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Archives for January 2010

Winner Number Ten

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Jeff Zycinski | 23:16 UK time, Sunday, 31 January 2010


Thumbnail image for Daniel-Thorpe.jpgTo the City Halls in Glasgow this evening for the tenth annual BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician finals. This year I opened the proceedings alongside Fiona Hyslop, the Minister for Culture and External Affairs. Then we took our seats for what turned out to be one of the best line-ups I've ever seen. This was not the year to be a judge (which I'm not) because the standard of performance and showmanship was so high.

If they had opened the betting during the interval I would have put my money on Daniel Thorpe who played the fiddle in a style I can only describe as a mix of Scottish, blue-grass and a wee bit of classical violin. His set and his rapport with the audience were brilliant, but I wondered if the judges might have thought it was too far away from the 'Trad' tradition. Besides which, the other five finalists were also superb. There was Kyle Warren on pipes, Mairi Chaimbeul on clarsach, Paddy Callaghan on accordion, Hannah Phillips on clarsach and finally another piper, Lorne MacDougall.

I'm listing them all because I'm certain each one of them will go on to great things in future years.

During the interval I escorted the Fiona Hyslop to the backstage Green Room to say a few words to the competitors. Regardless of your politics, having a Government Minister does add a bit of prestige to the event. We also enountered Ruairidh Macmillan who won the title last year. He confirmed a rumour I'd heard that he had forgotten to bring the winner's Quaich with him and had to run home to retreive it. Luckily he lives in the middle of Glasgow.

Then, all too soon, it was judgement time. I was back on stage with the "golden" envelope which I ripped open as loudly as I could for the benefit of audience listening live on BBC Radio Scotland.

"I know something you don't know, " I teased, before revealing that "the winner of the BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician competition for 2010 is........... Daniel Thorpe."

Sometimes even I get things right.

You can listen to the whole event here on the BBc iPlayer.

Saturday Quiz

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Jeff Zycinski | 11:31 UK time, Saturday, 30 January 2010



Now here's something you don't see on the streets of Inverness: newspaper vendors. Earlier this week I was writing about the distribution challenges faced by papers like the Press & Journal . It relies on a complex network of planes, ferries, vans and hardy paperboys and papergirls. But no vendors in Inverness, strangely enough.

In Glasgow the Evening Times vendors are now equipped with branded jackets, tents and umbrellas There seems to be about two of them on every main street.

Well I'm using this photograph for this weekend's blog quiz. Can you guess the word that I've removed from the vendor's poster?

Glory awaits you. But no prizes.


Congratulations to commenter 'Madmac' who got it right first time. The answer was 'guns'. more quizzes for a while, I think!

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Me, Holden Caulfield And The Big, Green Pods

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Jeff Zycinski | 16:10 UK time, Friday, 29 January 2010


Apparently half the world is waiting to find out if the late J.D. Salinger had a secret cache of unpublished manuscripts. Of course, not everyone is salivating at the prospect. Owen Dudley-Edwards, for one, appeared on Good Morning Scotland this morning to echo the view that "Salinger had nothing to say and he said it very well".

Anticipating these occasions I keep a sledge-hammer near the radio, just along from my big bowl of walnuts. In a matter of moments I was sweeping up a pile of plastic knobs, circuit boards and leaky batteries.

That is to say, I disagreed.

For yes, gentle reader, I was one of those angst-ridden teenagers who came across The Catcher in the Rye at the perfect age. I was sixteen and already suspecting that adulthood was going to be something of a disappointment. Salinger, through the voice of Holden Caulfield, gave me a teenager's guide to phonies. Almost everything - religion, Christmas, school, movies, sex, actors, and musicians - could be dismissed and dumped in a New York garbage chute and only childhood had any authenticity.

Growing up, I believed, was a bit like going to sleep next to a big green pod and being replaced overnight by an unfeeling being from another planet. I'd seen this happen in Invasion of the Bodysnatchers. Most of my teachers, I could believe, were aliens...and the school janitor was probably their secret leader.

Catcher became my bible, my sheild against hypocrisy. I carried it around with me at school and, where other teenagers decorated their bedroom walls with posters of pop and football stars, I tacked up a grainy black & white newspaper image of Salinger himself.

I even wrote a letter to my adult self, describing my view of the world and urging the 'me' of later years not to distrust the sincerity of my feelings. I think that letter still exists, in a drawer in my dad's house.

But then this morning...betrayal. Listening to the coverage of Salinger's death I did ask myself why I ever thought his writing was so important to me.

At some point in my past, I must have slept with the pods.

There's some great coverage of Salinger - including a slideshow - in The New Yorker magazine.

Celtic Connections on BBC Radio 2

Jeff Zycinski | 22:43 UK time, Wednesday, 27 January 2010



Our music producer, Richard Murdoch, has been urging me to tell you all about the programme we've recorded for BBC Radio 2. Ricky Ross is the host and presents a collection of highlights from the Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow. There are full details on the Radio 2 website but the show does have a fantastic line-up.

I have to say, our Pacific Quay H.Q. always takes on a new lease of life as this time of years as musicians and audiences gather in various parts of the building for the multitude of Celtic Connections programmes we make for BBC Radio Scotland and other parts of the BBC.

For audience shows, the reception foyer is converted into a mini-venue, with staging and seating and, when you add in the lighting array, it looks like a little night-club on the Clyde.

I hope some of that atmosphere comes across on the airwaves.

No Old Buffers At The BBC

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Jeff Zycinski | 22:13 UK time, Wednesday, 27 January 2010


At a meeting in Glasgow this afternoon our guest speaker was Andy Parfitt, the Controller of Radio 1 and 1 Xtra and the man in charge of the BBC's popular music strategy. I'm not sure who is running our unpopular music strategy but there's bound to be someone.

Andy gave us an eloquent and compelling account of the BBC's plans and described how the various radio networks were making links with BBC television channels to cover big events like The Proms and T in the Park.

But at one point he tried to tell us how he had been repeating himself at meetings in London.

"I sound like a broken record, " he said, before pausing and wondering aloud if that expression would make sense to anyone born in the post-vynl era.

"Perhaps it should be 'I sound like a skipping CD,' " he mused, before rejecting that and finally landing on the perfect expression for this age of digital downloads and internet radio

"I sound like a buffering stream," he concluded.

If William Wordsworth was alive today he'd be using lines like that in his rap-poems.

Delivering The News

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Jeff Zycinski | 14:12 UK time, Tuesday, 26 January 2010


Amy-at-BBC-Inverness.JPGI've just been saying my goodbyes to Amy MacBeath who has become of this blog's many recurring characters. Amy, you may recall, was one of the students on the multi-media journalism course at Glasgow Caledonian University. For the past month or so she has been picking up shifts in our Inverness newsroom, compiling and presenting the local opt-out bulletins on BBC Radio Scotland. Now she's heading back to Glasgow in search of the next opportunity.

We got to talking about the future of newspapers and the launch of the new online "paper" the Caledonian Mercury. I'm fairly enthusiastic about these things but it does frustrate me when, on some other online sites, I can't immediately spot the publication date on the articles. I like to know if my news is new after all.

Amy, on the other hand, worries more about the impact on local newspapers and thinks it's smart if papers delay the publication of their online versions until noon or later. That, she says, would still encourage people to buy the hard copies.

Her concern stems from her early career in the media. She was a paper-girl, delivering copies of the Press & Journal around Inverness. A dying breed, she tells me, either because teenagers don't think it pays well enough or because parents worry about their kids wandering the streets in the early hours of the day.

I was reminded that, in the midst of this month's big freeze, when roads and pavements were under a foot of snow, I saw one solitary paperboy trudging through the whiteness, visible for miles around because of his big orange P&J bag.

"Yes, " said Amy, "I used to do that...and I still have one shoulder lower than the other."

See if you can spot that in the photograph.

Looking For Rabbie Burns In London

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Jeff Zycinski | 22:43 UK time, Monday, 25 January 2010


Now here's a question for my fellow Scots. Are there times when you feel like being a bit more Scottish than usual? Like, when you're not actually in Scotland?

I had that experience today when I found myself walking the length of Regent Street in London, prior to a meeting at Broadcasting House. I was searching - in vain - for any token acknowledgment that today was Burns Day. I thought I'd find at least one department store window festooned in tartan and with mannequins fondling haggis in a suggestive manner.

Well, you know how they like to sex things up down there.

But no, not one single finger of shortbread could I spy, let alone any image of Burns himself. So off I went into the bowels of the BBC, determined to do my bit for our bard. I'd been invited to the Radio 4 Forum chaired by the station's Controller, Mark Damazer. It's held in the radio theatre rehearsal rooms on the lower ground floor of B.H. The venue adds an air of intrigue to the meeting and it's more than my career is worth to tell you about anything that was discussed. Nor can I describe the secret rituals involving the big urns of tea and coffee. There was supping from cups, but more than that I dare not say.

But I can tell you about the moment when I flapped my hand in the air and Mark asked me if I wanted to make a point.

"Och Aye, " I said, adopting a thick brogue (and worrying about what kind of father I could be to footwear with learning difficulties) "I just wanted to wish everyone a happy Burns day."

In case you're wondering, I did go on to make some blindingly obvious point about the importance of live programming over the festive season, but that was just a cover for by Burns infliltration. I fooled no one.

And it turns out I wasn't alone. In the departure lounge at Gatwick Airport I ran into an old chum from my Moray Firth Radio days. Rory Stone was the breakfast show DJ when I was on the MFR news team way back in 1989. Now he runs his family business in Tain and had been in London promoting the firm's famous cheeses at Selfridges.

Because it's Burns day, of course. Rabbie loved a bit of Brie.

And if you want to hear how some BBC Radio Scotland presenters are getting in on the act, then have a listen to their recitations on this website.

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Pleased As Punch

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Jeff Zycinski | 13:02 UK time, Saturday, 23 January 2010



I turned 47 yesterday and my son decided it was time to start punching me. He's heading towards those teenage rebellious years and has all that pent-up anger, so I can understand his thinking. He, of course, claims the birthday gift (two pairs of inflatable boxing gloves with stylish inflatable headgear) was all about encouraging me to have fun while getting fit. I almost believed that until we went into the back garden last night and he proceeded to knock me senseless. Mrs. Z had to rush out and break things up.

"Keep it clean guys, " she told us, "the people want to see a fight, not an execution."

I blame these video games the kids play today. All that violence without consequences. My son thinks that if he knocks my head off he'll get three chances to do it again before the game is over.

It could be worse. I've just been listening to Stuart and Tam with Tony Roper on Off The Ball talking about the games that children used to play when they were allowed out of doors. I remembered most of them, but not knifey.

Knifey, it turns out, was a game which involved chucking table knives into the grass in front of your opponent . The idea was to see how close you could get before the other guy chickened out.

A listener called in to the show to describe how one of his pals turned up with a carving knife and then threw it straight in to another kid's wee toe.

If my son suggests something like that I think I'll throw in the towel.

Genius In The Detail

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Jeff Zycinski | 00:14 UK time, Friday, 22 January 2010



Time for a little quiz, but with no prizes. I was in Glasgow city centre yesterday and saw this sign. I must have passed it hundreds of times but hadn't really noticed the detail before.

It's the kind of thing that would interest our Past Lives production team and I have no doubt they could track down a whole story about the artwork and the motto.

I wonder if you can tell me where, exactly, I saw this.


Lorna Fraser who identified the entrance to the Argyll Arcade in Buchanan Street, built in 1904.

This was fun...shall we play again next weekend?

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Asta From Iceland

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Jeff Zycinski | 13:48 UK time, Thursday, 21 January 2010


Thumbnail image for Asta-Magnusdottir.JPGImagine being personally blamed for the collapse of your country's banking system. Well I'm sure it happens to some politicians, but let me tell you about a humble student studying at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh. Asta Magnusdottir describes herself as a proud Icelander but in 2007 she watched in horror as the economic crisis unfolded and the banks went belly-up.

For Asta the first personal consequence was having her bank account frozen and her credit cards being refused in Scottish shops. Then came the stand-up rows with people who had invested in Icelandic banks and took their anger out on Asta as the closest, visible representative of the country.

It got so bad, she told me, that a holiday in Australia was a welcome relief because no one there seemed to know about Iceland's woes and no one was blaming her for anything.

I met Asta today at Pacific Quay when she came in to quiz me about public service broadcasting. She's writing her fourth year dissertation on the subject and drawing comparisons with BBC Radio Scotland and Radio Iceland.

In her home country, public broadcasting is funded through a mix of taxation and advertising, but, because of the recession, the commercial broadcasters are challenging the dominance of Radio Iceland and want it to stop taking precious advertising revenue.

I told Asta there were some similiarities with the BBC's situation, but the arguments here were about who should get a share of the licence fee.

And, thankfully, no one has blamed me for what happened to the Royal Bank of Scotland.

That's what Fred Goodwin is for.

Celtic Media Awards - Third Time Lucky?

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Jeff Zycinski | 20:24 UK time, Monday, 18 January 2010


For the third year in a row we've been nominated as 'Station of the Year' at the Celtic Media Festival. Great news, but having come back empty-handed from the past two festivals you'll forgive me if I temper my joy with a wee bit of caution.

We have two other nominations this year. One for Fred MacAulay and another for an edition of our documentary series Give Me A Voice. That particular programme heard from men who had been victims of domestic violence and investigated the lack of support from various agencies.

This year the festival will be held in Newry in Northern Ireland. My favourite thing about this event is that it's always in the least obvious locations and you get a chance to see a part of a country you might not otherwise visit .

My least favourite thing is the journey home without a trophy.

Searching For Vodka, Country Music And Mermaids?

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Jeff Zycinski | 14:59 UK time, Sunday, 17 January 2010


little-mermaid.jpgRadio critics seem to be a dying breed. I don't mean the people who like to criticise radio programmes. There are plenty of those and I'm just glad that some of them don't know where I live. No, I mean the professional columnists who are paid to write about radio in the newspapers.

Last week I panicked when I couldn't find Paul Donovan's Radio Waves column in the Sunday Times Culture section. Some months ago it was moved from its prime location next to A. A. Gill's television review. It's now buried in the back pages near the small print of the radio listings. I suppose there's a logic to that but you can wear out three thumbs hunting for it.

Today I discovered that Paul was writing about the legal shenanigans between Absolute Radio and Absolut vodka (that was after he made some dodgy joke about Scots and booze).

This struck a chord with me because, from time to time we do run into problems with the names of programmes and, indeed, the name of the radio station. There are those who maintain that the Radio Scotland moniker belongs to that much-missed pirate station from the 1960s. I have sympathy for this passionate nostalgia, but I also have to point out that we're actually called BBC Radio Scotland.

Celtic Connections was another problem for us. You may hear that name and think of the festival of music that brightens up every winter in Glasgow. But long before that festival came into being, we had a programme called Celtic Connections. Eventually we made the decision to change the name because it was causing too much confusion when Celtic Connections - the programme - was covering the Celtic Connections festival. Things became even more complicated when we were covering an Old Firm match on the same day.

We also get lawyer's letters from time to time. The folk who run the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville once took exception to us having a country music programme called The Brand New Opry. When we eventually deciphered their argument it boiled down to the rhyming of 'brand' with 'grand' and, of course, the use of the word 'opry'.

Now, we could have taken a stance and spent thousands of dollars of your licence fee battling it out in the American courts, but we didn't. Instead we substituted the word 'opry' with 'country' and, as internet listening became more common, that made a lot of sense.

Internet search engines, you see, rely on programme makers being fairly straightforward when it comes to titles. Most producers like to be creative - even enigmatic - when it comes to naming a programme. I once had a series about hoaxes entitled 'Waiting for Mermaids' but you had to listen to the first ten minutes of the first programme to understand that.

On the internet a show called 'The history of hoaxes' or "Scottish comedy' is likely to be found a lot faster and easier by the very people who would be interested in listening to it.

It's simple, obvious...does what it says on the tin...but just not as much fun.

For Fork's Sake

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Jeff Zycinski | 15:14 UK time, Thursday, 14 January 2010


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The next time one of the newspapers exposes the jaw-dropping salary levels of BBC managers I would like you to deduct £3.99 from the amount they say I'm soaking from the licence-payers. That was how much I had to fork out for a new set of cutlery for the BBC kitchen in Inverness. That's coming straight out of my own pocket because, well, no one can be bothered with the Beeb's complicated procurement procedures. In my case I just don't want a Freedom of Information request to reveal I'm claiming cash for spoons. There are drugs connotations with that, you know.

Chocolate pudding connotations too.

To describe our current situation as a 'Cutlery Crisis' would not be an exaggeration. Truth is we were down to our last fork and there was talk of a booking system being introduced. People were eating spaghetti with their bare hands and it was only a matter of time before the rioting started.

So, as is our way, a small working group was sent up, a series of ideas were tested with focus groups, a report compiled and finally I was sent down to the bargain shops to see what I could find.

Meanwhile, I want to assure you, that everyone else here in Inverness was hard at work making programmes. I gathered four of our top creative folk together for the group shot above and, just in case you thought that all they did was pose for photographs holding forks, here's what each of them is up to. So, from left to right...

Lee- Ann Howieson (Content Assistant)

I am currently in the early stages of a No Going Back programme on the Fèis movement and how it has impacted Gaelic music and culture since it began in 1981

Jonathan Taylor (BBC Production Trainee)

I'm just finishing the Laughed Off the Page series - recording the last one a week today - Next week I'm moving to London to work on the Horizon programme.

Dan Holland (Producer)

2010 is the centenary year of some of the original great polar expeditions - Shackletons legendary battle for survival, Amundsen set off into the unknown for the South Pole and Scott departed on his ill fated expedition to claim the Pole only to find that he had been beaten to it. Exploration and adventure is at the heart of a brand new series for BBC Radio Scotland called Into The Unknown which will bring you stories of pushing frontiers and pioneering new lands and with some of the modern days greatest explorers. Crocodile initiations, defying death in the Bering sea and Grand piano's in The Amazon Jungle....Into The Unknown starts on BBC Radio Scotland Thursday 11th February

Suzy Beaumont

I am currently finishing a 'Give Me a Voice' to go out on the 18th Jan 2010 at 11.30

Christina lives in Thurso in the far north but despite the lack of local sporting facilities her own son Andrew managed to become Scotland's number one in various events including the Triple Jump and the 400 meters. Christina struggled to fund his trips to compete and came close to giving up but she was determined her son would not miss out just because they lived in the Highlands, now she is campaigning and challenging the Scottish Government to fund all travel costs so that all youngsters can reach their true sporting potential

I am also finishing off the paperwork for the last in the series of 'Success against the odds' with Pat Nevin, a series about inspirational people striving to reach their chosen goal.

And I'm also working on a new 'Give Me a Voice' about Sophie Dow who after the challenges of bringing up a daughter with learning difficulties she is now fighting to create such awareness, that by the year 2020, all children and adults in this country with learning difficulties, will receive the recognition, help and support they need to reach the very best that they can achieve.

As for me, I'm counting the spoons.


Six Empty Shops That Might Be The Key To Recovery

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Jeff Zycinski | 22:29 UK time, Wednesday, 13 January 2010


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I'm no expert in economics but I have a simple theory. If we really are going to claw our way out of recession this year, then surely we'll be able to see the evidence of that on our High Streets. Take all these empty shops we see in city centres these days. Can we monitor recovery based on how quickly they are re-occupied?

Well that was the idea I sent to BBC Scotland's business journalists this afternoon, but so far I've heard nothing back from them. I'm guessing they're rolling their eyes at my simple, child-like suggestion or clutching their sides to prevent laughter-induced injury.

They can be so cruel.

But hey, who needs 'em? This blog has long been the home for my sillier ideas and so it shall be again.

Today I walked through the pedestrian precinct in Inverness and counted six empty shops, including my old favourite Woolworths. I was writing about the closure of Woolies this time last year and honestly thought someone would have snapped up that location by now.


Add to that we have the former outlets of Adams (kids clothes). Millets (camping/outdoor gear), Viyella (womenswear), a former Job Centre (ironically) and the little Lemon Tree cafe.

Let's return in six months and see what's happened to each of them.


Sadly, if you don't want to play this game with me, in Inverness, you can look around a High Street nearer to you.

Phew! What A Scorcher!

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Jeff Zycinski | 14:19 UK time, Tuesday, 12 January 2010


Thumbnail image for Cathedral-in-snow.JPGAt two o'clock this morning we awoke to a scary rumbling noise and we knew that the thaw had begun. It was either that or my snoring had got out of control again.

But no, huge slabs of snow and ice were tumbling off the roof. This prompted our dog to begin early rehearsals for a forthcoming Festival of Barking. He's dedicated, I'll say that. He kept practising all night.

Today in Inverness we've been enjoying the balmy sunshine and temperatures as high as 2 degrees. I doubt if this is the last we'll see of the snow this winter and I'm sure we'll all be a little better prepared next time around. I do, however, take issue with people describing these conditions as "extreme". Unusual, yes. Unexpected, yes. But not extreme.

You ought to speak to my colleague Elizabeth Clark about that. She spent a year working in Canada and loves to tell you about the "extreme conditions" she endured in Winnipeg.

Radio bulletins there would always include a skin-freeze estimate.

"Good morning - it's 40 degrees below zero just now and exposed skin will freeze in under a minute."

It's almost enough to make you buy a balaclava. Almost. If only they were a little more stylish.

Meanwhile, back in Scotland, I'm still waiting for them to clear the railway line at Carrbridge so that I can get to Glasgow without having to brave the blizzards still sweeping A9.

Tomorrow, they say.

These have been extreme conditions, they say.

P.S. Good news.

Send Back The Whisky, The Beer And The Cakes

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Jeff Zycinski | 11:17 UK time, Tuesday, 12 January 2010


In the days when I earned an honest living as a news reporter on commercial radio, I was once sent to cover a Press Conference at a distillery. It was one of those good news stories about extra investment and new jobs and ample time was afforded to record individual interviews with the boss. Everyone was happy.

Then, as the conference drew to a close, a smiling P.R. man stood at the door and offered each reporter a bottle of whisky.

Now, I was fairly new in the job and this was the first time anything like this had ever happened to me. Just months had passed since I had emerged from University College, Cardiff with my shiny post-graduate diploma in Journalism Studies - a course which had included a weekly class on 'ethics'.

I don't think there had been a specific module on accepting gifts from multi-national companies and yet I knew it was wrong to do so. It would also have seemed ungracious to refuse

So I compromised my position. I took the booze and gave it to my Editor when I got back to the newsroom. He accepted it with few qualms. I, on the other hand, felt I had crossed a line.

As I say, I was young. Young and troubled. With a bad haircut.

This story came back to me today when I was sent a copy of the BBC's latest guidelines on "declaring personal interests". Once a year we have to fill out a form and list any interests or activities that might conflict with our duties as servants of the licence-payer.

I love completing that form because I never have any personal interests. I have no social life either, but that's another story.

The BBC policy also gives guidance on accepting gifts:

Gifts (for individuals or their family) from organisations or individuals with whom an individual has, or might have, business dealings on behalf of the BBC should not be accepted. This can include goods and services in kind, at preferential rates or cash. Gifts should be returned to the sender or donated to charity"

This is the one that make me really unpopular in the office as well as at home. I recently agreed that one production team should send back a tray of cakes and pastries that had been sent in by a local baker. Two Christmases ago, a Scottish brewing company sent us many, many cases of lager. That all had to be returned too, with a polite 'thanks but no thanks note".

I didn't get many cards from colleagues that year. I got a few more personal remarks about my haircut.

At home, Mrs Zed and the Zedettes occasionally complain that I don't qualify for fantastic freebies such as free tickets to football games and associated hospitality. Worse still, the kids aren't allowed to enter any BBC competitions. That used to bother them a lot.

Of course this might make me sound like a prissy goody-two-shoes with bad hair, but I was actually inspired by the actions of a newspaper journalist. This was at a BBC Scotland programme launch at Babbity Bowster's pub in Glasgow ten years ago. As I recall, not many reporters actually turned up. I remember one poor chap from the Sunday Post being surrounded by BBC producers and press officers. I think he quit journalism that very day.

And then in walked Tom Shields who, at that time was writing the Diary for The Herald newspaper. I don't think he was there for the BBC event...he just happened to pop in.

What I do remember - vividly - was that he refused to partake of the BBC's hospitality. Yes, he had a drink with us, but paid for it out of his own pocket.

Class, I thought. A man with principles (or his own expense account.) I was impressed and thought, again, about that bottle of whisky.

Is it too late to return it?

'Waiting To Talk' Is Not The Same As Listening

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Jeff Zycinski | 23:23 UK time, Monday, 11 January 2010


Conversation-Zone.jpgThe American radio guru, Dan O'Day once told me that there were two halves to a conversation.

"The first half is talking, " he said, "and the other half is?"

Well the obvious answer was "listening" but Dan shook his head.

"No. The other half is 'waiting to talk'."

Now, I'm not sure, but I think he was actually making a point about the poor technique of some radio interviewers. That fear of silence, of dead air, sometimes causes people on the radio to act completely different to the way they would behave in real life. Or as badly as they do in real life.

In normal circumstances, when we meet people and start talking to them, we probably spend a reasonable amount of time listening to what they are saying. They might be telling us an interesting story about how they got stuck in the snow or a not-so-interesting story how they had to call the insurance company about their broken gutters.

Sometimes there are pauses, hesitations, repetitions...real conversations are messy, but we don't worry too much about filling every second of the time available. Entire minutes can go past while we try to remember the name of a mutual friend or particular street.

We seldom tell the other person to hurry up with the story because "the clock has beaten us once again".

If truth be told, though, there might come a point in any conversation when you get fed up listening to the other person and you look for an opportunity to pitch in with your own story about the winter weather...or even change the subject completely.

This is the 'waiting to talk' part and we tolerate it.

Yet here's something I discovered during my years of studying psychology.

Most of us think another person is more interesting if they allow us to do most of the talking.

It's true. Often we don't even realise it, but sometimes we might notice that the other person seemed genuinely interested in what we have to say. If they talked at all it was probably to ask follow-up questions about topics we ourselves had raised.

"Was it the guttering on the front of your house or the back? Which company are you insured with? Did you say it was actually attached with plastic brackets?"

Of course the only way to ask meaningful and relevant questions is to actually listen to what the other person is saying. You have to pay attention. You have to stay in the moment.

You can't just ask random questions that you've prepared beforehand. That would be rude and a bit bizarre. Imagine a first date where you went armed with a questionnaire.

Ok, I did that once, but she noticed the clipboard.

Which brings us back to radio and the difference between a good conversation and a bad one...or indeed the difference between a conversation and an interview. In a radio interview situation the object is often about getting as much information as possible within a limited amount of time...and sometimes involving a person who doesn't want to answer the questions you need to ask.

If you want to hear lots of good conversations then I recommend listening to the new Conversation Zone which we're launching this week. It will be available online as a continuous stream or on demand via the BBC iPlayer. There's even a FaceBook site you can join.

You'll hear presenters like Edi Stark, Clare English, Janice Forsyth, Sally Magnusson, Lorraine Kelly, Susan Calman and many more...each have their own style and technique, but all of them know the difference between listening and waiting to talk.

Now...about those gutters...what's that you say? Oh the clock has beaten you?


Still Too Cold For Nessie

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Jeff Zycinski | 21:13 UK time, Sunday, 10 January 2010



The roads were good enough for a drive to Dores this afternoon. There was barely a ripple on Loch Ness and, before you ask, those ripples were not caused by a pre-historic monster rising out of the depths to devour winter tourists.

No, that's just a wee fantasy of mine.

This, believe it or not, is the last day of the Zedette's Christmas holiday. Weather permitting the Highland schools re-open tomorrow morning.

Oh well, it will soon be Easter. The chocolate eggs are already in the shops.

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No Fun At The Bonspiel

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Jeff Zycinski | 22:45 UK time, Friday, 8 January 2010


I can't begin to tell you how excited we were all getting about the bonspiel. It started with an e-mail from our sports Editor, Tom Connor, who suggested we should put one of our Satellite trucks out at the Lake of Menteith on Tuesday to allow for regular reports on this historic curling tournament. Then we heard that News would be covering it for TV and radio...then we thought we put together a crafted documentary for the sake of posterity...or that MacAulay & Co might come live from the ice...then Annie McGuire said she would be the reporter on the scene and there was going to be a big meeting to decide which of these ideas we should prioritise.

And then we heard it wasn't going to happen after all. Not safe, say the authorities.

So everyone at BBC Scotland went back to their desks and their normal jobs and the hysteria evaporated.

Not safe?

When is ice curling ever safe? I played one game - many years ago - after being duped by Lisa Summers into believing it would be a good team-building activity for the staff in Selkirk.

What she didn't tell me was that I would be crashing my knees into a solid surface every few minutes and hobbling about the office for a week afterwards.

"Poor technique," she explained, without an ounce of sympathy. She has a thin sliver of ice in her heart does that woman.

Still, a bonspiel would have been fun.

Ross, Brand, Sex And Naked Crime

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Jeff Zycinski | 20:37 UK time, Thursday, 7 January 2010


Today, amidst all the ballyhoo about Jonathan Ross quitting the BBC, I was sent a couple of interesting electronic messages. One came from a Mister Steve Letford (a comedy writer whose genius is yet to be recognised by the world beyond Facebook) who suggested that 'Wossy' might soon be contacting me looking for a job and that I ought to resist the temptation to sign him up.

This, I should stress, was not one of Steve's better gags but it did get me thinking about the nature of talent. You see, as unfashionable as it is to say it, I actually think Jonathan Ross is a very funny radio broadcaster. I also thought Russell Brand was good on the wireless too, but perhaps in smaller doses. In essence, both Ross and Brand are entertaining story-tellers, it's just that the stories they tell are not to everyone's taste.

My second interesting e-mail today came from my colleague Karen Miller. From time to time, Karen sends me some statistics about the popularity (or otherwise) of BBC Radio Scotland's various online content. Over Christmas, for example, Desperate Fishwives was one of our big hits on the website and our podcasts atttracted a lot more listeners than usual.

"On a slightly related note," she added, "your blog entry Sex, Drugs, Fame And Money, from 2007 is in the top 15 every week".

Well of course I immediately clicked on that link to see what wonderful insights I had been sharing with you way back then and discovered I had been describing my encounter with Russell Brand at the Radio Festival in Cambridge. I suggested to Karen that this was indicative of the power of celebrity, but she corrected me.

"No, it's a sign of what words people search on. Graham Stewart's blog on Naked Crime also features every week."

So what does this tell us? That fame is a passing thing, but that sex, drugs, money and naked crime will outlast us all?

Or that bloggers with no integrity will put popular keywords and topical references into the title of their entries just to pick up passing trade?


Plans For Beach Barbecue Still On Hold

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Jeff Zycinski | 12:30 UK time, Wednesday, 6 January 2010


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In the hope of winning the glass trophy for 'Stating The Obvious' I should just tell you that Inverness still resembles a winter wonderland. It's not actually snowing at the moment and the sun is shining, but it's bitterly cold outside.

I was upstairs in the BBC Scotland newsroom this morning and hearing all sorts of tales about camera crews ploughing through snowdrifts to get footage of that derailment at Carrbirdge. I can also reveal that some of our reporters have taken to living together because they cant get to their own homes at night. I'm predicting at least one Spring wedding (or civil partnership ceremony) as a result.

At home we've had no rubbish pick-up for a fortnight. Now, I know this is the norm in places like East Dunbartonshire, but here in the Highlands we do like to have our bins emptied on a regular basis. As it is, our big, green wheely bin has been embedded in a bank of brown slush since Boxing Day and you can only imagine what that turkey carcass looks like now.


The sad news is that I've had to cancel my usual Wednesday trip to Glasgow (cue leaping and clicking of heels) and spend more time at home clearing the steps, paths and pavements.

Still, that's more fun than some of those BBC meetings.

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New Year, New You - Week One

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Jeff Zycinski | 11:14 UK time, Monday, 4 January 2010


So they're off and running or, in Fred's case, paddling. This morning we launched BBC Radio Scotland's New Year, New You campaign and Gary Robertson popped in to the MacAulay & Co studio to make his solemn promise to run a half-marathon before the summer. Fred, for his part, revealed his plan to paddle a canoe along the Caledonian Canal to raise money for Sport Relief.

It was Fred who reminded Gary that they had both run a 5K race way back in 2004, as part of the finale of our SoundTown project in Dalmellington. The proof of that is on the video below. Gary reckons he's a lot fitter now!

In the days ahead we'll hear more about how our presenters and listeners are teaming to to take on various challenges in 2010. If you fancy taking part yourself then click on to BBC Radio Scotland's Motivation page for some top tips on how to achieve your goal.

I, by the way, will be cycling around Scotland, but all from the comfort of my bedroom. I have a new exercise bike and my son has drawn up a map of Scotland with various waypoints marked upon it. It'll be a virtual journey, you see. Well, I've tried the real thing but the weather always gets in the way.

Oh...and I'm also writing an e-book, but more on that later.


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Jeff Zycinski | 15:17 UK time, Saturday, 2 January 2010


gutters-snow.jpgTwice this week I've had to give myself a good slap for worrying about nothing. The first was last week when I was struggling through the hordes of pre-Hogmanay shoppers in a local supermarket and becoming silently indignant when told they had run out of carrier bags.

Ten minutes later I was sitting in the car listening to Newsdrive and rather upsetting interview with an elderly woman in Abderdeen who had been trapped in her home for days - without even milk or bread - because she was afraid to venture out on the icy pavements.

And there was me moaning about having to carry my own shortbread and cherry cake to the car!

Then today, I emerged from the house to see that the build-up of snow and ice had finally brought down much of the guttering on our house...and the house next door...and the house next to that.


The neighbours gathered in the street to survey the damage and tut-tut about the quality of house-building in Scotland these days. We were just getting into our stride when two rescue helicopters flew overhead, on their way to the pad at Raigmore Hospital.

We all fell silent.

"Oh well, I suppose it's just some guttering, " said one of the neighbours and we all went back indoors to call our insurance companies.

Meanwhile, on the radio, fans are calling in to Sportsound to complain about the late cancellation of football games.

Slap, slap, slap.

Starter For Ten

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Jeff Zycinski | 17:34 UK time, Friday, 1 January 2010


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Looking at this display of 2010 Calendars, I got to thinking about who might still be part of popular culture in a year's time and then in ten year's time. Will Michael Jackson merchandise still be selling enough to merit a place on the rack? What TV programmes will be more popular than Hollyoaks and The Simpsons? Will that young bloke for High School Musical go on to super stardom as a serious leading actor?

Make your best guesses here and we can review them in a year's time.

Regular readers of this blog will know that my own preidctions for fame and fortune usually mean the kiss of death. So maybe I shouldn't play.

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