Prince has died at the age of 57. Yesterday it was Victoria Wood. David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Terry Wogan, Ronnie Corbett…the list of cultural giants who have passed away this year doesn’t end there.

For a few years now I’ve been boring friends and colleagues with my theory that the rate of ‘celebrity-deaths’ (please pardon the crude phrase) is only going to rise over time. It’s almost too easy to point to 2016 as evidence of this – but I do think it provides food for thought. It also provides a reason for me to write the following: we need to start the discussion about how the media covers celebrity deaths in the future. Why? Because I worry that these deaths will become so frequent that the way we currently do it is not sustainable.

“We’re entering an era of mass celebrity death”

Not sustainable?

When these famous people lost their lives this year, the coverage has been, arguably, suffocating. If you’re a Twitter user there’s no point in looking at your feed for hours after the news breaks unless you want to read the same tributes a thousand times over. And unless C-listers who-sort-of-vaguely-knew-the-celebrity-in-question relaying tenuous anecdotes at length is your thing, you must avoid any radio/tv/online outlet which deals with breaking news. World leaders pay tribute. And so on it goes.

Of course – for fans of the person who has just died – this coverage will always be appropriate. I’m not saying any outlet got their coverage wrong this year. I just wonder if we need to think more about how it’s done in the future because I believe it will happen more and more. And what do we do when two massive ‘names’ pass away on the same day as a massively important news event (eg. EU Referendum day)? The news world could implode.

The rate of ‘celebrity deaths’ will increase

In the age of The Beatles there simply weren’t enough media outlets to facilitate many big celebrities. Since then…radio blossomed, TV became commonplace in every UK household, the numbers of channels increased, magazine publishing went into overdrive, the internet arrived, smartphones and tablets came on the scene, and blogs and vlogs have recalibrated how easily and quickly people could become significant celebrities and role models for an entire generation. There are LOADS of celebrities these days.

I know, I know…the likes of Bowie and Prince truly are unique due to their position in history. When there were fewer world-famous artists each one had a deeper meaning (arguably) to a greater number of people. But in the same way that humans are capable of having anywhere between two and 200 friends they know and care about, I believe we are all capable of liking and caring about a huge number of celebrities. And there are simply more celebrities now.

We’re entering an era of mass-celebrity-death

The only news that ever gets reported will be about death. We’ve had a taste of that this year – and it ain’t right.

Sorry, I don’t mean to sound crass. But if the ‘media revolution’ happened in the 50s and 60s – then the increased number of people we nationally love and care about are becoming more and more at risk of their lives coming to an end. Five, ten, twenty years from now that trend will increase massively. So if a daily ‘celebrity death’ becomes the norm – how should the media deal with it? Should there be rolling news coverage of each one? Should regular TV and radio programming be replaced by tribute programmes every time? Should big news stories be pushed aside for obituaries?

Of course – the answer will depend each time on who it is. Personally, I think the way forward is less blanket-coverage.

Immediate tributes – yes. Well-crafted and thoughtful obits on the evening news – yes. Hours/days of rolling coverage? No. A few years from now, if ‘celebrity death rates’ increase, I just don’t think that will be possible. Otherwise, the only news that ever gets reported will be about death. We’ve had a taste of that this year – and it ain’t right.

ps.

I’ve just listened back to last Friday’s episode of ‘More of Less’ (Radio 4, 15th April 2016).
They looked at whether more celebrities have died in 2016 than in other years, and discovered how many ‘official’ BBC obituaries have been run in the first quarter of this year compared to the years since 2012.

obits

I was pleased to hear the BBC’s Obituaries Editor, Nick Serpell, sort-of agree with part of my argument. Here’s what he said on the programme:

Before television arrived in the early 1950s, the only really famous people that people came across all the time were movie stars – because they went to the cinema.

In the 50s we had television, that brought more famous people into people’s rooms. Music in particular; we had the growth of rock and roll. Remember The Who sang about ‘my generation’, hoping that they’d die before they got old. But whilst some of them did, the majority of them didn’t. And all these people, in the ‘rise and the growth of celebrity’, if you like, are now reaching that period in their 70s and 80s where they’re going to start to die, and I think that’s causing this.

I did a talk on this subject at this year’s Student Radio Conference in Cardiff.

Clearly everyone had the time of their lives at this talk

Clearly everyone had the time of their life at this talk

Yes, some of it is blindingly obvious, but I thought it needed saying because I see people come in for radio placements/internships/shadowing at Radio 2 a lot. And so often, people get the little things wrong.

Don’t be useless at making phone calls

If you’re asked to pick up the phone and book a guest, take a deep breath and go for it. You need to be charming and persuasive. It can be slightly daunting making this first phone call in an open-plan office but if you come across badly and the guest says “no” that’s not great.

The more 'student-friendly' title of the talk

The more ‘student-friendly’ title of the talk (Pic: Jen Thomas)

Be nice

Take this one with you for life. It goes a long way. No-one in radio likes the person with the massive ego. Or the one who’s unfriendly or bossy. Just…be nice.

Sitting in on a show? Turn your phone off

Well, ok, you can keep it on but put it in your pocket and leave it there. Sure – take a photo. Send a tweet. If the programme needs some urgent fact-finding done get on the Google. But as much as you can, put it away and give your absolute undivided attention to the programme you’re there to watch. I asked Jeremy Vine for a hard-line view on this:

Offer to help

If you’ve been sitting around in the office for a while wondering what to do, ask people if you can help. If they’re clearly right up against it, maybe wait a while. But be pro-active. And if they say “not just now, thanks”, then don’t worry about it. At least you asked.

Make tea

Look – I thought about leaving this one out. It’s such a whopping cliché. BUT British broadcasting is fuelled by tea and coffee. It is VITAL. If it makes you feel better, I may be a Producer and reporter for Radio 2 but during our programme every day it is my job to make the tea! I somewhat enjoy it.

Radio 4’s Paddy O’Connell backs me up:

 

You’re never too senior to make the tea, people are always grateful to be asked, and you can’t go wrong by asking. So do it.

Ask good questions at the right time

Every bit of this sentence is important. Ask good questions. It’s the easiest way to show you’re keen, engaged and interested. BUT – never ask a question for the sake of it. You need to be genuinely interested and inquisitive. If you are, your question will probably be good. You also need to ask them at the right time. Some people are unable to sense when everyone around them is chaotically busy and continue asking questions regardless. Hold fire until there’s a good moment.

Know the basics about the station you’re visiting

Basic basics, right? But people genuinely get this wrong. Here’s some advice from BBC 5Live:

 

This isn’t like work experience you did at school when you were 16: ‘just to have a look’. If you want to work in a competitive industry then this is now about having a look but also making a great impression. Treat any placement like a mini job interview. It’s often the thing that leads to an actual job interview. And you’d never turn up at a 5Live job interview not knowing who the station presenters were. (Right? Please – never do that!).

Here’s a crucial thing…

Suppose you shadow on a programme you probably never want to work on. Perhaps you got an offer to come and visit; maybe you just love the industry and want to have a look at different radio stations. You still need to take it seriously. Do your research. Know about the station.

Why? Because the radio industry is surprisingly small. The assistant producer who thinks you look a bit bored when you shadow at Radio 3 could be the person who turns you down for your dream job five years later at Kerrang.

Be…good

I don’t mean be well behaved. I mean be good at what you do. Be good at making and understanding radio – following advice like the above isn’t enough. ‘Asking good questions’ won’t get you a job on its own. Putting your best link at the start of your demo won’t get you a presenting gig if your best link is a bit rubbish. Always keep practicing and improving. Find out what you’re good at. Follow that.

Good luck! And finally, listen to Jacob from Radio 1 because he’s very wise and would like to apologise on behalf of us all for why part of your work experience might be a teeny bit rubbish:

 

*UPDATE: YOUR WORK EXPERIENCE STORIES*

Since posting this I’ve had some delightful responses from other radio-folk about how people have messed up their work experience. Here are just a few real-life stories:

“One person from the local university FELL ASLEEP in the studio!”

“I remember a guy who refused to make tea when the producer asked. He said it was ‘beneath him’. I explained that if he wanted to get on – it’s part of the deal! The producer was livid. In contrast, someone else on placement made tea every ten minutes. I preferred them.”

“My favourite was sitting next to someone on work experience who was on the phone to a guest. I heard him say: “the frequency?”. Then he turned to me and said “what’s a frequency?”.”

“Sometimes they don’t turn up on day two of work experience, and say ‘I don’t think this is really stretching me’.”

“Answering calls on the phone-in with the wrong station name was a personal highlight of mine for one work-experience person recently.”

“I like the ones that call me for work experience. I say “email me”, they then ask for my name, email and the name of my company! Come on people!! We now only go for people who present ideas when they approach us.”

“Someone on work experience once missed me off a tea round. Never forgiven him.”

“Well…there was someone in for work experience at Radio Lincolnshire who thought they were at Lincs FM…”

“As a press officer I set up an interview for a reporter who was on radio work experience. Her questions were ok but she didn’t ask for the interviewee’s name and title until two hours later.”

“I had someone ‘keen’ to shadow a show. I know it was a breakfast show but she came late, left early and never said thank you.”

“Not listening to the breakfast show on the day you arrive…not dressing for work…not knowing the name of any of the presenters…”

Here’s a fantastic bit of advice for anyone on radio work experience:
“Have a headphone splitter in your pocket – watching people edit is v useful; hearing it is even better!”

And here are some words from my former boss:
“There was the girl who didn’t know that the water had to be boiling to make tea…and the one whose mum came with her…and the lad who spent most of his time picking bogies out of his nose and eating them. We have some lovely ones though! And we’ve employed a lot of them. You are right to point out that it IS an extended job interview and those who prepare even a tiny bit will benefit. I’m amazed that some people don’t bother.”

You can mess it up…but go on to great things…

Many people survive a disaster and live to tell the tale! Radio supremo boss-man Matt Deegan says this:
“As a work experience at 2CR when I was aged 14 I recorded over Classic Gold’s pre-recorded news with me practicing. It went out for a few hours. Eeek. When asked if I did it, I denied it. I wasn’t sure what I was denying at that point.”

Here’s some more from the very successful Steve Martin:
“During my BBC traineeship I played out entirely the wrong Schoenberg piece on Radio 3. Nobody noticed.”

There’s this too:
“I know someone who played a Christmas carol service out with wrong side of the tape hitting the head.”

And this:
“When I did a placement year at Virgin, I somehow deleted the WHOLE website… Still got hired after uni. :D.
The colour of my face that day is one unknown to the usual human skin palette. I WAS MORTIFIED.”

 

Got more stories? Let me know and I’ll add them.

I’ve worked as a Producer on the Jeremy Vine Show for more than three years now, and I love it. Great team, great presenter and great network. But…it’s a big network. Radio 2 is a beast. And our programme reaches more than seven million people a week. I love pulling together stories and booking guests for it, I love reporting for it, but I’ve never aspired to present it. So what happened last week was…something else.

Reluctant

Reluctant

Because…what happened last week never usually happens. And so I was asked to write an account of it for the BBC-staff magazine-thing. I reproduce it below:

 

Jeremy arrived at work and had lost his voice somewhat. It wasn’t too bad, but weakened shortly before the programme went to air and it was too late to arrange cover. His first links were croaky but fine – his enormous energy kept things going. It got worse though – he’d really lost his voice.

The Editor (my boss) Phil Jones’s phone was going off constantly. I knew he was consulting with management and Jeremy about continuing the programme but, with nearly an hour gone and no replacement on the scene, I presumed Jeremy would carry on.

I was getting on with my usual job for this time of day, filtering listener comments through to Phil, and lining up guests and callers on the phone to go on air.

Aside from my occasional reporting duties, the last time I’d been behind a mic on air was more than three years ago, when I’d occasionally cover-present a thing or two at BBC Radio Lincolnshire. So what happened next was something of a surprise.

The Jeremy Vine point of view

The Jeremy Vine point of view

At 12:57, I asked Jeremy if he wanted another cup of hot water to go with his honey, lemon and Lemsip so I was just about to nip out to the coffee machine. (NB. You’re NEVER too senior to make the drinks).

At 13:00, Radio 2’s Head of Programmes turned up at the studio door and Phil nipped out for a quick chat.

At 13:01 they were in the studio, in conversation with Jeremy.

At 13:03 Phil popped his head round the studio door and said: “Tim – can you come in here?”. Sure, great, perhaps Jeremy wanted another cup of hot water after all. Phil continued: “You’re doing the next hour.” Oh. Right.

Unusually, I had not been in the morning meeting that day nor read any of the scripts or briefings. And I hadn’t even produced an item because I’d been working on a programme for the festive period. The Jeremy Vine Show gets 7.1m listeners a week. So I took a very, very, deep breath and grabbed my bottle of water.

Jeremy pointed me to the presenter’s chair and showed me the main faders I’d need (fortunately our superb studio manager Gareth took care of the music and jingles so I didn’t need to fully learn to drive this desk in less than one minute).

At 13:05 Jeremy pressed play on a song out of the news and left the studio. He was gone. That moment was like being strapped into a rollercoaster – and I don’t like rollercoasters – with no way of stopping it. The music track was counting down to the time at which I had to open the microphone and say something live on Radio 2.

Phil and Gareth keep me on track

Phil and Gareth keep me on track

The hour was surreal. It flew by. The first item involved speaking to listeners who had recently been bereaved and how they would get through Christmas. So not exactly…simple. Thankfully, I had a wonderful guest in the studio, Barbara Want, who did most of the talking to callers. Then there was a fairly ‘straightforward’ story about the UK’s butterfly population; I guess I had a relatively easy ride. As ever, Phil was superb at keeping me straight and producing it every step of the way.

By the end of the hour I’d relaxed and was able to fully enjoy introducing the news jingle: “This is BBC Radio 2”. As a radio geek: WOW.

 

I got out of the studio, instantly exhausted, to find my phone and Twitter feed had pretty much exploded. My colleagues were very nice about it all. I guess the only thing you don’t want to do on your Radio 2 mainstream presenting debut is to cock it up. Which I think I avoided.

If you work on a programme that has a daily debrief, you’d probably be delighted to get rid of that tedious after-show meeting where you pick apart what you just did. And most people involved agree (I’m sure of it), so why do most of us still do it? I was absolutely delighted when I first joined the Jeremy Vine Show team to find they don’t bother.

I’m mainly talking about news programmes. My experience is mainly within the BBC. And usually it’s the ‘bigger shows’ that have a daily debrief. From the local radio breakfast show in the counties of x y and z, to PM on Radio 4 (and everything in-between) – a gathering after the programme to look back at what worked and what didn’t is common.

Thing is, they’re boring, time-wasting, negative, and rarely result in big changes to the way things are done. Rather than improving and shaping the programme over time, they drain motivation, waste resources and have the capacity to make people feel crap.

meeting

#meetingfeet Photo thanks to @theemmabritton (not necessarily during a debrief)

If you’re learning your trade (eg. on a journalism course or in student radio) then great, why not? You need to be self-critical and spot your weaknesses. But once you’re getting paid to produce a daily news programme you should know what sounds good and what doesn’t; what worked on air and what didn’t quite fire. You’ll know it the second you hear it. Presenters and producers only need to glance at each other to share the enjoyment of something incredible on air, or to appreciate when they know something hasn’t quite worked. If there’s a bigger problem, you can have a separate chat about it. Ongoing issues will come out in normal conversation a bit later on.

But if you set aside a specific time for a ‘debrief’, certain things will happen:

  • you will have one extra meeting in your day to attend, and no-one likes meetings, because they’re mostly a waste of time.
  • there will be some obligatory back-slapping. “That was great!”, people will say. Some members of staff will feel buoyed by this. However…
  • at meetings everyone feels pressure to contribute at least something. And the point of a debrief is to be self-critical to improve. So everyone will have something slightly negative to say.
  • you probably just did a great programme which was mostly as good as it could be, but people will say negative things about it.
  • the programme is the culmination of a huge amount of work and on-air pressure. You’re all buzzing. So it’s the worst possible time to pick over the negatives.
  • everyone will feel deflated.
  • everyone will feel tired.
  • very little will come of it.

Across the radio industry budgets only shrink. People complain of ever-diminishing resources. Yet a handful of staff on your station spending 30-minutes every day on a debrief adds up to hours of productivity which could be put to use elsewhere.

The ‘debrief’ should be continuous. In real-time. As a team you can share what you think has been brilliant with the right people as it happens. If something’s good tell them there and there. If they’re not in the same room send them a one-line email or tweet them. If there’s someone who did something wrong, tell them personally, later on. You know when something’s gone badly – you don’t need a tedious daily meeting to hammer that out.

If you ask people privately whether they think a daily debrief works really well, the vast majority say no. So why do we persist?

Henry Ferster, Auschwitz survivor, gives his first live broadcast interview aged 92

At the time of writing, a former Auschwitz guard/bookkeeper (Oskar Groening) is standing trial in Germany for his part in the Holocaust.

In covering this somewhat controversial trial for The Jeremy Vine Show, on BBC Radio 2, one of our guests was Henry Ferster. He is 92-years-old. He was a prisoner in Auschwitz all those years ago. And he’d never been interviewed about it live on radio or television.

Henry Ferster talks to Jeremy Vine. Photo: Angela Epstien

Henry Ferster talks to Jeremy Vine. Photo: Angela Epstien

On the programme we have spoken to a great number of holocaust survivors. But Henry’s account was somewhat different. I want to document his interview online, because his story has been captured less that other survivors who have chosen to speak about their experience. And it’s so important that we, collectively, have access to these remarkable and painful testimonies of unimaginable horrors.

This interview passed many people by. But it was exceptional (above and beyond Henry’s powerful words), and here’s why:

      • Again: Henry had never done a live broadcast interview. Think about that for a moment. He’s spoken in schools, he’s spoken to students with microphones, but he’s never told his story on a major programme. And he’s 92-years-old.
      • The vast majority of recorded interviews with survivors of the Holocaust are ‘measured’. Often those directly involved have taken perhaps fifty years to even begin to be able to tell their story. And so difficult is the story, it seems that they are only able to recount the events in a manner which doesn’t involve too much emotion. Involve emotion, and the story becomes impossible to tell, so overwhelming is the tragedy. But Henry – we really heard his feelings. Which is so important in telling his story. So many years on, we can hear how raw and vivid those memories are.
      • There are very, very few interviews on this subject which are ‘live’. It’s not the easiest of subjects for someone who has lived through it to condense into just a few minutes. This interview was live, and more powerful for it. And importantly so – students today are taught about the Holocaust, but without people like Henry it’s difficult to relate fully to the inhumane mass-genocide which occurred so very recently.

I’m incredibly grateful to Henry for sharing his story. Please have a listen below, if you have five minutes.

Thanks also to Angela Epstien, who made this whole thing possible.

 

Anyone studying or starting out in broadcast journalism or radio production will probably be familiar with a certain set of ‘rules’ and best practice. A lot of that is great guidance. A lot of it is nonsense and depends entirely on the situation, the story, your audience and the programme and station you’re working on.

rules

Here are five radio rules the Jeremy Vine Show on Radio 2 often breaks:

Write short snappy scripts/cues

The ‘rules’ tell us to write around three precise sentences to introduce an item. They must be straight to the point, with the first sentence being something like a ‘headline’.

This is a great default. If you have a good guest lined up, keep it short and snappy, and let the guest do the talking.

But sometimes, if you have time to craft just a few extra words, you can use the cue to give excellent context to the discussion and to give it a sharp editorial angle. The cue sets the scene for the many minutes which might follow. For complex topics or ones which you want to put your own spin on, the introduction is vital. It shapes the conversation.

So often a short cue is good. And concise is always better than waffley. But in some instances a slightly longer, well-crafted cue can be much better. You do, however, need a good presenter to do justice to a longer cue.

Keep interviews/reports short

The ‘rules’ state that professional news radio interviews should usually be no more than a few minutes long. A reporter going out to record something will be told “you have no longer than two minutes” by an editor or a producer who, obviously, hasn’t yet heard how good what’s about to be recorded will be! It’s usual for a particular ‘slot’ in a programme to be a certain length, and the interview must fit into it. But that’s not the right way to do radio. If the audio is interesting, captivating, fascinating, exciting…let it run longer. Change the ‘slot’.

Again, the ‘rule’ isn’t a terrible one. Keeping things short and snappy is generally an excellent idea. And you need structure. But don’t let that rule steamroller an incredibly special bit of radio to an early ending.

Avoid obviously boring topics

Whatever you do avoid booking a train spotter! Or a stamp collector. Yawn. And please avoid the girl who collects exhaust pipes.

No! The more niche and ‘boring’ the topic, the more interesting a guest you might discover. If you book someone who has spent 20 years collecting washing machine manuals, they’ll be an expert, passionate, unusual, and even if they sound a little…dull…they may well do so in a captivating way. Never write-off a niche topic you’re not interested in just because you think the guests for it might be boring. Predictable popstars talking about their latest album are boring. But a long-term washing machine manual collector could be the best person you’ve ever booked. Honestly.

Book guests with radio experience

Reporters, correspondents, commentators and regular guests are a radio staple. And they will continue to be. But don’t be afraid to book people who have NEVER done a moment’s radio in their life, if they sound good to you on the phone. They are more likely to deliver their argument in an unexpected, unscripted and off-the-cuff way. And it is that which can make for exciting, anything-could-happen radio. Also – if someone really knows their subject inside out and are just a naturally great ‘talker’, they are often GREAT on air even if they’ve never been on the radio in their life.

Use vox pops to set out the arguments

I used to hate collecting vox pops (asking the public what they think about a given topic). Radio wisdom has it that they’re a great addition to any debate. Collect the ‘views of the people’ and away you go. I was absolutely delighted when I joined the Jeremy Vine Show team and realised that the Editor – Phil –  couldn’t care less about vox pops. I agree.

They absolutely do have their place. They really can be a quick way to set out clear and differing arguments on a given topic. They’re a way to get the audience on air. And with a great editorial idea, they can enhance any news report if done in the right way.

However – I would suggest that most of the time vox pops are undertaken in a lazy editorial manner, and are utterly boring and banal.

So goes the editorial meeting: “Let’s do topic x. Let’s do a vox. Then we’ll book a guest”. And that’s that. TV news does it too.

Often ‘members of the public’ do have brilliant insights, but more often than not what I hear is generic ‘filler’ in an attempt to make an item more varied. If you go shopping for a new bath sponge and someone thrusts a microphone in your face and asks what you think about the closure of six posts in the local police force you might not give an answer which helps to inform and educate the people who will hear your answer when it’s broadcast. In those instances – especially for radio – I’d rather the reporter’s hour spent collecting and editing the vox pop was instead used finding a great contributor who actually cares about the subject and who can bring an informed discussion to life.

ps. If you do go hunting for voxes – here are my top tips on how to! (Not hypocritical whatsoever).

pps. This is titled the ‘worst’ vox pop ever but that’s not true because it’s thoroughly entertaining…

Below you’ll read the story behind one of most unusual things I’ve ever produced for the Jeremy Vine Show on BBC Radio 2. And, in his own words, a journalism student explains the bizarre events which led to his debut on the county’s biggest news programme.

By Tim Johns, Producer, The Jeremy Vine Show, BBC Radio 2

This story is the story of a story. And it’s a great story. It all led to this:

In September 2014 a deer was decapitated by a roller coaster at a theme park near(ish) Ripon in North Yorkshire.

I should say: our thoughts are with the deer… Take that as a fact so that the below doesn’t sound too callous.

We spotted the story one afternoon after the lunchtime radio show. It was a striking and unusual story. Our first thought was that getting a journalist to do a report while riding the actual roller coaster in question would be an ‘interesting’ way to cover it.

For many reasons, it was a long shot. Why would a theme park in the headlines for accidentally killing a deer give us permission to go and report on it? I called the theme park. They asked me to ‘send an email’ to someone who was ‘in a meeting’. Never a good sign. Especially for something like this where I’d need to do some ‘charming’ to best explain that it could somehow be good PR for the park. I sent the email but didn’t get a response. I called the head office of the park’s parent company and was referred to their external PR company. Finally I spoke to someone. I gave it the hard sell. The answer was, understandably, “probably not”.

Imagine my surprise the next morning to find an email saying they’d let us do it. Imagine my even greater surprise when I learned that due to the time of year the park was actually closed, and that they’d be opening up and running the roller coaster just for us. Wow.

In the office, we had our morning meeting and with enough other ‘proper’ news on the programme we decided to go ahead with the deer story. Now I just had a few other minor problems to overcome… I needed to have everything in place by 11:30, ready to go on air at 12:30. Our morning meeting finishes at 09:00. The immediate problem was that I needed a freelance journalist who was free, and available to get to Lightwater Valley theme park. So I needed to find:

  • Someone able to get to the middle of nowhere quickly…this theme park is an hour drive from its nearest cities York and Leeds. Therefore…
  • Someone with a car
  • Someone willing to record a report about a decapitated deer. A couple of very experienced freelancers I spoke to weren’t interested. Others were unable to for various reasons – including John Bowness who suggested someone else
  • Someone good enough at reporting to stick on Radio 2
  • Someone with their own recording device

During our morning meeting, one of the many people I had contacted ‘just in case we did the story’ sent me a message. Richard Horsman (as suggested by John) is in charge of the Leeds Trinity University postgrad Broadcast Journalism course and he had managed to find a student perfect for the job. Say hello to Liam Smedley. Below we read Liam’s story of the what happened next. Meanwhile, I had a few more things to consider…

  • Was Liam was actually good enough to do the report? (I trusted Richard’s judgement on this).
  • Could Liam drive at least an hour to the park, get to the ride, research the story, record the report, and send it back in time for me to edit it and get it loaded in?
  • Was there any phone signal at the very rural theme park? Did they have wi-fi we could use if not?
  • Health and safety forms and considerations. Everyone’s favourite.
  • Liam had an iPhone but nothing else to record with. Would wind noise on the roller coaster ruin everything? Either he or the park would need gaffer tape to secure the phone.
  • If this doesn’t work out – what will we do on air instead?

The clock was ticking. I phoned Liam.

Liam’s side of the story

By Liam Smedley, broadcast journalism student at Leeds Trinity University

I’d been working every day for more than a month. After being busy all hours for ‘Bradford Community Broadcasting’ (as part of my journalism course) my plan for a rare day off was to stay in bed for as LONG as possible. So I was fast asleep when I was awoken by a text about 8am. I didn’t look – instead I did my best to roll over and get back to sleep. The phone went again, so I had a look. It was my lecturer Richard.

Do you want to do some freelance for Radio 2 today – for the Jeremy Vine Show?

The second text read:

involves going on a roller coaster

Of course my instant reaction was “yes of course!” as a huge fan of Radio 2 and the Jeremy Vine Show specifically. I presumed that Radio 2 needed me to go and obtain ‘quality audio’ of an interviewee (ie. record their answers to set questions on a microphone – giving them better audio quality than a telephone interview). However, I couldn’t anticipate what would happen next.

I said yes and Richard said to expect a call from Tim Johns. Tim’s call came not long after I put my porridge in the microwave. Spoiler alert: I never got to eat that porridge.

Tim explained the story of the deer. I already knew I was going on a roller coaster but only during this conversation did I learn that it would me ME doing the report. My voice was going to be on Radio 2! That’s when the nerves started to hit me a tad. However, there was no time to overthink. I was told I’d need to head immediately from my home near Leeds to make to it to the theme park near Ripon in time.

Tim said Lightwater Valley wasn’t open on weekdays due to the time of year so they would be opening up the roller coaster especially for me. He kindly offered to email me a loose script so I’d have it on my phone by the time I arrived. It took just over an hour to get to Lightwater Valley. The park’s staff were expecting me and were hugely accommodating and helpful despite the fact we were about do a detailed run-down of how a deer died on their premises.

rollercoaster 1 Thanks to health and safety, my recording equipment (in this case my iPhone) had to be somehow secured. And so, as Lightwater Valley management led me to the roller coaster, someone else was dispatched in a golf buggy to fetch gaffer tape. Lots and lots of gaffer tape. Holding the phone in the recording position we taped it to my hand with just another wiggle room for me to press the record and stop button. The idea was to do one take, send it back to Tim so that he had something to be working with, but to then record another take.

The day was surreal already. But seeing the park completely empty from 80 foot in the air as the carriage slowly climbed and climbed – with my ride the only one operating – it gave me goosebumps. I’d started recording. It wasn’t long before the first ‘drop’ on the ‘Ultimate Roller Coaster’ and my now-famous (thanks Jeremy Vine for replaying them repeatedly) screams of “AAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHHH” occurred. The worst part of the drop is the stomach churn, where it feels like your breakfast is being turned upside down in your belly. On a few occasions I felt my phone starting to slip. I was probably gripping on to it tighter than my other hand was holding the railing.

I composed myself and recorded my report. Soon enough, I was back where I started. I leapt out of the carriage and the Lightwater Valley staff kindly cut the tape on my hand to free my phone. There wasn’t much signal so I got a lift in a buggy back to the reception to borrow their wi-fi. The nerves were hitting me again. Tim ideally needed the raw audio to edit by 11am and it was 11:15. I hoped I hadn’t missed the deadline; that it hadn’t all been in vain.

I called Tim and said take one was done. I went back for the second. On Europe’s longest roller coaster take-two took another stomach-churning six minutes. As I returned (windswept), I found that Tim had been trying to contact me and had passed a message to the Lightwater Valley team that the first take was fine, edited, and ready to go!

It was getting nearer broadcast time: 12:30. The day had moved so quickly I hadn’t even contacted my family to tell them what I was doing so I simply sent parents and grandparents a text saying “Long story, but going to be on BBC Radio 2 in ten minutes – get it on”. I hopped in the car to return home and put the radio on.

It wasn’t long before Jeremy Vine was explaining the story and I gripped the steering wheel in anticipation, hoping my name would be said on BBC Radio 2. Before my journalism course I spent time working in commercial radio. I know how things work. And so I expected my efforts to result in a few seconds on air. To my surprise after Jeremy said the words “Our reporter Liam Smedley took a ride…” I was listening to myself on air for several minutes! A huge amount of my commentary made the final cut. In my pocket I could feel my phone vibrating constantly but I was driving so I couldn’t check it. Jeremy was in hysterics and kept replaying my screams. He said:

Lots of people are asking us ‘who is that guy on the roller coaster? It’s made my day!’. Well, his name is Liam Smedley. I’ve just looked him up on Twitter, he’s a student at Leeds Trinity University doing Broadcast Journalism and he stepped in last minute to do that for us today. I’m sure he’s got a bright future ahead of him

When I was eventually able to look at my phone – things had gone bonkers! The screen was full of emails, texts, WhatsApps, Facebook messages and Tweets from people going…

You’re on Radio 2!

or

Jeremy Vine on Radio 2 is talking about you!

…all from friends, family members, old school friends and colleagues. The biggest surprise was how many of Jeremy’s listeners were tweeting me saying how much they loved the piece and that it had made their day. I haven’t counted how many new followers I received from the occasion but it was a lot! My lecturer also proudly tweeted how this year’s cohort hadn’t even graduated and already one of us was on Radio 2. The attention was obviously very lovely but I know fame is fickle so I tried to be humble and take it in my stride. I did my best to reply to every complimentary message. However, even now I still get the odd message on Twitter or Facebook from people saying “Hey were you the guy who did the roller coaster report on Radio 2? I loved that!”.

The story doesn’t end there

By Tim Johns

Me again (Tim). The tweets about the deer went on for days. Weeks and week later we received the most wonderful postcard in the office. It was sent by a listener in France:

postcard Liam stayed in touch and has recently done a two-week placement with Newsbeat. While there he came and watched the Jeremy Vine Show go out. It was the day of Children in Need and he ended up on-air again, reading out listener pledges for money. And of course, his roller coaster scream was played AGAIN.

This is a story about how simple yet ambitious radio ideas can pay off. This may be a long article but at the time it was all done and dusted in a few hours. It’s also a story about how exciting the first ‘big gig’ can be for aspiring journalism students. And – it’s about how a great tutor on your university course can open huge doors for you. And so I leave the final words to Richard – who was vital in making this happen.

Richard Horsman runs Leeds Trinity University’s postgrad Broadcast Journalism course

By Richard Horsman

I have a simple rule when an editor calls asking for students for actual broadcast tasks. I say yes first, and then make it happen…somehow. My trainees are told from day one there is nothing more important than getting a foot in the door, and so they are usually prepared to change plans at a moment’s notice when an opportunity arises. Even so, Tim’s request was a tight turnaround.

Whilst listening round the breakfast shows, half awake at twenty past eight, I got a message from Tim. ‘Need a freelance…it’s in North Yorkshire – and by the way, they’ll be riding a rollercoaster’. The penny dropped – I’d heard the story about the deer over the weekend – but Tim was too professional to betray his prospects when I replied ‘This is about dead deer, isn’t it?’. A flurry of texts later and the intrepid Liam Smedley was dispatched to Lightwater Valley.

I still thought, deep down, he was going to be a human mic stand to capture the voice of a health and safety suit. Some parts of the Beeb have money for that kind of thing. How wrong I was… I’m a fan of the Vine show because where the Today Programme generates heat, Jeremy sheds light. I thought the proposed treatment was, frankly, bizarre. Do the ‘funny, screamy first time on a coaster’ thing whilst talking about a deer being decapitated and families sprayed with blood on a theme park ride. But it worked. In our MoJo world of iPhones and websites I’d forgotten the power of radio to take the listener on that journey with Liam.

Liam got more fan mail via Twitter than I received in 20 years of blameless local radio service. It gave Liam a bit of profile to get him noticed at the start of his career. I’m proud to have helped more than 400 journalists enter broadcast news over 22 years. Liam’s is, however, a debut few others in that time have achieved…from classroom to Radio 2 in a single leap. I wish him well in his future career and I’m grateful to Tim for making the call.

The report in full

You can listen below to the whole thing.

And a final word of thanks to both Lightwater Valley for being so accommodating, and to Richard at Boxed Off Comms for giving it the PR ‘ok’. He saw the full picture where many would have just given us a knee-jerk ‘no comment’.

At the Student Radio Awards last night (6th November 2014) Calum Macdonald won gold in the best male presenter category. I’m absolutely delighted on two fronts.

First, he’s from my old student station Fresh Air – which hasn’t won anything for absolutely ages!

But more importantly, his entry truly was exceptional. Why? Because he is the presenter of a news programme.

onstage

Breaking the mould

I think this is an important moment for the student radio awards and for the best presenter categories. 99% of all entries to these categories are similar in nature, and too often emulate successful entertainment radio formats, often to slightly boring effect.

You can hear the ‘advice on how to create a good demo’ shining though in many entries – but that makes them predictable. You have the standard hilarious anecdote, talking up to the vocal, a crunch and roll, back-announcing tracks and so on.

CalumawardBut Calum’s entry is completely different. It focuses on his presentation of news content. It shows that you don’t have to sound like Greg James to win this award (who in fact was a judge for this category). It’s entirely refreshing that a news presenter was spotted for his considerable talent and that engagement with politics and current affairs got him a win in a category normally reserved for music/entertainment presenters.

And, before you say “shouldn’t this entry be in the best journalistic category…?” – no. This entry (you can listen below) does not focus on the news content itself but on Calum’s presentation of it. And he shows us that he can present live radio, is adept at interviews, is comfortable presenting OBs in front of a live audience, has fantastic energy and authority presenting the headlines, and can have fun along with it.

News is cool

I always feel like broadcast journalism doesn’t get enough of a look in when it comes to student radio events. And that’s probably a reflection of the fact that so many people in student radio really just want a job on the music side at Radio 1.

Don’t get me wrong – there are some remarkably good student radio news teams. I chaired the best journalistic category this year and the quality was staggeringly good.

But the wider focus always seems to fall back to ‘showbiz’, which is so often seen as the thing to aspire too.

Perhaps a few people starting out in radio will hear Calum’s entry and be inspired to think about current affairs rather than popstars – because serious radio journalism absolutely is cool. It really means something. It has a direct and sometimes significant impact of people’s lives.

ps. Keep an eye on Calum – he’s going places.

 

There’s a new RadioCentre-commissioned report which says, according to Radio Today, that ‘Radio 1 and Radio 2 are failing’. RadioCentre is the industry body for commercial radio. The survey behind the report is independent. But I’m not so sure about this article, because it reads a bit like a RadioCentre press release: read the article here.

RadioCentre

 …according to independent research commissioned by RadioCentre…nearly half (46%) think that Radio 1 is the same, or only slightly different to Capital FM

In the name of accuracy you cannot lump these two things together. The phrases ‘the same’ and ‘slightly different’ are very different things. If 46% of all Radio 1 listeners think it’s ‘the same’ as Capital FM there’s perhaps a problem. However if 46% think it’s ‘slightly different’ then Radio 1 must be doing something right. Especially because presumably the remaining 54% think it’s ‘different’ or ‘very different’.

Whatever the breakdown within that 46%, the MAJORITY of those surveyed actually think Radio 1 is MORE than ‘slightly different’ to Capital FM.

Only 6% of its listeners associated the station with social action and documentaries and 25% with programming for young teenagers

Did the survey question ask people about the phrase ‘social action’? In which case I’m amazed anyone said ‘yes’ at all. It’s a not a phrase most people use. And surely only a small percentage of Radio 1’s output is ‘social action’, therefore if 6% of listeners know about it that doesn’t sound too bad. More than 25% of Radio 1’s audience is NOT ‘young teenagers’ therefore for 25% of those surveyed to ‘associate the station with programming for young teenagers’ is not surprising.

And although Radio 1 is supposed to be aimed at people aged 29 years and under, 30% of 35-44 think it is aimed at them

Or to put it another way: more than two thirds of Radio 1’s ‘older’ audience (35-44) acknowledge that the station is NOT aimed at them.

I don’t know about you but I think it’s amazing that two-thirds of people will admit that they probably shouldn’t be listening to the station they actually listen to.

On we go to Radio 2:

Radio 2 listeners wanted to hear less mainstream chart music (35%)

Isn’t the key finding that ‘65% of Radio 2 listeners are AT THE VERY LEAST ‘happy’ with the amount of mainstream chart music on the station’? Why report the minority, unsurprising comment, headlined as the main finding?

Of the specific service requirements for Radio 2, only 21% said they associated the station with extending musical tastes

‘Only’ 21%? For a station as ‘mainstream’ as Radio 2 I think it’s not such a bad thing that a fifth of people in this survey cite the station as a ‘taste-maker’. In the previous paragraph of the report we’re told that half of the audience ‘highly associate’ the music with Magic and Heart. Are we told what percentage of people think that Magic and Heart are taste-making? No. My guess is the result might be lower.

only…11% associated the station with original comedy and just 17% with arts programming

There’s that ‘only’ word again. Less than 11% of Radio 2’s output has anything to do with original comedy. Less than 17% of Radio 2’s output is what you’d define as ‘arts programming’. So, these figures sound pretty good. Why are they written up as a bad thing?

Siobhan Kenny, Chief Executive of RadioCentre, will unveil key findings from the research at a fringe meeting on the future of the BBC at the Conservative Party Conference today. In particular, she will call for tougher regulation of the BBC to help prioritise the delivery of public service output in future

Ah.

 

——-

Important caveats:

  • I love Radio Today, even if not this article.
  • A survey like this raises important questions about the BBC and these should be debated. Always. Here I’m discussing the way statistics are used to form ‘findings’.
  • Disclosure: I work at Radio 2 and hey, I happen to like the BBC. However – this article is about the reporting of surveys, statistics and numbers. I’ve written previous similar articles on the same subject where I also slag off the BBC.

ie. Should I stay up all night/get up early/plan a party/book a day off work?

The path to victory...for someone. (Actually the path up Ben Vrackie near Pitlochry).

The path to victory…for someone. (Actually the path up Ben Vrackie near Pitlochry).

The Short Answer

It’s impossible to be accurate. Especially because it’s a first-of-its kind vote with more than four million registered voters.

But the best-guess is ‘around 7am’ on Friday 19th.

The Process

Polls open at 7am on Thursday 18th with voters answering the question “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

Polls close at 10pm. Counting begins at 32 regional centres.

Ballots have to make it from the farthest flung bits of Scotland to these centres. For that reason helicopters are being used in some areas, and the WEATHER could actually slow the whole thing down. Really.

The 32 counting centres will report results through the night. Results will trickle in until we know the final result.

The Final Result

Here’s the important bit! The chief counting officer, Mary Pitcaithly, is the person who will tell the world whether it’s a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. If you’re bleary-eyed on Friday morning and she steps onto live TV listen carefully – she might be telling you the result.

IMPORTANTLY – she will announce who has won BEFORE the final result is known. She will do this as soon as it’s mathematically impossible for the other side to win.

Timings

Counting starts when the polls close at 10pm on Thursday 18th.

Early results could trickle in from around 1am.

Most of the results will pour in from 3 – 6am.

The result of the referendum (though not necessarily the ‘final’ count total) is expected around 7am.

So – if you’re a referendum die-harder with no job you’ll want to plan a party which runs from late evening on the Thursday through to Friday morning.

Most people with a keen interest might want to get to bed early and get up around 3am to track the results as they come in.

Or you could get up at 7am and hope the result hasn’t been announced yet.

The recount theory/problem

When the final result comes in, everyone’s agreed: that’s that. No recount. Even if there’s only one vote in it. The result sticks.

However, at each of the 32 counting stations, both the yes and no camp can request one recount.

And there’s a lot at stake. Obviously.

Ideally people will have a good reason to request a recount. And it’ll be up to the counting officers to allow them or not. But a good theory – explained to me by very reputable sources – is that recounts could be likely in just about all 32 regions. This vote is forever (supposedly…). And the losing side in each area has nothing to lose by requesting a recount.

Therefore – the timetable of the whole thing could be derailed by a long series of recounts.

So if you’re a REAL referendum die-harder, plan the party, stay up all night, and make sure you’ve booked the day off work on Friday in case of bad weather or lots of recounts.

Read more here: the official document explaining how it all works.