It’s A Fix: Working On The Jason Mohammad Programme

Last week I had the opportunity to work on BBC Radio Wales’ Jason Mohammad programme as a researcher. It was a fantastic week that reminded me of the joys and stresses that live radio can bring. I also enjoyed seeing how shows like the Jason Mohammad programme, which comprises of a number of news items, is put together and thought I would share my insights with you.

jason mohammadThe programme goes out every weekday at 10am – 1pm so early starts are required; 7am starts to be exact. This was one of the toughest aspects of the week as my body clock wasn’t ready for such a drastic change but I got through it with the prospect of making radio enough to prise me from my bed.

Firstly, the team (comprised of the presenter, two producers and around 5 researchers) take a look through the day’s papers for topics to talk about. After around 20 minutes we get together and share the stories we have found then the producers choose the stories/topics that they believe will create the best radio and generate a great response. When the topics are chosen, they are placed on three ‘clocks’ (one for each hour of the show) where the team can see when and for how long each item will feature on the programme. Each researcher is then assigned to one or two stories which they have to ‘fix’.

Fixing items involves finding a guest or contributor that can speak on-air (on the phone or in the studio) about the subject at hand. This can be very easy if you find someone quickly, but it can also be the most stressful part of the day if you’re met with answer phone messages, emails that aren’t responded to or people who are simply unavailable.

One of the lessons I needed to learn quickly was to have patience when looking for contributors.  As we begin contacting people so early, it makes sense that people may still be in bed or commuting to work, but when deadlines are so tight an unanswered call can be extremely frustrating. The first call on my first day saw me needing to leave a voicemail and I found it really tough to simply sit around and wait for a response. My mind was put at ease by the team who had been in the same situation hundreds of times but as time went on and without a response I had to move on and find another target.

While patience was one lesson I had to learn, I also had to try and change my mindset and approach when lining up guests. Having undertaken similar tasks during university, I was used to being turned down as people always seemed reluctant to speak to a student. So when looking to contributors for a BBC programme, I had to remind myself that I wasn’t a student anymore and that I could be more ambitious with the type of people I could contact.

While trying to secure someone to speak to Jason on the show, I also had to write a presenter link and the guest information into the running order of the show. I was always decent at writing reads for news projects in university so I found creating links was pretty similar. However, the producers would then cast their eye over what I’d written and often alter it in some way; sometimes to re-word it completely or to format it in a way that made it easier for Jason to read.

Once everything was sorted and the link is in the system, it is simply a case of hoping that a guest either shows up to the studio or picks up their phone when they are called. This was another thing I had to get used to as I would get very paranoid that I’d entered a phone number wrong or I had given the contributor the wrong timeslot. Thankfully all went well throughout the week and all my contributors picked up their phones!

As well as setting up items, as a researcher I also answered calls from listeners who wanted to join in on a debate, enquire about something to do with the programme or complain when we spoke about Chris Coleman’s role as manager of the Wales national football team. It was another great experience and I always enjoy speaking to people, no matter what the topic. I was surprised by how many regular callers the programme had, something which reminded me of my time as producer of the Cardiff City Phone-In.

Overall, it was an excellent experience and something I hope will turn into a regular (and paid) occurrence. After creating ‘Fancy That!’ it was great to get back into the stressful-but-rewarding world of live radio.

Also, I have to mention the JM programme team and thank them for being so supportive. They are an extremely friendly bunch and despite being in the office for just a week they made me feel like I’d been there for much longer. 

In fact, I liked it so much I’m going back there to help out tomorrow so make sure you tune into BBC Radio Wales at 10am tomorrow!

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‘Fancy That!’ Takes Flight

After months of preparation, stress and hard work, ‘Fancy That!’ was finally broadcast on BBC Radio Wales on Thursday, 15th August.

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It was a very strange and surreal experience to hear the piece of work I have slaved over and spoken about for months coming out of the TV’s speakers and knowing many others, friends, family and complete strangers, were tuning in around Wales.

It was a day I had been eagerly waiting for and in the end ‘Fancy That!’ wasn’t the only time I featured on BBC Radio Wales that day as I also made an appearance on Jason Mohammad’s show:

me an jason mohammad

Speaking to Jason Mohammad was just another surreal moment of a very surreal day.

The opportunity came after I was given the contact details of the show’s producer, Chris Kneebone, by Radio Wales Assistant Editor Kerry McGeever.

I originally contacted Kneebone after I was told they were down a couple of researchers for that week and there could be a possibility of work. That didn’t work out but I do have 3 days of work experience on the show this week which I can’t wait for. Live radio is something very different from creating documentaries or pre-recorded features so I’m looking forward to having a change of pace.

fancy that xpressThe Merthyr Express had also written a piece about the documentary which was a great bit of exposure and hopefully caught the eye and drew in a few more listeners. The last time I had my name in the Express it was for scoring a goal for Treharris Western in the U14 Merthyr League!

Anyway, 18:30 eventually came and it was time for ‘Fancy That!’, I decided to listen to it with the Joseph, Matthew and Hadyn as I wanted to see their reactions as it was broadcast. I’m pleased to say they really enjoyed it and were happy with how they sounded and the way I constructed it to put their important points across.

While the stars of the show were happy, I was keen to get a response from others and hear what non-pigeon fanciers thought of the documentary. I was really pleased with the messages I received from friends and family, while Twitter provided more very nice comments:

Fancy That! Twitter commentsOverall, I’m extremely happy with how ‘Fancy That!’ has been received and have loved every minute of creating it!

If you happened to miss ‘Fancy That!’ on Thursday (it was also broadcast on Saturday morning) or you just want to hear it again, head to the BBC iPlayer where the doc is available until 22nd August.

Now it’s very much a case of ‘What’s next?’…

Fancy That! Update: Documentary COMPLETE!

It’s taken me hours and hours of recording and even more hours of editing together, but I’m absolutely delighted to let you know that Fancy That! is finally completed and ready for broadcast.

The last couple of weeks have consisted of sitting in front of my laptop staring at waveforms and combating ‘DC offset’, something I don’t remember having to put up with when I was editing in university.

audition screenshot

I am in no way complaining, though. The editing process has always been something I have loved doing, probably more-so than recording the actual audio. Listening back to what I have recorded, dissecting each audio track to find that great phrase or door squeak (or even pigeon flutter), pulling everything apart and putting it together like a your very own puzzle is extremely satisfying.

However, nothing is ever straight forward. After assuming I had all the stuff I needed, it turned out my audio ‘puzzle’ was missing two tiny pieces: a bit of horse noise and a clip of Matthew (the dad) identifying himself. While these were simple to get, it was so frustrating as I wanted to get it done and dusted.

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Horsing around

But if I have learnt one thing from this project, it’s that you have to learn to be patient and not stress if plans are stalled, cancelled or altered. So, while recording an extra 30 seconds audio is seem like a major hassle and stumbling block, I knew I needed to remain calm and patient to ensure my documentary was as good as possible.

When everything was done and I had my first draft, I sent it off to my exec producer Steve Groves. We exchanged a few other ideas and drafts and when Steve created a mix he believed was worthy of Radio Wales, I headed to his to have a listen through. We made a few more changes and that was it: we had a documentary!

The only major surprise was the fact that I had to bookend the documentary with a spoken intro and outro. Nobody likes the sound of their own voice and that’s especially true for me! I went out of my way to keep my voice out of the full doc to avoid embarrassing myself but now my high-pitched, slurry (not drunk) speech will be there for everyone to hear!

Finally, Steve told me the doc’s broadcast date was put back to the 15th August and will be broadcast at 18:30. I’m told that’s a definite date so re-pencil it into your diaries!

I’m really pleased with what I’ve come up with and can’t wait for everyone to finally hear it!

I hope you all enjoy it and would love feedback when you have had a listen!

A Very Brief ‘Fancy That!’ Update

Hello all!

I’ve been unbelievably busy since the last time I posted, so haven’t really had a chance to post an update. I’ve got 5 minutes here so this is what has gone on over the past couple of weeks:

The confirmed date of broadcast is the Saturday, 10th August. Still haven’t got a definitive time but am told it will be somewhere around lunchtime.

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Bethany, Barney the horse and me

With my new mic windshield (and the amazing weather) I have had a much more productive time recording over the last weekend. I got some great audio of the birds coming in from a race and spent some time horsing around at the Hughes’ stables.

It was a great relief to find after editing all the raw audio that I now have over 30 minutes worth of good stuff and I still have a couple of things I need to get that I think will enhance the doc as a whole. I’m not looking forward to having to decide what to cut out, though!

I’m recording my final bits with Joseph and his Dad tomorrow night, and hopefully record with Haydn on Wednesday and then it will be a simple case of putting everything together, mixing it all up nicely and I should have my doc sorted by Friday!

I’ll keep you posted!

First Weekend of Recording: Packing Pigeons & Wind Woes

After much planning I finally got a chance to do some recording on Friday night. Joseph and Matthew were entering their birds into a ‘short’ 160-mile race the next day so they needed to be shipped off to be taken to the ‘toss-off’ point (No sniggering at the back, the toss-off point is where the race begins).

Before they packed the pigeons into their baskets, I had time to have a quick interview with Joseph. This was the first time I had used my new Tascam microphone and it showed, as 10 minutes into the interview I realised I wasn’t recording; what an absolute rookie error! It wasn’t the end of the world though, as I could tell Joseph was quite nervous having not been recorded in quite a while and this showed in his short, to-the-point answers. Eventually, Joseph admitted that the upcoming race was adding to his nerves and we agreed to record the interview again the next day when he would feel a little calmer.

Joseph with his pigeons in their basket

The sound of the birds being put into the basket was great, and as they were being packed I had Joseph explain to me how the birds find their way home from so a big distance. It’s an interesting subject as nobody really knows the answer but lots of fanciers have their own theories. Even scientists have tried figuring it out but have yet to figure it out.

Once packed, the birds were sent off to a the father and son’s pigeon club where they would be put in a lorry to be transported across the country.

Saturday was going to be a very productive day of recording; the birds were going to fly back from the race, I would speak to Joseph and his dad, and I would sort out the interview with Joseph. What I hadn’t anticipated was the blustery wind, and having forgotten to buy myself a windshield for my mic, everything was slowed down. I had interviewed Joseph again and he was a lot calmer and gave much better answers, but the wind was causing havoc.

Eventually I took the decision to call it a day and find myself a mic sock as I thought it would make far more sense. I had recorded quite a bit with Joseph and knew I had some good stuff that I was pretty sure wasn’t affected by the wind.

I had got myself to mic socks and decided to edit what I had to see what was good and what would need to be recorded again for whatever reason. I always did enjoy editing audio and thought I was pretty good at it, so it’s never too much of a chore. It was Saturday night though so I had to have a beer while doing it!

A snapshot of my Saturday night

A snapshot of my Saturday night

I did have a fair bit of good audio and was fairly pleased with what I had done, but just wish I had got myself a mic sock sooner! Editing the audio I also gave me a better idea of how the doc could be formed and I spent an hour or so jotting down a new draft running order and come up with questions that would allow me to steer the doc in the way I wanted to.

Spoke to Joseph today (Sunday) and he clearly had a blocked nose so decided to give his the day off and leave him rest and get back to recording in the week. Next up, I’m meeting up with Steve Groves after work tomorrow to go over things and have a chat about what might happen after the doc with regards to making the most of this chance and getting more radio work!

How I Got My Radio Documentary On To A BBC Schedule

I haven’t blogged for a very long time (again) and I really should have as a lot has happened since I spoke about DAB and it’s role in the future of radio. Instead of writing a catch-up blog, this blog pretty much looks at everything I’ve been up to in 2013 and takes you up to where I am now: producing a documentary for BBC Radio Wales!

Getting a documentary commissioned by the BBC isn’t something that happens every day and I know many people would kill for the opportunity. So I thought it would be helpful for others with ambitions to work in the radio industry if I explained how ‘Fancy That!’ found its way on to the BBC Radio Wales schedule.

atrium-panoramic

It all started during my final year in university where I was I had a documentary module that involved having to make a 15-minute documentary that would suit a Radio Wales audience. After scrambling around for an idea, I got speaking to someone who mentioned a local pigeon fancier who could sell his birds’ eggs for a huge price.

I originally thought a piece looking at the world of pigeon breeding would be interesting but my lecturer, James Stewart, was sure about the idea. However, he did tell me ‘while people don’t necessarily like pigeons, people like people’. This was superb advice and I decided that it may be interesting to try and find someone in pigeon fancying who was out of the ordinary, a person who was not the more mature, flat cap wearing, stereotypical pigeon fancier you may imagine.

Luckily for me, I was told about a 13-year-old boy called Joseph was breeding pigeons with his Dad. I thought this was a great opportunity to create a documentary that looked at someone with an unusual hobby/passion. Also, not only did this seem like a great potential idea, the family also lived just 5 minutes away from my house!

Eventually I got the contact details of the family and spoke to the Dad, Matthew, and he was very positive about the idea of featuring in a documentary with his son.

steve-grovesNext up, I had to pitch my idea in a mock-commissioning round for my module. It was a great experience as former assistant editor of BBC Radio Wales, Steve Groves (pictured right), came in to hear our ideas. My pitch couldn’t have gone better as Mr. Groves said he would commission my documentary in the real world, something that blew me away.

In the pitch I had claimed that I had spoken to the boy and he was a very confident person and would make the documentary come alive but, in truth, this was a little white lie. I hadn’t spoken to Joseph at all at this point but I wanted to impress, so I pitched the documentary I hoped to create, rather than the documentary I knew I could make.

The university year went by and I created my 15-minute documentary and thankfully, Joseph was absolutely brilliant and his passion really came across. It was hard work creating it amongst all my other university work but I got it done and got the highest score in the class (not that I mean to brag).

After graduating I spent the summer relaxing and then found myself in a job at a radio station. The job didn’t turn out how I had hoped and I needed to find a way out so I contacted Steve Groves and sent him my doc with the hope of impressing him enough to get some radio work with him. There wasn’t any work that I could get in on but there was a commissioning round for BBC Radio Wales coming up and Steve offered to put in the proposal for me.

After a month or two Steve got in touch to say the documentary idea had been short-listed for a commission and that I would meet with the BBC Radio Wales and pitch my idea to them.

Joesph during the recording of the 15-minute uni project

Joesph during the recording of the 15-minute uni project

It was a scary experience, sat opposite Radio Wales Editor Steve Austins and three other members of station’s senior staff, having to explain my idea. However, I had been for an interview with BBC Radio 1 just a few days earlier (which I wasn’t successful in, unfortunately) and this experience had helped me to stay calm. The Radio 1 interview was one of the biggest opportunities of my life and something only a handful of people would ever get to experience, so if I could get through that, I could get through a 10-minute pitch.

They seemed to take a different angle to the original documentary as they kept mentioning the relationship between Joseph, his Dad, and a very successful ex-pigeon racer who has mentored them both since they both started. This came as a bit of a surprise but when you’re pitching an idea I have realised that you should go with what the decision-makers are saying (to a point, of course).

Three weeks went by and I hadn’t heard anything and had almost resigned myself to not getting the commission. Then I checked my email on a Friday night as I was just heading out and Steve had emailed me to say I’d be making a documentary for BBC Radio Wales and the TX date was 20th August 2013. Safe to say, I celebrated wholeheartedly that night.

So from the point of devising the original idea to securing the commission it really took a bit of luck, using my contacts and being persistent. I am so appreciative of Steve Groves for helping me get this opportunity and I cannot thank Joseph, Matthew and the rest of the family for their time and patience. Now it’s a case of creating a documentary that may help me finally break into the world of radio on a full-time basis.

I’m recording for the first time this weekend and can’t wait to get back into the radio-swing of things. I’ll be blogging very regularly about the documentary and how it’s progressing; I hope you stick around!

DAB: Dead And Buried?

Back in 2010 the government released the ‘Digital switchover of television and radio in the United Kingdom’ report. As the title suggests, the document included plans which would see Britain move from analogue radio receivers to DAB sets.

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But even the best laid plans can go awry and as time goes by it becomes harder and harder to see a world in which we all have DAB radios in our homes, cars and workplaces.

In my last blog I listed a number of reasons as to why businesses were seemingly reluctant to advertise with a digital-only radio station and number 3 on the list was: ‘You’re not on FM? We can’t listen to you in the car? No thanks’. While this may say more about the general public’s relationship with analogue than it does digital radio, it does show the public’s attitude to radio and how/where it’s consumed.

There’s definitely an air of mistrust and uncertainty and this isn’t helped by stories such as the closure of regional DAB transmitters across Britain and industry experts calling the proposed analogue turn off a ‘waste of time’. All this does is give the impression that even major radio organisations aren’t committed to the digital switchover.

Anorak or Anyone?

As a radio graduate I think it’s fair to say I have a pretty big interest in the medium; I don’t know if this makes me an anorak but if it does then that’s fine by me! However, despite my passion for radio I do not own a DAB set and don’t plan on buying one.

So this led me to wonder; if someone who loves radio doesn’t see the point in buying a DAB receiver why would the average listener go out of their way to purchase one? When the top 5 radio stations in the UK are all available via FM or AM, what is the incentive to go digital?

Online Works Fine

Of course, those who are pro-DAB will tell you that you get far more choice and stations are easier to find. All valid arguments (scanning for AM frequency stations can be a nightmare) but when it comes to the battle of choice, there is only one winner: the internet.

The latest RAJAR figures show that listening to the radio online has increased 8% year-on year and I’m sure that it will continue to rise as gadgets with internet connectivity (Tablets, Smartphones etc.) continue to grow in popularity and sales figures.

'D Love' is the new face of digital radio for the BBC

‘D Love’ is the new face of digital radio for BBCTV/Radio and commercial radio

A digital radio campaign fronted by the puppet ‘D-love’ has recently begun with the aim of raising the profile of the concept but with the rising in radio apps such as Radioplayer, TuneIn and the BBC iPlayer Radio, its hard to see why people require a DAB radio.

In fact, a prime example of the BBC’s apparent reluctance towards DAB came while I was listening to Radio 1 in the car to work. During Nick Grimshaw’s Breakfast show an ad promoting digital radio only mentioned ‘laptops’ and ‘mobile devices’; no mention of a DAB set anywhere.

Delaying the Inevitable?

While many are against the switchover, the Government seem unrelenting in their aim to move us from the dark ages of analogue to the shiny, futuristic Eden that is Digital Britain. Is it that they truly believe people will suddenly ditch their analogue radio and buy a DAB set? Or do they think they have gone so far down the digital garden path that they’ve reached the point of no return?

The fact that the government have had to delay the switchover until 2015 as the 50% threshold is nowhere near to being breached goes to show the reluctance of many to say goodbye to FM; but why should they when all their favourite stations are there?

Maybe the public need to be forced to change? If Radio 1 or 5 Live suddenly went digital-only I would buy a DAB set and a DAB in-car conversion kit within hours and I’m sure hundreds of thousands of people would do likewise.

DAB: DOA?

A digital switchover is inevitable and I will welcome it as there are many positives it will bring; choice, improved broadcast quality, improved usability. However, will it be DAB radios that everyone is listening to or will it all come through tablets, smartphones?

It seems we will have to wait and see but it is my belief that the longer the switchover is delayed the further DAB will be left behind.