Vet­eran host on fu­ture of air­waves

For­mer head of BBC Ra­dio Scot­land re­veals why the spo­ken word is more im­por­tant now than ever and must be pro­tected

The Sunday Post (Inverness) - - NEWS - By Janet Boyle [email protected]

The for­mer head of BBC Ra­dio Scot­land says vot­ers need ra­dio more than ever in these tur­bu­lent times.

Jeff Zycin­ski said the air­waves re­mained the most in­for­ma­tive, en­ter­tain­ing place to ex­plore the big is­sues.

While the ar­rival of tele­vi­sion in the 1950s caused many to ex­pect ra­dio lis­ten­ing fig­ures to de­cline, au­di­ence num­bers have risen steadily in re­cent years. Lat­est fig­ures show 95% of Scots, and 98% of re­tirees, will lis­ten to ra­dio at some point dur­ing the day.

Jeff, 55, helmed the sta­tion from 2005 to 2017 and presided over an au­di­ence rise from 904,000 in 2009 to 952,000 when he stepped down last year.

The vet­eran broad­caster, who lives in In­ver­ness, be­lieves politi­cians must en­dure more sus­tained grillings on ra­dio where more time can be spent on each item on the news sched­ule.

And, he says, the tra­di­tional di­vid­ing lines be­tween TV and ra­dio have been blurred by the in­ter­net, with video footage of ra­dio in­ter­views posted on­line now fre­quently picked up by TV news bul­letins.

The broad­caster, who pub­lishes his mem­oirs this week, said: “Video didn’t kill the ra­dio star. In fact, we brought cam­eras into stu­dios.

“You will of­ten see clips from ra­dio stu­dio in­ter­views on news pro­grammes.

“Ra­dio news and cur­rent af­fairs can de­vote more time to try­ing to get the truth out of politi­cians, whereas TV pro­grammes don’t have that time on air.

“Three hours of Good Morn­ing Scot­land gives plenty of time to ex­plore the is­sues and of­ten set po­lit­i­cal is­sues of the day.

“There is no hid­ing place for politi­cians on ra­dio be­cause jour­nal­ists have the op­por­tu­nity to ask the ques­tions.

“There are, of course, politi­cians who refuse to come into the stu­dio, the ones you can chase for months.” Days af­ter his old bosses un­veiled the line-up for their lat­est news pro­gramme, The Nine, on the new BBC Scot­land TV chan­nel to be launched in Fe­bru­ary, Jeff said the magic of ra­dio was its ac­ces­si­bil­ity, as peo­ple can lis­ten in their car, at home, at work, in cafes and shops and on their mo­bile phone.

He said: “TV de­mands that you sit and watch it.

“Lis­ten­ing al­lows peo­ple to get on with their lives while soak­ing up news, mu­sic, other peo­ple’s views and lives, with ra­dio phone-in. “Ra­dio learned to en­gage and be­come part of their lives.

“I re­mem­ber sit­ting in meet­ings 25 years ago when TV bosses would tell us that ra­dio would die.

“They pre­dicted that no one would be lis­ten­ing in to­day. “Ev­ery­one was Tv-fo­cused and said ra­dio would be­come al­most ob­so­lete.

“How­ever, with the growth of lo­cal and on­line sta­tions, noth­ing could be fur­ther from the truth.

“Peo­ple lis­ten in their cars, kitchens, lap­tops, shops and in­deed al­most every­where you are likely to be at any point in the day.”

Since the launch of dig­i­tal ra­dio, scores of new sta­tions aimed at niche groups have been launched, while lo­calised ser­vices have thrived.

Jeff ’s love af­fair with ra­dio be­gan in his home in Easter­house, in Glas­gow’s east end.

He said: “I would write to ra­dio sta­tions when I was a teenager, hop­ing that one day I would be on the air.

“I stud­ied psy­chol­ogy at Glas­gow Uni­ver­sity and then jour­nal­ism at Cardiff Uni­ver­sity be­fore get­ting a job at Ra­dio Clyde.”

Now his three decades in ra­dio have been chron­i­cled in his new book, The Red Light Zone.

It’s an en­ter­tain­ing, ram­bunc­tious ac­count of his 30-year ca­reer which he calls a “laugh’n’tell”. Pub­lished by Lu­ni­corn Press, the book tells of tri­umphs and catas­tro­phes at

the BBC, which, Jeff says, can be “a bit bonkers at times”, like any huge or­gan­i­sa­tion.

“How­ever, I’ve tried not to let my frus­tra­tions bub­ble over into bit­ter­ness.

“I en­joyed my time at the BBC and am still a big sup­porter of pub­lic ser­vice broad­cast­ing and ra­dio in par­tic­u­lar.”

Dis­may at cuts in fund­ing are laid out, too.

“There were ar­gu­ments with com­mis­sion­ing ed­i­tors in Lon­don who, year by year, cut back on the pro­grammes they would buy from our pro­duc­tion teams.

“These in­cluded ax­ing shows for Ra­dio 1 and Ra­dio 4 Ex­tra so that money in­tended for Ra­dio Scot­land went to sub­sidise those re­main­ing net­work pro­grammes.

“Un­like TV, there was no pol­icy of buy­ing a cer­tain quota of ra­dio pro­grammes from Ra­dio Scot­land.”

There is no hid­ing place, nowhere to run, for politi­cians in a ra­dio stu­dio

Ra­dio Scot­land fea­tures on the BBC’S iplayer app

News an­chors Re­becca Cur­ran and Martin Geissler on set last week, BBC Scot­land’s new chan­nel will start next year

Jeff Zycin­ski, for­mer head of BBC Ra­dio Scot­land

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