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Archives for September 2009

Are You Cheating On Us?

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Jeff Zycinski | 20:01 UK time, Wednesday, 30 September 2009


Often, when I meet a listener, he or she will enthuse about their favourite programmes and tell me how much they enjoy listening to the station. I'm chuffed and usually take all the credit for myself. I explain how the producers and presenters are mere instruments of my mighty talent. I call that 'leadership'.

Inevitably, though, there comes a point when that same listener will start to look a little shame-faced, lose eye contact and, with shuffling feet, will say something like this:

"I'm sorry about this, but sometimes I turn off Radio Scotland and listen to that music show on Radio 2."

At that point I blame the programme-makers. I call that 'collective responsibility'.

At other times, I will get an angry letter from a listener, berating me for a scheduling decision that clearly proves that either I have parted company with too many brain cells or else am being manipulated by shadowy forces elsewhere. Those letters often conclude with this sort of threat:

"That's it. I've had enough. It's Radio 4 for me from now on!"

My problem with both of these statements is that there's an underlying assumption that I don't want people to listen to other BBC radio stations. In fact, the opposite is true and there are a number of reasons for that. No, really.

The first clue is in my job title which people often think is Head of BBC Radio Scotland. It's not. It's Head of Radio, BBC Scotland. That's because I also have responsibility for our production teams who make programmes for all of the BBC's radio networks. So, of course I want people to listen to them. Especially the jazz on Radio 3, which is brilliant. Not that I have favourites.

Secondly, the diverse schedule of programmes offered by BBC Radio Scotland means that it's most unlikely (but not impossible) that anyone would enjoy every one of our programmes. As I'm forever telling our incredulous sports team, some perfectly rational people don't actually like football. That's why we split frequencies in the evenings and offer an alternative schedule of music programmes.

The truth is, BBC Radio Scotland listeners are a promiscuous lot. I'm sorry, but you are. You'll push buttons, turns dials and click on your mouse about a dozen times a day in your pursuit of choice. Don't deny it. I've seen the audience research. I also know where you live.

And where do you wander off to? Mainly it's BBC Radio 1 and BBC Radio 2. (Some of you also listen to commercial radio and you guys are coming off my Christmas card list.)

But here's the third reason why I applaud those who explore the full range of services that the BBC offers in Scotland. Quite simply, you're getting your money's worth from the licence fee...and that's before we even talk about television (which I'm still hoping will go away one day).

Imagine that every time you bought a newspaper you were allowed free copies of all the other newspapers in the shop too. You might not have time to read them all. You might not even have the muscle-strength to carry them all, but just imagine you were allowed the choice.

That's how the licence fee works. You might not want everything the BBC offers, but you pays your money and you takes your choice.

So the next time you find yourself seduced by the charms of Mister Moyles or Mister Wogan, please be assured that you have our blessing. You're not cheating on us. This is an open relationship.

Just remember... they'll never love you as much as we do.

A Kist O Words

Jeff Zycinski | 10:13 UK time, Thursday, 24 September 2009


I love meeting people who love their jobs. They're inspirational. One such is Laura Spence who met me in Glasgow yesterday afternoon to tell me about her work developing Ulster-Scots programmes for BBC Northern Ireland.

I have to confess that my knowledge of Ulster-Scots is a bit coggly and mostly confined to things I'd picked up in brief conversations with Billy Kay and Robbie Shepherd. In Northern Ireland, however, there's a lot of money and effort going in to promoting its use and that stems from clauses originally set out in the Good Friday agreement.

Laura's enthusiasm was infectious and we quickly set about making plans that would tie in to BBC Radio Scotland's own plans for new Scots language programmes. One thing we agreed on was that listeners prefer to hear programmes that actually use the language rather than those in which we invite academics to talk about the issues involved. So quiz shows and comedy can do more good than dry panel discussions.

Later Laura took me to task for having been to Northen Ireland but never having got outside Belfast. She painted wonderful word picture of the coastal roads and smaller towns. She was like a one-woman tourism campaign.

BBC Radio Ulster's A Kist o Wurds is where you can currently hear Ulster-Scots spoken on air. There are huge similarities with Scots - oxter, gawk etc- but many differences too. I had never heard the word "joogins" before, but i understand this is a bit like "gubbins" - or the insides of a thing.

Laura has plans to launch a new website which will direct her listners to BBC Scotland programmes that might be of interest. That includes our own Burns archive project.

It feels like the start of a wonderful friendship.

A Sting In The Tale

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Jeff Zycinski | 21:33 UK time, Tuesday, 22 September 2009


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I did a spot of time-travelling this lunchtime and wandered from a mid nineteenth century bedroom and into a kitchen from the nineteen sixties.

Each room - recreated with painstaking attention to detail - is part of a new exhibition in the Inverness Museum. It described the three main periods of Scottish migration from the time of the Highland Clearances , through the 30's Depression and then the stories of the ten pound pomes who were enticed down under with cheap sailings subsidised by the Australian government.

One display told the story of an Inverness family who went to Adelaide to escape the cold Highland winters. Trouble was they couldn't stand the hot Australian summers so returned within a year. That meant they had to pay the full cost of their outward fare as well as the price of the return voyage.

The number of poisonous snakes in Australia was also cited as a reason that so many Scots decided that Oz was not so wonderful after all.

It reminded me of the day that Gary Robertson was hosting the morning phone-in and he invited listeners to call in and tell him everything that was good about living in Scotland. People talked about the culture, the friendliness, the health care and the education system.
Then one man came on the line with an unexpected point of view.

"In these other countries," he said, "they have lots of dangerous creepy-crawlies...scorpions and things like that. But there are no scorpions in Scotland. We should be grateful."

Indeed we should.

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Dawn Snapped Snipping

Jeff Zycinski | 10:28 UK time, Monday, 21 September 2009



Last week I was a bit cheeky and shared with you an e-mail I had received from our Features producer, Dawn Munro. She had been telling me how she and Edi Stark had been recording interviews about vasectomies for the new series of Medical Matters. The word 'scrotum' was mentioned.

I had dared to ask if she had taken any photographs.

This morning, Mark Munro - Dawn's husband - sent me this picture. I'm not sure if it's an authentic representation of the medical procedure - or just a warning to me about future blog entries.

Either way, I feel suitably chastised.

(meanwhile that edition of Medical Matters can be found here on the BBC iPlayer.)

Monster Memories

Jeff Zycinski | 16:00 UK time, Sunday, 20 September 2009



There was a snarling dinosaur terrorising small children in Inverness city centre this afternoon, but no one was paying much attention to it. When you live just a few miles from Loch Ness, you become a bit blase about the sight of prehistoric creatures. In fact, when you come to think about it, exhibiting a monster into Inverness is a bit like exhibiting a lump of granite in Aberdeen or opening a tartan souvenir shop on Edinburgh's Royal Mile. Not likely to cause a stir.

But this dinosaur was there as part of a fund-raising trek from Land's End to John O'Groats. You could have your photograph taken with it, or even sitting astride two baby monsters, and then donate money in aid of a Teenage Cancer charity. A nice idea and, indeed, small children were all over it. Tiny tots with no fear.

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I don't think I was so brave when I was their age. I have an early memory of watching a TV programme about Nessie and then anxiously asking my mother if it really did exist.

"Of course not, " she assured me, " and besides we're in Glasgow and Loch Ness is hundreds of miles away."

When she left the room one of older brothers decided to exploit my fear.

"Aye, Loch Ness is hundreds of miles away right enough," he said, "but the Loch Ness Monster is so big that it can walk one mile in each step. If it came out of the water now it could be outside our house in five minutes. Maybe four minutes. Or three."

I don't think I slept much that night.

Good Reception

Jeff Zycinski | 22:52 UK time, Thursday, 17 September 2009


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I've decided to spend less time breaking bread with my colleagues in Glasgow and more time supping soup with the audience. This has become a lot easier thanks to the improvements that have been made to the reception foyer at Pacific Quay. It's been remodelled with a new snack bar and more tables and there are big display cabinets showcasing the various productions being made in Scotland.

But I wonder how many people realise that it's actually a public space and anyone is allowed to wander in, buy a cuppa and sit and watch all the comings and goings. I did that very thing this afternoon and watched as parents brought their kids in for a look at the Nina and the Neurons display and then ventured in to one of the Tardis-like High Definition TV booths for a wrap-around audio-visual experience.

There was a surprising amount of famous folk coming through the door too. Celebrity guests were being greeted by production staff and politicians were warming up for their interrogation on news programmes.

It's much more interesting than the staff restaurant on the roof and, I tell you, it's a far cry from the reception area we had up at Queen Margaret Drive where uniformed security guards used to patrol the pavement outisde and confront curious onlookers.

"Move along," they would say, "there's nothing to see here."

Not exactly the best slogan the BBC ever gave out.

Thumbs Up For Scotland

Jeff Zycinski | 15:10 UK time, Tuesday, 15 September 2009


I was almost got into a punch-up with a supermarket manager two weeks ago, but I've decided not to make a fuss. I've decided, in fact, to stop myself becoming one of those Victor Meldrew characters who write pompous letters of complaint to big organisations. A pity, really, because I was getting quite good at it. Instead, I want to start a Campaign for a Positive Scotland.

The supermarket incident - to get this out of the way - involved me trying to return a £25 own-brand MP3/Video player that I'd bought on impulse. For the life of me I couldn't figure out how to download video content and neither the printed instructions nor the onboard manual were of much help. So I took it back to the store and explained my problem.

"I don't think it's broken, "I told them, truthfully, "but it's not very user-friendly...and the quality of the still-images on the screen is pretty poor. Does that qualify for a refund?"

The girl behind the customer services counter called for her superior and he arrived with the air of a man who has just about had it up to here with time-wasters and chancers. I repeated my story, but he wasn't really listening. In fact he spotted a friend coming through the door and started talking to him instead. When I finally regained his attention he told me that he couldn't refund my money because the item in question wasn't faulty, the packaging had been opened and, besides, they didn't make it.

This is when it all became silly. I borrowed a pen and piece of paper from the counter to write down these reasons and make a note of his name. At first he put a thumb where I was trying to write and then he just grabbed the pen out of my hand and crumpled the paper into a ball. He did this with such suddenness that other customers stopped to see what was happening. Fight, fight, fight!

I just smiled, left the store, got into my car and phoned the helpline number on my receipt. The chap on the phone was great. He listened to my problem and offered me a refund right away. He gave me a reference code which I had to take back into the supermarket to ensure I got my money back. The pen-grabbing manager was not pleased, but he finally shrugged and told the girl behind the counter to give me my cash.

So, when I tell people this story they say I should write a letter of complaint to Head Office, but I'm not going to. The manager obviously has some people-skill problems but I wouldn't want him to lose his job.

Besides, as one who regularly has to respond to letters of complaint, I know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of someone's anger or frustration. I'm also getting weary of this general climate of "everything's rubbish" that we seem to have developed in Scotland.

This week alone it has been suggested to me - either in letters, e-mails or calls - that we abolish or ban the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Scottish Ballet, all artists, Robert Burns, politicians, Gaelic broadcasting, social workers, all religions, all church buildings, arts coverage, drama, the Edinburgh Festival, Glaswegians... and that's just this week.

Give it a month and all we'll have left is home-made tablet and Selkirk bannocks.

Yet there are a few shining beacons of hope, positivity and encouragement. Recently I met a chap called Kenny Muir. He's a native-born Scot but has spent a great many years working in India.

He's now one of this year's bona fide Home-comers and, speaking to him last week, I was just swept away with his can-do attitude and his capacity to see the good in people and things around him. I saw him again last night. He was in that supermarket, buying about twenty massive leeks and telling an enthralled checkout girl about his recipe for gourmet soup.

I'm hoping he'll be a guest on our Highland Café programme soon.

So here's to Kenny...and here's to that bloke on the helpline too.

My campaign starts here.

First Silverware Of The Season

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Jeff Zycinski | 19:48 UK time, Sunday, 13 September 2009



When Caley Thistle were relegated from the SPL earlier this year, local people consoled me with the view that football was more exciting in the lower divisions.

"There are lots of little cups to play for," said one fellow fan who recalled the days when he watched the team's rise through the Highland League and into the SFL .

And so it was today as an Inverness team of youngesters took on Nairn in the final of the North of Scotland cup...and won 3-2 at Mosset Park (home of Forres Mechanics).

Non-footy fans might be interested to know that the trip to Forres is a treat in itself. It really is a lovely town.

Even better when you have something to smile about.

So This Is What Happiness Looks Like

Jeff Zycinski | 13:06 UK time, Sunday, 13 September 2009



They're teaching schoolkids about mind-maps these days. My 12 year old son came home the other day brandishing this pictorial representation of his personal happiness. If you look carefully you'll see mention of chips with ketchup and the joy of a long lie in bed. He clearly takes after his Dad.

I first heard about mind-maps about ten years ago when a very clever young man from a consultancy firm came to the BBC and told us programme-makers how they could be used to improve creativity. Much better than boring old lists, the mind-maps allow you to make lateral connections between ideas.

It's the same theory that underpins a new project that has been developed by my colleagues in BBC Scotland's Learning department. Pinball, is a dynamic website, which allows you to bounce ideas across a computer screen. It's been developed for use by groups in brain-storming sessions and is certainly worth a look.

But, back to my son's map. I've finally spotted a little drawing of me in his 'family' section - and even our dog - Rascal - gets a mention.

No mention of radio, though!

Painting The Town

Jeff Zycinski | 17:41 UK time, Friday, 11 September 2009


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Finally, something exciting is happening to the old Woolworths store in Inverness. Regular diary readers may recall my countdown-to-closure posts at the turn of the year. Since early January the store has remained empty with various rumours about its redevelopment so far coming to nothing.

Today, however, I encountered a artist merrily slapping paint on the wooden hoarding that now covers up the side entrance.

"It's part of the art festival," she told me, as I hovered over her shoulder and finally asked her to explain herself, "there's more information about it in the Victorian Market."

I followed her pointing fginger and wandered through the market - but found nothing. I began to wonder if this had been a bi of mis-direction designed to ward off wandering critics.

Not that I really neded to know more. We'd covered the project in our Highland Cafe programme on Wednesday. Artists have been drafted in from all over Scotland to 'Re-Imagine' the city centre. Apparently these outsiders offer a different way of looking at the city.

There's artwork, sculpture, music and various "happenings".

But still no sign of a pic 'n' mix.

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Star-Gazing In Glasgow

Jeff Zycinski | 23:11 UK time, Thursday, 10 September 2009


Slurping a creamy latte in the Pacific Quay canteen this afternoon, I happened to look up from the froth and notice that Doctor Who was struggling with a door handle. The BBC's latest 'trust & honesty' guidelines now compel me to correct that opening sentence. It wasn't actually The Doctor, but rather the actor David Tennant who is working with our radio drama producer Kirsty Williams on a play for BBC Radio 4. He had been lunching with fellow thespians on the rooftop terrace and, adhering to our strict self-clear policies, was now carrying a tray of dirty dishes back into the main canteen. I watched while he approached the glass door and then tried to push the handle with his foot. I rushed to his aid.

"Thank you," he said, "that's very kind of you."

I was so tempted to make an ever-so-witty remark about sonic screwdrivers but you'll be relieved to know I resisted.

It was a bit of a day for celebrity visitors to our studios and airwaves. This morning Chris Moyles was presenting his Radio 1 breakfast show not ten steps from my desk. I was able to look through the studio window and see him standing in front of the microphone surrounded by his posse. There was much mimicry of a high-pitched song that features in a TV ad for sanitary towels. These young folk and their sense of humour. What are they like, eh?

I'm sure both David and Chris will forgive me if I say that I was even more impressed by the star guest on the MacAulay & Co show this morning. It was none other than Harry Shearer. Yes, Harry Shearer, star of the Spinal Tap movie and, wait for it, the voice of my role model Mister Burns in The Simpsons. The man is a comedy legend and he even told us that he downloads BBC Radio Scotland's 'funny bits' podcast while he's in the 'States.

But I wonder if he also clears away his own plates.

A Pod And A Wink

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Jeff Zycinski | 16:28 UK time, Wednesday, 9 September 2009


When I applied for the gig as Head of Radio here at BBC Scotland there were several other candidates vying for the job. It was, in fact, a ten horse race. At this point in the story some of you may be demanding a Stewards Inquiry or, at the very least, a dope test for the interview panel. Well, I'm sure the day is coming when BBC appointments will involve a text voting system for licence-fee payers, but back in the autumn of 2004, things were done in the traditional way. Each candidate had to present a vision for the future and then be grilled by four senior managers.

In my pitch I talked a lot about the future of digital radio and I remember throwing in some stuff about this new-fangled thing called Podcasting. I cited an article I'd read in Newsweek about how podcasts were so appealing to America's iPod generation and that "talk radio" in particular was attracting new audiences through this sexy new platform. Whether my panel of interrogators had ever heard of podcasting I couldn't tell. They sat, stony-faced and with arms folded. One of them produced a box of rotten fruit and began taking aim.

Or maybe I imagined that.

The point is that podcasting - now so familiar to us - seemed so revolutionary just a few years ago. Indeed I remember various gatherings of the Radio Festival where delegates debated whether or not this new craze represented an opportunity or a threat.
Today, all the research shows that podcasts actually encourage more people to listen to the radio. They act as bite-sized samplers which enourage people to tune in for more of the same.

The amount of time spent listening to downloads from radio stations isn't actually captured by the official audience figures produced by Rajar every three months. Separate research, however, tells us that they are incredibly popular.

All of which brings me to a little review of BBC Radio Scotland's podcasts which appeared in today's media guardian. It's written by Elisabeth Mahoney and, I have to say, her cheeky observations did make me laugh out loud.

You can read Elisabeth's article here...and you can find our BBC Radio Scotland podcasts here

Yes, But Do You Have Any Photographs?

Jeff Zycinski | 14:45 UK time, Tuesday, 8 September 2009


From time to time the programme makers here at BBC Radio Scotland will send me a little snippet of information in the hope that I might mention it on this blog. Being the grumpy old so-and-so that I am, I always ask if they have any photographs to accompany the story.

A few moments ago I received the following e-mail from Dawn Munro, a producer in our Features department based in Edinburgh. I'm just going to share the entire message with you:

Hi Jeff,

Just to let you know Medical Matters next week (wed 16th) is about Vasectomies and this morning Edi Stark and I were at the Sandyford Clinic in Glasgow recording two men having their vasectomy. At one point poor Edi had her microphone inches away form the man's scrotum! As well as the operation there are also two really good case studies where men talk about the emotional and physical fall out of having a vasectomy. It might make some of our listeners eyes water. Just thought it might be something for your blog.



Naturally, I asked for the pictures.

Going Out Without A Bang

Jeff Zycinski | 10:12 UK time, Tuesday, 8 September 2009



Almost thirty years ago, when I was eighteen, one of my favourite D.J.s announced he was leaving the local radio station. He was presenting a late night programme which encouraged listeners to submit stories, poems and wry observations on modern life. We, who took up the invitation, commented on each others contributions and the show felt like a little on-air club. It was a radio version of Facebook, if you like, but decades ahead of its time.

It was clear in the way the D.J. talked about his imminent departure that he didn't want to go. He was being sacked and I was outraged. I wrote an angry letter to the Programme Controller warning that "my entire family" would stop listening to the station unless this decision was reversed. I figured the bosses wouldn't care about the views of a teenager with little money to spend on the products being advertised on the airwaves...but my entire family! Now that was a real threat.

I didn't receive a reply.

A few days passed and then, one night, I received a phone call from a mystery woman claiming to be "a friend" of the hapless D.J. She told me there was going to be a gathering of the disgruntled on Monday night and we would campaign to save the show. We were to meet at 'The Bomb' in Glasgow's Central Station.(It's a war memorial and charity collection point fashioned out of an old artillery shell.) Thereafter, she explained, we would retire to a local pub and "discuss strategy".

Monday night came and I was one of about twelve listeners who turned up. It was all very jolly and we spent a good half hour shaking hands and remembering highlights from various programmes. All except one chap wearing a black over-sized donkey jacket who said barely two words and stood slightly apart from the group. I assumed he was just shy.

In a fleet of three taxis, we made our way to a pub in the east end of the city and there we met our hero - the D.J. himself! Imagine our excitement and then, with alcohol fuelling our thoughts, imagine the bizarre tactics that were discussed as we plotted our campaign. There was talk of picketing the station. Some suggested vandalising the transmitter and then, finally, the bloke in the donkey jacket spoke up.

"I have a gun," he said, patting the bulge on his pocket, "does anyone want to see it?"

At that point the D.J. made his excuses and left - and the rest of us dispersed with the kind of speed you associate with pigeons and angry tabby cats. Needless to say, that was the end of the campaign and, to be honest, when the D.J. quit the airwaves I gradually became a big fan of his successor. Call me fickle.

I was thinking about this episode yesterday when I heard that Terry Wogan had decided to leave BBC Radio 2's Breakfast Show. You can imagine the emotional reaction of his loyal listeners. But Terry's announcement that, at the age of 71, he was moving to present a weekend show was done with such dignity. Later he was on the telly, thanking his audience and explaining why it was better to go while he was at the top of his game. In the back of the shot you could see Pudsey Bear creeping up behind him, reminding us all of Terry's ceaseless support for Children in Need.

He eased the way for his successor and, more importantly, did no damage to the station. There was no secret campaign organised by gun-toting friends and he didn't even threaten to wreck the transmitter.

Way to go, Mister Wogan, way to go.

Walking The Talk

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Jeff Zycinski | 15:30 UK time, Saturday, 5 September 2009


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It was Doors Open day at the BBC in Inverness this morning and Yours Truly was part of the team showing visitors around our refurbished building. My PA, Michelle Walls, greeted each of the three groups of 12 people, Maggie McKinnon, from the Gaelic Department, revealed the inner workings of the BBC Alba news studio and I did what I do best...yes, I talked about the vending machine.

Well, no, I began my spiel with a bite-sized history of the building. I explained how it had been built in 1830 as the professional classes in Inverness moved away from the polluted, smelly River Ness and into street after street of two-storey townhouses. The last private owner died in 1942 and the house was taken into public ownership. It was occupied by the Highlands and Islands development board until it was gifted to the BBC in the 1970's.

The majority of the visitors were local people who were able to confirm some of these facts and add little details of their own. The lush gardens in this part of town stem from the soil that was originally used as ballast in ships arriving from North America. Or so I was told.

As we arrived at the radio studios, most of the questions turned to the technicalities of broadcasting and about why things go wrong. Then questions about the amount of football on the radio, the diction of pundits and the best way to get into broadcasting as a career.

On that last point I've been floating the idea of starting a weekly radio club for local teenagers. Many of the parents I spoke to today were enthusiastic about that, but there weren't enough teenagers in the tour to guage the likely take-up.

Meanwhile, having conducted three back-to-back tours in three hours, I have soaring admiration for the people who do this kind of thing for a living.

It really is about walking the talk.

P.S. Some photographs below show the refurbishment work from February to July last year.

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So What's New?

Jeff Zycinski | 16:43 UK time, Friday, 4 September 2009


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We're in a period where lots of new programmes enter the BBC Radio Scotland schedule. This week alone we've launched Brian Taylor's Big Debate, our new panel game Swots (see photograph) and we've aired another new drama - The Colour of Light. There's also a new series of Medical Matters, another run of Fowlis and Folk , Ricky Ross is back with Another Country and there's a Wednesday date with Bruce McGregor and the Autumn run of The Highland Cafe. All that plus a lively period at the Scottish Parliament being covered in Scotland at Ten.

This glut of new content can create some problems for us. Our trails producer, Ken Lindsay, has to decide which one to prioritise for promotion. Equally our own presenters have to be briefed on what's on air so that they can help tell the listeners about.

Of course, not every programme is greeted with the kind of enthusiastic applause that I might imagine in some of my wilder dreams. Each new addition to the schedule means that something else is displaced or that another series has to take a break. I get letters and emails telliing me that I make these decision while sitting in my "ivory tower in Glasgow".

Most of those complaints come from well-mannered and reasonable people who simply diagree with the scheduling decisions we've made.

Others - just a few - are (how can I put it?) ill-tempered. My Polish origins are sometimes cited. Also my weight. Fat Controller, that kind of thing.

"Why do you make these changes, " complained one woman, "it just casues trouble."

That was my wife speaking. I think she'd fed up having to check under the car before we drive off in the morning.

I was trying to explain this to Calum MacLeod, a reporter from the Inverness Courier. He interviewed me last week for this article which appears in today's edition of the paper. It's most about my decision to move out of Glasgow, but he also asked me about our investment in drama, comedy and investigative journalism.

You see, it's not that we deliberately set out to annoy listeners. We actually spend weeks on complicated research projects in which we ask for people's opinions. Our most recent audience analysis work involved group meetings around the country, one-to-one interviews and a project in which we sent our programme makers into our listeners' homes to hear what they had to say and eat all their biscuits.

But that was just me.

An Indian Night In Inverness

Jeff Zycinski | 15:56 UK time, Thursday, 3 September 2009


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The photograph shows my BBC Alba colleague, Norrie Maclennan, interviewing Mrs. Monika Kapil Mohta who is the Director of the Nehru Centre in London as well as being the Culture Minsister for the Indian High Commission. She was visiting Scotland with her family and managed to be enticed away from the Edinburgh Festivals so that she could visit the Highlands.

I was among those invited to the Townhouse in Inverness last Tuesday night in which we heard Scottish bagpipe music fused with Indian drums and where speakers described the new links emerging between India and the Highlands.

That includes the number of Indian filmakers who now come to this part of Scotland and Indian ownership of local distilleries. I even discovered that the Royal Highland hotel, down by the train station is now owned by an Indian firm.

My BBC Alba colleagues were interested to find out more about the diversity of lanaguage in India and how these are supported by the Government and other institutions.

I busied myself with a bit of hob-nobbing - drinking glass afater glass of fizzy bitter lemon - and trying my best to explain the archeitecture and history of the Townhouse to the visitors. Yes, one of those nights when I wish I'd down a bit of preparatory research.

As I get older and my hearing disintegrates, I do find these mingling occassions more and more difficult. I can never qquite hear what people are saying without leaning very close to their faces and invading their personal space. Then, of course, you risk spraying bitter lemon over them when it's your turn to speak.

Perhaps I'll invest in an ear trumpet.

Inverness In September

Jeff Zycinski | 15:35 UK time, Thursday, 3 September 2009



My year-long plan to photograph Inverness through the changing seasons might, until now, have given the impression that it never rains in this sweet city. That is not the case.

Today I waded to my usual vantage point near the Castle and had to wrap my camera in an environmentally unfriendly plastic bag in order to keep it watertight. I shared a joke or two with a couple of toursts who were trying to do the same thing.

"These will be great to show the folks back home, " joked one man.

Then, raising the hood on my anorak, I trudged back up the hill towards the BBC building and encountered my colleague Jackie O'Brien. I must have looked like I was in some distress because she offered me some advice on hill-walking..

"You have to stay in the moment, " she explained, "count to five and concentrate on the numbers. If your mind drifts then start the count again."

"But I don't want to stay in the moment, " I told her, "not when I walking through the rain. I want to think about other things."

"You mean those meeting in Glasgow?".

"No, " I said, "mainly I think about chocolate cake."

At that point she stopped giving me advice.

What I Told The Boss

Jeff Zycinski | 10:27 UK time, Thursday, 3 September 2009


The BBC Director General visited us in Inverness recently and everyone was on their best behaviour, with one notable exception: me.

Mark Thompson - for it is he - had been in Stornoway and didn't get to Inverness until the early evening. I was dashing back from Edinburgh. The usual train journey.

Now, normally, I would walk from Inverness station and up Castle Street to the BBC building. It takes about ten minutes. Fifteen when I'm humphing luggage.

That night, however, I was so worried about running late that I actually got into a taxi. Now, don't panic. I paid for it myself. Nevertheless it drew up in the BBC car park just as the DG was making his way to the front door. He, of course, had walked from the middle of town.

It looked bad. And things got worse when I explained that the front door was locked at this time of night and you had to use the security door at the rear of the building.

One nano-second too late it struck me that it might be best if I actually did that and opened the front door for him.

Oh and there's there was the over-enthusiastic way I talked about the variety in my job. You, drama, music, comedy...never a dull moment.

It was only later than it dawned on me that his job might have just a little more variety in it than mine.

I'll get my coat.

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