What I Did This Year

An arbitrary division of time it may be, but the arrival of a new year is a perfect excuse to take stock of where your life has taken you in the past 12 months and look for clues about where it might be going. Hence this post may well wind up as a tedious bout of navel gazing, but I thought it was still worthwhile to note the most personally notable things I did in 2008.

Made a podcast

I’d had the notion to do some kind of weekly audio summary of chart news for rather longer than you might think. As far back at 2000 I was floating the idea of some kind of online audio show past the editors at the old dotmusic site. The idea of a “podcast” didn’t exist back then, but at the time every site worth their salt was embedding streamed audio features that could be listened to online. I even got as far as recording a half hour pilot one evening in the studios of the station I worked for, but the idea was never picked up.

The 2008 version was actually a way of meeting conditions imposed by the other half when she bought me a podcasting kit for Christmas last year. “You have to use it now I’ve spent all this money on it”. Suitably motivated, the James Masterton Weekly Chart Update was born, a weekly (most of the time) roundup of chart news and facts which by some miracle always seems to come in at around ten minutes in length.

Attempting to record the first one hammered home to me just how rusty I was at talking randomly into a microphone. Without really noticing the years slipping by, it had actually been eight long years since I presented a professional radio show and so I’ve spent the past year effectively relearning all the skills I used to have, steadily reminding myself not to gabble, to modulate and vary the tone of my voice and most importantly not to panic when I suddenly lose the thread of what I am saying.

Hence this year has been something of a soft launch of the whole project, a process of finding out what works and what doesn’t. Over the course of the year it has built up a loyal band of regular subscribers, and if you are one of them I thank you for lending me your ears each week. The high point of the year was the production of the extended special edition Counting Down The Hits which launched the download and subscription figures to unheard of heights and even resulted (for one day at least) in an appearance in the iTunes Podcast charts.

Plans are in place for a properly publicised relaunch sometime in the next couple of months. Watch this space for details.

Made live sports radio

The work I do at talkSPORT is something I rarely write about here in any detail. Partly this is down to a lack of personal motivation to do so. As exciting and varied as my day job is, just like most people I prefer to leave it behind me and get on with other interests once the door to the office closes. If my job suddenly became the only thing in my life worth writing about I fear I would be turning into a very dull person indeed. Added to that is the desire to avoid anyone interpreting anything I write about the radio station as any kind of official comment on our presenters or the programmes we make. Given the existence of any number of websites devoted to media gossip and debate and with forums keen to pick up on even the slightest snippet of inside information, it would be somewhat disloyal and dishonourable to talk about my work or my colleagues in a way that would be subject to unnecessary scrutiny.

Nonetheless I should not really be shy about a body of work I am enormously proud of. As producer of the Saturday afternoon Matchday Live show, I’m one of the few people who can claim to be responsible for broadcasting Premier League football to an eager nation. I have to control a team of equally talented audio producers and technicians in the office, deal with a gaggle of reporters and commentators most of whom appear to have an instinctive ability to demand attention all at the same times and most importantly of all direct my presenters through five hours of live radio.

In the process I get to work alongside and learn from some amazingly talented people. In Adrian Durham there is hands down the best broadcaster I have ever worked with, a man who is able to cope with whatever I throw at him, break off from a live interview to introduce a goal update at a few seconds notice, deal with what can often be a constantly shifting running order of items and perhaps most crucially of all, fill an unwanted gap with ease should a reporter suddenly vanish off the line or an edited interview fail to appear in time. Since the start of this season I’ve also been privileged to work with Stan Collymore who has taken the live football we produce to whole new levels with his unabashed opinions and inside knowledge of the footballers on the pitch, many of whom he encountered and played against personally. His almost boundless enthusiasm for his subject and the matches he is witnessing comes across to us in the studio as much as it does to the audience on the air and only serves to add to the excitement of the job.

On top of that we are also working hard to push the boundaries of what a radio commentary sounds like and give our coverage a real point of difference over anything else on the dial. There is a risk of trying to reinvent the wheel when it comes to something as well established as football commentary, particularly when the fast pace of the game and the need to constantly keep up to date with the action means that most of what you hear on the air is driven by practicality rather than creative expression. Within these boundaries however we are slowly but surely trying to create a show that sounds free flowing and gives the impression of being everywhere at once. Reports and updates are made to happen organically, as if the commentator has tapped you on the shoulder in the middle of a conversation to impart the important information. It all relies on a great deal of mutual co-operation, for the people involved to know almost instinctively when to talk and when to stay quiet and for people to be able to take their cue on the tiniest of notice, but when it works it sounds breathtaking and incredibly exciting. Directing this non-stop for almost two hours requires a great deal of energy and I often literally collapse into a chair the moment we come off air at 5pm.

If I never produced another radio show again after this week, Matchday Live on talkSPORT (with Vauxhall Commercial Vehicles – The Wheels Of Business) would safely be the high point of my career, just as it should be.

Then there are the other little things, that were all noted and referenced on this site during the course of the year. Amongst the highlights there were:

Made a purchase at the Apple store and wondered if I was joining some kind of strange cult.
Fell ill and had to sit out the League Cup Final
Took another man’s wife up the arse (virtually)
Contemplated celebrity
Worked all night whilst wallowing in memories
Saw my sister get married (and wrote about the experience in a series of postings that appear to have been circulated amongst the entire guest list and subsequently passed into legend).
Remembered Girl Thing fondly and received personal thanks from one of their number.
Reminisced about my musical upbringing
Had my left ear appear on Panorama
– Finally became married to a British citizen
– Attempted to persuade the nation that Gazza was not dead
Had my shares stolen from me by the government
Appeared on television again, this time under an assumed name

And finally added another item to the “list of things you never thought you would do” by being evacuated from Betty’s Cafe in Harrogate on Christmas Eve due to a fire alarm, and spending the next fifteen minutes hoping my Yorkshire Fat Rascal was not the cause. Happy new year.

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