Thursday, February 2, 2012

...... "All Right Now"

The building was descending out of the mist, I could only see up to the second of the four floors. It had been erected 55 years before radio had been ‘invented’. As I walked into the reception I took a sneaky look at my picture in the centre of the 8 presenters deemed by the MD to be the ones on display. The very glamorous receptionist Melody beamed at me and in her usual warm way said ‘Goodmorning’ – the same ‘beam’ she gave Cliff or Shakey or Alvin when they came in for their regular interviews.

It was just 3 minutes to the hour, so I hurried downstairs past the ‘Tannoy’ speaker relaying the deep tones of the breakfast presenter Jack saying his ‘goodbyes’. I confidently swept into the studio to be enveloped in the warm fragrance of coffee, sweat, and newsprint from the 8 daily papers scattered over the green felt of the acoustic table. We exchanged jovial ‘hellos’ as I squeezed him out of the chair with only 35 seconds to go before I was ON!

And finally’, said Greg the newsreader from the booth next door, as I thrust three carts into the ITC three-stack. Instantly my fingers flew and ClicK my name blasted out, sung by seven singers in multiple ClicK a wonderful ‘musical crescendo (pinched from Alan Freeman) and then ClicK a station jingle proclaimed we were our listeners ’24 hour friend’ and Elton John’s latest upbeat track came in perfectly underneath as I lifted my finger off the '45'...

Behind me Jack still had 25 advert carts to put back into the correct alpa-numerical positions in the carousel (he did this everyday) and the studio door burst open with June carrying my coffee, underneath a long face. ‘Sorry. But I can’t bring down your guest today, I’m doing last month's PRS forms for Mr. Cale, so reception will call you when he arrives…’

She was GONE.

Behind me the breakfast presenter filed his last advert cart and tried to start a conversation (to try and put me off my first link). I smiled weakly, put on my headphones, and 4 seconds later was thanking him for a ‘great show’, relaying the times I’d be reading the horoscopes, our weekly gardening ‘spot’, and when our ‘star guest’ would be in, all over the intro of a wonderful old 1965 Four Seasons record.

I ‘hit the vocal’ of course…

Instantly, the studio phone flashed.. ‘Hiya, don’t forget at 12 we’ve got pancakes for everyone in the kitchen!’. It was the engineer’s secretary Annie, who, I knew, by 9.06am had her make-up mirror perched on top of her typewriter 4 floors above me, as she powdered her face, and ploomed her hair, simultaneously making social calls to friends in every department.

I was already getting out all the carts for the first hour’s adverts – some breaks were now 120 seconds long which I thought was a BAD move, particularly the one that sang (in a Manchester accent) the telephone number of a double glazing company 5 times in 30 seconds….

Someone had purloined the ‘album of the week’ on Tuesday and it was Thursday, so I substituted my favourite Gene Pitney record (another great 60s classic). I mixed it in beautifully with another of my personal jingles from Dallas (that I’d bought myself) segued into one of the awful station jingles, sang in Wimbeldon. This ended with at least three out of sync ‘T’s…

It was soon horoscope time so I got my favourite voice-over music (Apollo 100) and read out the first 3 signs, trying to sound convincing. As soon as I finished and cued in the next disc the studio door burst open again, and at tsunami speed in gushed Tony, the newest youngest buzziest presenter, who everyday started rehearsing his 2pm show before 10am in the studio next door. ‘Have you heard, they are AT LAST going to ban smoking in the studios! About time too..and remember there are pancakes at 12 !’ He borrowed 10 discs from the ‘blue box’ I had to use today (to rehearse his 'links'), which he also used later as it was the ‘yellow box’ in-between, and was gone…. as fast as he had arrived.

I was left to my own devices until 10am when my carefully timed ‘end’ record (I hated fade-out ends) finished. I read the news intro line, then ClicK the ‘News’ jingle cart, only to see there was no newsreader in the booth next-door. Literally, as the ‘ticker tape’ faded… he sat down, breathless, and attempted to read calmly and sedately.

‘MRS. THATCHER has met today with…’

He SPAT out the name of the Prime Minister, like cobra venom; he always did. Yet my complaints to the equally Socialist Programme Controller naturally ‘fell on deaf ears…’

The news was logged as 3 minutes, but once again it over-ran. This time to four and a half, but I‘d selected a very short record out of the news to balance this, played in ClicK another super Dallas namecheck, then a jingle that sang about ClicK ‘Springs in the air’ and I then a wonderful Clifford T. Ward song (even though it should have been an ‘A’ record by Boney M). I’d learnt long ago that the PC rarely listened to me for more than 10 minutes a day, as he was too busy filling in IBA ‘meaningful speech forms’. My ratings spoke for themselves so I was l left to my own (musical) devices.

I had to spend a few minutes filling in the ‘Performing Right Society’ triplicate carbon form, with the free-choice oldies I was playing, being most careful to ‘round down’ songs from 3.39 to 2.39 and so on… to make sure we ‘stuck’ to ‘needletime’. These were the forms June was going through floors above me. Collating all 350 for a month took her 2 days, so it was most unwise to enter her 'den', which had earned her the accolade 'witch in the library'.

The middle of the show flowed past, the gardening lady was a delight, always easy to interview; today we did 3 x 3 minutes (IBA meaningful speech guidelines) on Crocii. The only interruption was Tom from sales who came down to ask if I’d like to interview Jilly from Brufford Tyres about some fascinating new lines they had in. ‘They ARE advertising’ he assured me earnestly. I declined anyway, and told him to go through the PC.

Next, Tony returned those 10 records he’d borrowed. And just as I was going to see the gardening guest out reception rang to say, ‘Matt Monroe is here, can you get someone to collect him please as June is busy’. ClicK’. Of course, as always, that someone was ME, as the PC had dictated that presenters were perfectly able to get their guests from reception. I tended to have ‘B’ lists guests anyway, as our ‘star presenter’ (from London!) had friends and contacts in the capital, so the BIG stars of pop or telly usually appeared on his show; “Hello Cliff d a h l i  n g!”

I put on the longest disc I could find, ushered the gardening lady up the steep old stairs, and simultaneously warmly greeted Matt. ‘Good morning Mr. Monro’ who instantly asked ‘Please can I use the toilet’. I pointed him to the stairs at the back of the newsroom , excused myself, dashed downstairs to find that Paper Lace had finished singing; the needle was hitting the ‘end stop’ on the groove. . . . . . .  

Trying to sound calm I said ‘Well well Paper Lace left me speechless with their latest single, which sadly has yet to chart…’.. just as Matt Monroe was shown noisily into the studio by one of the newsroom trainees, who had just joined from British Rail.. ‘Sorry about that Matt’ I said, as I explained that June who usually looked after guests was busy. ‘Any chance of a coffee?’ said Matt, just as I realised that although I had ‘We’re gonna’ change the world’ to start the interview, I did not have his NEW single…. and it turned out…. neither did Matt. The librarian/tea–maker, three floors above me, was of course..... busy.

The radio station floor of the building was 8 storeys above me, and as always I could see no lights on so knew I would have the place to myself. In 40 seconds the swish lift took me up to the small reception, with its bright pinky-cerise station logo above a pinky-cerise settee, next to a blank wall by the reception desk which had not been graced by a receptionist for 3 years now; any guests (there weren’t many) had to ‘buzz through’ to get someone.

In the communal office I sat at one of the 2 shared presenter desks, turned on the computer to see how many shows I had to voice-track tonight, and read the latest ‘guidelines’ emailed from the Programme Controller in London. She had been promoted from sales so I tended to take them with a ‘pinch of salt’. We were still not to have any sung jingles, but they WERE changing the voice that did the station ‘strap lines’ from the cockney woman they’d used for 4 years, to a male voice.

I next had a nose round to see if there were any clues as to where things had got to with ‘the changes’ at the station. BofBof and Chantelle’s desks had been cleared, and in the staff ‘coffee and sink’ room their mugs had gone. It seemed definite. I had hoped to receive a call during the week perhaps asking me to do the show, but it never came… I had realised at 41 I was stuck, voice–tracking shows, until I got too old to do even that...

I went through to the totally quiet, air conditioned studio, that always smelt like a fridge, and was immaculately tidy. We were not allowed to take coffee in but as always I was alone so put my now tepid Café Mocha Latte Duplo from Starbucks right by the desk.

Before I started the voice-tracking I had to complete a task I’d been sent in an email from one of the 'suits' in London - to record scripted questions into a pre-recorded answer with one of the ‘stars’ of ‘American Cake 7’. That done, I adjusted the 3 computer screens to my liking, and pressed the ‘record' button…. The computer faultlessly played me the last 8 seconds of first song (something off X Factor I’d never heard before), and then I did my ‘cheery short link with the station name at the end’ as ALWAYS. I heard the start of the song pressed the NEXT button and it CUT to the last 8 seconds of it and I did another link… overNEXT andoverNEXT andover again…

I mainly followed some on-screen scripts, but 3 times an hour I had to do a ‘creative link’ though NOT mention any of the 9 regions the show went out to. We had a way of doing 9 links that went out to the 9 regions but I never bothered using it… the PC never noticed..  NEXT

Thirty five minutes later I’d done three, four hour shows, but I needed to stretch my legs, so walked across to the vast window and looked down 8 stories to a city sparse of people but with street lights on everywhere. I did not know the place as I’d first worked for the station when it was in its home town 45 miles away. Apart from finding the car park, I’d never actually used the shops here.

I drank some more of my now tepid coffee, sat down, and whipped-up enough enthusiasm to record the links for the last 2 shows

NEXT all NEXT in NEXT  22 minutes….

I even managed to fake in an old Free song near the end of one hour, which I’d brought in on CD. It sounded great, and for a moment took me back to days I had been on mornings, in that cosy studio in my home town when I’d been proud to be a ‘local lad made good’ when I got the show. The old building was now a Care Home for ‘troubled’ young people.

Having talked to a computer for 2 hours, and with not a soul around, I needed to get moving. But was possessed of a sudden spirit, felt up-lifted, and liberated. I turned on ‘manual’ on the screens, and switched the output of all 9 stations to the ‘local’ desk. I inserted the Free CD into the only CD machine, and selected the longest nosiest track, hit ‘repeat’, and put it on ‘pause’. As the ad breaks finished on all 9 stations, I hit the ‘master’ button, then ‘over-ride’, and the CD machine at the same time….

I knew that Free would still be b l a s t i n g out when the blonde halves of the 9 breakfast ‘crews’ arrived hours later. Chanise, Zena, Petal and the rest, all 40-120 miles away would take quite some time to work out HOW to switch back control to their local panels. I had high hopes that any listeners (they stopped trying to call in at 5 night years ago as they learned it was recorded) would have heard ‘All Right Now’ 27 times before anyone realised what was ‘wrong’.

I went into the office and switched on my email; I’d already drafted a positive reply to our BBC local station that had offered me a job; they wanted ‘a mature presenter who knows how to communicate with his local audience’. That was definitely me, and NOT Chanise, Zena or Petal… The money was good, the post secure as they'd carefully cleverly avoided any budget cuts, and I even got two producers for my 2 hour show!

My draft was… ClicK! sent… in a microsecond…

All Right Now!


  1. Fantastic! What a great tale.

    I even recognise most of the people in each of the two scenarios. I think the noisy newsroom trainee could even have been me.

  2. Local radio will never die whilst WE are still breathing! AL