Presenting in Lockdown
Radio has played a huge role in bringing us together during lockdown, becoming a lifeline for many - as Radio 1 presenter Greg James said during the first of our Great British Singalongs: “Isolation doesn’t mean you have to be lonely. Radio is a great pal to all of us.”
As listening has evolved over the last few months, so has broadcasting, and like many of our audience, a number of BBC Radio presenters have been working from home. Through a series of socially distanced portraits we wanted to show you their studio set-up. If you thought your signal dropping mid-zoom call rendering you a motionless statue was bad, imagine broadcasting to the nation when you suddenly cut out...
We caught up with presenters across our stations Radio 1, Radio 2, 6 Music, 1Xtra and the Asian Network to find out how the pandemic has brought them closer to the audience, and how they’ve been getting creative during this period.
Dev: "I’ve had to get extremely creative with my home set up. There are a lot of YouTube tutorials on how to soundproof your home…"
"I’ve used clothes pegs and mic stands to build a makeshift studio, and I’ve had the occasional bit of dodgy internet when I’ve been on a Zoom call, and might have been caught out one or two times with what has been in the background... You learn a lot about people you have worked with for ages by what is in the background."
"Sometimes you have a problem or an experience, that you are trying to convey to an audience, and it can be a bit difficult speaking to so many different people, but the pandemic is something that we are all going through at the same time, and in my career, it’s the first time something like that has brought everybody together and [it makes you] reassess things. I joke a lot about having an inconsequential job, you know if the world ended tomorrow no-one would need a radio DJ, but actually, during these times people appreciate you being there for them."
Tom Ravenscroft: "For the first time, I've been using the John Peel archives in my shows, which is an unbelievably lucky thing to be able to do"
"I didn’t have a sufficient studio to be able to make radio shows, I had my dad’s [John Peel’s] old studio which was a bit broken, and I had a few bits of kit, so the first thing I had to do was build a working studio. Also, I’m away from my record collection, but I’m very fortunate to be with the huge collection here in Suffolk. It’s been nice digging through old music and putting that in the show because usually, it's very much about new music. It has been a completely different approach."
"My relationship with the audience has changed quite a bit because it is pre-recorded. I listen to the show as it goes out, so weirdly during the pandemic, I have become a member of the audience, which is quite strange. I miss the live interaction, but it has been quite nice to have a period of what it is like to be in the audience."
Harpz Kaur: "We are having more one-to-one, heart-to-heart kind of moments on-air"
"It has brought me closer to my audience in a different way, the connection is a little bit more intimate believe it or not, it’s the things that people are sharing with us that have made me a lot closer to them, just listening to their stories of what they are doing during lockdown, how they are finding listening to the radio being their greatest escape, I feel I am hearing them in a different way."
Huey Morgan: "I am also recording a Fun Lovin’ Criminals album at the same time, so we are getting creative down here"
"I am lucky that I have a recording studio in my basement, and my wife and my kids let me do my own thing."
"We are in our homes trying to make something out of a bad situation, and I think we are accomplishing that, and I’m glad that the audience appreciates that I’m still trying to do it from my studio."
Ace: "This time has been about adjusting to the situation"
"Unfortunately, my show was moved to Saturday afternoons during lockdown and is more of a mix show. I miss interacting with the listeners and reacting to things that happen during the week in real-time."
"Early in lockdown I was DJing a lot on Instagram Live which was fun. I then went on to create my own singing competition called “The Vocal Elections”. I’ve found some awesome vocalists and also had a chance to interview some of my favourite R&B singers."
Ken Bruce: "When the bin men come it can make it on to the air"
"Working from home has brought up the odd problem. The front of the house we’ve got double glazing but still quite a lot of noise gets in and I’m just waiting for someone to start up a chainsaw any second now..."
"We get a lot more people just asking for a simple hello or a mention for relatives just because they are not seeing them as much as they could. Particularly working from home I sympathise with that, because there are lots of people I’m not seeing."
"We are all kind of feeling we are in this together, so it has brought broadcaster and listener rather closer together. It has made us have to be a little bit more creative with what we include in the programme, we do a lot more saying thank you to people who are keeping our essentials services going, and we are also giving people ideas of things to do while they are in lockdown."
Annie Mac: "People are being more open than ever, and talking about the fact they’ve felt anxious, or they’ve felt depressed. That’s never happened before for me in my broadcasting career"
"It feels like people have opened up emotionally. The pandemic has forced people to confront their emotions and how they feel about their place in the world. Music has never felt more important, and more of a companion, it’s the combination of helping people through music, but also being able to express people’s emotions through shouting them out. It’s been amazing to be able to talk in this way, and have this very open discourse about mental health."
"I sent out an email to all of my friends who are DJs and producers and said if you are making anything in lockdown that you might not release, but you need to express how you are feeling, then send it to me, and we will play it, and use that as a reflection of how you’re feeling. I got a massive response to that, so not official singles, not even official releases, just music that was created in lockdown."
Trevor Nelson: "I am a bit of a technophobe, believe it or not, DJs don’t like to admit that, but I am"
"On 1Xtra, it was the first time I have ever pre-recorded links from my house, and I had nightmares. It took me ages to work out, and sometimes the equipment was faulty, but it was interesting FaceTiming the techs and having to show them what plug was what. It’s amazing what can be achieved remotely and moving forward we can certainly do a lot more, and save a lot of journey time, doing stuff from home, so I’m all for the semi home working vibe, although I do love being in at the station."
"People have been reaching out in a way that is slightly more affectionate. It feels like radio has been quite united and we have felt quite relevant. Broadcasters were called ‘key workers’ I never use the term because I just felt ‘am I?’, but the listeners certainly felt you were and that was noticeable."
You can listen to Trevor Nelson on Radio 2 with Rhythm Nation from Monday through to Thursday from 10pm and on 1Xtra on Sundays from 3pm.
Mobeen Azhar: "Amid a global pandemic, we’ve all been able to think about what is truly important to us"
"Being able to engage in conversations around the world from a makeshift studio in my flat has been a revelation."
"One of the things I treasure most is the connection with family and the people I love but also with contributors and listeners who share their perspective. It’s a privilege to be able to connect with people in this time."
Gideon Coe: "I’ve never furrowed my brow so much in choosing particular records"
"I’ve had to be creative in working from home in terms of applying maths to the way a programme is built more than I would for a live programme. With a live programme, you can move stuff around as you go, you can pull stuff in, and get rid of stuff. With this, each section needs to be a certain length, so the records have to do that, and I don’t want to fade them too much. It has been a good dose of hard work in that sense."
"Broadcasting during the pandemic has brought me closer to the audience in a different way because they are communicating via email, it’s almost like going back to the days of letters in the post. So they will email, and their contribution will feature in a week's time, and the same applies the other way round, there is no way of knowing whether they love or dislike a particular piece of music till some time later. The overall feeling is one of closeness, because of the whole situation that we are in, and the strangeness of pre-recording a programme for months at a time, and the strangeness of doing so in a shed in my back garden."
Jo Whiley: "There’s been a raw honesty shared by listeners and presenters which has made us all feel much closer"
"I’ve never felt so connected with the audience as I have throughout lockdown. Having people sharing with you their loss and struggles is very humbling."
"We randomly decided to have a bit of storytelling on the show which people responded to with such warmth and appreciation that we have kept it going. We’ve had poems and short stories from the likes of Dawn French, Peter Capaldi, Tom Fletcher from McFly, Michael Sheen, Dermot O’Leary. Some of them have made us laugh and some weep…"
Bobby Friction: "I’ve had to get more creative over the last couple of months than in my entire adult life. It has been a revelation"
"You know when they say, ‘evolution is all about adaptability to change?’. Well, if that’s the case, I have evolved massively more in the last couple of months than I have at any other point in my career. It started as problem after problem. I am recording from home how do I get this done? How do I do links when I’m not in a studio? How do I work without a producer sitting with me? How do I feel passionate about the music, when it is being added in afterward? It has been amazing because there has been an answer to everything. Not only have I adapted, but it’s also made me realise that I need to start applying the lessons learned to every aspect of my life."
"I feel more like a music fan because I’m finding music, spending hours listening, and then playing it, but when I was in the office, and all the artists were coming in it felt like an industry we were reporting on, and that’s kind of stopped. It’s back to the good old traditional, let's play a track, and talk to the audience. Even though that’s great, and the basis of radio, I want to get back to being the centre of a genre across the globe."
"During the first month and a half, it definitely brought me very close to my audience because it felt they really, really, really needed that voice on the radio to acknowledge the madness we were all going through, which is exactly what I did. The number of emails I got from people questioning, and physiologically almost spinning out of control because of the lockdown filled my inbox. I’ve always said music is medicine, and this pandemic has proved that to me because people were crying out for music that made them feel less alone."
Rickie: "You are only as good as your WiFi"
"Sometimes at the start of our show, my daughter will just appear beside me asking for something while I’m on-air, and you just can’t count that for can you? But it’s all part of it, and everyone is in the same situation. Bad WiFi is an absolute leveller, it doesn’t matter if you are Adele, or Taylor Swift, or little old me in my house, luckily I think mine has been 50/50, one week it will be amazing, another week it will be shocking."
"Everyone is in the same position, so a lot of the things we can only really talk about are based on things everyone else is experiencing. You know, queuing up for the supermarket, eating loads, or you go the other way, and you are a fitness fanatic... There are a lot of similarities that pretty much everyone can relate to during this time."
Gary Davies: "I have a very special camaraderie with my listeners during these trying times"
"I’m continually getting lots of messages saying, 'thanks for keeping the show on-air during these trying times' or, 'I’m isolating alone, and the show lifts my spirits'. It’s been a really good way for the audience to connect with friends and family who they can’t see."
"The show has to be pre-recorded. Usually, I’m live from Wogan House every Friday. I record on a Wednesday afternoon but need to make the show feel like it’s Friday night, so I close all the blinds in my living room and hang lots of blankets in front of the microphone to reduce the echo from my wooden floors, and then try to recreate the feeling I have when I do the show live. Luckily, I also have a superb production team, Ste, Johnny, Paul, and Lizzie, who are working harder than ever to get the show sounding great. My living room is not soundproofed like a studio is, many times I’ve had to stop recording. If you listen carefully, you may even hear the kids next door playing!"
MistaJam: "We’ve all had to pull together during what has been a really scary and traumatic time, and that still isn’t over"
"But while we were being asked to stay indoors, there’s something so intimate and real about live radio that evokes a direct emotional response. Unlike TV or social media, with radio, there’s no screen putting distance between the audience and the broadcaster - and I’ve definitely felt people have responded even more deeply to the feeling of normality that tuning into radio has offered.”
“I’m really lucky that my home studio is away from the main part of my house, so I have been able to avoid distractions from the kids. I did go out and buy a load of expensive kit to allow me to broadcast directly from home which hasn't been used as of yet; but for a geek like me, I’m sure I’ll put it to some good use at some point in the not too distant future!"
Dipps Bhamrah: "We are able to educate and entertain on levels like never before"
"During the pandemic being creative was something that had to be pushed to 11. Due to streamlining the schedule, the network asked if I was happy to do a four-hour Bhangra show, and as soon as I heard four hours, I thought the stars and planets had aligned. Until 72 hours before the first broadcast, and I’m sitting at home and started having a bit of a panic attack if I’m completely honest, but that's where the amazing production team we have at the Asian Network come in. You just need to focus, and once that focus came in, I think this is the most creative I have been in my 17 years as a broadcaster."
"The four hours allowed us to play a wide spectrum of music we could have never played before because we didn’t have the time. It ended up being a show that seamlessly went from the biggest tracks right now, the biggest artists, world exclusives, all the way down to the godfathers and the godmothers and of bhangra and punjabi music in the 60s and 70s, the music we never had time to play, and we got to explain why these artists are such a big influence on the world of music today."
"We're an outlet for people when they are all in lockdown, or they are on the frontline as key workers. A nurse from the frontline got in touch and said I’ve just finished an eight-hour shift, I’m in the car listening to the show, and I just wanted to message and say you are doing a great job. These guys are on the frontline, and there are so many more, and if the music we play offers just a small ray of hope, comfort, or happiness, it’s worth it."
View the full series
Artists in Lockdown
Eighteen musicians invite us to take a socially distanced doorstep portrait, as we catch up with a range of artists who are no stranger to our radio stations to find out what they’ve been doing during lockdown, and one thing they can’t wait to do with fans when it lifts. Tap here to view the full series of portraits.