Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Happy Birthday - 25 years of Red Rose Radio

As Rock FM and Magic 999 (Red Rose Radio) celebrates its 25th Anniversary, I thought I would acknowledge it's pedigree in training local Lancashire people to become media professionals.

If you've been reading my blog you'll know how Red Rose Radio gave me a chance. If it wasn’t for the time taken by its news staff to explain and show me the skills to become a broadcast journalist, I wouldn't be working in my BBC job now. But it's not just me. Many people have passed through the doors of the converted church on St. Paul's Square and gone onto bigger things. Richard Frediani is now the News Editor at ITV Granada, Georgina Bowman presents `Newsbeat` on Radio 1, Paul Kenyon had his own BBC 1 series "Kenyon Confronts" - There are countless other presenters and journalists, too numerous to mention, who owe their successful careers to Red Rose.

It was a great place to work - The fun we had in and out of the office transferred to the airwaves, making an entertaining listen. The unique building of the converted church of St. Paul's helped make it such a special place. I was proud to be a Preston lad working on Preston's own radio station.

Now you are spoilt for choice in radio listening, whatever your favourite music you can generally find a station that plays it. There's thousand of stations from all over the world available on the internet. Back in 1982, there was only the BBC.
Red Rose Radio helped to shake up the world of radio and was just one of the reasons why BBC Radio Blackburn became BBC Radio Lancashire. Red Rose was the first station to form a radio group under the guise of Trans World Communications owning Radio Aire in Leeds, Red Dragon Radio in Cardiff and Piccadilly Radio in Manchester.

My biggest tribute is saved for one of the original people responsible for lobbying for and launching Red Rose Radio, Keith Macklin. Originally the first Programme Controller, then presenter and news/sport reporter. 25 years later Keith still works for Red Rose covering sports stories. He's the foundation stone that's helped secure success. Offering words of advice and wisdom, fighting people's corners, sharing a joke, watching people, like me, learn my craft and build on it. Keith's recently celebrated 50 years as a broadcast journalist and commentator, and Lancashire's radio is all the better for the 25 he's spent in Preston.

Now mainly a music station, Rock FM and Magic 999 are not the same as what Red Rose Radio once was, but times and radio market places change. Lancashire and Preston in particular, should be proud of it's two favourite stations committed to telling you what's happening where you live in its news bulletins, playing great music and making you smile.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The big job offer!

I can't believe it's ten years ago now, but I'd completed my A-Levels at Cardinal Newman College in Preston and moved onto a journalism degree course at the University of Central Lancashire. Why didn't I travel further a field for University like my friends? Two reasons actually, the first is that UCLAN is one of the best for Journalism courses in the country, and secondly my feet were well and truly under the table at Red Rose. Throughout college I'd been helping out in the mornings, crucially getting paid (a little!) at last and reporting and reading the news on-air.

I was about half way through my degree course when I had to make the biggest decision of my life. Two of the journalists at Red Rose had left to work elsewhere and the news editor suggested I apply for one of the jobs. He argued that I had worked in the newsroom long enough and `knew the job like the back of my hand`. It was a great offer, but one that sent me into turmoil. I couldn't decide whether or not to drop out of University and take the job. I was worried that I might be disadvantaged later in life if I didn't have a degree. In the end I decided the reason I was at University was to get a job, and here I'm being offered one.

Needless to say I got the job and I accepted on the condition that Red Rose provided some training for me, something that would be officially recognised. We agreed that I would complete on-the-job training through an NVQ Level 5 and I would be released to complete the Journalism Law and Public Administration elements of the Postgraduate Journalism Course at the University.

So there I was, officially a journalist, reading the news on Rock FM and Red Rose Gold and going out and about covering news stories in Lancashire.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Red lights

I'd stumbled through my first live bulletin, and after that I never looked back. The news editor and station management at Red Rose were happy with my impromptu appearance, and from then on I was allowed to voice up reports for the bulletins and go on-air when needed.
At the same time I'd still been presenting a show at Chorley Hospital Radio and had been busy with exams at college and eventually something had to give. Reluctantly I resigned from CHR to concentrate on getting a career.
I'd been working unpaid for Red Rose for a while when the Sports Editor asked if I would be interested in working on the sports show. Back then the 999Am service used to carry full football commentary of PNE, Rovers, Blackpool, Burnley and Wigan games. I jumped at the chance of paid work preparing scripts and audio for the show.
It was during this time Red Rose needed to broadcast local Saturday afternoon news bulletins, as I was already in the office I was asked if I'd like to present them. Of course I did!

- Next, off to University and the big job offer.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Stumbling on-air

After being given the chance to help out in the Red Rose Radio newsroom every weekend I made the most of the opportunities to develop my skills. I developed my news writing techniques, worked on my editing and importantly used the news studio in between bulletins.

After the main bulletin had been read on the hour, I would go into the studio and practice read the same scripts. I learnt how to use my voice, when to stress certain words, and when to lower and raise the intonation. The newsreader of the day would then give me feedback and offer advice on how I could improve. It was during this process I lost my Preston accent. I had been quite broad before, and there was hardly any difference when I said "hair" "her" and "their" !! - I still have a slight hint of Preston twang... keeping true to my roots.

At 1130 on Saturday mornings there would be a news bulletin on Rock FM and a sports bulletin on Red Rose Gold. The sports editor normally came into read his update ahead of the afternoons football commentary. At 1125 he called to say his car had broken down and couldn't make it in. The newsreader couldn't present the bulletin as he had his own update on the FM station....

So I was given a pile of tapes and scripts in no particular order and was pushed into the studio. I tripped on the heavy sound proof door and dropped everything on the floor. I hurriedly picked things up, the sports jingle played and the presenter said "Now at the Red Rose Sports desk..... Steve Saul" - I breathlessly said "Good Morning...." My first live bulletin!

Monday, May 07, 2007

And we're back!

Sorry for the delay in updates, I've just been really busy at work.

It was quite daunting being in the Red Rose Radio newsroom, surrounded by experienced journalists arguing over what stories to cover. They asked me if I would go out and get a `voxpop` in Preston town centre asking people what they thought about the launch of the national lottery. A voxpop is when a reporter asks anyone in the street for an opinion. I was a shy lad at the time and was quite scared to approach shoppers and ask if I could record their thoughts. Standing on Friargate I spoke to about ten different people.
I took the audio back to the studio and was shown how to edit it into a twenty second clip of audio for the news bulletins. Now it's quite straightforward using digital editing software, but then you had to physically cut the tape removing what you didn't want, and sticking back together the bits you needed to keep.
After all that was complete you then had to write a script. The newsroom was still using typewriters, and old ones at that. One had no `M` so you had to write them in! The scripts had to be really short, no more than three paragraphs with a local reference in the opening sentence. This was my first script that was broadcast on the radio...

"People in Preston say they will go on a long holiday, buy a big house and treat their friends if they win the first National Lottery jackpot this weekend. The draw is made around eight o'clock tonight, with the main prize said to be over a million pounds. These shoppers they're buying a ticket...."

By the end of the week, I'd learnt how to edit audio and write scripts. I asked the news editor if I could help out at the weekends to learn more. She said `yes, we do need a weekend receptionist` - I didn't care that I'd be opening the post and making the brews for free, I was given the chance to watch and learn more skills.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

News Just In....

After visiting all the departments and learning how the radio station operated, I spent a couple of days in the newsroom, this was the place that I was really keen to get into.
I was shown how the journalists got their news stories and where the national news came from. I followed the reporters out on stories and watched as they edited their audio for the news bulletins and programmes.

It was 1995, before the internet was being used publicly, and the back of the Red Rose Newsroom was full of reference books and research material. It also housed huge filing cabinets full of scripts dating back years. Amazingly the newsroom was still using typewriters, and all their scripts were being stored in the cabinets in case of any issues relating to the stories that had been broadcast.

My first task was to sort through most of the scripts and make some much needed space. It was something I was dreading, but I found that I actually enjoyed reading through what was effectively Lancashire's recent history. More importantly I was absorbing like a sponge the writing style and radio journalism techniques. From Keith Macklin and Mike Green's coverage of the terrible Abbeystead Disaster, through Richard Frediani's coverage of the IRA bombing of Weeton Army base to high profile cases at Preston Crown Court. I was given the task to decide what to keep and what to save.

Next I was given my first taste of recording audio to be used within the news bulletins. I was shown how to take the national news feed. IRN supply many commercial radio station newsrooms with audio of national and international stories. Like all things, it's all done online now, but every hour they used to send selection of `clips` - short bits of interviews with people making the news - via satellite from London. I had to record them on the equivalent of an 70's `8 track` cartridge tape, known as a `cart`. It was an important and stressful role, because if you messed it up, the newsreader would not be able run the clip of John Major, or equivalent, in the next news bulletin.

Next: I'm sent on my first assignment, and the typewriter with no `M` !!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Radio Radio Radio

The story how I ended up on the radio continues.....

I'd completed my work experience at the Lancashire Evening Post, and I was playing my part in entertaining the listeners at Chorley Hospital Radio.Ever keen to grab any opportunity that came my way I was out shopping in Preston, I was in the middle of buying some jeans from Debenhams in the Fishergate Centre when I heard over the shop speakers, `Debenhams Network Radio` - The store had its own instore radio station! I hunted around and on the lower ground floor found a man in the smallest studio you have ever seen, playing CD's and making store announcements. I got chatting to the presenter/manager Brett Harley, and he agreed that I come in and help out. So every Saturday I'd turn up, play songs, write news and devise competitions for the presenters, some of whom would become professional colleagues in a few years.

It was now the school summer holidays and I'd arranged a couple of weeks unpaid work experience at Red Rose Radio (Rock FM/Magic999). I loved it. I spent a couple of days in each department, watching and helping out when possible. In the Sales department I watched as they wooed clients and got them to spend lots of their money, selling different advertising packages. Then on to the Creative department as they made an entertaining adverts based on the sales reps brief. I learnt how the jingles were constructed, and how trials are used to promote presenters and programmes.

Then I was allowed into the newsroom.... I got bitten by the news bug.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

On-Air !

More now on the continuing story of how I got into radio....

I'd finally been given a chance at Hospital Radio Chorley, the chance to gain some much needed experience for my future career. Every Sunday afternoon, I'd turn up, collect requests from patients and play the songs from the hospitals studio base.
It was an interesting experience collecting the requests. More often than not, the patients were hard of hearing. I would come along asking if they wanted a song played, and they would say, `sorry love, what are you saying?` ! - When I did get a request, it would probably be Jim Reeves, I love You Because. I must have played that song a hundred times.

I attended All Hallows R.C High School in Penwortham, and time had come for our work placement, a release from classes to gain valuable real life experiences. Naturally I was keen to go somewhere media related. Several months prior I had contacted the Lancashire Evening Post, and arranged my own placement at the paper. This was my first chance to experience a big newsroom, and compare how newspapers journalists work in comparison to the radio journalists at Red Rose.

I was fascinated. I was shown how the paper was put together, the stories, the features, the articles, the classifieds, the printing and distribution to shops. I got to shadow reporters, trying to see if I could vaguely work out their shorthand scribblings, watching as they transformed it into the story of the day. It was very different to how the radio reporters worked.

I spent a couple of afternoons with the LEP's court reporter in Preston. I remember feeling really intimidated by the grandeur of the court room watching as the proceedings were transformed into an interesting story, more often than not, about some fight or stabbing in the town centre. With email and internet, I'm sure the process is very different now, but then reporter turned his notes into shorthand which was then dictated over the phone to a copy-taker in the newsroom at the Fulwood base.

During my placement I got the chance to write a couple of stories that were published, nothing major, it's not as if they would have let me write the front page lead! My stories were photo stories about children dressing up as characters from their favourite books at the local library, and plaque unveiling type events.

I enjoyed my two weeks at the Lancashire Evening Post, and back at school I was inspired to get involved with the poetry magazine Harlequin, run by my English teacher Mr Garlington.

Back then there was no internet, no mobile phone text alerts, no LEP TV style services, and personally I was frustrated about the lack of immediacy. Yes a paper gives a journalist the scope to investigate stories, write creatively and get involved in the community, but on the radio you can tell people what happens, when it happens, as it happens.

With my look around Red Rose, my Hospital Radio Chorley show I knew now that radio really was for me...

Friday, January 26, 2007

Behind the mic...

More now on how I got into the murky world of the media...

So after bombarding television stations up and down the country about `how it all works` my gran arranged for me to have a look around my local radio station in Preston, Red Rose Radio (now Rock FM / Magic 999).

I turned up one Saturday afternoon and was shown around by local radio legend John Gillmore. He kindly showed me around the studios and the newsroom, explaining how they broadcast. I was shown how the journalists edited audio, how the news bulletins were constructed and how the presenters prepared for their shows. I got to press a few buttons and to pretend I was actually live on the air. Little did I know that I would be working with `Gilly` several years later.

Something happened during my tour, I was bitten by the radio bug, and it confirmed that I must work in the industry. Seeing the faders in the studio, the CD's, the cart machines, the reel to reel players, the newsroom printer with national stories being sent up from London.... It was definitely for me.

John told me that I needed to get some experience, and had I considered hospital radio? No. I didn't know such a thing existed. Some hospitals have their own radio station broadcasting on the internal ringmain, playing requests for patients and giving out hospital information.

I contacted one of my local hospitals, The Royal Preston. They did have a local station, but it only broadcast on Sundays, and that was linked to the local church. They transmitted the church service for patients in the hospital. So that wasn't much good for me.

Disappointed I tried Chorley Hospital, and discovered to my delight they did have their own local station, Hospital Radio Chorley. I arranged to meet the station manager.

I was 13 at the time, and the manager, a local magistrate, was expecting someone older. She said she couldn't possibly allow someone so young to present a show. There was a glimmer of hope though, she spotted I was keen, and agreed that I could help out on one of the weekend shows.

There were four or five people involved on the Sunday night show. They presented half hour slots picking their own songs and playing requests they'd gathered from the patients.

Under supervision I was allowed to play three songs, and introduce them. Not exactly a big break, but I had managed to break into the industry.......

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

ABOUT: ONE: How did an ordinary Preston lad get on the radio?

I always seem to be waffling on about what I'm up to at work, and I will continue to bore you, but I thought it would be good to take you back to the start, and where my interest in media began....

I'm 28 and from Preston. I've lived in Preston most of my life. Now I work for BBC Radio Manchester reading and writing the news, producing award winning programmes. Previous to that I worked for BBC Radio Leeds, and home town station, Rock FM / Magic 999 (Red Rose Radio)

Just how did an ordinary Preston lad get on the radio, writing and reading the news?

I come from a family firmly based in Preston and its surrounding areas of Higher Walton. Both sides of my family tree have roots in the Lancashire cotton industry with both my respective grandmothers working in mills, as did their parents and relatives before them. Outside the cotton world, the other career choice for my family is the aeroplane industry with my Grandfather, Dad, Mum and Uncle all working for British Aerospace, initially at the old Strand Road site before being transferred to Samlesbury after the Preston site closure.

With that background, you would have thought I would have been destined to work in that industry, in fact I nearly did, being interviewed for the role of `sweeper-upper` at BAe for a summer job one year, but other events derailed that career move. Phew!

I had always been interested in television, and was fascinated not by the programmes, but by how they were made and broadcast. It started with TV-am, the old breakfast broadcaster that lost its franchise to the current GMTV.

I was never allowed to put the TV on before school, with my mum insisting there was nothing on, but one day I did. I discovered Roland Rat, Wacaday and other silly children's shows, but crucially I was intrigued by the news and information content. It was different from other, boring and dull news programmes that I'd seen. Compared to the BBC, where my family always watched the Six O'clock News, TV-am was relaxed, bright, chatty; the on-screen set with its sofas and tables was an extension of my living room.

Much to my mums disgust I watched every morning, I felt the presenters were talking to me personally, I felt included, even if sometimes I didn't understand the topic. One day I wrote to TV-am, not expecting a reply, asking how it all worked. To my surprise I was sent an information pack and behind the scenes video. Now my interest in the media was really sparked.

I started to video tape local TV news shows, `Granada Tonight` and `BBC North West Tonight` - looking for clues into how the shows were made, watching the techniques of the presenters and reporters. I used to love hanging around the Harris Library and law courts in Preston when there was a big trial on or if the snooker was being broadcast live from the Guild Hall. The television companies would come to my town of Preston, I'd go and look at the satellite broadcast trucks and try and spot the reporters going about their job. I'd read the Lancashire Evening Post, particularly Brian Ellis, so I could pretend to school friends I knew lots about football and I'd listen to news bulletins on Red Rose Radio.

By now, aged around 13/14 I'd decided that I wanted to work in the media. But how to get started? My parents and grandparents had a skilled factory/carpentry background. I was going to have to work hard to make a move into an competitive industry with limited opportunities close to where I live.

- Next - Hospital Radio Chorley, tour of Red Rose Radio and work experience at the Lancashire Evening Post.

** incidentally, all my views expressed here are entirely personal, and no way reflect the position of my current employer, BBC Radio Manchester, and the wider BBC.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Busy Busy Busy...

Hi -

It's been a busy start to the year - Last Thursday and Friday I ended up working two 13 hour days! Long days, but I didn't mind as I was asked to present the BBC Radio Manchester drivetime show again. I'd also been working early reading the morning news bulletins, but you know me, radio tart! I've really enjoyed presenting the shows, and feel more confident. Until now I've not had the chance to get my teeth into a show as I've only covered for one day, two at the most.

Outside work, there's some exciting developments, but I need to get them confirmed before I can talk about it on here. Come back in a couple of weeks and I'll be able to let you know.

I treated myself to a big TV in the sales, and have had fun with my dad trying to mount it on the wall. Believe me, it's not as easy as it looks! Now it's on the wall, it's great. I hoping to treat myself to a Playstation 3 when they are launched too, so I can take advantage of the HD functions. I'd like to get Sky HD but I don't think there is enough content yet to justify the subscription. The pictures look great, but I'll wait until more HD channels have launched before I make the switch. Have you got HD TV? What do you think?

I also like the look of the Logik Internet Radio. Apparantly you can receive around 5000 radio stations from around the world. I tried to hear what they sounded like in my local electrical shop, but they didn't have a WI-FI connection. Have you got one, are they any good?