8 February 2008

"Thank you for listening."

I tell you, talking to thousands and thousands of radio listeners all at once is a piece of cake compared to the speaking engagement I've just accepted - giving a speech to the local branch of the Football Referees Association.


6 February 2008

Charlie Smith, January 7 1907 - February 5 2008

*Even if you decide not to continue reading after a bit, please at least scan the last paragraph and take a moment to reply*

How many centenarians have you ever known? I've been lucky to be close to two. A great-great aunt of mine, Nellie (no, I really did have an auntie Nellie) passed away in 1995, a few weeks after her 100th birthday. She was in possession of every faculty until the last couple of years or so of her life, and had a razor-sharp wit and impeccable memory right to the end.

The second centenarian passed away this week. Charlie Smith wasn't a relative, but he was as good as in many ways, and when I was a child he was "uncle" Charlie. He was my grandad's best friend and my dad's godfather, and devoted his life to the oil industry, cricket, his diaries and Hedon, the fantastic East Yorkshire town where he lived, the same town in which my dad was born and still lives, 68 years later, and where I grew up.

This man's longevity represents just a part of his overall remarkability. A bachelor, he had the Rudds as an adopted family as my dad and his sister grew up in the 1940s and 1950s. His devotion to his sport ahead of his career prompted the most fantastic life-decision I've ever come across - he turned down a lucrative opportunity to work for Shell in Venezuela because they didn't play cricket there. He stuck to working in Hull and Manchester, and even when the latter city took him away during the week, he was back in his beloved Hedon at weekends to play, score or umpire for the cricket club, or commit himself to other duties during the winter off-season.

My grandad died in 1983, when he was 74. Charlie, who was two years older, travelled with my grandma, dad and aunt in the main mourners' car to the funeral. My ten year old self only remembers bits of the day, but I clearly recall my grandma asking for Charlie to travel to the church in the main vehicle, such was his importance to the family and to my grandad. Afterwards, he visited my grandma every week to keep her spirits up and provide company for her. This he did, as promised, with a short walk from his bungalow every week for almost 20 years until a fall robbed him of confidence to get about on his own.

Charlie was the first person I knew who had Teletext. In 1985, I started visiting his home each Tuesday on my way home from school to look at the new Top 40 on Ceefax, announced earlier that day by Gary Davies on Radio 1. I was only 12, so there was no lunchtime social area or common room to place a radio which we could crowd round when the countdown began. This had no meaning to a man who was 77 years old, but he was well-read and astute enough to keep up with a modernising world, and he knew what the pop charts meant to the day's youngsters. I remember him once telling me he had watched Top of the Pops to try to put faces to these strange names he was reading on his television screen as I copied down the chart - it didn't become a habit, but I felt strangely flattered and bemused by this effort. My dad, who was 45, reckoned it was all one big racket and yet his much older godfather was making a conscious decision to learn.

We saw Charlie sporadically as he aged and his physical health subsided over the years, but like auntie Nellie, his mind never wavered or showed signs of declining. When my grandma celebrated her 90th birthday in 2002, this was a big occasion. My brother and his wife travelled up from Devon for it and my eldest cousin came over from his home in California. Charlie, who was 95 by now, also came along. We went to a smart local restaurant where we'd booked a table in a private dining room and the whole family listened intently to Charlie's stories. He informed us he had diaries of many years in Hedon, detailing the changes in the town and the wider world, which both my cousin and I expressed an interest in making public via the internet.

When my grandma died in 2004, Charlie was entirely housebound and in no physical state to attend her funeral, even though it was at Hedon's church just a mile away from his home. Instead, four men of the family - myself, my dad, my uncle and my dad's cousin - decamped to his house after the service to see him and make him feel like he had paid his final respects to his closest compadre in the village, wife of his best friend in formative times. Even at their ages - all these men were in their sixties - they were still calling him "uncle" Charlie.

The last time I saw Charlie was in January last year, when his 100th birthday came round. In need of round the clock care, he had left his bungalow and moved into a nursing home near Harrogate. However, he had stubbornly and brilliantly insisted that the only celebration of his big day would occur in Hedon and that he would be there to partake. So, a lunchtime party at his beloved cricket club was organised, and loads of ex-players, officials and associates, plus family, gathered to welcome the guest of honour.

He arrived, grinning, in a wheelchair, pushed gamely by a carer. He recognised absolutely everyone in turn, and when I spoke to him, he congratulated me on my nuptials and asked me to update him on my radio career, then mentioned he was pleased Hull City were doing well, even though football was not his sport. Apart from telling the same joke three times, which required us all to chuckle politely on the second and third occasions, he showed no signs of a diminishing brain. I'd organised for the Mayor - who happened to double up as the father of an old schoolfriend and who owed me a favour - to turn up and offer Charlie a gift from the town as a whole, and he duly did - as you can see here.

Charlie was 101 last month and died overnight into February 5th. He has, true to form, left a firm instruction that he is buried in Hedon and that the funeral takes place on a Saturday. You don't mourn a 101 year old man who did everything he wanted to do; you walk into the church and to the cemetery feeling privileged to have been a part of an amazing life. That's how I feel. I really hope Hedon sees fit to commemorate this man's life in a permanent manner at some point. His involvement with the cricket club, the legion and his dedication and love for the town as a whole throughout an exceptionally long, worthy life deserves an accolade of some sort.

I ask you, even if you have no reply otherwise to make to this blog entry, just to leave a Rest In Peace message on here to Charlie - a quite astonishing bloke, and one who galvanised many, many lives.

4 February 2008

"Yorkshire & Lincolnshire's Favourite DJs!"

We didn't have a jingle which said that, sadly. It'd have been great if we had.

The photograph is my favourite picture in my recent portfolio (ie, all the ones taken since acquiring a digital camera). It is of most of the presenters who worked for Viking FM in Hull, serving (East and bits of North and South) Yorkshire and (North and North East) Lincolnshire in a period covering, roughly, 1997 to 2001.

It was taken at the station's 20th birthday party in 2004, where we'd all decided to join the official bash a little later and go round a few haunts of Hull's old town which were frequently visited on station nights out in our days working on Commercial Road. I'm second on the right, with my shortest ever haircut, leaning on that white shirt sleeve.

Far more significant people than me on there include:

JK and Joel - JK is at the very front in the stripe-sleeved jacket; Joel to the left with wine glass and cigarette. For all the success they later had at Key 103, which got them their Radio 1 gig, it was at Viking where they say they had their biggest buzz. It is genuinely hard to put into words just how absolutely brilliant they were at Viking. They were treated by the listeners like pop stars - girls hanging round outside the studios, sold out club gigs and personal appearances, and shamelessly sexual graffiti famously daubed on the walls outside. I didn't see much of them at first as they were daytime jocks, long-established, and I was new and on the nightshift, but when they shifted to breakfast together (JK initially did it alone) I saw them every morning. JK was always quick to thank me when RAJAR posted a good 6am hour survey, which I was in turn very grateful for. When they left, a massive hole was made in Viking's building, even though their replacement...

Simon Hirst - ... was as dynamic a presenter as Viking could have got, but he would have been even more dynamite for Viking if he'd been with us when JK and Joel were still there. Hirsty, whose head is only on show between JK and Joel, is something of an icon in Yorkshire as a whole. He's been on Galaxy's breakfast show for some years now and is a champion anorak, networker and archivist within the industry. I first heard him on the Pulse in the mid-90s when I was a hack in Huddersfield, and first worked with him at Hallam FM in Sheffield in 1996. Supremely gifted and creative, and egoless in the extreme, he took over Viking breakfast from the lads for little more than a year before the dream Galaxy move came. You may recall him hosting hit40uk after Neil Fox quit. He remains a close pal, attended my wedding and we meet with mutual friends for a night out every other month.

Paul Carrington - an inspirational presenter of humour and humility, the Funster wasn't actually on Viking when we were (he was on the AM sister service Magic 1161) but was someone who everyone from JK and Joel downwards admired. He's standing on the far left, with the specs. Paul won Sony Awards in his time for his controversial and hilarious shows at Signal Cheshire (later Imagine FM, where I was doing breakfast at the time of this photo) in the 1990s and later became boss of Minster FM where he gave still-a-schoolboy Hirsty his first show. In recent times he was an AM stalwart, working for Great Yorkshire Gold and latterly Magic 828 in Leeds, before joining the BBC in Leeds last year.

Scott Makin - holding the bottled lager on the extreme right, Scott got into radio by accident as he trained as a secretary and was working for a station in his native north east when someone noticed his deep, gravelly voice and put him on air. He joined Viking to host the mid-morning programme and posted almighty figures for numerous years thanks to his laid-back approach and killer Top 10s at 10. He left to return to the north east and is currently the co-host of Century FM's breakfast show in Gateshead, serving the whole area, and still as unaffected by it all as ever. A smashing bloke.

And the others...

David Johnson, at the extreme front (it was he who set up the camera, see), a softly-spoken and charismatic Northern Irish presenter who came to Hull for university reasons and ended up on the late show and then drivetime. A nice, quietly ambitious fellow, he went on to present for Century FM and then Key 103 in Manchester, and also is in demand as a voiceover artist; Steve Jordan, pointing at the front and re-creating the traditional DJ shot of the 80s, is a highly successful breakfast show host who presented shows at Century FM (now Heart) in Nottingham and Leicester Sound before returning to Hull with Magic 1161 to take over from Paul Carrington. He is now my colleague again, on KCFM; Lee Thompson, bespectacled and holding Guinness in the centre, a Geordie music scheduler and occasional (and brilliant) presenter who left Viking to return to Newcastle and Metro Radio, later freelancing as a researcher and producer for music channels and documentaries; Phil Mackenzie, to Lee's right in the white shirt, probably the most versatile person I've ever worked with in that he was a presenter (did the overnights before me), the station sound producer (made the sweepers, jingles and promos), an engineer (unofficially, but he was there in emergencies) and producer (JK and Joel and the numerous club nights). Phil went into management after leaving Viking, then returned to presenting with Minster FM in York before taking on programme manager roles at Tower FM in Bolton and, lately, the Revolution in Oldham; Mark Somers, the current co-host of Viking breakfast who has been at the station for nearly a decade now, having started on weekends when he was still (in law, at least) a boy, albeit a boy with a man's talent and nerve; and Simon Scholes, at the very top of the pic, who was a technical operator and programming assistant at the station, and was also a talented decathlete until injury got him.

Mentions also for Simon Logan, a fantastic breakfast show host who is now completing a decade at Radio Aire in Leeds; Cameron, also at Radio Aire in presenting and production roles, and who at Viking hosted the most ludicrously brilliant, rule-bending evening show I've ever heard; Sam Heywood, who co-hosts breakfast now with Mark and has been in situ for ten years; Ben Weston, who has worked for a clutch of big stations since quitting the late show in 1997 to work in Dubai; Sara Fellows, a gorgeous girl who did the late show for a bit before going to other stations in Yorkshire; James Roberts, another late show host with big management ambitions, and now a decision-maker at Radio City in Liverpool; Ian Roberts, a mad Manc who did evenings under the name of Big E before returning to the north west; Paul Griffiths, one of the most natural presenters with the "patter" of the job, now on Radio Aire; and Jon Fox, who rose quickly from student part-timer to lates and then breakfast with his mate Tom Rhys, and now does breakfast at 210FM in Reading. They were all on the team during this period but for one reason or another, aren't on the photo. I hope I've not forgotten anyone...

It's one hell of a radio team which you are looking at. I feel privileged to have been a small part of it.

3 February 2008

Plymouth - parte the seconde

So this time I filled the car up in Hull from the Asda garage.

Then I drove 366 miles without stopping.

I got a nice, reasonably-priced takeaway pizza upon arrival at my brother's house.

I slept well, then had a glorious morning playing with my young nephews.

I then drove to the local Morrisons and refilled the car with diesel.

I attended the match at Home Park.

Hull City won 1-0 and went eighth in the Championship. "From Boothferry to Wemb-er-lee, we'll keep the Hull flag flying high..."

I then drove all the way to Stockport for the club night without stopping.

Finally, I drove back to the studios in Hull for the Sunday breakfast show (which I'm doing now as I type this - just played Howard Jones, which is a bonus) and will then head home for a long sleep.

There. All those miles and hours and not one of those monstrosities got a penny from me. I didn't even use their lavatories (don't worry, I held it in...).