More about Max

November 25th, 2015


Max is 2ZY’s 80s radio station, broadcasting as part of the Niocast local DAB trial to Manchester, and online via UK Radioplayer and TuneIn. We went live on 1 September 2015. A third of the way into the pilot and here’s what we know.

80s lovers at Rewind North (Pic: Noble PR)

80s lovers at Rewind North (Pic: Noble PR)

Our mission was to create a new kind of genre station. More than a stream, less than regular radio. Our starting thought was “an 80s Jack, but without the breakfast show”. So with content that engages alongside the music, but without the clutter or the ‘me-too’ stuff aping traditional live services.

We listened to loads of 80s radio. A lot of what we heard sounded like it was being presented by people who weren’t alive in the 80s. VT-ing a few links between a couple of Now albums. Popular and sharply-executed, but not as passionate, surprising or quirky as we wanted Max to be.

The Music on Max

One of the challenges with a genre service is there’s no refreshment. Clearly the 80s is finite and there’s no new music. But at Max, we think there’s still an audience desire for music discovery. So alongside the big, and medium-sized 80s hits, we play stuff from lower down the chart too. That could be follow-up singles to big debut hits, the occasional album track, or turntable hit. We credit our audience with the curiosity to enjoy the surprise and delight of a broader core. We’re currently running about 1700 songs, carefully scheduled to balance familiar and less so. A broad repertoire doesn’t seem to do Radio 2 any harm.

"Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars .."

“Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars ..”

Like the best of the Jacks, we’re genre-blind. As our website says, “more than rock and pop .. the last days of disco and the first days of house. Hair rock and electronic pioneers. Kraftwerk and Kylie.”  We’re consistent in our daytime clocks, but evenings are slightly dancier. The Quiet Storm from 2300-0300 is chilled. Saturday evening, a slightly camp dance party. And Saturday mornings, an appointment-to-listen archive American Top 40 with Casey Kasem to give us even more talk-ability.

The Science Stuff

Max has no studios. We subscribe to PSquared’s serviced Myriad, so Max is actually two tiny PCs in a 1U rack at their headquarters near Hull. Our TX in Manchester is fed from there and they also handle our streaming. My work takes me around the world, with no routine, and this way I’m able to schedule from a laptop or iPad anywhere I can get on the wifi.

I edit promos, the Casey AT40 archive show and other content in ProTools and upload on the go. A duvet in a hotel room on the other side of the road makes a great emergency studio! Max is very rarely live. Occasionally we broadcast a live set from Girls on Film, Manchester’s biggest 80s night. This is via the brilliant IPDTL. We take an hourly bulletin from the concise and no-nonsense Radio News Hub.


Desk porn

(Actually, I say Max doesn’t have a studio. It does have this beauty. Ex Radio Poland, circa 1993, bought off eBay and currently being beautifully rebuilt by an engineer friend. So my home office will soon double as a production studio on those rare occasions I’m actually at home.)

Our imaging is key. Much has been written about our station launch. The ‘voice of Max’ Louise Jameson delivers regularly-updated liners to inject personality and connection with our 80s loving listeners. References are as wide as Noseybonk, Jan Leeming, Do It All, Snoods and Deely bobbers. I write most of these with help from Encyclopedia of 80s Pop writer, Daniel Blythe, and Keri Jones.

We have an imaging rule that Max doesn’t brag. The lack of ‘imagine’ in ‘imaging’ fashion has made room for a suplerlative-free style. I’m fed up with the ‘best variety of this’ and ‘the greatest that’ so I’m sure other 40-somethings are.


Louise Jameson, the brilliant voice of Max

Max’s production is laid-back and non showy, mainly swept over intros to maximise the flow. Lou is easy on the ear. The lines are funny (hopefully) but I wanted an arched eyebrow rather than full-on ‘waiting for laughter-track’ delivery. You’re gonna hear her voice a LOT so I needed someone who gets it. She gets it.

Another rule is we never slag off the 80s. You won’t hear Max dissing the fashions or the hair. We’re the 80s station for the people who lived it and loved it. (And given our partner live night Girls On Film filled a 550 capacity club on Halloween, we know there are a sizeable number of 80s fans in their twenties and thirties too.)

“Love listening to this radio station !!!.. One of the finest ever on digital for 80’s music 🙂

Just want to say that I LOVE your station. I work in Manchester and as soon as I can pick it up on the M62 in to town, I do. At home – I stream it through my internet radio. 

Listening in Stockport  [Other 80s station name redacted] is predictable and you played loads of tunes I never hear.”

Listener Verbatims

So why are we doing all this? 

Fun mainly. The opportunity was there. And some important R&D. Trying ideas, seeing what works. Using technology differently. A creative showreel. All the things 2ZY offers to other clients. But also through a genuine love of the 80s genre and a sense we could do it differently.

You can read more about the birth of Max on the Earshot blog here.

Max is coming.

July 21st, 2015


At 2ZY we usually make radio for other people. But now we’re starting our own radio station on the side. Max is an eighties-format, launching on the Niocast Digital pilot local multiplex for Manchester in September. It will also be available in various ways online. After all, it’s not 1985 any more.

It’s an exciting time for digital radio. These nine-month pilots are designed to test “the operability of low cost small scale DAB multiplexes” and “will help to inform a wider programme of work (regulator) Ofcom is carrying out to consider the possibilities for enabling small scale radio services to broadcast on a digital radio platform.” (From Ofcom paper on Small Scale DAB trial)

When we heard Niocast had been successful in establishing a licence to operate a pilot in Manchester, we wanted 2ZY to be involved. We see Max as a bit of research and development. The barrier-to-entry to launch a real radio station (with transmitters and everything) has now come so low, that it’s within the reach of small operators with big ideas. By working with the kind of new products we’re using to deliver Max (our own project, largely out of hours), we reckon we’ll be even better able to recommend solutions to our future clients.

And we love the 80s. Obvs.

So what will you hear on Max? There’ll be more about our programme plans in due course, but a couple of early highlights will include rebroadcasts of original 80s American Top 40 chart shows with Casey Kasem, and relays of Girls on Film – Manchester’s 80s night, live from the Deaf Institute.

This has been assembled so quickly following the opportunity presenting itself – isn’t even commissioned yet. But when it is, that’s where you’ll find more details about what we’re up to.

We’ll blog again when it’s live. Max is coming!


When the Dog ate Community Radio’s Homework

July 1st, 2015

If you like jaw-dropping displays of regulatory ignorance by radio stations, and haven’t read the latest Ofcom Broadcast Bulletin, then you really should do yourself a favour. This edition, number 282 if you’re counting, is a fine vintage indeed.

Broadcast Bulletin

First there’s a puzzling clarification of the definition of ‘a commercial communication in radio programming’. Handy, if you’ve been asleep since 1973.

Flick past a 9,952 word investigation into dodgy editorial around the Ukrainian election and pity the poor Ofcommer that picked that particular short straw. Scroll through a ruling on a TV channel that appeared to have showed footage of an actual murder; then wonder how anyone at Jack Oxford let one of their ‘topical quips that walk the edgy sense of humour line’ about 150 people being killed in the Germanwings crash ever make it to air.

Eventually you’ll come to a portentous ‘Note to Broadcasters’ entitled “Community radio annual reporting”. This could be the moment radio historians say radio regulators in the UK were so exasperated by their impossible and thankless task, they finally not only threw in the towel, but set fire to it, and went down the pub.

It says (and I paraphrase for comic effect) “community radio stations are required to report once a year on whether they do what they told us they were going to do when we gave them a licence. Many of them find this troublesome. Rather than impose penalties for the flagrant breaches we discovered in the last twelve months, we’re going to look at ‘streamlining’ the process. Hey, even when we try and turn them off, they take us to court and win.”

Nearly a fifth of all community radio licence holders are in breach.

Thirty eight stations. Out of 200. OK, several of the 38 were comparatively mild infringements – and 15 stations have addressed running issues since reporting. That’s good. But take a look at these.

Cross Rhythms in Teesside reported that “the average number per week of live hours and original programming hours during 2013 was zero; that it not trained anyone during the year; and that it had just one volunteer involved, offering one hour per week of their time.” Just read that again and weep. Zero hours on average?! And feel for the poor guy/girl who turned up every week for that hour. On their own. Doing what I wonder?

Reading’s Ummah FM blamed a studio move for failing to provide the required amount of local content, “as some volunteers were unable to get to the studios to do their shows.” D’oh.

Big City Radio in Aston “found there was not enough fresh information to produce a magazine programme each week.” In Birmingham!

Birmingham street scene

Nothing to report here.

Tudno FM (which promised one-third Welsh language output, in Llandudno) couldn’t find new Welsh speakers to replace outgoing ones because of the ‘large population of people (sic) that have retired to the area from other parts of the UK, resulting in a reduction in the number of local Welsh speakers.’ Why? What did they do to them?

Ipswich Community Radio admitted ‘failing to build a solid and developing network of partners within the Ipswich Community.” Surely that’s as good a definition of a community radio project in Ipswich that you’ll find anywhere?

Ofcom actually tuned in to monitor Radio West Suffolk following a complaint that it was running few live shows. It heard a computer playing music for four hours on a Friday afternoon, interrupted only by Sky News. This is the same station that ‘was not able to provide any examples of the local news required by its key commitments.’ At all.

This glass is also half-full, of course. Arguably 4/5 full. Against a backdrop of continued austerity, 162 stations are doing what they said they would. Or telling Ofcom in good time if circumstances change and they need some wriggle room. That’s the most bizarre thing about the whole sorry story. They’re pretty reasonable at Ofcom. There’s even a form called a Key Commitments Change Request Form.

It’s sad, but the regulator’s pragmatic ‘streamlining’ of the rules is sensible. Is it really an effective use of time for some poor soul in Riverside House to fret over the Portuguese minute-age on Ujima Radio, whether Down Community Radio worked with a particular youth club or not, or the issue of ‘live quiz programmes not broadcast due to sound quality and content considerations’ in Uckfield? For Uck’s sake.

It’s hard work running any radio station. Radio stations built to any degree on the good faith of volunteers, doubly so. Money runs out, visionaries move on, shit happens. But the staggering number of ‘dog eats homework’ excuses above belies a lack of basic compliance understanding in an alarming number of stations.

You. Radio’s singular weapon.

June 1st, 2015


It’s not hard to remember, is it? I’ve just heard a national network in one link refer to ‘some people’ who may have been to such-and-such a concert, and in the next link, solicit ‘if anyone has heard those albums’ ..

For the last couple of years, I’ve wondered if I was out of touch on the whole ‘you’ thing. Our beloved medium does and should move forward. TV people have done radio, some rather well, and brought along their ‘folkses’ and their ‘ladies and gentlemen’s’. Language changes, maybe we should too.

Which is why it was so wonderful to open David Lloyd’s brilliant How To Make Great Radio, and read a first chapter dedicated to righting this wrong. Every radio programmer I’ve ever respected makes the same point. Valerie Geller, particularly emphatically.

You connects. Radio is usually consumed solitarily, and even when it isn’t, it’s consumed individually. The pictures formed in my head, the thoughts sent racing, the emotions or response are mine, and will be totally different to yours.

You liquidise a radio kitten every time you talk to more than one person.

I know you know that. Everyone in radio does, surely? So why do we hear so many links that break the rule?

If you produce, consult, coach or manage radio people, from the biggest station in the land to a 10 watt RSL, please make sure they know this shit. Under £45 will get them a copy of both Valerie’s Beyond Powerful Radio and David’s brilliant new book. (He talks about the you thing in this podcast.)

Get them to read it and do it, and let’s start the you fightback.





A 2ZY 2014

December 29th, 2014
Llinos Lee reports from Llys Nini RSPCA centre at Penllergaer for Clueless.

Llinos Lee reports from Llys Nini RSPCA centre at Penllergaer for Clueless.

So the Christmas edition of Clueless brings to an end a busy 2014 for 2ZY. The BBC Radio Wales game show was one of our biggest commissions of the year, with five two-hour shows on summer Saturday afternoons, an August BH Special and another on 29 December. Caryl Parry Jones and Alex Winters solve clues to locations across Wales in order to win the game. We’ve also worked with Wynne Evans and Llinos Lee on the special editions.

The other big 2ZY work this year has been in supplying my services to Internews as part of their inspirational project in South Sudan. Internews is “an international non-profit organisation whose mission is to empower local media worldwide to give people the news and information they need, the ability to connect and the means to make their voices heard.”

My work is supporting the local owners of Eye Radio, a full-service commercial radio station in the capital, Juba. I work with the programme editors on developing the output and building the audience. Much of this work is delivered on station, and I now make regular 2-3 week trips to Juba, and undertake follow-up work from 2ZY in-between. This fascinating work continues through 2015.

The Sundown team from Eye Radio in Juba.

The Sundown team from Eye Radio in Juba.

Until September, I continued to spend two days a week at Hindley Young Offenders Institute in Wigan, working for the Prison Radio Association on HYPE, its weekly show for young people. In some of the most rewarding work I’ve ever undertaken, I worked with 15-18 year old lads on HYPE, and other music shows. The re-rolling of Hindley to become a men’s jail means the end of this project for now. I do hope the young men I worked with go on to have happy and fulfilling post-prison lives, and that this may not be the last time they appear on the radio. The PRA also asked me to lead a project in various PIPES units – psychologically informed planned environments – for prisoners with special needs around the country.

After the Story of Trock in 2013, I was asked to make two further documentaries for the acclaimed Radio 1 Stories strand. Manchester-based Savvy Productions sub-contracted me to work with Shona Summers on My First Vote, exploring 16/17 year olds’ role in the Scottish referendum vote. And the PRA’s independent production arm booked me to make Staying Out, Paris Lees’s compelling personal journey into issues around youth re-offending.

With Shona Summers, working in Glasgow on My First Vote for BBC Radio 1.

With Shona Summers, working in Glasgow on My First Vote for BBC Radio 1.

Clips of that, the Trock show, 2013’s podcasts for the Manchester International Festival formed my entry for the Radio Production Awards Producer category – for which I was very grateful to receive a nomination.

The Summer saw two S&P press trips for Gaydio – working with the breakfast team in Vienna, and a solo trip to Stockholm – and I’ve continued to chair that station’s board of Directors, supporting the brilliant staff team that continues to take Gaydio to new levels.

Other consultancy included some post-RAJAR analysis and follow-up programme review for one station – and media training for a major Manchester charity.

The end of the year saw an uncertain future for the Radio Academy, so soon after an amazing Radio Festival. It was also great to speak at Next Radio in the auspicious surroundings of the Royal Institution about my work at the PRA and Internews.

One truism in running a radio indie is that you can’t sit around waiting for juicy BBC commissions to come to you. You pitch, you wait and sometimes you get lucky. In the meantime, you hustle. In 2014, 2ZY worked with its highest number of annual clients to date. So what else is on the slate for 2015?

The adventure in Juba continues. There’s a new music show in development for an emerging station; and a passion-project documentary, recording in Albuquerque, on the impact of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul on that city. In the summer, 2ZY hopes to be involved in a major project to report and reflect the brilliance of the Manchester International Festival ’15.

And 29 years to the week after first taking the mic in professional radio, I’m starting the year with some cover on one of my favourite radio formats, Jack FM in beautiful Bristol.

Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 20.26.40

Happy New Year.



Care about the Future of Radio? Donate a dollar.

November 6th, 2014

Radiotopia Logo

Here in the UK, we already pay for radio. That 40p a day buys you all of BBC network and local stations (with the added bonus of a bit of telly and a few websites too.) When you buy stuff, you’re funding commercial radio. It’s a system that’s given us a vibrant and successful radio universe that’s the envy of the world.

So we’re not used to actually paying for other radio. Just ask Fubar, or the vast majority of podcasters attempting to make a living out of it over the last decade.

If there’s a criticism of UK radio, particularly in speech, it’s around new formats, ideas and broadcasters. Radio 4 is, well, very Radio 4. 5 live is news and sports driven. BBC Local is occasionally troubled by notions of reinvention, but always cosily retreats to its ‘news for people who wear fleeces’ position.

Four years after David Hepworth wrote this, we’re still no closer to a new platform for interesting speech. British Public Radio is a good idea, but sadly remains little more than that at the moment. An idea.

But meanwhile, on the fringes, the best podcasters in the world have been slowly learning, growing and juggling their day jobs to deliver radio’s research and development. Sometimes purely home operations, sometimes partially-supported by the apparatus of Public Radio, and usually from the US – where the lack of a BBC arguably provides a bigger audience vacuum – audio hipsters have been falling in love with our medium and pushing at the boundaries.

In comedy, science, culture, ‘the craft of radio’ – this is where it’s at. Show me a show that’s as creative as Radiolab in its use of audio on British Radio. Or a show as beautifully niche and simultaneously accessible as 99% Invisible. Or as consistently funny and interactive as Answer Me This.

Roman Mars, the man behind 99% Invisible and Radiotopia.

Roman Mars, the man behind 99% Invisible and Radiotopia.

Now Radiotopia is bringing some of these broadcasters together. One ‘portal’, infinite ideas. And they need some cash to do it, hence the Kickstarter.

At the time of writing 15,803 people have contributed the total of $463,400. If 20,000 contributors come forward in the next 8 days, even with a $1 contribution, an extra 25k will come in from a sponsor. With that cash, Radiotopia is promising more of the same from its family of podcasters, as well as new content – like an intriguing etymology podcast from Helen Zaltzman. For contributing more than a dollar, you can get gifts like T-shirts, mugs, digital downloads etc.

I believe in radio. I love it, obviously. I’ve been making it for nearly three decades now and I still want to hear stuff that challenges how I do that. That’s why I’ve donated a few quid. The T shirt will look cool too.

If you love radio too, please click on the link and do the same.

Goodbye Simon, Hello Stephanie

October 12th, 2014
Sound Woman

Sound Woman

Hirsty’s long been one of my favourite broadcasters. And over the last few years or so, I’m pleased to say Hirsty’s been a friend too. From high octane (and very anorakky) Radio Academy Quiz nights, to talking pure radio over a pint, clearly this is someone who lives, sleeps and breathes radio.

By now you will probably have heard this remarkable interview where my friend told the world (via BBC Radio 5 live’s Stephen Nolan) that Simon was becoming Stephanie and from now on, will be known as the woman he’s always been.

This was hairs on the back of the neck radio. Brave, honest, intimate. And could there have been any more appropriate place for this rebirth than in the medium Steph loves and understands so well? Nolan avoids crassness largely (except with the inevitable penis question. As my friend Paris Lees says, “If you ask someone about their cock, you’re a cock.”)

I hope Steph always knew the support she’d get from friends and colleagues that love her. What may have been more uncertain was the reaction of her former Capital Yorkshire audience. This was an area Nolan mined very well … “Simon” was never more real than when he was on the air. Even the voice stuff, I found fascinating – even if at the end of the day, Steph makes the obvious point she’s still the same person. Hirsty is the same, regardless of the outside appearance.

It’s received wisdom that authenticity is an essential value for a broadcaster. I was never as good a presenter as I have been since joining Gaydio, the station I’m proud to chair. I remember on my way into the station for my first ever show, at 5 in the morning, I was checked out by a guy leaving a club. We shared that nod, that ‘alright mate’ and a smile, before I headed off into the building. And that became my first link. “Isn’t it always the way you meet a hot guy when you can do nothing about it?” That was a link I could never have done on the dozen or so stations I’d been on before. Almost all the broadcasters on Gaydio are LGB or T. We exist so that one day, the Stephs of the future may not need to remain Simon for so long.

If Steph’s bravery (and before her, Glen Richards/CJ) means one young person facing the same challenge (not a choice) finds it easier, or has a role model to look up to, I know she’ll be made up.

And now the secret’s out, get back on the radio, Steph. It needs you.

Love and respect.

Making ‘Clueless’ with a sub-£1k ‘radio car’.

July 20th, 2014

There’s been a rash of ‘Treasure Hunt’ style game shows across BBC Local Radio in England. From Norfolk to Leicester, Sheffield to Manchester, radio cars have criss-crossed counties and listeners have solved clues. And I should know. When running Radio Manchester, ‘Manhunt’ ran for a very successful four years. I was even the driver for the first year or so!

Is that a 30ft hydraulic aerial or are you just pleased to see me?

Is that a 30ft hydraulic aerial or are you just pleased to see me?

The hardy old BBC Local Radio radio car was the perfect vehicle for such an enterprise. A relic of the analogue era, it came with a powerful RF link, an extendable mast, a back up built-in phone and separate technical power supply. Getting a reliable signal into receivers at City Tower or Winter Hill and onto the air was pretty simple, even with the mast down, and the phone was there as a standby, all routed from the same radio-mic/wireless cue box.

Spin forward a couple of years, and I’m outside the BBC and running 2ZY. When BBC Radio Wales was on the look out for summer sports replacement shows from indies, I thought the scavenger hunt format would work – and got commissioned. ‘Clueless’ was born. That was the easy bit. Then we had to work out how make it – with no radio car, in a country of challenging topography and sometimes patchy comms.

Four weeks into a five week series, and I’m pleased to say Clueless is a hit with the audience – that’s if all the calls are anything to go with – and the budget technical solution we came up with – essentially a solid radio car for well under £1k – has held up beyond expectations.


Caryl Parry Jones and Alex Winters present Clueless on BBC Radio Wales

Caryl Parry Jones and Alex Winters present Clueless on BBC Radio . Wales

The first decision was to use Luci Live Lite – a bargain at £17! – on my existing iPhone. Much cheaper than a sat phone, and with CODECs already set-up in Cardiff to receive it.

But we didn’t want to restrict ourselves to locations with wifi or rock solid 3G – partly due to the nature of the show. We can easily end up in the wrong (non-recce’d) location if listeners offer flawed solutions to the clues. Wary too of the kind of latency you can get on one-bar 3G or heavily utilised public wifi, we needed something more reliable.

A half-remembered briefing from Geoff Woolf when I was still in the BBC, a few emails back and forth to the brilliant Nick Garnett, and the usual helpful advice from former Radio Manchester engineer Andy Langhorn led me to this. Hello WiBE.

I'm a WiBE

I’m a WiBE

WiBE is a wireless broadband extender from Deltenna. Follow the link for the nerdy stuff, but put simply, you stick a 3G SIM in it – we use a data card from Three – and a clever rotating receiver inside the drum detects any 3G mast within range and selects the link offering the best data. It then spits out a bespoke WiFi cloud around itself for about 100m. Once plugged into its battery unit, the WiBE usually takes about 30 seconds to come up.

So with this in our car (a regular Toyota Auris from City Car Club) we had a hub around which reporter Alex can orbit for up to 100m (with the Luci Live iPhone strapped to his arm).

We used a Luci accessory, the MIKI cable to provide a quality mic/headphone connection into the iPhone – and hired a MP1004 reporter-phone from Glensound to provide a solid 2G back-up back to base. This is also how Alex hears cue, avoiding any latency on the Luci return path.

John Ryan recce-ing a Clueless location at Wakestock

John Ryan recce-ing a Clueless location at Wakestock

The big surprise has been just how solid the WiBE connection has been even in transit. Our supplier’s FAQ says, not unreasonably, that the WiBE will ‘not provide any performance improvement in a moving vehicle’. We’ve found that to be pessimistic. Sometimes we’ve even been able to get a Luci Live link back to Cardiff on the WiBE-improved 3G when our 2G back up has failed.

And rather than leaving the WiBE fired up in the car as planned, I’ve gaffer-ed it to its battery pack and dashed after Alex en route to the clue so the WiFi cloud moves with him!

So much for a radio car. All the kit we need to get Clueless on air fits in one of those plastic storage boxes from Rymans.

Clueless is a 2ZY Production for BBC Radio Wales.

Making ‘My First Vote’

April 3rd, 2014

So against the odds, I’ve found myself making a political documentary. Albeit one that features Kermit the Frog, Wee Jimmy Krankie (for about two seconds) and some awesome new Scottish music.

‘My First Vote’ is my second documentary for Radio 1. Not a 2ZY production, but a sub-contract from fellow Manchester indie, Savvy Productions. Presenter Shona Summers pitched it to Savvy back in 2012 and it was picked up by Radio 1 Stories, the network’s documentary strand.

We did a few miles making this doc. Here's Shona on the very edge of Scotland looking towards England, in my trusty MX

We did a few miles making this. Here’s Shona on the very edge of Scotland looking towards England, by my trusty MX-5.

On 18 September, people in Scotland vote for or against independence from the UK. And 16 and 17 year olds are being given the vote for the first time. A big deal for Radio 1’s audience in Scotland.

If we were worried there would be low audience engagement with the subject, we shouldn’t have. On 13 February, George Osborne lobbed a few cats into the pigeon loft with the suggestion that an independent Scotland would lose the pound. That led to a massive response on Newsbeat’s Facebook. By coincidence, that was also the day we were doing our first location recordings at Shona’s old school in Edinburgh, and was already firing up the sixth formers we spoke to.

Shona photo montage

Shona with the some of the brilliant teenagers of Generation 2014.

We bid for a number of celebrity Scots to take part in the doc. One by one, they turned us down. As time passes, it seems the debate is becoming a touchy subject. So our focus became the brilliant 16/17 year olds of Generation 2014, a wonderfully only-on-the-BBC idea of bringing together 50 first-time voters to follow their journey to vote. We met them at BBC Scotland in Glasgow during a special ‘six months to go’ day. I was blown away by their engagement in the process, their knowledge of the subject and their passion for the project.

We called up Better Together and Yes Scotland, and both provided youth spokespeople to answer tricky questions. It meant our doc sounds refreshingly Radio 1 – and virtually politician-free!

Also in the mix, Jim Taylor, Newsbeat’s political reporter, who’s on hand to explain the tricky bits, and the charming and funny Iain Stirling, who allowed us to record his gig at Manchester’s Kosmonaut where he was trying out some Scottish Referendum gags. Shona had shot some video at an earlier ‘mock referendum’ in Glasgow so that went in too.

Shona and comedian Iain Stirling. Is the Scottish Referendum funny?

Shona and comedian Iain Stirling. Is the Scottish Referendum funny?

Having attended an Editorial Policy Briefing at Salford, and read the two sets of BBC Guidelines on covering the referendum, I sat down to start the edit, trying to (a) make an engaging programme that will appeal to a Radio 1 audience (b) balancing both sides of the debate and (c) finding audio that really describes the contributors, to show a side of their lives that puts their opinions and likely voting choice into context, to make you care what they think, whether they’re a Yes, a No, or a Not Yet Decided.

Shona and I had a long night at 2ZY the day before we went to sound design, choosing the music to accompany the doc. It’s very Radio 1 to lay speech in docs over music, and we wanted to use (almost) all Scottish artists. (Muse, John Williams, Huey Lewis and Rob Dougan creep in for specific editorial reasons too!) But you’ll also hear Biffy Clyro, CHVRCHES, Emeli Sandé, Mogwai, Frightened Rabbit, Calvin Harris, The Fratellis, Nina Nesbitt and more. So many lyrics seemed to match the speech clips, themes and tone of the show.

Shona and Jim in the Newsbeat newsroom at New Broadcasting House.

Newsbeat’s Jim Taylor with Shona in the Radio 1 newsroom at New Broadcasting House.

This complex show was very much Shona’s vision, commissioned through another company – and I hope we’ve done it justice. Thanks to Justine for trusting me with it, and to my always-brilliant colleagues – exec producer Jo Meek and sound designer Eloise Whitmore.

Gratuitous Presenter & Producer location selfie.

Gratuitous Presenter & Producer location selfie.

Radio 1 Stories: My First Vote transmits on BBC Radio 1 at 2100 on Monday 7 April.

5 Illegal Uses of Illustrative Music

February 20th, 2014

So yesterday I couldn’t believe my ears when the usually-reliable PM on BBC Radio 4 punctuated a menu line about food – with this gem.

So, what are the ‘rules’ on illustrative music in packages and when zhooshing up live radio?



  • If it’s your first idea, it’s probably a shit choice.
  • If it’s an oblique thematic lyric-reference on a 1983 B-side by Kajagoogoo, the connection to your subject even Chris Hamill would find difficult to fathom, it’s probably an equally shit choice.
  • If you’ve heard it used illustratively on the radio or television in the last month, it’s probably an especially shit choice.

Telly, of course, as usual, are the serial offenders here. A recent edition of ‘Homes Under the Hammer’ actually featured a slab of this 1997 beauty over pictures of the park opposite a former Hanley crack den they were trying to flog.

"Just slap some of this underneath it."

“Just slap some of this underneath it.”

My undying love and obsession with this album has only just survived the countless lazy loops of its luscious synths that I’ve heard arbitrarily slapped over time-filling sequences in low-budget docs.

So. What are the absolute no-nos?

1. Food Glorious Food. See above.

2. Up, up and away. Especially Radios Northampton and Bristol.

3. This is one of my favourite songs. Not least of all because of all the memories of those TV holiday show travelogues cut to it, with the likes of Judith Chalmers mincing around Tokyo. When many interpret it as a song about masturbation. And even if it wasn’t, you’re a wanker for using it. Too obvious.

4. It appears to be the law for any story involving bicycles to use this. Or this. Extra FAIL points for using both in the same piece.

5. And one for people writing about radio. If you (or your sub) paraphrase this 3’36” of sheer brilliance like you’re the first person to ever think of it, you’re kind of not.

So what CAN you use? My two get-out-of-jail-free-cards are Production Music. And film soundtracks. There’s nothing emotional that can’t be enhanced by some Thomas Newman.  

(And just in the spirit of full disclosure, I should refer you to this deeply-wounding review of a music choice, for which I was responsible. I still defend the choice. Perhaps not my finest creative hour, but way short of “jaw-droopingly obvious”, Elizabeth Day. Maybe I should let it go.

There comes a stage in most adults’ lives when they tip past critical thinking into unalloyed curmudgeonliness. The sheer number of things that annoyed me on the radio last week leave me wondering if I’ve reached this point. Men’s Hour on 5 Live had an enlightening and important discussion on men’s mental health, sensitively handled by Tim Samuels. But for some bizarre reason, one of the first-person testimonies charting the course of a serious nervous breakdown was set to a late-70s pop song. In this case, it was the Cure’s Boys Don’t Cry, a choice so jaw-droppingly obvious it was the aural equivalent of being slapped around the face with an anti-subtlety fish. So while Lee from Merseyside was talking about not being able to look anyone in the eye, or sitting in his office with the lights turned off, refusing to talk to his boss, Robert Smith was blithely singing away in the background. It was the one duff note in an otherwise excellent and moving programme.

Here’s one for you, Elizabeth.)