The Half Five Drive

Half Five Drive Field

Considering I’ve always wanted to work in radio, it seems silly that I never foresaw how difficult it would be to get up for work. After all, the breakfast show heralds the start of the day, so spare a thought for those who have to get up BEFORE the start of the day. But two months in to freelancing for local radio, mostly BBC Radio Kent, forcing myself awake just after half four is not getting any easier. However, asides from the bleary eyes, the even-earlier-than-early rise does have its perks.

BBC Radio Kent broadcasts from the Great Hall Arcade in the centre of Tunbridge Wells, on perhaps the most western corner of the county. With the TV studios for South East Today and digital teams also sharing the building, it’s an impressive operation that you’re proud to be part of. Normally the dozen or so miles to the office would be half an hour at peak times, but for me, it’s under twenty minutes. Why? Because there’s practically no one on the roads at half five in the morning, and it’s bloody lovely.

Most adults know the repetitive grind of the nine-to-five commute- endless queues, constant delays, the slog from one set of traffic lights to another. But before everyone else is up, the roads are motionless, a driver’s dream. The number of cars you encounter are so few that you wonder the reason they’re there in the first place. There’s the occasional taxi, a handful of delivery drivers, and others like me who reject the traditional work hours for whatever reason. The easy flow of the journey certainly beats the stagnant congestion and slight panic that you’re going to be late, which greets you every morning.

It certainly helps that the A264 from home in East Grinstead to work in Tunbridge Wells is a very pleasant one. Passing through a collection of sleepy villages at the top of Ashdown Forest, crossing one county into another, there are plenty of serene landscapes bursting with nature along the way. Of course, you get used to them when you make the same journey several times a week, but it still makes you smile occasionally, especially when you catch the different shades of colour striking the fields after sunrise.

Obviously there are a few downsides, some of which you can probably predict. Firstly, the tiredness. No matter how many times you do it, you never get used to getting up to work on a breakfast show. You can be a veteran of the industry, but that just means the bags under your eyes are even bigger. Maybe if I actually went to bed at eight like I said I would, rather than after ten and cursing my procrastination, maybe that would help. But nothing can prevent you from feeling tired at half five in the morning. Just thinking about that time makes me yawn.

But there are other factors to take into account that you might not expect. Deer, for example. Understandably, on the outskirts of an enormous forest, there are scores of the antlered animals, and they do have a habit of bolting across roads in groups. On one occasion, I came round a corner to find several of them lolloping on the tarmac. I’m still not sure who was more surprised at the encounter, but thankfully I was keeping well within the speed limit, or it would have been bye bye for Bambi.

To be honest, whatever your commuting pattern is, chances are it is not something you are likely to consider before starting the job. Okay, you may think about the distance, but not necessarily about the route itself. Rather, it is something that comes with the overall package, rather than being the deciding factor. But as a new driver, I much prefer the tranquil state of the half five drive. I’ll hold my hands up and admit it’s a tired tranquility, but you can’t have everything.

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Working on the 24 Hour Broadcast for BBC Sussex

BBC Sussex towns

Take a moment to consider this point properly- who honestly doesn’t love a radio marathon? The highs of an on-air challenge and the lows of trying to stay awake during the early hours, it’s like a broadcasting roller-coaster that throws all the loops in at the start of the ride but leaves plenty of surprises for the rest of the journey.

I’ve been freelancing in BBC Local Radio for nearly two months now (something I honestly never thought I’d write), and what struck me initially was that from 7pm till 6am the next day, the South East stations switch to networked content (with the occasional exception)- i.e. programmes that are broadcasting on several, or in some cases all, BBC Local Radio stations. With that in mind, I was honoured to be asked to be part of BBC Sussex and BBC Surrey’s 24 Hour Broadcast, from 8AM on Thursday 21st April to the following day.

The celebration of 24 hours in Sussex and Surrey was tied in with the festivities to mark the Queen’s 90th birthday- journalists were out across the counties reporting on all manner of stories, including one lucky reporter who got to be a zookeeper at Drusillas in Alfriston and a producer who got to meet a remarkable woman sharing her birthday with Her Majesty. It was an enormous operation, with so much content being generated across the event that it was difficult knowing where to look next.

Even better was the chance to be part of the station’s online output, as I was one of the social media producers for the event. Given my past experience in managing social media accounts for student radio and a laser tag company, it was something that fitted my skill set while also encouraging me to explore how the content could operate as a distinctive, standalone platform that was in a league of its own, rather than just accompanying the on-air content.

Sitting at the back of the office alongside the station’s editorial team, my shift was an endless cycle of retweeting, sharing and scheduling content across both Sussex and Surrey. Depending on your attitude to social media that may sound like heaven or hell, but you’ll be glad to know it was the former for me! What was even more interesting from my position was being able to watch the producers working alongside the presenters, and watching the shows come together before your very eyes.

Of course, first and foremost it was a rare and distinctive experience for the listeners, but it was also a wonderful chance for the station’s team of producers, reporters and presenters to come together and be part of an exceptional event. Most of the members of staff I hadn’t met before, so it was also a fantastic opportunity to exchange stories of the radio industry. But more than anything, it reminded me that it’s the stories from the people within the remit of a local station that make it worth tuning into.

So all in all, a fantastic opportunity to fine tune my social media marketing skills (creating a gif of one of the reporters dancing was a highlight), and an important learning curve at the same time. Click here to listen to some of the highlights from the broadcast.

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If you enjoyed this post, give it a like and let me know your thoughts in a comment below! You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and I also have a whole host of videos to enjoy on my YouTube channel. Check them out and subscribe! (please.)

Apple and biscuits: my week with BBC Wood Norton

BBC Wood Norton

Apple and biscuit. Not a snack, but a microphone. On the last Tuesday of January, I found myself in the company of several other like-minded radio enthusiasts, each of us gazing over a selection of archaic microphones like kids in a sweet shop, as our tutor picked out his favourites and explained the differences between them. The STC 4021, an omni-directional microphone, was known as apple and biscuit for its distinctive shape. Before that session, I had no idea what an omni-directional microphone was; in fact, before last week, my knowledge of the technical side of radio was so much weaker than it is now. But you can learn a lot in five days, and Wood Norton was the perfect environment for it.
To summarize it neatly, I spent the last week of January with the BBC Production Operations team learning about the field of radio operations; in other words, the ones who push all the buttons and make everything sound right. The course was run by members of the team from BBC Radio 5 Live in Salford, and among things we learned about the responsibilities of studio managers, how to operate mixing desks for different types of shows, and of course the ins and outs of microphones! Sometimes, it was a challenge just keeping up with how much content we were going over- and we weren’t just being spoon fed slide shows, we were there pushing the buttons ourselves. It was certainly nerve-wrecking at times, but equally as thrilling.
Outside of office hours, me and the other “pupils” (I use that term loosely- even though we were there to learn, it felt too informal and was too much fun to be anything like the traditional definition of education) frequented the Wood Norton Hotel, a Victorian stately home that became a station for broadcasts for the BBC during the Second World War. With the training college a few minutes into the grounds and with little reason to venture into the town of Evesham, staying away from home made the trip feel more like a unique, one-off experience, tucked into a corner of Worcestershire that I have never had the need to venture to previously. At times this isolation veered onto the edge of an idealistic, dream-like existence; this was something I could happily see myself doing every day.
More than anything, it was so refreshing not just to learn about radio, but to be constantly surrounded by people who were as equally enthusiastic about the subject as I was. Each person had their own unique background and perspective on the field, and it’s always enlightening to encounter a new viewpoint on the industry and a different reason for wanting to get into it. Now I’m home, I’m all the more enthused about pursuing a career in the radio sector, but at the same time it has really opened my eyes to different opportunities that I hadn’t considered before. It’s fair to say this January took the biscuit, and I mean that in a good way. Add a few slices of apple and there’s definitely a huge smile on my face going forward.

“The Beetle,” an amateur radio adaptation by Jack Graysmark

The Beetle novel

This has taken far, FAR too long to upload, but as part of one of my final English modules at University, I produced a radio adaptation of the 1897 novel, “The Beetle.” This wasn’t an unusual piece of coursework that saw a dozen different radio productions handed in to our tutor; instead, we had to create something that could demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of one of the texts we had studied for the module, and Richard Marsh’s horror story was little known enough that I could create something without being influenced by other adaptations. Imagine my surprise when Radio 4 broadcast their own version later in the year! I had my suspicions about where they got the inspiration from, but who am I to go around criticising public service broadcasters.

As the novel is split into four parts, each featuring a different narrator, I decided to focus on the first, as if I was adapting it for a four part series Condensing it down to its essential plot points, I adapted the text so it would be suitable for radio, adding sound effects and background music that was formidable enough to evoke a few shades of darkness along the way. It earned a 2:1 in the end, and I meant to upload it soon after I finished my course, but then the relentless anxiety of job hunting set in. It was only this week when it came up on shuffle on my iPod that I remembered it, and thought that having some kind of home on the internet certainly had more purpose as a location than my fading music player.

Massive thanks goes to Alex Ferguson and Liam Hale for coming on board to star as The Arab and Paul Lessingham! Give yourself half an hour’s rest and let me know what you think.