I’m worried that my BBC de-toxification process hasn’t worked because every time I see a newspaper headline screaming abuse at my former employer, I have an instinctive urge to leap to the defence of my old chums and colleagues. In recent weeks there have been stories about massive hikes in executive pay, plans to strip pensioners of free tv licences and reports that the new BBC Scotland channel isn’t attracting enough viewers. The executive pay story is the hardest to defend, so I wont even try. The BBC’s rationale for boosting the already large salaries of its top bosses runs something like this: “we’ve cut the number of managers so those who remain are asked to take on additional duties so are being rewarded accordingly. But don’t worry, we aren’t giving them double the money…just a wee twelve percent bung here and there…so, you see, ha ha, we are actually saving money…ha ha. Calm down, everyone.”
The trouble with this strategy is that those remaining managers don’t actually have more time in their day to do twice the work. Not unless those savings are being invested in the kind of time-changers last seen in Harry Potter books that allow people to be in two places at once. This means that staff who complain that their bosses are rarely visible might have to accept they might now dissolve in to a puff of smoke. I know some staff who would welcome that.
Then there’s the free licence fee for the over-75s. This was a social benefit that was being funded directly by the Government, but now the buck (or lack of bucks) has been passed to the BBC who claim that they’ll have to cut programmes and services to pay for it. A clever move by the Government and the BBC’s attempt to explain the situation is not really helped by the aforementioned hike in executive pay.
And so to the new BBC Scotland TV channel. I watch it on and off, as I do with most TV channels, but the fact that I’m tempted to stop as I thumb the remote control through the Freeview listings tells me that there is, most days, something worth watching. More than that though, I’m impressed with the range of new faces and performers I see on screen and the way that Scotland is being portrayed as more than just hills, glens, bagpipes and crime lords. I’m seeing genuine stars of tomorrow make their debut in formats such as Comedy Underground where this week’s host, Gareth Waugh, turns out to have the facial expressions that make for comedy gold on the small screen. The end-credits of programmes are interesting too, because they offer evidence that a range of small Scottish companies are gaining a foothold in the competitive world of TV production and, so long as the BBC Scotland channel continues to thrive, they will gain in confidence and expertise and will power a new creative industry in Scotland.
Of course there’s stuff I’m not so keen on. I don’t watch The Nine – not because its isn’t a well- produced and respectable news programme -but because by the time nine o’clock comes around I’ve usually seen enough news and there aren’t enough exclusive stories to tempt me to stay with the programme for an hour.
And, yes, sure, I’m a dyed-in-the-wool radio guy, so I would also like to see BBC Scotland invest in a new music station for Scotland and improve the quality of the local news opts on Radio Scotland.
But the great thing about no longer working for the BBC is that I can say these things out loud, in public, online and maybe even in the newspapers. But you know how they twist these things. Look out for the headline “Ex Radio Boss Slams Pay Hike for ‘Invisible’ Beeb Bosses’.
At least it’s not a puff piece. Apart from that Harry Potter reference, of course.
I’ve done a few radio interviews in the past few days, all with the aim of telling people about The Red Light Zone (which is launched tomorrow) . On A1 Internet radio, the presenter Chris Grant took seriously ill just before I went on air and handed over to his co-host in Madeira. As the minutes passed, Chris was sending us text messages telling us that he was in severe pain and was being admitted to hospital there and then. Happily he was back on his feet the next day.
A few days later, I was on air with Dave Hodgson on Talk Radio Europe and backed myself into a conversational cul-de-sac about sausages.
This afternoon I was on BBC Radio Scotland, talking to Grant Stott who managed to cover my thirty year career in the space of fifteen minutes, pausing only for an archive clip of Johnny Sellotape and then allowing me to read an extract from the book itself. I told that Princess Anne story again.
Then Grant asked me what the BBC bosses thought when I told them I was going to write about life behind the scenes in radio …
Dan O’Day used his library of audio clips to illustrate the dos and don’ts, based on things he had heard, admired or cringed at from radio stations all over the world. One example was that hackneyed feature The Birthday List, when a radio presenter gave a roll-call of famous people – dead and alive – who might also be sharing a birthday with you on that day. But who, asked Dan, as he fired a clip of a bored presenter going through the motions, really wants to know that “… also born on this day was notorious Nazi, Adolf Eichmann, responsible for implementing Hitler’s Final Solution that led to the murder of millions of Jews.”
It was a fair point. You would have trouble shoe-horning that into the conversation at coffee break.
-The Red Light Zone (Chapter 12)
“I suggested the open auditions might be just a publicity stunt. Goaded into taking part, I looked around the office for some inspiration, but all I could see were office supplies and so Johnny Sellotape was born. And his daft gimmick of attaching old jokes to his jacket would allow him to fill the required five minutes of stage time, should he forget his lines.”
*audio from Stuck: The Rise and Fall of Johnny Sellotape (BBC Radio Scotland)
Picture: The Big Issue.
On this website we’ll be adding pictures and video content releated to the book, The Red Light Zone: An Insider’s laugh ‘n’ tell of BBC Radio. In this post, author Jeff Zycinski, explains – and apologises – for the misleading title of his memoirs of a career in the BBC and commercial radio.
The Red Light Zone? Yes, I know. it’s a bit misleading, isn’t it? I’m sorry if you came across this site thinking it might be an edgy expose of Amsterdam brothels, Edinburgh massage parlours of Lochwinnoch tearoooms (we’ve all heard the stories). But no – it’s all about my book on radio, which is sexy in its own way, of course.
It’s The Red Light Zone because much of my career has been spent in sound proof studios where the red light signifies a live microphone and a reminder not to cough, sneeze, swear or blurt out any honest thoughts about the Government, Opposition parties, Ofcom, the BBC Director General, awards committees, football teams, and accordionists, But now that I’ve left the BBC, that red light is off and I can say what I like about all of those things.
So let me tell you about how I sold my mind and body to broadcasting and about the people I met, the places I visited and the programmes we made, Friends have asked if this is going to be one of those ‘kiss ‘n’ tell’ memoirs, but I don’t think my air-kissing encounters with luvvies would justify that description. However, there were lots of laughs so maybe ‘laugh ‘n’ tell’ is more appropriate.
There are movie stars, one car chase and some nudity. Not much sex though.
Again, sorry about that.
The book is published in January 2019, but you can pre-order by clicking the link below to amazon.co.uk.
Buy Book Here