Monday, 16 September 2013

Where Do I Begin?

The wonderful new Kenny Everett biog* tells of that moment when Kenny Everett’s long-suffering dad scratches his head and puzzles why his little Maurice wants a second tape recorder. After all, he’d already got one.

Anyone born in the analogue age will recognise that exchange.  The first tape recorder was a huge step forward; one could record one’s favourite chunks of radio.   Most people in radio recorded, not the songs, but the bits between them. Every song on the tape ended with a jerk, five seconds in.

But your second tape machine was a further leap forward.  It enabled you to copy and edit, albeit in a primitive way.  I was so excited about my additional cassette recorder, to be given to me second-hand at the age of 13 as a Christmas present, that I’d loot the cupboard in my Mum and Dad’s bedroom, unwrap it carefully and play with it for a few hours before re-sealing it and placing it delicately back.  Nevertheless, when Christmas day approached, I was still trembling with excitement.

Radio lives often start young.  And a bit like those other debates about nurture vs nature, one does not quite remember how and when the interest all began.  It just feels, well, normal.  And 
Me, aged 14
you can't change it.  I also played with a bus conductor's outfit, but that was just a phase.


Lots of fun pictures on Twitter, of late, suggest just how many of today’s broadcasting crop knew what they might do with their lives fairly early on. There they sit in 'radio bedroom' with short trousers and red sandals, by the controls of a cheap tape recorder.  They were born to do it.

At the age of about 8, I’d be recording Pick of the Pops on a small 3” reel-to-reel recorder.  At the age of 9, I was being recorded reciting  a poem about the Great Fire of London into a BBC mic for Radio Nottingham’s brilliantly titled ‘Magic Microphone Club’.  By 10, I was making and recording electronic noises and sound effects in my shed.  I graduated to assembling radio shows, ‘broadcast’ down a long wire to a speaker at the top of the front garden; and to my friend’s neighbouring house.  Not sure what they all thought of that.

Jon Wyer and Mike Myer
My pretend station was called 'Radio Anchor'.  The pronunciation of its name took on a new meaning after puberty, and a re-brand was needed.

By 14, we were into phase three. I was soldering my own primitive mixer together, covered
The unmistakable Hirsty
genuinely in sticky-backed plastic.  Valerie Singleton has a lot to answer for.  This enabled me not only to play bits of audio, it meant I could add me on top of them, thanks to a cheap mic, armed with a red pop shield.  By 16, I was winning jingle competitions on the BBC.  Well, I won one. They wisely only ever had one.

Reading this Kenny biog reassures us all how normal this behaviour is for a radio bod.  So many people who love radio grew up on it. Listening, playing, experimenting, dubbing, editing. Thinking. Witness Chris Evans's tales too.

In those days, one dreamed of a career in radio, but it seemed just that.  A dream.  My careers teacher handed out a single sheet on ‘media’.  In those pre-photocopier days, it was printed in turquoise ink on one of those Banda duplicators.  The only useful thing about that sheet was that the print smelt nice. 

Carlos getting the hang of it
I recall some studies that suggested that those people who do better than average in any given field have simply often had a head start.  They’ve been interested longer.  And when it’s such a competitive field, average is not sufficient.  Eric Morecambe was on stage as a kid.  Many great sporting figures have been playing since a little’un.  I guess it’s no accident that Scott Myers is in radio, with Master Control rather than Scalextrix in his garage.  There is more than one generation of Blackburns in radio-related fields; and Parks; and Wyers; and the list goes on.  Rather like learning a language, it’s probably easier when you are young to acquire that ’ear’. 

Some wannabes say to me: ‘I think I’m interested in a career in radio’. I smile. When they just say to me ‘I’m thinking of meeja’, I fear I cannot muster the same tolerant smile.  If you love radio, you bloody well know about it.

*Hello Darlings - James Hogg & Robert Sellers (Transworld)
Roy Martin (t) Stuart Clarkson (b)

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