The Diary of David Heathcote (15)
16 Dec 2016 0 comments. tbs.pm/10243
Roll the end credits
Over time, I reached an opinion that station manager – and long-term friend – Paul Jenner was not always the best judge of who to appoint to jobs in the radio station. There were one or two “wastes of space” on the payroll – people who “talked the talk”, but who didn’t “walk the walk” once Paul’s back was turned. Seemingly, there was plenty of time for gossip and surfing the net, yet these people could not find enough time to get jobs completed on schedule… There was one person in particular who would pull every excuse imaginable as to why he had not done what he was supposed to do. In a tiny set up like a local radio station, everyone has to pull together: there’s no room for dead wood.
One afternoon, I had prepared my “Lost and Found Pets” feature at my desk, and walked into Studio 1, ready to take my cue from the playout system. The sponsor jingle ran, I brought my microphone channel up, started to read my script – and then, through the studio window, I saw the aforesaid “waste of space” signalling frantically to me, with cut-throat gestures. As a professional, I know, if I get the cut-throat, I stop what I am saying immediately. So, in mid-sentence, I obediently broke off, fired up the next jingle, and stalked back into the Newsroom.
I never, ever swear in any broadcast environment, but I nearly broke that rule then: “What the… was THAT all about??!” “Oh,” came “waste of space”’s insipid reply: “The lady has just phoned in to say her little dog has been found. I didn’t mean you to stop in mid-sentence…” For that, I was made to look a complete fool on air. He always had so many excuses. I never forgave him for that particular error of judgement.
Times were changing, I could feel the rot setting in throughout both radio stations. I began to question if it was all worth it.
David Hopkins, the financial saviour of High Peak Radio and Ashbourne Radio, was a difficult person to deal with. He would not introduce himself when he phoned the station, he expected each employee to recognise his voice. When he made a public appearance for the station, he didn’t smile – taking photos of him for the website as I needed to was a nightmare. His language could be peppered with expletives. Paul constantly had to warn me not to take umbrage at any blunt, foul-mouthed speech Hopkins might come out with.
In truth, David Hopkins and I never clashed. To my mind, a boss is a boss is a boss, especially one who has saved the business: he deserved respect for his bankroll, if for nothing else. To David, I think I still exuded a “schoolteacher” aura, even after nearly 20 years away from the classroom, and I suspect David had not had the happiest of times when he was a schoolboy. Maybe he still saw a teacher as an intimidating character.
David had two children whom he idolised: Emma and Danny. Emma and Danny formed a pop music group, called Tilly, with Emma’s boyfriend Tom as the third member. They wanted a rehearsal room, so David provided a specially-equipped, state-of-the-art music studio in the family home. Emma, it was said, spent her days there practising on the piano and composing. She appeared in local music festivals, and by all accounts her performances were well received.
The group recorded their own record: “Unstoppable”. Unsurprisingly, the tune found its way onto the playlists of both High Peak Radio and Ashbourne Radio. Working in the Newsroom, where there was an off-air radio playing constantly in the background – if the radio went quiet, we knew there was a transmitter fault – I was listening to Tilly’s record several times a day. I’m no great judge of pop music quality – what an irony, since I presented music shows (but wisely was never given control of what was played!) – but I didn’t think the record was at all bad. It sounded very professional, and I found myself humming the tune, even when it wasn’t being played.
Sadly, local listeners did not take to the tune especially, and I don’t believe it went anywhere in the charts. All trace of the record now seems to have been removed from the internet.
David’s influence on the radio stations was considerable, of course, though he never interfered with the editorial integrity of the news. Tilly therefore got its own one-hour special programme on a Friday evening on High Peak Radio. Emma’s boyfriend Tom fancied himself as a presenter, so he would come in to present the show live whenever he felt like it from 7pm onwards.
At other times, he would stroll into the High Peak Radio offices, ostensibly to prepare for his show, but I thought he spent much of his time just chatting to the sales and admin staff. They were always happy to talk, but even more so to a member of the boss’ extended family.
Fridays were, as I have already mentioned, an especially challenging day for the sole journalist, with bulletins to prepare and record for Friday afternoon, Saturday morning, Sunday morning and Monday morning, for two radio stations. Access to Studio 2 was important: that was where the bulletins were recorded.
One fateful Friday afternoon, Tom declared he needed Studio 2 time. I was dismayed: when was I expected to record the bulletins? I quietly appealed to Paul who, by chance, happened to be in the building.
He supported the boyfriend.
I was devastated. As I saw it, the boss’ daughter’s boyfriend’s whim was taking precedence over the news… I stayed professional, waited quietly with scripts to hand until Studio 2 became vacant, and completed my tasks for the day a lot later than I had expected.
As I drove home, though, I felt betrayed. I believed Paul Jenner, the man I’d worked alongside for nearly 20 years, had made a terrible decision that day. For almost two decades, I had given him unquestioning loyalty, and on occasions acted as his confident and sounding board, and that Friday it had counted for nothing… (Months later, it occurred to me that the solution would have been for all bulletins to have been recorded, not in Studio 2, but at my desk in the Newsroom, using a microphone headset: there would have been some background noise on the recording but that would have simply added “atmosphere”.)
The other brother, Steve Jenner, had already nailed his colours to the mast when the leader of Derbyshire Dales District Council interfered with my plans for news coverage in the Ashbourne area.
Before I arrived at the front gate to my house that night, I’m made my decision: I’d had enough. There were just too many people at High Peak Radio and Ashbourne Radio who had either lost, or who had never earned, my respect. News shifts were an 11-hour slog, and for me they were no longer any fun.
After the weekend, I put in a call to Paul Jenner. It went to voicemail. I tried again over several days: sorry, he was too busy to talk. Finally, after 10 days, we spoke at length on the phone. I gave him notice. I had no more days scheduled in the Newsroom, but I felt he needed time to get someone to take over the website editing.
Bizarrely, Jenner then asked whether, if he met me in the street, we would still be friends. I responded that I would not ignore him. But I’m glad that in the last couple of years the situation has not arisen.
David Hopkins’ son, Danny, took over running the radio station website. Against the odds, Danny impressed me with his professionalism and attention to detail: he listened to what I said during handover, and I knew that the quality of the station’s online presence would remain high. But for me, from then on, local radio – in the form of High Peak Radio and Ashbourne Radio – was a closed chapter.
So that, apart from one or two minor diversions, is the story of my broadcasting career. From the age of 16¾ to – well, over 65 anyway! – I’ve always been an “accidental broadcaster”, seizing opportunities as they presented themselves to me, rather than having a life plan. If I hadn’t put my hand up in a maths lesson, if I hadn’t taken early retirement from teaching, if I hadn’t worked for Mastercare, if I hadn’t worked for and then been made redundant from Capital One… you get the picture? In all honesty, I was never a terribly good radio presenter, but I did a good job as a broadcast journalist, on radio, online and (occasionally) on television.
I’ve never hit the big time, of course; to be frank, I’m not sure how I would have coped with it if I had. I have a wife and family: they may not always have thought they got as much of my time as they would have liked, but their comfort and safety was always foremost in my consideration when opportunities came my way.
One way or another, though, I’ve achieved most of my broadcasting ambitions in the space of the last half century.
And for that I consider myself to be a very lucky man.