There was a time when most quality newspapers published a weekly review of radio programmes. These days, not only are such columns a rarity, but many of the newspaper titles which carried them are long gone too. A pity, because those of us who made or make radio programmes yearn for someone to notice their existence and offer some kind of critique, preferably the positive kind. Admittedly, when I think back to the glory days of radio reviewers, most of them focussed on BBC shows. One notable exception was Ken Garner whose weekly column ranged across the dial to include commercial radio and even temporary student stations.
In the olden days, of course, a station’s potential audience was neatly contained within the reach of its transmitter. When yon new-fangled internet came to be a thing you could hear programmes from all over the world. I remember how that led to an surge of optimism among Scottish radio presenters and producers who entertained fantasies of their listenership being swollen by people tuning in from Belfast to Bangkok. The occasional email from overseas always created a frisson of excitement and probably still does.
Now, with the advent of the Radio Player and BBC Sounds, programmes are being torn from their station moorings and offered to listeners based on their interest in particular topics or genres. It means that comedy shows from, say BBC Radio Wales, sit side-by-side with those originally broadcast on Radio 4 or Radio Scotland. Which makes you wonder why those remaining radio reviewers don’t spend more time sampling output that doesn’t come from Broadcasting House in London. Hey, why not let your readers know what else is easily available on their smart speaker, phone or internet radio?
In an effort to do my bit, therefore, I’ll soon be launching the Red Light Zone podcast and offering a regular review of radio shows together with exclusive interviews with the people who make and present the shows and others connected with the industry. I’ve started recording material and Drew Carson at Radio Haver (a man who knows the world of podcasting better than me) is offering some good advice.
So, watch this space for the launch date announcement and get in touch if you want to tell me what’s happening in your radio world or shout about some great programmes that shouldn’t be missed. Or even, bad programmes that should be missed.
Happy either way.
Take a look at this photograph I snapped off a few weeks ago in a branch of Waterstones. Tell me if you notice anything odd about the positioning of my book – apart, that is, from the fact that I, like so many needy authors, turned it to face outwards. Notice anything else? Well, unusually, the books on this shelf are not arranged alphabetically by author’s name. Yep, us ‘Z’ people tend to find our books on the bottom shelf of shops and libraries, with the consequent risk of back injury for potential buyers. I mean, all good books have a strong spine, but some books require readers to have one too.
To be honest, I’m not a stranger to this kind of alphabetical discrimination. I first encountered it in the early years of school. On ‘medical day’ when all the pupils were lined up to see the nurse for the ‘head lice and hygiene’ check, Carol Armstrong and John Anderson were at the top of the queue. After the nurse had a quick peek at their scalp and pants, both were free to hit the playground for fun and games. Meanwhile Anne Marie Young and I inched slowly forward from the back of the line and, by the time the bad-tempered nurse called us she was already snapping elasticated waistbands in anger, playtime was over and we had missed the first fifteen minutes of an arithmetic lesson. This might have seemed like a bonus at the time, but perhaps explains why I still struggle with long division. Happily smart phones have proved teachers’ prophecies were wrong and we do, indeed, have calculators with us all the time.
Then there was the Glasgow telephone directory. We were the last name in the book and found ourselves the target of pranksters and ill-informed bigots. Not understanding that our name had a Polish origin, I was mystified by the semi-regular calls from morons suggesting that we should “go back to Pakistan where you belong.” Oh yes.
Between school and college, I had a brief period of “signing on” for unemployment benefit. It’s not something I tend to boast about and I didn’t back then. So imagine my embarrassment when lining up at the local dole office to discover the counters had been delineated, not just alphabetically, but by the use of surname. As I waited patiently in the ‘MACDONALD to ZYCINSKI’ queue, as indicated by the huge makeshift poster above the front desk, I doubted that anyone seeing the name MacDonald would automatically connect it with a particular individual (except maybe Ronald) but the Zycinski clue tended to narrow the field.
Names beginning with Z are fairly uncommon in Scotland, so much so that in the days of paper address books, people regularly used that page for noting shopping lists or for doodling. This must surely explain why no one called me much or invited me to parties. Even now, when checking into a hotel, receptionists assume that the first ‘Z’ they spot on their computer terminal is likely to be me. That’s why, last Thursday, I found myself checked in to Mister Zarwan’s room at the Holiday Inn in Glasgow. Luckily he had secured a much cheaper rate than I had and, when the mistake was spotted, the hotel kindly allowed me to keep that lower tariff. What happened to poor Mister Zarwan, I never found out.
But back to books and my advice to any would-be authors out there. Do consider an alphabetically advantageous nom de plume. Put it this way, Isaac Asimov and Agatha Christie are still being talked about, but J.K. Rowling? Ah, maybe that’s where my theory falls down. So, I’ll stick to my spot on the bottom shelf. I’ll just tell everyone that people have bent over backwards to get my book. Or forwards. Whatever.
An hour-long chat with Niall Anderson last night for his show on the Glasgow Hospital Broadcasting Service. Niall pointed out that our paths must have crossed many times over the years, but neither of us could remember the other.
Niall’s Sunday night show mixes music and chat although he did have to apologise to listeners for playing so little music last night because our conversation ran away with us. Well, that’s radio geeks for you.
At one point we got to talking about how, as a teenager, I would contribute spoof detective stories to Mike McLean’s ‘thru the night’ show on Radio Clyde – way back in the early eighties. I don’t think Niall could quite believe the lengths that some fans might go to when a big, bad radio station boss cancels their favourite show.
*with kind permission of HBS.org.uk
Delighted with Margaret Chrystall’s piece in the Highland News today. She actually came to my house to do the interview and we had a good old chinwag – something which is increasingly rare for newspaper journalists these days. They often complain about being chained to their desks. One secret to share about that photograph, though. It might look like I’m relaxing in my vast library, it was actually taken in Coffee Affair, a marvellous wee café in downtown Inverness which has bookish wallpaper in a corner nook. My own shelves, packed with Michael Connelly crime novels, Stephen King horrors and the entire Bill Bryson collection, might not have looked so earnest.
There’s an extended version of Margaret’s Interview on the whatson.north website. We discussed my unpublished novel and what happened when Radio 1’s Chris Evans came to Inverness.
Let’s do the Show Right Here: “News anchor Jackie Bird presented the first series and compered shows across Scotland, always bringing another famous name to help boost ticket sales. Barbara Dickson sang her hit songs in Aberfeldy; magician Paul Daniels conspired with the audience in Brookfield, explaining that radio was a great medium for magic and making an entire elephant disappear.”
-The Red Light Zone
“Before we left Hamburger Hamlet, I went to the restroom and looked at myself in the mirror. I was wearing glasses, a baseball cap and a Hollywood t-shirt with the logo of a silent era camera surrounded by stars. I looked a little like Michael Moore, but I looked much more like the character they always arrested by mistake in movies about serial killers: not the killer himself, but the creepy, fat guy that lived in his mom’s basement eating Twinkies – the wrong guy. Not Michael Moore and not even the main psycho. That guy!”
-The Red Light Zone
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