Zone) has been seconded, for three months, to the new Americana programme. It's on BBC Radio 4 at quarter past seven on Sunday nights.

It's no surprise that David has been sought out in this way. He has made some brilliant programmes for many BBC radio stations and you may have caught the series he made for us on the Scots in America. We wish him well, although many of us are just a wee bit jealous too. Imagine working with presenter Matt Frei and researching stories and guests from Maine to CaIifornia. A tough job, but somebody (else) has to do it. Sob.

Meanwhile, for the next thirty days, we at BBC Radio Scotland are going cold turkey on our seeming addiction to American culture. Throughout June we'll be finding out more about our European neighbours. We'll have programmes devoted to European politics, journalism, business, culture, sport and much more. Music too, of course.

It called 30 Days in Europe and if you thought our recent Adventures on the M8 was full of surprises, just wait 'till you hear what happens once we get off the Autobahns and high speed railways! I can almost smell that sangria and taste that, er, schnitzel.

Writing in the Herald yesterday, the radio critic Anne Simpson suggested we should have aired these programmes throughout May and given listeners a few pointers in advance of the European elections. A fair point but, in truth, that had never been the real peg for this project. Instead, we looked ahead to the end of June when many families in Scotland will take advantage of the school break to start their summer holidays. Thousands will head for the popular European resorts in search of sun, good food and a bit of local culture.

So this year, if you spot some right know-it-alls on the beach or in the pavement cafes, cut them a bit of slack. They might be some of our well-informed listeners.


Throughout June we'll also be giving you plenty of opportunities to share stories of your own European travels. I'll also be back on this blog with some personal memories of Dublin, Vienna and Paris...although I don't think I can top this particular story of romance that I revealed on the blog way back in 2007. Mrs Zed has never forgiven me for blabbing about that one.

More on 30 Days in Europe

Hot Dogs But Nothing For The Barbecue

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Jeff Zycinski | 17:52 UK time, Saturday, 30 May 2009



This sudden spell of good weather seems to be having an odd effect on people. Yesterday a Glasgow taxi driver gave me a short lecture on the staggered correlation between climatic change and female fashion.

"You see the lassies aren't showing much skin today," he said in a tone of resigned disappointment, "because they didn't know it was going to be sunny. But tomorrow..."

I'm not sure what he said then. His lips were smacking too loudly and when he lifted one hand from the steering wheel to run a finger along the inside of his collar I was sure we were going to end up in the Clyde.


Today the sunshine continued and the Zed family were at Nairn beach by ten o'clock in the morning. To be specific, it was the East beach, which is where you are allowed to let pet dogs run free across the two mile stretch of golden sand. By chance we had brought our own dog - Rascal - and so let him off the leash. He wagged his tail, scampered about fifty yards and then returned to our side with his tongue hanging out of his mouth like a damp ribbon. Clearly the heat was getting to him too so there was nothing else for it but to teach him how to swim.

"Chuck him in the water and see what happens, " I told the children, proving that my close study of animal psychology has not been wasted.

Well, he surpised his all with his mastery of the doggy paddle. I suspect he has been having secret lessons.

Then back to Inverness with plans for a garden barbecue. Alas, the entire population of the Highlands seemed to have had the same idea. The supermarket shelves were stripped bare of anthing resembling fresh butcher meat. No bread rolls either. Just one bag of limp iceberg lettuce.

Still, it's good for the diet and if the weather keeps up I might have to show some skin myself.

Who would want to eat after that? Nairn.jpg

You Have To Be Mad To Work Here But It Doesn't Help

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Jeff Zycinski | 22:45 UK time, Friday, 29 May 2009




In the past 48 hours I met up with the woman who runs BBC Radio Ulster and the man who runs BBC Radio 2. I enjoyed seeing both of them but the woman - Susan Lovell - seemed to suggest I needed a management coach while the man - Bob Shennan - seemed to imply I needed psychiatric help.

Or maybe I'm just paranoid.

Susan, to be fair, was simply extolling the virtues of the BBC's coaching scheme which she joined last year. By all accounts it has changed her outlook on work and now she offers coaching to staff throughout the BBC. Apart from anything else, the scheme ensures that this aspect of training is provided internally by people who know about broadcasting rather that by expensive external trainers who work mainly with commercial organisations.

I told Susan about my own experience with an external coach many years ago. It was useful, up to a point, but then I began to dread my fortnightly appointments. I didn't really get a lot out of talking to a stranger about my work issues and having him suggest obvious solutions that I had already arrived at. Then I started to feel that my issues were fairly petty and was almost tempted to make up some more complicated dilemmas so that our conversations would be more interesting.

Anyone who ever attended Catholic confession as a child might recall the temptation to make up interesting sins to confess...which would have been a sin in itself, of course.

Meanwhile Bob Shennan was in Scotland with his team to hear producers pitch their programme ideas for Radio 2. When I was giving him the guided tour in the morning he used the term schizophrenic to describe the dual role we have at BBC Radio Scotland. We not only run a radio station ourselves but also act as a production company providing programmes for other BBC radio networks. I had never thought of that in terms of a split personality, but I suppose he's right. Our programme-makers spend a lot of time trying to understand the different needs of the different stations.

No wonder some of us seem slightly eccentric.

Perhaps we all need some coaching.

Little Boots Exclusive Video

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Jeff Zycinski | 20:36 UK time, Tuesday, 26 May 2009



Fans of Little Boots - aka Victoria Hesketh - should make their way to the Janice Forsyth page on the BBC Radio Scotland website. There you will find a couple of exclusive videos including an acoustic performance of the Human League hit Don't You Want Me.
Janice's show is produced by Nick Low at Demus Production which is where, I think, this video was shot.

It would be good to know if you'd like to see more of this kind of material on the website. We recently concluded a survey of our website audience - you - and the top three requests were for more audio, more photographs and more free downloads.

How about video?

The Spy, The Detective And Patrick Rayner

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Jeff Zycinski | 12:47 UK time, Monday, 25 May 2009



A man from the circus takes off his glasses and cleans them on his tie. Another man picks up his calabash pipe and fills it with the tobacco he keeps in a Persian slipper. Can you name these two fictional characters? Yes, two points if you answered George Smiley and Sherlock Holmes. I'll give you a bonus point if you can tell me the current connection between Holmes, Smiley and BBC Scotland.

Well done if you mentioned Patrick Rayner our Head of Radio Drama. Patrick and his team have been behind most of the Holmes dramatisations you will have heard on BBC Radio 4 or BBC Radio 7. He also directed Vote for Conan Doyle - a specially commissioned play for BBC Radio Scotland which we aired on Friday. It was part of short season of programmes devoted to the Scots-born creator of the world's most famous fictional sleuth. It's still available on the iPlayer, by the way.

George Smiley, meanwhile, is the central character in John Le Carre's series of cold war and counter-espionage novels. Some time ago Patrick suggested to Radio 4 that they begin to dramatise those novels for radio and, after a lengthy period of negotiation over rights, the drama team at Pacific Quay went in to the studio to begin work. The serialisation- starring Simon Russell Beale - began on Saturday and you can read more about the background to the production on the Radio 4 Blog.

Meanwhile, I'll end where I started.. with a little quiz. No winners or prizes, this is just for fun.


Which American TV series features medical detective who lives in apartment 221B?

What's the connection between James Bond and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?

Which was the first Le Carre novel to feature George Smiley?

Which Star Wars actor played Smiley in the BBC TV series Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy?

Name the Glasgow-born detective who foiled a plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln.

I'll add the answers in a few days.

Maybe I'm Too Old To Twitter

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Jeff Zycinski | 18:00 UK time, Sunday, 24 May 2009



The journalist and restaurant critic, Allan Brown, has written a very funny article for today's Sunday Times Ecosse section. I don't mean that to sound like a rare or unexpected event (he said quickly, fearing the wrath of the mighty Murdoch media empire) but I just wanted to flag it up before I move on to something else. Allan's funny article concerns an over-elaborate dessert trolley which he encountered in a Stirlingshire hotel. The newspaper cost me two quid, but it was almost worth it for that piece alone. (No problem Mr Murdoch, Sir.)

But, as I say, that's not what I want to talk about. I refer you, instead, to another Allan Brown article.

Also in today's Ecosse section and under the headline "Twittering should be made a cardinal sin" Allan describes this latest social networking phenomenon as "the most facile and otiose social trend since flash mobbing". He goes on to say that "only two types of people over the age of 30 continue to Twitter: braggart lawyer blokes and verbally incontinent professionally anxious women in the creative industries".

This worries me because, although I'm well over 30, I fit into neither of those groups. I do, however, have the horrible feeling that I am too old to Twitter. Let me try to explain in my customary manner by recounting a childhood memory.

When I was six years old, I wrote to Santa asking him to bring me a set of Meccano. On Christmas morning 1969 Mr Claus duly obliged and I remember spending a happy hour or so playing with the nuts and bolts not caring that I had no idea what I was doing. As it happens I have six older brothers so it wasn't long before they took control of the set and, like magic, turned the various metal panels into a small jeep. Then the jeep was dismantled and turned into a crane. Then a speedboat.

It was Easter 1973 before I got my hands back on that Meccano by which time the grown-ups (as I saw them) had sucked all the fun out of it.

Were I to prod you awake at this point, you might well wonder what that story has to do with the Twitter phenomenon. Well, until recently, the Twitter-sphere seemed to be inhabited by teenagers and twenty-somethings all keen to share their thoughts on music gigs and reality TV shows. It was the online equivalent of loitering on street corners talking about nothing much at all. In other words, it was a bit of fun with your mates.

Nowadays, too many Twitter friends and followers seem to be blokes like me; grown men and women keen to assure ourselves that we are not missing out on anything and trying to prove to our teenage sons and daughters that we are, well, "connected".
The trouble starts when we start to take it too seriously.

Last week, for example, blog reader Fiona MacBeath told me that she and her husband would miss the big Inverness game on Saturday because they would be flying across the Atlantic at the start of a family holiday. I, of course, offered to attend the game and Twitter updates live from the scene. Fiona thought this was a great idea and decided to subscribe to Twitter to take advantage of this unique offer. And yes, because I'm a grown up and aware of my responsibilities as an adult, I had to stick to my promise. That's why, yesterday afternoon, I spent a thumb-numbing ninety minutes hammering away at the keys on my BlackBerry. I described the pre-match atmosphere, I alluded to the BBC Radio Scotland commentary and I was right on the button with the kick-off. I was doing quite well, in fact, until the blasted thing slipped out of my lap and scudded down three rows of the family stand. Yes, if you were watching the game on the telly, I was that bloke bobbing around the crowd and annoying all the home fans by asking them if they'd seen my phone. I wouldn't be surprised if I also distracted some of the Caley players with my antics and maybe that's what cost us the game.

So, yes, maybe I am too old to Twitter.

Anyone want to be my pen-pal?

Relegation Day

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Jeff Zycinski | 18:05 UK time, Saturday, 23 May 2009



Our Sportsound commentator had described the weather as overcast and the atmosphere as "funereal". Presenter Richard Gordon had warned that today's events were going to be "horrible" for one of the teams. Writing in the match programme the Caley Thistle manager Terry Butcher had said his team had reached the "point of no return". But still, despite those portents of doom there were also signs of hope and optimism. A banner outside the stadium read "good luck lads" and, making my way through the turnstile, I overheard one Caley fan telling another that "our lads seem really pumped up for this." Inverness needed just one point - a draw - to stay in the Scottish Premier League...but it was not to be.

The turning point came about ten minutes from half time when the Caley defender Ross Tokely nudged an opposing player just outside the penalty box. One red card later and the home side were down to ten men. The second half goal from Falkirk sealed it and, as the final whistle blew, we came to terms with the reality of the situation. First Division football next season.

Yes I saw some people, mostly children, with tears in their eyes, but as the local fans filed out into the car park the mood seemed to be one of quiet resignation rather than anger or sorrow. The Zed family trio sat in the car making bitter jokes about those football reporters who had complained so often and so tiresomely about having to drive up the A9 to cover the games here. There was talk of voodoo dolls and trip-wires.

Then came the text messages of commiseration from friends and colleagues. Then the realisation that, next season, we wont be following a league competition that seems desitined to be won by Rangers or Celtic for evermore.

It might - just might - be a lot more fun.


Read the BBC Scotland match report .

The Power Of Poetry

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Jeff Zycinski | 13:13 UK time, Friday, 22 May 2009



They said the house was haunted,
But he laughed at them and said "tut! tut!
I've never heard such tittle-tattle
As ghosts that groan and chains that rattle
And just to prove I'm in the right
Please leave me here to spend the night."

They winked absurdly, tried to smother
Their ignorant laughter,
Nudged each other
And left him just as dusk was falling
With a hunchback moon
and screech-owls calling.

These are the first two verses of a poem I learned to recite at primary school . It was in an anthology called, I think, Rhythm & Rhyme. The title was Two's Company but I have no idea who wrote it and, despite extensive internet searches, I can't track down a copy of it.

To this day, however, I can still spout several verses of that poem and, because of its spooky theme, I used to do this during family car journeys - usually as we were driving at night through woodland or past graveyards. Don't fret, my children are over the nightmares now.

I was thinking about this today when I heard Austin Lafferty talk to Fred MacAulay about his role as a judge in a BBC poetry competition for schoolchildren. That culminates in a special programme on BBC 2 tonight. Austin, who is best known for his legal know-how, said that listening to children's performances was a lot more interesting than an afternoon of conveyancing.

"But then, " he added, " anything is better than an afternoon of conveyancing."

He also managed to squeeze in a story about his own childhood and told Fred that he was a very shy little boy until the day his English teacher allowed him to get up on a stage and recite a poem.

"Something just clicked," said Austin and the shyness was gone.

The BBC, meanwhile, is in the middle of a massive poetry season and I really recommend you to look at this terrific website. There is also BBC Scotland's growing archive of Burns poetry as recited by some of Scotland best-known voices.

And if anyone can help me track down a copy of Two's Company I would be very grateful. I might have been getrting the words wrong for the past three decades.


Amazing. Steve Letford has tracked down the poem. It was written by Raymond Wilson.You can read it here.

Angus Dreichmor Returns (Again?)

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Jeff Zycinski | 19:07 UK time, Thursday, 21 May 2009


Devotees of radio comedy may remember a series called Naked Radio. It spawned so many characters and careers and its legacy lives on in programmes such as Watson's Wind Up and the recent revival of Rab C. Nesbitt.

But one of my all-time favourite sketches from that original radio series involved a spoof of the kind long-running social history programmes that were a staple of the Radio Scotland schedule in the early days. I can't remember the exact wording of the sketch but it went something like this:

PRESENTER: Today and for the next thirty weeks we'll be tracing the history of the Scottish potato. With me now is farmer Jack. Now you must have some very funny stories to tell about Scottish potatoes?

The sketch continued with the farmer struggling though his laughter to describe the day that he found a potato in the shape of a man's head. Both he and the presenter then guffawed at the very thought of such an unusual find.

It concluded with the presenter asking the following question:

PRESENTER. But tell me, have you got any advice for young drug addicts out there?

What tickled me about that sketch was the juxtaposition of cosy rural nostalgia with a question about the realities of life in urban contemporary Scotland. I often cite this when I talk to programme makers about the range of our output and the awkward gear changes that can result.

It was only recently, however, that I discovered who had written that sketch. It was Neil MacVicar who also created the character of Angus Dreichmor, the surly crofter struggling to come to terms with modern life. Angus was a popular feature on the old Tom Morton morning show and we recently resurrected him to host an edition of the Comedy Zone.

Today I met up with Neil to talk about what he and Angus might do next. We tossed around a few ideas; Angus as an agony aunt, hosting a comedy celidh or how about Angus being grilled by a hard-hitting journalist like Kirsty Wark?

So will Angus return once more?

Watch this space.

Downtrodden Dads

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Jeff Zycinski | 23:12 UK time, Wednesday, 20 May 2009



I saw this sign in the hotel across the river from the BBC building in Glasgow.

I'm not sure if it's some coded reference to men with spare tyres or maybe you actually get run over by a vehicle at the end of the meal.

Either way it's good to know they park the car afterwards.

The Maritza Duncan Interview

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Jeff Zycinski | 22:50 UK time, Tuesday, 19 May 2009



I'd met Maritza three times before, but tonight she meant business. She arrived at Pacific Quay reception at five-thirty (exactly on time) and when I went downstairs to meet her I was struck by the steely look in her eye and the definite air of a woman in a hurry.

Maritza Duncan will be a familiar name to listeners of Sunny Govan Radio, the community station that shares our turf here on the south bank of the Clyde. She presents a programme which mixes music with self-help advice. Tonight, though, Maritza was working for a diifferent station.

"It's UCA radio, " she explained, "it's the student radio station based in Ayr. Part of the University of the West of Scotland."

I'd remembered visiting the station some years ago and being very impressed with the studio set-up. Maritza told me that she had arranged to present a short series of programmes which offered students advice on how to 'Make it in the Media'. As a result she had been travelling the length and breadth of Britain interviewing everyone from television producers, to choreographers.

No wonder she was looking so frazzled. I offered her a cup of tea but she was keen to get on with the task in hand. Talk about focus! I mean, who turns down free tea?

I, as it turns out, was the last interviewee on her list. We scurried into one of our most luxurious meetings rooms (it has a sofa) and she switched on her dinky digital recorder complete with built-in stereo microphone and removable memory card.

"So tell me how you got into radio?" she asked.

As regular blog readers will be aware, I'm very shy and don't like talking about myself.

Five hours later she fled into the night and I still hadn't reached the half-way point in my life story. .

Five More Days Of Tension

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Jeff Zycinski | 16:57 UK time, Monday, 18 May 2009



With my radio hat on I ought to be grateful that the SPL season is concluding in such a dramatic fashion. It means listeners stick with us until the very last kick of the ball. If you like football then that's all very exciting.

But if you're a fan of a team battling it out for the championship or, as in my case, trying to avoid relegation, then the tension can be almost unbearable. Saturday can't come soon enough...or rather, I hope it doesn't come too soon. Oh, I don't know what I mean. Leave me alone.

At home, the Zed family (with the exception of our perfectly sensible daughter) are nervous wrecks. Yesterday we had to get out of the house and seek the calming influence of the Highland scenery. We drove through the Black Isle, across the Cromarty Firth and were well on the way to Wick before we decided we'd better get out of the car and do some walking.

I have no idea where we were, but we found a little bridge and a well-trodden path through some hills. After thirty minutes I asked Mrs Zed if we should start heading home.

"Do you think we should go down now?" I asked.

"No, " she replied, "We don't deserve that. Butcher has done a great job and the players have shown real committment."

"I was talking about the hill." I said.

"Oh." are some relaxing images. And...breathe.




It Takes The Biscuit

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Jeff Zycinski | 20:13 UK time, Thursday, 14 May 2009


I've decided to lift the lid on the BBC's expenses policy and expose a culture of drinking that is endemic throughout the Corporation. I'm aware that my revelations will divert public attention from that whole Expenses & Allowances brouhaha at Westminster but those hapless Members of Parliament need a break. I'm sure you agree.

Let's take the BBC's expenses policy. When I joined the Beeb way back in 1993, the list of acceptable perks was a lot more generous than it is today. My memory is hazy but I think every employee was entitled to a chauffer-driven Mini Metro and sedan chairs were provided to get you from one office to another. That, of course, was before the Freedom of Information Act and we had a Gentleman's Agreement with the tabloid press; they kept quiet about our wine cellars and we said nothing about their beer bellies.

But now, as I step out of the realm of historic fantasy, things are very different. This struck me most forcibly when, a few weeks ago, a London-based colleague arrived to give a presentation in one of the glass-walled meeting rooms at Pacific Quay. As I helped her set up the flip-chart she asked, in apparent innocence, if I had ordered tea, coffee and biscuits for everyone taking part in the session.

I stared at her blankly and was suddenly aware of all those watching eyes in the open-plan office space outside the room.

"But you know we're not allowed to do that," I told her, "are you trying to get me into trouble? Is this some sort of trap?"

She backed away from me pretty quickly but I followed her around the room citing chapter and verse of the new BBC expenses policy which now forbids us from providing any kind of snack or refreshment for fellow staff -members. There's a whole section on custard creams alone.

"You're allowed tap-water," I told her, "but only if you have your own jug."

Apparently these new rules had been communicated clearly throughout BBC Scotland but, down at White City, they must have missed the e-mail.

"Ignorance is no excuse, "I ranted, playing to any hidden cameras, "and long live the Director General!"

But I am sorry to report that the 'BBC Beverage Bonanza' (as the Daily Telegraph will call it) extends north of Hadrian's Wall. True, staff in Glasgow must cough up forty-five pence of their own cash to buy a cuppa in the canteen but in Edinburgh and Inverness (where there is no canteen) luxury kettles have been provided. They have little blue lights, automatic cut-off switches and are funded directly from your licence fee.

Taking my lead from the Telegraph I have decided to eke out further scandals in coming blog entries. So tomorrow: the free soup shocker in Aberdeen!

Unless I think of something else to expose.

And Then I Just Snapped

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Jeff Zycinski | 20:01 UK time, Tuesday, 12 May 2009



I am officially the worst husband in the world. I admit it, but I'm not proud. You see, as much as I try to do the right thing, I always seem to mess up.

Take today, for example. My new PA, Michelle, took a pair of scissors to my weekly schedule so that I could have an extra day in Inverness. I, in turn, called Mrs Zed and suggested an impromptu lunch in one of the many fine restaurants this city has to offer. There are half a dozen yummy eateries down by the river-front where the council has just put the finishing touches to a new streetscape. Where once there was just a boring old bit of tarmac bordered by your run-of-the-mill paving slabs there is now a decorative shared surface with room for pavement tables.

We, however, dined indoors in an Italian cafe where they go easy on the olive oil but try to be little too clever with the mozzarella. We ate, we talked, we hatched plans for the weekend and we made light of the damage caused by my recent DIY endeavours. Who needs a new towel rail anyway? Oh how we laughed!

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed some kind of hoo-hah taking place in the street outside. There were men with measuring tapes and others with crowbars. There was a lot of pointing going on. I heard my wife say something about coffee but I realised I was no longer 'in the moment' as far as lunch was concerned.

I hailed a passing waitress and quizzed her about the mime-show going on outside the window. She explained that the new street surface, as lovely and costly as it was, has turned this particular corner of the city into "an accident waiting to happen". Apparently tourists love ambling Oz-like along the coloured brickwork little realising that buses and cars are also allowed to amble behind them while powered by internal combustion.

Within minutes we had paid the bill and I was out on the street with my camera. I've been scooped by the Inverness Courier so many times, but I wasn't going to let that happen today. No siree.

Mrs Zed suggested she make her own way home and I agreed that was probably for the best.

But like I say, I do try.

Meanwhile I gave the photographs to our reporter Steven McKenzie and the story of anger and confusion in the street is now on our news website

Postscript: Thursday 14th May

How the story was covered by the Press & Journal newspaper the following day.

Edi Wins Sony Radio Gold And Bronze

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Jeff Zycinski | 23:25 UK time, Monday, 11 May 2009



A good night for BBC Radio Scotland at the Sony Radio Academy Awards and for Edi Stark in particular. Nominated in two categories, Edi picked up the Gold 'News Special' award for an edition of The Investigation and also a bronze in the Speech Broadcaster category.

Well done to her and to our Editor Sharon Mair who oversees the Investigation strand. It's won a handful of awards since its launch, but this is the biggest prize so far.

Here's how the judges described the programme:

"A great piece of journalism. This programme dealt with a very important but largely neglected subject: the 110,000 over-sixties in Scotland who are caring on an unpaid basis for family or for friends who are unable to look after themselves. Edi Starks sympathetic but unsentimental style hit just the right tone with what is a highly emotive subject. In doing so she secured some great interviews. The seamless production cleverly combined great first-hand story-telling with enough context and analysis of the wider issue."

The Allmedia Scotland site reports on Edi's win and the nominations for other Scottish radio stations.
This link to the Radio Academy site will give you a full list of the winners.

You'll be able to hear the programme again this Friday morning at 1130 and there are more details of Edi's triumph at the Sony Awards on our news website.

Paris On The Ness

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Jeff Zycinski | 18:46 UK time, Monday, 11 May 2009



At the tail end of a conference call this morning we were trying to come up with a name for our short season of European programmes. You'll hear them on air next month but coming up with a title is harder than you think. Anything prefixed with the word 'Euro' sounds like a convention of bureaucrats. A colleague in Glasgow suggested MacEurope - because the programmes are all about Scotland's relationship with Europe - but I thought that sounded too much like a cheeseburger. I wanted something that suggested a wonderful, exotic journey, a journey even more exciting than a trip along the M8. If such a thing is possible.

Best suggestion at the moment is '30 Days in Europe' although I concede it does sounds like one of those student Inter-Rail deals. Maybe you can suggest an alternative.


Meanwhile I was still in a continental frame of mind when I decided to eat my packed lunch on the banks of the Ness. The sun was shining and the sky was blue and, just for a moment, you could imagine you were in Paris. Was that St. Andrew's Cathedral or Notre Dame? Surely that crystal clear water was the Seine? Was that a frost-bitten Invernessian munching on a sausage roll, or a gay Parisian nibbling on a croque madame?

It was a sausage roll, of course, but imagination is a wonderful thing.


Austerity Chic And Conspicuous Non-Consumption

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Jeff Zycinski | 22:42 UK time, Friday, 8 May 2009



My BBC colleague Jackie O'Brien once took me aside and explained the subtle difference between 'dressing casually' and 'walking about the streets in your gardening clothes'. That she felt compelled to do this should tell your everything about my sense of style. I have never been described as a fashion plate, more like the kind of plate you use to serve a dog's breakfast. If Trinny and Susannah were to audit my wardrobe I'm sure they would be tickled by my nostlagic fondness for C & A. The store itself may be long gone, but I reckon I can get another good year out of those Canda corduroys.

One upside of the current economic recession, however, is that people may soon come to regard me as a man who was thirty years ahead of his time. I will be sought out for my advice on unbranded denims, bowl haircuts and velcro trainers. Add to that my lifelong reputation as a connoisseur of supermarket own-brand cola and you have all the makings of a style guru.

I came to this conclusion in the early hours of the morning while reading an article in The Economist magazine. Coining the term "austerity chic" it reprinted that famous still of Charlie Chaplin eating his own shoes above some text about the soaring sales figures for cheap groceries. (I have seen racks of shoes in supermarkets but hadn't realised they were edible.) Then, in the kind of coincidence reminiscent of a Taggart storyline, I saw a cartoon in the New Yorker magazine with the caption 'Conspicuous Non-Consumption' describing a man proudly driving a budget two-seater hatchback.

If these two events were not enough to convince me I had stepped into the Twilight Zone, then today's trip to an Inverness bookstore was like finding a portal to the 1940's. There, on a rack, were three hardback books which turned out to be wartime reprints extolling the virtues of thrift. It seems there's a revived interest in the concepts of make-do-and-mend, grow-your-own and (thanks to Swine Flu) dont-forget-your-gas-mask.

And so to the point of these musings. Yes this is the bit where I have to shoehorn in some connection to the output of BBC Radio Scotland, lest you suspect I am exploiting the Beeb's blogable bandwidth as a displacement activity from actual work.

Well, I could tell you that we are about to scrap the daily Thought for the Day and replace it with regular features on saving string and bottling your own pickles. But no. Let me point you, instead, to this Sunday's edition of the Beechgrove Potting Shed where the whole concept of growing your own food is about to take on frenzied proportions.

Which, very neatly, gives me every reason to wear gardening clothes.

Comedy Pilots

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Jeff Zycinski | 18:47 UK time, Thursday, 7 May 2009


A trio of comedy pilots will take to the air over the next three weeks. This has nothing to do with budget airlines - honestly - but is all about our search for new, funny formats for Friday evenings.

First up is Newsmash- a topical spoof of our news output which includes a business reporter on the verge of a nervous breakdown because there is just too much business and economic news for him to cope with. It's based on the Daily Mash website but the potential flaw in the format is that much of the real news we hear these days is already of the "you couldn't make it up" variety. How do you spoof events that are already absurd?

In subsequent weeks you'll be able to hear Jiggedy and Bloodbus.You can find out more about both of those by clicking here.

The latter is based on the internet blog of a mystery "driver" who recounts his hair-raising experiences on the late night routes through Glasgow. It has already attracted a lot of interest from the newspapers.

We'll have more pilots airing over the next twelve months as well as the return of audience favourites such as Ellis & Clarke , No Hard Feelings and Watson's Wind-Up. We're also asking little groups of listeners to listen to each programme and give us their views.

As ever, your views are also welcome

Five Party Animals And A Robot Dog

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Jeff Zycinski | 18:25 UK time, Wednesday, 6 May 2009



I was at a baby's birthday party last night and there was just one candle on the cake. I had arrived slightly drookit and fashionably late having wandered around the south side of Glasgow trying to follow the directions on my Google map. The hostess - Lizzy Clark and two other guests - Matt Ludlow and Iain Hoare - were well into the first bottle of bubbly and later we were joined by the famous Annie McGuire. We clinked glasses and wished our baby - actually five babies - many happy returns.

By babies I mean our five online Zones which were launched into cyberspace exactly 12 months ago. Lizzy , Matt and Iain are the folk who keep those Zones going and Annie was there because, em, let me think, oh yes, Annie has been one of the 81 people who have presented a Zone.

Yes, we should have invited the other eighty presenters on a bring-a-bottle basis but Lizzy's flat is not really equipped for major functions. So, it was just the five of us and a little robot dog called Peggy. Lizzy talked about radio, Matt talked about music, Iain talked about philosophy, Annie talked about football and, as usual, I talked about myself.

Peggy just bleeped and flashed different colours of lights depending on the music that was playing in the background. It was a bit creepy, to be honest with you.

But the success of our Zones does pose some interesting questions about the future of radio. Take the Comedy Zone, for instance. It's a five-and-a-half hour sequence of programmes which get an overnight Medium Wave transmission on Friday nights/Saturday mornings. We now know that nineteen thousand people listen to that programme in the middle of the night. Nineteen thousand! There are some small radio stations that would be happy to have that many listeners for the Breakfast Show.

But that's only part of the story.

The Zones are also streamed online via the BBC Radio Scotland website so you can hear continuous looped output on you laptop or internet radio. The Zones are also available on the BBC iPlayer and the Comedy Zone is usually at number one spot in the Radio Scotland top ten.

Three times in the past year the Comedy Zone has also been in the top spot for all BBC radio programmes available on the iPlayer.

It's telling us a lot about the listeners' appetite for online audio and about how so many of us are prepared to abandon the linear analogue schedule and seek out the particular programmes we want at a time that suits us best.

But who knows what the future will bring? Will we have a cake with two candles or will radio's future go in a different direction?

I should have asked the dog.

Bring Your Slaughter To Work

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Jeff Zycinski | 17:42 UK time, Tuesday, 5 May 2009



Last week, via e-mail, I got an offer I couldn't refuse. A reporter called Laura Scarrot told me about a new feature she was launching in the BBC's in-house newspaper Ariel. It's called Whatever Gets You Through The Week and members of staff are asked to list five things that, well, get them through the week.

As regular blog readers will be aware, I always think long and hard before agreeing to any form of self-publicity so it took me a good three or four minutes before I replied to Laura's e-mail with my list.

I had mentioned the view from my house in Inverness, my current addiction to mangoes and my habit of watching box-set DVDs on return train journeys from Glasgow. I went on to describe how such intensive viewing can result in irrational behaviour and that I had recently watched every episode of The Sopranos and was now behaving like a mob boss in editorial meetings.

Those funsters at Ariel couldn't resist mocking up a photograph with Yours Truly as the head of the New Jersey "family".

If I had a bigger version I would frame it, hang it on my office wall and dare producers not to deliver on their programme promises.

That's not personal, it's just business.

The House That Swallowed An Elephant

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Jeff Zycinski | 18:58 UK time, Monday, 4 May 2009



I was listening to Mark Stephen ask an expert why he had swallows nesting in his roof-space. This is the kind of question you would only ever hear asked on our Out of Doors programme. No, that's a lie. You could imagine politicians being quizzed on Good Morning Scotland and the same question being used metaphorically:

"So, Minister, this latest plan to rescue the you have swallows in your roof-space or bats in your belfry?"

"Neither, but we obviously must do more to communicate the proud record of the Government and blah, blah..."

On Out of Doors, however, the question was answered by a bird-expert who didn't try to dodge it, shift blame towards a previous administration of bird experts or even point to a global crisis in roof-space provision.

Well, actually he did. In fact he said that there should be more birds nesting in our eaves but moden building regulations meant that houses these days are ventilated in different ways and there's a shortage of cosy nooks for our feathered friends.

All of which brings me to the subject of old houses and the forthcoming series of A House With a Past. We launched this programme last year and it does for your home what Digging Up Your Roots does for your family tree. In other words, it solves mysteries.

Producer Claire White and history sleuth Dr Bruce Durie are again hoping to hear from listeners whose homes have untold stories and maybe skeletons in the cupboard - literally.

Last time around Bruce visted a house in Kircudbright where the present owners were puzzled by the existence of strange hooks in the ceiling. It turned out that hooks were once used to hold the carcass of an elephant before the bones were cleaned and transferred to a museum. Obvious, when you think about it.

So if you want to know what's rattling about in your attic then BBC Radio Scotland offers you two options. Out of Doors for anything that's alive and A House With a Past for the dead stuff.

We look forward to hearing from you.

The Ghost Is Back, But It's Not On The BBC Payroll

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Jeff Zycinski | 18:43 UK time, Friday, 1 May 2009


I don't know how much was spent on the refurbishment of the BBC building in Inverness, but it's becoming clear that someone skimped on the cost of an exorcism. Yes, that pesky ghost has returned.

I wrote about the ghost of 7 Culduthel Road two years ago and if you care to trawl through the archive of this blog you will discover a photograph of me actually hunting for the spook. I'm pictured on the now-demolished back staircase and I look like a man who is failing the audition for a part in the X-Files.

The Scully part.

The ghost, it was said, used to haunt that staircase. Over the years respectable and sober BBC staff members reported eerie sightings of a strange figure. It was the usual stuff. Let's face it, no one ever reports sightings of a non-eerie ghost or a spirit who stands about cracking jokes and gossiping about last night's edition of The Apprentice.

So last week, two radio producers were working late in the ground floor of the old building. It's a former Victorian mansion but the interior has been remodelled to accommodate the open-plan office. It's where I sit and also my new PA Michelle. She had gone for the night but apparently the sound of keyboard typing could be heard from her unoccupied desk. Well you know the way these stories go: the producers checked and could find no rational explanation for the sounds and so it was obviously a ghost. A ghost using an old-fashioned typewriter, it was suggested.

"Did you hear the sound of a bell, "I asked, "or the carriage return?"

"Well, no."

That prompted me to investigate and suggest an alternative theory. The "haunted" desk sits next to a back wall where a window has been boarded over and painted to look as if it was never there. The spooky sounds were heard on a fine sunny evening. Outside I walked a few yards from the building and saw that our neighbours had recently trimmed their hedges. A typewriter with no bell or the sound of a hedge clipper? A sound that could easily penetrate a fake wall.

On the other hand, if it is a ghost, it might be working on some programme ideas. Let's hope it doesn't ask for a development fee.

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