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Boris Johnson: The day I met the future Prime Minister

The day I interviewed Boris Johnson was back in January 2015. Mr Johnson was Mayor of London and had been invited to speak to Conservative party members at the Alma Inn in Laneshaw Bridge, by the MP for Pendle Andrew Stephenson. Back then, I was a reporter for the commercial radio station 2BR.

The schedule for interviews on that shift was tight, in order to fit as much into the day as possible. I had been speaking to an interviewee in Chorley previously and had to travel the length of the M65 motorway and get through the often congested town centre of Colne in rush hour, in order to get there on time. Not an easy task but, luckily, I arrived before Mr Johnson (I can’t recall if he was late or not) and made my way through the pub to the media area.

Interviewing politicians is all part of the day job, of course. During my career, I’ve had chance to grill other high profile members of parliament in person such as Ed Miliband, William Hague and Jack Straw. There was quite a buzz in the venue for this one though, whether that would have been the case for members of the public rather than just party members – who knows?

Boris Johnson arrived and the interviews began with the various news outlets – TV, print and radio represented. Rather than a pool, we conducted these one by one and each reporter was given a chunk of time to ask questions. For me, this is preferable to the “round robin” style of interview because you can tailor your piece accordingly and it wasn’t limited to a set amount of questions.

There was only one snag; 2BR was last on the list and I could overhear some of my questions being asked by my fellow media colleagues. Before my turn, I figured out ways I could re-word certain relevant topics so the answers wouldn’t seem rehearsed at best and at worse that I was covering old ground. As a former journalist himself, Boris Johnson wasn’t perturbed nor did he start to lag after the long line of questioners. He spoke to me as if I was the first person at the event he’d met.

The perceived “north / south divide” perhaps predictably, but nevertheless importantly, featured in my line of questioning. Something which is still at the forefront of people’s minds. Even now, as we try to decipher what the future of the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ may be.

It became clear, very quickly, that Mr Johnson couldn’t be specific with the details. Preferring instead to defer to his Conservative colleagues to relay various bits of information. He did so with aplomb, in keeping with his charismatic character.

Understandable for a Mayor of London on an appearance up north, maybe? But a trend others have noted as his political profile has risen. Here’s a recent example from an interview during the Conservative leadership campaign with the BBC’s Andrew Neil:

Speeches took place after an obligatory photocall. Guess what? Pulling a pint behind the bar! That is where my brief meeting with our future Prime Minister ends. Many others have their experiences: I was interested to read broadcaster Jeremy Vine’s ‘Boris Johnson Story’, as documented in The Spectator blog. (Incidentally, that was the inspiration for this blog post.)

They say a week’s a long time in politics and four and a half years ago the word Brexit hadn’t even entered parlance. The political agenda is very different now. Regardless of all the interviews, jokes and blunders – what happens next in Boris Johnson’s premiership will be the story the British public remember the most.

Boris Johnson – Gov.uk (Open Government Licence v3.0)

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Last chance to listen: Eclectic 80s

It’s the decade of big hair, big shoulder pads and even bigger songs.

That’s why, over the Easter period, I wanted to present a specialist music programme dedicated to the music that defined a decade. It’s a popular radio format for a reason and these songs ‘test well’ with listeners.

If the BBC wants to attract younger audiences then I think music of this era is a great way to do it. It evokes memories for those who remember the decade for those who lived it and appeals to those who didn’t. I think it’s testimony to how good the sound of the time was because programmes – and indeed entire radio stations dedicated to the decade – prove so popular.

When I was starting out in my broadcasting career I learnt a lot from the likes of DJ Caz Matthews at North Manchester FM. A few years later, I appeared on BBC Radio Manchester’s 80s programme firstly with Manchester musician Clint Boon and latterly Stuart Ellis. I was delivering travel bulletins into the programme at the time and a great advantage was that I got to hear a lot of the output! I know 80s is a format well done by very knowledgable and experienced presenters, which is why I wanted to do something a little different an put my own spin on things: I pitched “Eclectic 80s”.

My programme on BBC Radio Lancashire celebrates the niche, the novelty and great songs you don’t often hear on the radio. Wham! was the most requested band in my running order but, instead of what you might expect, I played ‘Young Guns’, when was the last time you heard that?

80s computerised TV host Max Headroom makes an appearance with The Art of Noise for ‘Paranoimia’, in what arguably takes the title of most eclectic song played in the whole two hours – and proudly so!

Also, I channeled Brett Davison’s ‘Tricky TV theme teatime teaser’ by playing the full theme from the TV show ‘Moonlighting’, which starred Bruce Willis – back when he had hair. It was performed by the late, great Al Jarreau and producer by Nile Rodgers of Chic. I’ll post a full tracklist at end of this blog post.

I was so proud of this programme, especially with the amount of interaction that I got while on-air. I wasn’t expecting much as it was Good Friday evening, but people got in touch to say they were listening, to tell me what they were doing and share their memories of the 1980s.

It’s only available on BBC Sounds for a few more days so if you fancy a quirky couple of hours to re-live the new wave, new romantic and synth pop style that defined a decade, follow the link here and re-run the fun: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p075j96b

TRACKLIST:

Stomp! – The Brothers Johnson

Sweet Surrender – Wet Wet Wet

Oh Patti (Don’t Feel Sorry For Loverboy) – Scritti Politti

Here Comes The Rain Again – Eurythmics

Rain or Shine – Five Star

The King of Rock n Roll – Prefab Sprout

You’re the Best Thing – The Style Council

My Old Piano – Diana Ross

Moonlighting – Al Jarreau

Kissing with Confidence – Will Powers feat. Carly Simon

Dancing with Tears in my Eyes – Ultravox

Let’s Wait Awhile – Janet Jackson

Danger Zone – Kenny Loggins

Chant No. 1 (I Don’t Need this Pressure On) – Spandau Ballet

Too Shy – Kajagoogoo

Sweet Love – Anita Baker

Young Guns (Go For It) – Wham!

Bridge to your Heart – Wax

This Woman’s Work – Kate Bush

Paranoimia – The Art of Noise feat. Max Headroom

Rosanna – Toto

Here we Are – Gloria Estefan

Don’t Look Down (The Sequel) – Go West

January, February – Barbara Dickson

Half a Minute – Matt Bianco feat. Basia

Thinking of You – The Colour Field

My One Temptation – Mica Paris

Down to Earth – Curiosity Killed The Cat

Waiting for a Train – Flash and the Pan

Cassette tape

The changing landscape of local radio

I was in a restaurant lately, a smaller group had been taken over by a larger one. The whole place had a refurbishment. The menu’s changed; old signature dishes have been removed in favour of other ones. The produce isn’t local – the meat doesn’t come from local farms and the ice cream is produced miles away, rather than in the dairy down the road. The staff have changed too, I’ve no idea where the managers have gone but some of the bar and serving staff have stayed.

This analogy also describes what’s happening to independent local radio (ILR) with big changes announced in recent weeks. Many smaller groups, including a lot of stations I worked for previously, have been bought by either Global or Bauer. This is because rules that restricted networking, by having a requirement that certain hours and news content must be produced in the area that the radio station broadcasts have been relaxed by the industry regulator, Ofcom.

It’s been a process of osmosis to get to this point which has been on the cards for years. At least there are two big players in the commercial world. It’s actually good to have competitors – to keep everyone on their toes and the bar raised. The stations that will remain will sound very slick, even if the links are voice tracked ‘crunch and rolls’ from the latest reality TV star turned radio presenter. That seems to be the trend these days…

Commercial radio has always been about making money and you can’t fault the companies concerned for doing that; it makes business sense to increase productivity in this way. If the rules are relaxed to allow networking then it’s only going to be a matter of time before it happens. Of course, behind every station rebrand or new celebrity slot comes with it job losses, families impacted and an industry with shrinking chances for established talent and newbies alike.

Others who’ve blogged on this subject have mentioned that the gap in the market gives an opportunity for both BBC local radio and community stations. In my experience, community radio sounds at its best when a station is well run by people with industry experience at the helm, usually in paid positions, to steer a cohort of enthusiastic volunteers. Even though community stations can provide a valuable hyper-local service, if the sound is poor people aren’t going to listen for long. What comes out of the speakers is everything, especially when other stations along the dial are going to be on form all the time. Ofcom rules state that community stations must be run not-for-profit and, in this current climate, I would argue this needs a rethink to allow the sector to flourish fully.

As far as BBC Local Radio is concerned, a lot of people’s perceptions are based on old-fashioned stereotypes. I produce the drive time programme on BBC Radio Lancashire and, since I took over this role around six months ago, we’ve reformatted the programme so local news is the focus but you’re never far from a song. If you haven’t listened in a while give it a go – the playlist is closer to many of the stations that will soon be shutting down to become transmitter sites for the bigger conglomerates than you may expect.

The reality is there’s only a finite amount of jobs available in the industry at any one time or, in the case of community radio, most do it for the love of the medium. Due to the recent changes, 250 positions in commercial radio could be lost, according to an estimate by the industry news service Radio Today. This affects many, from presenting, producing to news – not forgetting freelancers. Media and journalism courses up and down the country have optimistic students enrol each year with a dream of working in radio. If the jobs aren’t there for those already established then what’s the knock on effect going to be for those trying to get a foot in the door or develop?

It’s stark, it’s scary and it’s not what anyone who works on the front line in this industry wants to see happening to friends and colleagues who’re affected. The landscape is changing but I’d like to think it’s not all as bleak as it seems. Fewer stations are on the dial but there’s an online presence now that can’t be ignored. Social media, podcasts and listen again services mean there will be need for content producers, just maybe not in a linear format like radio is.

There’s stations like Imagine Radio in Stockport and Cheshire. Despite all the networking announced recently, the station’s new owners announced an expansion. Revolution 96.2 that broadcasts to Rochdale, Oldham and Tameside, is a commercial station super-serving those areas with local content. You might think a market like Greater Manchester may be saturated but there’s a lot of listener choice in these areas and that’s promising for ILR. In time, a hyper-local commercial model may spread to other areas as well.

I believe the trend for networking will buck but it could take a while. There’ll be a shift and demand for localness from listeners and smaller commercial radio stations will rise like a Phoenix from the ashes with a sound that will be different and refreshing. Like what Century did in the mid-90s, with a higher speech to music ratio, football rights and a well staffed newsroom. Something like this would need to be bold, have financial backing and launch when the time is right. Sadly, that time isn’t now and who knows what the local landscape will look like when it is? However, radio will adapt to survive; it always has and it always will.

Writing for radio

In this multi-platform age, we’re becoming less defined by titles. I specialise in ‘broadcast journalism’ yet the job description is becoming much wider, as the industry adapts to the world we live in.

When I left my job in commercial radio it was advertised again as a post for a “multimedia journalist”. Also, due to a recent change in terms and conditions, my role at the Beeb is now simply called “journalist”.

The job is arguably more varied than ever. My role may now mainly be a producer but I’m also a news reader and reporter. There’s maintaining the online presence too, particularly social media.

Variety is the spice of life but what is the lifeblood of a journalist? Writing is everything.

When I enrolled to study journalism, I was told I’d be taught how to write. “Well, I already know that”, I naively assumed. I already had a degree in English, dabbled in fiction writing and was even maintaining this blog. I was wrong.

You don’t need to be a modern day Shakespeare in order to succeed but there are a few habits to unlearn. Most academic writing is too mellifluous for journalistic purposes, with sentences that have enough subordinate clauses to lead you down the garden path and back again, a bit like this one, if you get my drift. Imagine how difficult it’d be to read that last sentence aloud?

Here’s my 10 top tips for writing for radio:

    Get to the point as quickly as possible.
    Be concise.
    You’re writing to be heard not read, so write sentences as you would say them.
    Read aloud to get the hang of it.
    Use contractions. In everyday speech you probably wouldn’t say ‘could not’ instead of ‘couldn’t’, so write that way.
    This extends to punctuation. Normal rules about grammar don’t apply because the commas, full stops and hyphens in your literary toolbox help give sense. Many times you’ll place these in a sentence to indicate a pause, allow for breath, or effect.
    Keep vocabulary simple. Use words you’d actually say. Many times I’ve changed a word in a perfectly good script because it’s not a term I’d normally use.
    Pay attention to the station style. Commercial radio news is very different to BBC. If you’re on work experience make the effort to listen to the output. This sounds obvious but you’d be amazed how many don’t.
    Be creative. A blank script is a bank canvas and just because this list is a general rule of thumb it doesn’t mean you can’t put your own stamp on things.
    Have fun! Your enthusiasm will shine out of the speakers.

Writing can make a difference between a great, good or mediocre piece. Think about social media; a well written, snappy tweet is more likely to go viral than one that’s wordy and all over the place.

The more chatty the better. The art of writing for radio is making it sound like you’re not actually reading. It’s a craft that takes skill. Skill develops through practise. Even over the archives of this blog, you can hopefully see how my writing has improved with time and experience.

We never stop learning – enjoy!

What Katy Did, last year…

January – the month of (failed!) New Year’s resolutions and a look back on how the previous year panned out. It’s become a tradition of this blog to do so and I’m happy to say last year was a blast, both professionally and personally. I’m going to be a true radio pro now and try to hook and tease you by saying that I’ve left the best until last… so stay tuned!

The theme of this year, for me, has been to embrace change.

2018 marks my tenth year in radio and I began by continuing to read the breakfast news bulletins on BBC Radio Lancashire. At the start of the year the station had a massive overhaul. We had a studio facelift, to join the ViLor network of BBC local radio stations. In a nutshell, this means all the music and speech clips are played remotely, rather than stored on computers in Blackburn. The studios moved down the corridor and the newsbooth became no more – as the news reader position is now incorporated downstairs, with the rest of the programme teams.

We were the first station to move onto the new system along with a change of newsgathering software to OpenMedia. The beginning of the year therefore involved lots of training and learning how all the technology works. The analogy “like a kid in a sweet shop” comes to mind!

I put the new equipment and editing software to good use throughout 2018 and have been involved in various bits of presentation and production. Before I got involved in journalism, my initial passion for radio came from a love of music. I‘ve been able to present music specials again, including a reprise of my ‘Chilled Christmas’ format and an indulgence in my interest in musical theatre with ‘Songs from the Shows’, which I presented on New Year’s Eve – a dream come to present a live programme solo on the BBC! I’ve also co-presented; again at the Lytham Festival, for the community programme ‘Your Lancashire’, presented the Unmissable Podcast and studio produced ‘Sounds Like Saturday Night’ and ‘Jukebox’.

I didn’t stray far from the news desk though; one of my highlights was producing and presenting a documentary which aired in May. While researching local Lancashire history, I came across a horrific murder case of a baby that was abducted from the old Queens Park Hospital in Blackburn and murdered. 2018 marked 70 years since the death of June Anne Devaney. It was also a police success story – the first case of mass fingerprinting of a whole town, which led to the murderer being hanged for his crime after a trial at Lancaster Castle.

I researched the background, dramatised the story and looked at the development of forensic science over the years. I’ve previously made a documentary and it was great to immerse myself completely into the art of long form storytelling again. I also feel like a bit of an expert on this case in particular.

Towards the end of the year, we had a shakeup of the rotas and now my main role is to produce the teatime programme. I’m really happy with how the show is sounding and loving the opportunity to shape the programme and guide it editorially. There’s something satisfying to start the day with a blank canvas of a running order and by the end have filled it with lots of great local content.

As you can tell, I’ve been quite busy work wise! It was sad to say goodbye to colleagues and stations I broadcast on during my former Saturday job as a traffic and travel reporter. It’s fair to say I’m a workaholic but I took the decision because, for probably the first time in a decade, I wanted more of a work / life balance.

Living in south Cumbria, we’re on the edge of the Lake District and there’s lots to explore. I’m getting more time to develop my hobby of amateur photography and I have a wonderful partner to now share these experiences with. We’ve had some nice trips last year; including Whitby, Kent and celebrating my birthday in Paris. I got to look at the Mona Lisa up close in the Louvre museum, go up the Eiffel Tower and have a meal floating on the Seine opposite Notre Dame… even if it did take a leap of faith off the river bank to get on the boat! No sign of Quasimodo ringing the bells this time though.

You can imagine, with a holiday to Paris planned there were lots of predictions among friends about whether the question would be popped and an engagement would be announced? Well, that’s all far too predictable! It’s too touristy for that and we’re both not the sort to follow the crowd.

I’ll always remember the 11th of November. Of course it’s Remembrance Day for those who have been lost to war. It’s now also poignant for me because it’s the date my partner and I got engaged – on Arnside Pier at sunrise. It was such a beautiful day; there was a stillness in the air and beautiful colours adorning the sky. Finding love and making this commitment has been the most unexpected but wonderful blessing I could ever have wished for.

A memorable year indeed and it’s nice to have a companion, and now fiancé, to share 2019 with. We’ve already had a roadtrip to Portsmouth and booked a holiday for spring. Of course, this is only a snapshot of the highlights of my last year but I do feel the most content I have ever been. Thank you to everyone who shared a part of 2018 with me.

More posts to come in 2019…

Chilled Christmas

Christmas traditions can come in all shapes and sizes, whether it’s a snowball cocktail on Christmas Eve or getting out the Boxing Day board games to play with the family. For me every year meant I’d dig out some festive favourite songs for a Chilled Christmas on special on the radio. The time has flown by like Santa on his sleigh and it’s been three years since I last presented a programme… until now!

I gave up that side of things to concentrate on newsreading instead. 2018 will mark my 10th year in radio and up until I qualified as a broadcast journalist I’d presented a ‘chillout’ programme of mellow music every week on different radio stations in the North West.

This year I’m delighted to say that I’ll be back on the airwaves presenting a new ‘Chilled Christmas’ programme on BBC Radio Lancashire on Christmas Day from 17:00.

My love of radio began at the University of Manchester’s student radio station, Fuse FM. After I graduated, I transferred the programme to North Manchester FM. I was also on weeknights on the Stockport radio station Pure 107.8FM too. One of the highlights when I was presenting Chilled Pure on Christmas Eve into Christmas Day morning and I was on Santa Watch. It was magical and I jingled all the way.

Even though I’ve had almost a decade in the industry, I still have to pinch myself because I never imagined I could make a career out of it. I originally joined student radio as a way to bring out my confidence. People who work with me now will find it hard to believe, but I was actually quite shy!

After working with Fuse FM’s marketing team, I was persuaded to put a show proposal in and I thought I’d pitch a show of music that I knew well from my own collection and that’s how ‘The Chill Room’ was born.

Later down the line, I was advised by industry professionals that to specialise in a genre or a niché area of programming was a bad thing, if you want to become a radio presenter. I can understand why they said that because there are so few opportunities in that line of work nowadays. However, I just took a different route and broadcast journalism suits me. I think it has made me a more rounded broadcaster as a result. It serves as a reminder; there’s more than one way to achieve your ambitions.

It’s been great to put a ‘Chilled Christmas’ programme together again, this time to be broadcast on the BBC. It’s an hour of festive favourites and mellow versions of tracks you know, with some hidden gems there too. On the playlist there’s Lady Antebellum, Luther Vandross, Stacey Kent, The Stylistics and a new release from Kate Rusby’s latest Christmas album – to name but a few. Hopefully, it’ll be the perfect festive accompaniment, while all the rich food digests on Christmas Day!

What a pleasure it’s been to research the music again. The programme will also be sprinkled with some anecdotes from myself as well. And – you know me – they’ll be quirky! This year has been truly fantastic for me in every way, both professionally and personally. To have been given the chance to present a programme on BBC Radio Lancashire really has been the cherry on top of the cake… or should that be the brandy on top of the Christmas pudding??

I hope you can join me on BBC Radio Lancashire from 17:00 on Christmas Day for ‘Chilled Christmas’. It’ll be available on iPlayer for 30 days after too – in case you want to extend that festive cheer even further!

All that’s left to say is Merry Christmas to you! Thank you for reading my blog during 2017 and I wish you all the very best for the new year ahead.

Nations and Regions Media Conference 2017 review: Long live local radio

lowry

This week I went to the Nations and Regions Media Conference at The Lowry in Salford. Since the Radio Festival changed venue and moved down south, I was looking forward to a conference of a similar vein in the old stomping ground.

I should have known from the ticket price (£90 early-bird rate) that this was aimed more at executive level, rather than for those of us who work in production. It would take a journalist working at some commercial stations around two days salary to pay to go to all events, adding travel and parking costs etc. The redeeming feature was the price did include lunch though – bonus!

One of the early sessions about investigative journalism was insightful; there was a lot of wistful reminiscing to the past about the likes of ITV’s long-gone ‘World in Action’. It was a treat to hear from director Paul Greengrass, who used to work on the programme before heading off to Hollywood. What I took from this session was journalists are more than ever required to “show their workings” in this era of “Fake News”, as President Trump coined it. It means, due to this vigour, the quality of work broadcasters are producing is actually more reliable. Maybe not all of Trump’s media criticisms are so damming for the industry, after all?

The second day got underway and I was enjoying debates on various issues. MP for Wigan, Lisa Nandy, shared her view that – because MediaCity now exists – that doesn’t automatically mean northern views are catered for. “The North” doesn’t stop at Salford and start again in Scotland. There’s a whole wealth of audience members, stories and talent that’ll be missed, if that’s a widely-held belief.

I hope it isn’t, but have taken calls from people in the past who have made humorous misconceptions. While I can forgive statements like: “Is Bolton in Lancashire?”, because it’s on the border. It only takes a quick glance at a map to know the answer to: “Is Blackburn in Manchester?”

Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Karen Bradley, announced there will be a consultation to move some of Channel 4’s staff out of London to “wherever it can be found” in the UK. As someone who grew up in Greater Manchester, I know how amazing the opportunities at MediaCityUK are: the area’s been completely regenerated and is buzzing. However, if every major media outlet sets up there, Salford will become as much of an isolated bubble as London is perceived to be.

As a regional staple, I was disappointed with the lack of mentions local radio got at the conference. People who work in that area make a limited amount of resources spread far and wide in order to create content. Talented staff are serving parts of the audience that other platforms may not reach. At times, providing vital information –  the recent Lancashire floods are a prime example. I would urge any sceptic to spend a day in a local radio newsroom – either commercial or BBC – and see for themselves. Yet newsrooms in local stations are constantly under threat from cuts.

BBC local radio as an example; there are stations all across the country. Audience reach of all of them combined must be enough to match a national network station. Surely that makes it eligible to warrant a discussion? The audience is more concentrated in each TSA and the issues differ from place to place, but that makes what’s on offer so unique.

It was infectious hearing Head of BBC Radio, Bob Shennan’s, positivity for the medium and his enthusiasm that another golden age of radio is “still to come”, even if it may be different from what has gone before. Due to the way the discussion went though, ill-fated Channel 4 Radio got more of a mention than local radio, which is still very much thriving on the dials.

At the end of a thought-provoking conference, I was driving home listening to a network station when the news came on. There was a Lancashire story in the bulletin and my ears pricked up, because that’s where I live and work. The reader made the easy mistake of pronouncing Barrowford, in Pendle, as: “BARROW-F’D”. You need local knowledge to know it’s actually pronounced: ‘BARROW-FORD’. There’s no way of knowing this by reading off a script alone. I carried on my journey explicitly aware that local radio is still as important as ever.

Radio reflections of 2016

bbc-lancsThis time last year, I made a decision that would affect how my whole year would pan out. I decided, after much consideration, to go back to freelancing. This was such a big decision because staff jobs in radio are like gold dust. But in 2016, I took a leap of faith.

As a result of that ‘Sliding Doors’ moment, I have had wonderful experiences and am going to share some of those with you in this blog. I spent the majority of my time in newsrooms across the North West. This past year has been quite extraordinary journalistically, in the stories that have dominated the headlines.

Just some stand out moments were when I was newsreading for Revolution 96.2 the day of the Hillsborough Verdicts, at Wireless Group the day Theresa May became Britain’s new Prime Minister and at BBC Lancashire the day after ‘Brexit’, as well as the day the announcement of the government’s decision to allow fracking in the county – a day when people from across the BBC were looking at my scripts.

I left 2BR in February and spent six months as a freelancer, before settling down at BBC Lancashire. Much of my freelancing was spent double shifting. Looking back now, I don’t know how I had the energy! I would finish a morning shift at one radio station, have lunch as quick as I could, then hot foot it down the M6 to the INRIX travel centre. I had some fixed hours there that helped guarantee while I was freelancing I could at least afford to pay the rent and bills for my flat.

There wasn’t a week I went without work though – one of my new year’s resolutions for 2017 is to have a holiday! I have been an INRIX travel broadcaster for almost three years and was pleased to get chance to be an information editor and see the other side of how the bulletins are put together. The travel hub is a hive of activity and it was great to be part of the afternoon team.

Rejoining BBC Lancashire was like I’d never been away! I was originally with the station in 2013 as a Broadcast Assistant and came back as a Broadcast Journalist in 2016. I’ve done almost every role in the newsroom from reading sport bulletins during the Euro 2016, the Olympics and Paralympics. To updating the Lancashire ‘Local Live’ pages of our website – covering the progress of Graham Liver and the team pulling a bed from Pudsey to Bare in aid of BBC Children in Need for BBC News Online. No two days are the same and I love the variety of my work.

My usual role is producing Gary Hickson at teatime, which is a real honour. When I was first with BBC Lancashire I was mostly a reporter for Gary’s programme and it’s great to produce the show I had previously worked so closely on. Gary is a talented broadcaster who brings out the best in me, keeps my feet on the ground and the programme’s rising RAJAR ratings speak for themselves.

It’s a dream come true to read news bulletins on the BBC and I count that as my biggest achievement of the year. I thrive in a live breaking news environment and it’s liberating to have so much creative freedom. I’ve loved bantering on the breakfast team, reading the extended news bulletins at one o’clock and the doing the double headed news with Gary at five o’clock too.

We embrace social media and I was proud to be the first person at the station to do a live news bulletin both on-air concurrently while broadcasting on Facebook Live. At the time of writing, Facebook stats show that broadcast has reached almost 94,000 people. Amazing… and it brings a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘Face for the radio’! You can see it HERE.

That’s just a snapshot; there’s been so many memorable moments to mention. Thanks to everyone who’s made 2016 such an enjoyable year. As for 2017… stay tuned! 

Graham Liver interviewing me for a BBC Children in Need outside broadcast.

Late Night Radio

Everyone can remember the moment they discover their passion and for me my love of radio was sparked after sunset. I can understand what it must’ve been like to curl up under the covers listening to Radio Luxembourg or Radio Caroline in the years gone by because that’s what it was like listening to late night radio for me. Although, I had my trusty CD walkman with radio tuner and five FM presets instead of  a wireless transistor.

My number one preset was Key 103 and every night I’d be tuning into James Stannage. It felt a bit rebellious doing this, not only because of the show’s near-the-knuckle content, but because it was way past bed time. Listening through earphones, my parents wouldn’t have a clue of my nocturnal radio habit – until I’d gaffaw with laughter at one of the comments. Busted!!

The show ran on until 2am most nights but it was compulsive listening because you never knew what would happen next with a call or especially Stannage’s reaction to what was said. Despite the late nights, I would rush to school because my classmates would love discussing what happened on  show the night before. We’d recall moments when James said he would “garrotte [his callers] with cheese”… and daring each other to ring in next time!

Shock jocks like Stannage aren’t around on FM anymore; even devil’s advocate risky comments pose too much of a risk in today’s courtroom culture to sue radio stations if any offense is caused. It’s a shame because those style of shows where I literally couldn’t turn the tuner off are hard to find now. My passion for radio had been ignited and I continued to listen to late night radio under the covers. Radio is always a very personal one-to-one medium whatever time of day you listen but this gets accentuated at night, especially with a talented presenter to keep you company.

After James Stannage left the airwaves, I veered away from listening to ‘Shock Jocks’.  James H Reeve took the vacant slot on Key 103 – he is very different to Stannage but just as compelling to listen to one of the most intelligent talk presenters I’ve ever heard. Then there was Nicksy who has an amazing talent for observations, which is a foundation of any good radio presenter, but Nicksy excels at it.

The late night slot on Key 103 was changing a lot and, to accompany my own broadening music taste, the next nightshift presenter I remember listening to is my favourite of all – Derek Webster through the night on Smooth Radio. Derek’s too warm and friendly to be a shock jock but just as humourous. I’d never heard a show like it before; it was like joining a club of friends who were other listeners across the county. I didn’t want to go to sleep until I’d heard how ‘Janey from the Dairy’ was doing or where ‘Nightrunner John’ was visiting that night.

I then became a radio rival to all these shows when I started presenting Chilled Pure on Pure 107.8 FM – there’s just something so magical about being on-air after midnight – but, as my career moved on, I had to leave the show with a heavy heart. Now I’m a reporter at BBC Radio Lancashire and sometimes my shift includes working on Alison’s Butterworth’s late show that’s on-air in Lancashire and Manchester. It’s a thrill to call screen and speak to night time listeners, just like myself.

I recently put together a late show reminiscing about memories of the Belle Vue showground, which utilised our Manchester studio to get the guests on air. It all ran so smoothly, listeners wouldn’t have known it was any different to usual but producing that show and seeing my ideas make it to air is one of the proudest achievements in my career to date!

It’s a dream come true for me to work on shows like this that sparked my love of radio so much so that I’m lucky enough for it to be my career. It’s a dream that happens at night but one that I’m staying wide awake to experience.  And you should too; there’s a wealth of late night radio out there. So next time you turn out the light, make sure you turn the radio on…

I’m producing tonight where you can hear the fabulous Joe Wilson tonight sitting in for Alison Butterworth on BBC Radio Manchester and BBC Radio Lancashire from 10pm…

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Top of the Vox Pops

Definition: VOX POP (Vox Populi) –“Voice of the people”

A vox pop is an interview with members of the public; their answers about a particular topic are usually edited to give snippets in succession. I’ve learnt lots by doing this over the years, so thought I would share what works best for me…

  • Ask open questions!!

If you only remember one thing from this post then let it be this: Asking open questions is the most important thing you more do when you vox pop. Here’s an example:

CLOSED QUESTION: Do you agree with XXX?

OPEN QUESTION: What’s your opinions on XXX?

Open questions elicit expansive answers from people. There’s nothing more boring to listen to than a series of yes and no answers – we’re not playing Take Your Pick!

  • Use station branding wherever possible.

This is almost like a form of ID and people will be comfortable speaking to you if they are familiar with the station you are doing the vox pops for.

  • Approach people within the station’s demographic or target audience.

…But make sure the selection of people you speak to are diverse enough to give a  true wide reflection of society’s opinions on a given topic.

  • Target areas with a high amount of footfall.

You will get your work done quicker if you does this; more people around means you’re more likely to get a response. However, avoid places where there is a lot of flyering because people will have become used to saying no in these areas.

  • Keep off private property.

Some areas, like shopping centres and train stations, are privately owned and you will need permission to vox pop here.

  • When speaking to members of the public, who may be in a rush, walk alongside them. 

This way they won’t have to stop and take time out of their day to talk to you, so you’re more likely to get a response.

  • If someone says no then leave them.

Do not harass or beg someone to speak to you – someone else will come along who will. The same applies if someone ignores you; they’re doing this on purpose.

  • Press record BEFORE you ask the question. 

That way their response will be genuine. People are naturally curious and will often ask what you are going to ask them before they agree to speak to you. Avoid doing this as it ruins spontaneity, if they are not happy with anything then you don’t have to broadcast it and can always delete it.

  • Always wear earphones (or headphones) to monitor the sound.

You will pick up noises or interference through earphones that your ears would not.  Earphones are usually better when vox popping, as they are more portable.

  • Keep an eye on the level monitor.

That’s  a better indication of volume than what you can hear.

  • Always use a pop screen or windshield on the microphone.

Do this even when indoors as a force of habit. Plosive consonants – particularly P, T and K – can produce irritating popping sounds, so a foam layer on the microphone reduces that risk. On windy days even a windshield won’t save you. In this case you’ll have to be creative with scarfs, coats, gloves – anything that will deaden the sound of wind hitting the mic.

  • Keep safe!

Last but certainly not least! When you are immersed in your work it can be easy to take your eye off the ball. The equipment you’re carrying automatically makes you a target of unwanted attention in public places, so keep alert and an awareness of your surroundings at all times.