Monday, February 6, 2012

This is your Captain ... broadcasting

I found a very old picture I'd taken at Piccadilly Radio in 1976, and posted it on Facebook yesterday. It was from the summer of '76, when I did breakfast (on trial) and filled-in on various shows on the station.

One evening I got my (then grotty) camera, stood on a chair, and photographed the 'Studio 1' panel from above. Two years after I first worked on ILR I was still fascinated with everything about it, and the Neve desk, plus the ITC '3 stacks' were the industry standard then. However,  I realised that some of today's 'NEXT button' presenters probably do not even realise there was NO WAY of getting anything to 'start automatically'.

If you needed a loo break it was controlled by how l o n g the next song (vinyl) was.. you had to start EVERY song. And of course, remember to switch from 45rpm to 33rpm for albums, and bring-in 20-30 'oldies' (then 1958 to 1975!)  as they were FREE CHOICE !

I am recalling all this nostalgia, as it prompted me to post this on Facebook about using the same desk at Radio Trent from 1977 onwards :

I can only liken the feeling of 'being in control' of that desk, the transmitter, from 9-12 each morning as being the Captain of a Boeing jet.. You could not 'buy' that job, you HAD to be 'right' to do it.. The modern digital systems with the 'fool proof' NEXT button makes 'radio' available to some presenters who should not be doing the job?

It's sad that today's commercial radio presenters, have no 'freedom of musical expression', have no idea about blending/ mixing music and jingles into a seamless 'sound carpet'.. are not allowed to say 'goodbye' at the end of their show, or 'thank' the previous presenter. Instead they just press 'next' and talk of over-rated 'mega stars, last night's tv, and endless musictomusic links predominate.

I briefly returned to 'local' radio (Smooth East Midlands) in 2007. I felt most strange sitting in a DIGITAL studio where there was just 3 screens and the NEXT button for EVERYTHING. I could not just 'throw in a cart' with v/o music or a jingle into a machine to improve/ embellish my next link. We did not have station jingles coded with slow, medium or fast endings, but in any case the digital playout had not been set-up to match the jingle 'out' with the song 'in'.. even though that could be done. And the presenter after me did not like broadcasting live, so came in during the week to 'voice-track 'the whole show...

I realised that feeling uncomfortable in the digital studio was a problem that came BETWEEN me and the audience, plus I felt a little guilty I was not a 'master' at using that panel. But I now realise with DELIGHT, very few of today's 'big names' in commercial radio would have any idea of all the above. They've never had to handle 15 faders, 'slip' a record on a turntable, or throw in 8 carts to make a break with 3 station jingles mixed together 'live' to play it out.

Ironically, we have less-skilled presenters, less station choice, (a lot) less music variety, but ENDLESS ceremonies for awards for all this. In an industry where nearly EVERYONE does the same thing.... at breakfast, play the same small choice of music, SYNDICATE up to 20 hours a day on their 'local' services, and run big money competitions during Rajar...  what is the point of awards?

To go back to my Facebook post, I realise today's presenters are more 'cabin crew' than 'captains' of their craft.... and radio stations are more EasyJet than British Airways...

I let a Song go out of My Heart..


  1. When I first wanted to break into radio after leaving school,I made sure I learned how the desk worked inside out, how to cue vinyl,carting up,editing with a chinagraph pencil and razor blade,how to back time,to match my jingles to my music,and everything in between,because I knew I'd need to have all the skills to self op.

    Today, there's a Myriad of playout systems (see what I did there?) programmed to the last minute,allowing you to broadcast without you lifting a finger. However,I still hark back to those days of having to do it for myself,as I seem to have it too easy when I present now,as there's not much more to do than press "next".

    Which allows me to throw down the gauntlet to any reality TV producer,to throw a load of modern jocks who've never done the above,into a 70's/80's ILR studio and see if they could hack it.I think it could lead to some very interesting results :D

    BTW Those ITC triple stacks weighed a ton. I once dropped one on my foot during a studio refit. It led to a trip to A&E !

  2. I always knew I did not want to end-up in an 'old folk's home' next to an old lady, knitting, but Dave, your post gave me visions of sitting in my lounge with a 40 year old ITC triple stack in my 'china cabinet'...