Going Through Changes

I forget how long I’ve been saying to myself “I need another job”. Not that I hate the existing one of course but it is to be honest far too much of a comfort zone and also doesn’t exactly pay a fortune. Hence why I currently have two jobs in order to make enough money to rent a nice apartment and fund a foreign girlfriend (who will of course find it hard to forgive this suggestion that she is in any way a kept woman).

Now all that is about to change. The radio station want me. Exactly what they want me for has mutated over the last few weeks from being “chief engineer” to “man of many talents” but what it amounts to is that they want to bring me in full time. I’ll spend half my time keeping the computer systems that sustain the studios working (a poisoned chalice if ever there was one given their age) and the rest of the time being useful in programming. Producing shows, teaching people how to work things etc. All for much more money than I’m making at the moment.

It will be a wrench. I’ve worked for the current lot for almost exactly four years now. Four years ago I’d spent almost a year either on the dole or doing low paid temporary work, waiting and hoping for my next radio gig to come along. I uprooted my entire life in the back of a hired transit and moved to a small room in Tottenham to join the exciting world of London media. Since then I’ve upgraded every computer in the building twice over, introduced two new mail systems, had about five people complain about things I’ve said to them (it goes with the territory sadly) and in general had some of the best fun of my life.

Now I’m moving to an environment run by a man whose temperament is legendary throughout the world of both press and radio. An environment where countless managers have come and gone even in the short time I’ve been associated with it and where people are bounced out of the door in short order if they’ve been standing in the wrong place at the wrong time.

A foolish move or a bold one? Hard to say. All I know is that I’ve posted the resignation letter. No going back.

Well I’m shattered. That is what an 8 hour shift on a Sunday – no scrub that – an 8 hour shift which starts at 8am on a Sunday does for you. Such a day needs a unique, could not be scripted under any circumstances moment to lighten things.

We had one.

You one of the two shows I was working on today tries to have a special guest in each hour. The first hour of the show starting from midday is devoted to a review of the papers, with a member of the great and the good invited into the studio to pick over the best that the Sundays have to offer. This week, for reasons best known to themselves and possibly as some kind of twisted joke, the guest booked was none other than Leilani Dowdling – Page 3 lovely of this parish.

At 11am, one hour before the show was due to go on air, the producer decided just to ring and check that she was indeed on her way and would have no problem arriving at the studio in time.

Ring Ring

– Hello?

– Hello Leilani, just wanted to check that you were OK to be at the studio in an hours time.

– An hours time? But I’m in Birmingham!

Click. Brrrr.

It turned out that her booking had been less than specific. Admittedly our host was better known for his late night radio shows. Nonetheless it takes a special kind of person to misinterpret “Sunday at 12” as “Sunday at midnight”. I wouldn’t have minded but I subconsciously put a nice shirt on as well. Then again this was a person who spends their working life specifically not wearing a shirt. It would have been a waste of effort.

This week I have mostly been reading books…

Actually no, make that ever since we moved into the new place. For various dull reasons that are too complicated to pick through here, the shower in the bathroom doesn’t work. Or rather it does but it has two settings. Off and “hot enough to sear your skin off”. Until the landlord gets around to fixing it I’ve been rediscovering a love of baths, and what better way to pass the time whilst sitting and soaking (or as Mila puts it “breaking the world record for cleaning yourself”) than to read a book.

So I keep buying myself interesting books to flick through, much to the irritation of a certain young lady who buys me novels that she has liked and wants me to read as well (they are next on my list, I promise).

First up was Morning Glory, a book about the history of breakfast television in this country, penned by Ian Jones who I know through the TV Cream website. The problem with reading books written by friends of yours is that you are nervous about applying too many critical faculties to it, for fear of being asked your opinion and only having a lukewarm one to hand. Happily there were no such problems here, I did indeed break several world records for bathing due to the fact that it was impossible to put down.

Next up was Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now by broadcaster Andrew Collins. This was the followup to his autobiographical Where Did It All Go Right which detailed his somewhat idyllic childhood growing up in Northampton. I found the first book a rather difficult read, unsure of exactly why I was interested in why I was interested in the minituae of his childhood life and what he used to eat for tea at the age of 8. Plenty of people whose opionions I respect loved it though so I was motivated to plough on regardless.

The second book was far better, an account of his time at university in the 1980s, studying art at Chelsea. It was all there, moving into halls, making friends, getting the girlies, long summer holidays, painful breakups and graduating into the real world. The kind of book that really does flood you with nostalgia if you have ever been through a similar kind of experience (I have).

Anyway, doing all the reading has made me start hankering for a proper writing project to get my teeth into. Writing a book is on the list of things I want to do before this life is over and for many years I’ve been mulling over possibilities.

For a start there are all the weekly chart columns I’ve written since 1992, most of them faithfully collected for posterity. I’ve stamped many times on people who have wanted to put up archives of them for the simple reason that I’m sure there is a way of exploiting that catalogue for my own ends. Exactly how that would work I don’t know, especially as I’ve always regarded each piece of being very much of the moment, relevant only to the week in which it was published. How on earth do you turn a contemporary account of what was at Number 22 on May 15th 1995 into something that has the correct historical context and which people will want a copy of on their coffee tables?

I did start to put together some sample pages a few years ago but abandoned the project when it became clear I did not have the time to devote to it. Maybe if one of my many employers sacks me I may have the motivation. Not that I want them to of course, please nobody get any bright ideas.

Things that I have learned so far this week:

  1. Being a betting fan can be an intense round of extreme highs and extreme lows. Yesterday I was working at the radio station on the weekly live racing show and given that I had one of the countries most expert tipsters on the end of an ISDN line I asked him what his tips for the night were. He gave me advice on the 7.15 and 8.15 races.

    Nag No.1 storms into an early lead and romps home at 2-1, giving me a nice return on my £10 stake,

    Nag No.2 refuses to get into its stalls at first but once persuaded in, charges out like it has a rocket up its backside, only to get pipped at the post and losing me the £20 I won first time around.

  2. Always go with your instincts. Backing horses whose name you happen to like is a fast way of losing money, every gambler knows this. Hence despite the fact that a horse in the 7.45 with the wonderful name of Wunderbra gave us minutes of fun on the radio suggesting that it should push up during the race etc. I did not wager any of the hard earned on its chances. Nobody gave it a prayer after all. Wunderbra duly storms the race at 20-1.
  3. It is a very small world. A news report on the bloke wanted for the double murders up in Yorkshire featured a statement from Harrogate District Hospital where he is currently being treated. Spokesperson for the hospital was a lady by the name of Gilly Neild who in an earlier life as a 16 year old radio wannbe called Gillian Neild, appeared alongside me on a small radio station in the summer of 1991. For a short period at least, she is the more famous of the two of us.

I can remember the date quite vividly. Monday, October 23rd 1995.

 

I was at the time holding down a bread and butter job at a firm of accountants in Leeds. That wasn’t really where I wanted to be. Where I wanted to be was at the local radio station in Bradford where I had the honour of working on sports programmes and operating tapes etc. I was on the lowest rung of the radio ladder – the local radio tech-op.

 

That day however was different. The station had embarked upon a week of outside broadcasts with one show a day coming from studios in Halifax. I was the safe pair of hands called upon to work at the studios each day, making sure the outside broadcast went off OK and to play in adverts etc. I’d taken a week off my “proper” job and was ready for the experience of a lifetime.

 

Hence my position on that date, skipping down the road at 9am on a Monday morning and repeating over and over to myself “It’s 9am on Monday and I’m going to work. It’s 9am on Monday and I’m going to work AT A RADIO STATION.” Everything I had dreamed of since being at school was about to come together at that moment.

 

Looking back that week was a turning point in my entire career. Within two months I was actually on the air for real, within five months I had a 12 month contract as a presenter and could quit my crushingly dull day job for good. It was possibly the most exciting six months of my life.

 

The reason all these memories came flooding back yesterday was because I oddly enough found myself in the exact same situation. I have a real job (albeit still in the media) but still spend evenings and weekends at a radio station (albeit a big national one) pressing buttons and working the desk (albeit at a very important level). I have, however, been asked to take charge of a very important broadcast and as a result have booked time off work to go and do this. From now until the end of the weekend I am doing marathon stints behind the desk, helping with the broadcast of our live coverage of the Open Golf championship from Troon.

 

I don’t think I’d ever been in the office during the daytime before, only at evenings and weekends when most of management are away. The atmosphere is noticeably different, with a great many important people walking around and yet here I was as the man who was effectively in control of the output for most of the day.

 

That is why on Thursday morning I was skipping down the road, full of excitement for what lay ahead. Excited because rather than going to my job of three and a half years, I was doing something fresh and inspiring. Excited because it was 9am and I was going to work to do something special at a radio station.

 

Suddenly I was 22 again.

Yes, I’ve been on Top Of The Pops. Now who wants to touch me?

This all began a few weeks ago when the radio station for to whom I happen to devote a fair bit of my working life decided to get behind one of the many records being released to cash in on the Euro 2004 tournament.

The song they got behind was called “Come On England”, a rather tacky reworking of ‘Come On Eileen’ with new lyrics set to cheer on our boys in Portugal. The instruction went out that every show on the station was to give it the highest priority and that it should be played at least once every couple of hours (this on a speech radio station for goodness sake). The problem was the record was dire in my opinion and I muttered to a few people that we were setting ourselves up for a fall by promoting something so terrible. Top 30 was the best it could hope for said the resident chart expert here.

Well sometimes it is nice to be proved wrong I guess. All the promotion we gave it must have helped as last weekend the single shot to Number 2 in the charts and I had to write it up on Launch after showing my hand and declaring that for the first time ever I had an interest in the song and could not be relied upon to be objective.

Of course when you have a hit record, there is only one thing left to do – Top Of The Pops. The call reached me earlier this week that virtually the whole crew were being invited down to stage a big production of the song. The producers wanted crowds of people, footballers, cheerleaders and the band all taking part.

So it was that Wednesday evening saw the massed ranks of the production crew (myself included) pitching up at television centre in central London, signing in and being issued with security tags and being escorted through the corridors to the central doughnut (a circular concrete area and the scene of many a Record Breakers tap dancing event). We put our things down in the famed Star Bar and sat around whilst the set was built. BBC engineers were hard at work constructing stands, an astroturf pitch and a goalmouth. With us were the band, a crowd of hangers on and the odd page 3 girl just for effect.

Suitably issued with England t-shirts we were given our positions on the set. I was to be a footballer and along with several others had to stand to one side, jump up and down and dance to the song as it played until the final few bars at which point we raced forward and began kicking footballs around the pitch. Sounds silly but it was good fun.

What only then became clear was how cheaply the whole production was done. It was all to be filmed with just a single steadicam and in order for a range of shots to be available for the final edit we had to perform the song eight times. Yes that is right, eight times in a row we took up positions, jumped up and down and sang and then ran forward to kick footballs around. All this on a very warm summers evening to boot. Needless to say by Take 5 everyone was drenched with sweat and the sight of coolers full of water bottles was a very welcome sight.

Two hours later all was done and we trudged down the road and fell into the nearest pub to celebrate. The show aired this evening and in truth the whole performance looked a bit of a mess with far too many people stood around waving flags. You caught a glimpse of me a few times, jumping up and down and looking knackered although on occasion my head was obscured by the breasts of a large blonde model. Such are the perks of fame I guess.

Still, at the very least it is something to tell the grandchildren. I’ve never made a record in my life, never been recorded singing and have limited musical abilities of any kind. I’ve still lived the dream and performed on Top Of The Pops. Now who wants to touch me?

Is this still big brother?

Just as a followup to the events of yesterday and as an example of one of life’s most priceless moments, the following is a true and accuracte description of a verbal exchange that took place in the control room not long after I had left.

I should explain that at the radio station we have about eight different TV screens in front of us so that we can monitor various events taking place. We can watch the usual TV channels, lots of Sky channels and also a few foreign stations thanks to some dodgy satellite cards and a little bit of cunning. Most of the time these are used so we have live feeds of English football matches on a Saturday afternoon but as a hidden benefit these same foreign channels relay some very interesting hard core porn late at night.

It was one of those channels that was being displayed on one of the screens. Our telephone operator for the evening Liz, (who just happens to be one of my favourite people in the world owing to the fact that she looks and talks like a sterotypical blonde bimbo yet in actual fact is the exact opposite of one) wandered out into the office briefly and then back into the studio. Caught unawares for a moment she spotted the porn channel which by all accounts was at that moment showing a particularly painful looking DP scene.

She paused for a moment, frowned and then asked:

“Is this still Big Brother?”

I don’t even want to think about how she managed to reach that level of confusion.

Following on…

Sometimes it is amazing what a different a few hours can make.

I’ve just returned home from my second stint of the day. Whereas the first was characterised by the entire office buzzing with an energy I’ve never seen before, the second was like stepping into another world.

The reason for this was actually fairly simple. The radio station had arranged a table at a central London cafe for everyone who wanted to go down and watch England take on France in what they hoped would have been an easy victory. This meant that the only people left at the radio studios were those of us involved with broadcasting the commentary of the game. Three of us in total.

We all of us agreed that the contrast was bizarre. In the run up to the big event you could hardly move for bodies. When the event itself was going on, most people were just not needed or had other things on their mind.

Not that it was a bad evening of course, the result sucked but at least it made for a great phone-in afterwards. In a way I’m sorry I have a real job to go to tomorrow and had to leave before it was all over.

Something Special

OK, now this could get a little self indulgent before I am done, but today has been the kind of day that you cannot go through without wanting to share just a small part of how it felt.

I’ve just returned from a marathon six hour stint on the air which began at 8am. This was no ordinary Sunday though – this of course was the final countdown before England’s opening game in Euro 2004. Working for a sports focussed station it has been hard to ignore the fact that the championships are upon us and in actual fact at times it has been unbearable waiting for things to kick off. In the last few weeks we’ve picked apart every possible issue there was in the run up to Portugal. The tension was getting to everyone – we wanted action!

So today’s day of action has come as a welcome relief. Better still there is a buzz about the place that I don’t think I’ve experienced in two years of working here. This you see is a genuine event and an event that we’ve thrown lots of resources at. As a result there are reporters on the streets, out in bars, following the team.. well you get the idea. All that translates to a radio show that crackles with genuine energy and excitement.

Normally Sundays are like a dead zone in the office. Only those who actually are working on air are normally around. Not so today. Just about everyone connected with the place has a job to do today, booking guests, preparing for outside broadcasts. I’ve only been one small part of it and have been buried in the studio for most of the day – but just to be there as a part of it has been the most enjoyable experience of my life.

It looks like I’m going to have to put my angry consumer hat on again. This situation will almost certainly not be news to anyone who has wrestled with trying to move house whilst attempting to maintain a broadband internet connection.

Now I admit I was naive. Moving from one flat to another in the same block and keeping my same telephone number, I was hoping that a great deal of hassle would be avoided. Not so. The advice from my ISP was that I need to cancel my existing account and ask for a new one to be created at the same address.

No problem. Mail sent, account cancelled along with an assurance that I will be buying a new one from the same people.

Online I go to their website to order a new connection. No can do. “You already have an account with us on this number.” Yes, I know that, but I need to cancel it and create a new one.

Back on the phone to the support line to an embarrassed drone who admits that they cannot do the two simultaneously. I have to cancel the old account as it is linked to my old flat. However it is also linked to the telephone number and they cannot create a new account for that number until the old one has been disconnected – which could take anything up to 10 days.

Here’s to up to a month without high speed net access. I may have to go out and get a life instead.