Thursday, 9 January 2014

At the Heart of West Yorshire

Hello webby friends,

Happy New Year, hope you had a lovely break and that your "Oh God, I'm back to the grind" feelings were fleeting.

Over the holidays I met with the Deputy Editor of Radio Leeds, Katrina Bunker, to discuss bringing my  radio presenting dreams a little closer to reality. Katrina was so friendly, knowledgeable and practical I came away brimming with plans and hopes. The first of these was a session shadowing Andrew Edwards as he put together and presented his 3 til 6 drivetime show, which happened yesterday afternoon. I couldn't have asked for a better introduction.

Andrew and his producer Tim Daley were firming up their running order when I arrived at 2pm. This first hour was very technical, getting audio ready, queuing up the songs for the various regular features, finishing scripts, confirming guests. They explained the software they used, how things were sourced and decided upon. I met their reporter Daragh, political editor Lou, Paul with the weather and the news and sports reporters. Harry Gration from Look North is a big enough local star that when I got home 4 people asked me if I met him (yes I did. Awesome tie!)

My head was spinning a little, trying to keep track of all the information. The technical side wasn't the main focus, of course, but it was a lot to take in at first sight. Tim and Andrew were very patient in the face of my total lack of knowledge and probably ridiculously naive questions. The software available to them was amazing - I'd love to have a play on that music archive! It was like the world's greatest record collection at the touch of a button. And news feeds - the Rip and Read news stories Tim showed me conjured images of an old fashioned world of telex, cigarette smoke and "hold the front page" urgency.

As Andrew said, the complete trust between the two of them in one another's competence and support was a key part of the success of the show. The Editor (or Deputy, in this case, as Editor Rosina Breen is on secondment at the moment) gives them the freedom and creativity to put the show together, they have utter faith in each other's ability to get their bits set up ready to roll and they make a very complicated set of tasks look effortless as it goes on air.

Once the programme began, I sat in with Andrew in the studio. Geez, he's good. Radio can flatten sound  as it comes out of tinny little speakers, I've noticed. As he talks, Andrew modulates his voice through its range to keep the sound interesting and avoid any monotone dreariness. He must talk to the clock in order to keep regular bulletins in their rightful place, I'm sure he must. But not once during three hours did I feel he was rushing something nor spinning it out to cover the last few seconds.

I made a note of the language Andrew used - partly to spot patterns and partly because I do love words. He was positive and encouraging, but not in a false "hey there, pop pickers! Here's another smashing tune..." way. He talked of fond memories watching old Sci Fi programmes, hearing new versions of old favourite songs, being pleased to see regular guests for the first time this new year.  Any negative comments were in a warm, self-depreciating tone - "Are New Year resolutions a pile of rubbish or am I just being an old grump" - to act as a foil to other contributors.

I thought about this a good deal.

Television is demanding. It's a toddler clamouring for attention, it wants you to look and listen and not do much else but pay attention to it. Radio is a friend sitting at your kitchen counter with a cuppa, chatting to you while you do the washing up, or keeping you company as you potter through the house and garden. It doesn't mind if you can only listen with half an ear for a bit, or if you've only 20 minutes to spend with it.

To choose to spend time with it, you want your radio pal to be good natured and friendly. You don't need someone grumpy or overly upbeat - both can suck the energy right out of you. You just want someone who is nice to listen to (and occasionally talk back to) and who chats about things of interest to you. Quite a lot is said on the BBC training web pages about picturing your listener, and I guess that's who I see: my friend Jean washing the coffee cups in  her tiny kitchen, or my friend Kirsty making packed lunches and feeding the kittens, or Liz and Andy driving to and from work.

After the first chatty, informal hour of the programme I joined Tim at the producers desk as the more news heavy part of the programme began. It was a quiet news day, so Tim had time to talk to me about how radio had worked in the past and where it was going. He was really interesting and insightful (although rather intimidatingly dismissive of music on the radio. I am NEVER telling him any of my favourite records. Ever.) Local radio has an interesting position, he explained. It has one foot in the easy, "give people what they want to listen to" camp and the other in the Reithian "tell them things they ought to know." How national stories and events affect them, here in West Yorkshire, is of more relevance than getting drawn into the media'n'politics bubble that some national radio programmes inhabit.

Tim talked about how pressures from cutbacks, the loss of new, young listeners as kids no longer rely on radio as their new music source,  and changing technologies are all things that will radically change the role radio has in society. To have a future it needs to be proactive in finding new ways to matter to us. Tim's eloquence and knowledge made him a fascinating person to talk with. Broadcasting is entering an interesting phase.

For the final hour I sat in with Andrew again, less intimidated by the screens and control panels but equally absorbed by that most interesting of all skills, Making Hard Things Look Easy. Professionalism like this always thrills me - it's part of why I love some actors, or skilled bakers, or other skilled craftsmen and women - they do something with such apparent effortlessness that you are fooled into thinking anyone could do it. They wear their expertise lightly.

People came in to do their bit - weather, sport, promotion of that night's Look North. There was friendly banter, some pre-recorded segments and between it all Andrew threading various bits together into a cohesive unit. At the end he cleared up, returned all the settings to neutral for the next person to use the studio, and talked to me about what I'd seen and learnt. As I walked out into the driving rain, I couldn't stop grinning. My head was full to bursting. More than ever I know that this is something I want to do.


  1. It sounds like you had a great day and it's given you plenty to think about. I'm so pleased it went well. You say you have a lot to learn, but those couple of sentences from :"Radio is a friend sitting at your kitchen counter with a cuppa" onwards show how you absolutely get radio. Those two paragraphs make me want to find a comfy spot and curl up and listen to you right now!

  2. I'm absolutely brimming over with excitement for you Jay :-)

  3. This is so exciting to hear about!