It’s been more than 2 months now since my first “Legal Eagle” slot at West Hull Community Radio (WHCR).
I’ve always enjoyed radio as a medium. I was brought up on the outskirts of London which in the late 1970s probably enjoyed a higher concentration of radio stations (both BBC and commercial) than any other area in the country. The items on the audio menu available to me were many and varied, from news, talk and phone-ins (on stations such as LBC – the very first commercial station to take to the air in this Country) to the more traditional auditory fare of 24 hour pop music (at a time when many of the national music stations, even Radio 1, felt it appropriate to give us and themselves a rest during the wee small hours).
I may have been sent up to bed at the same time as most other lads of 9 or 10 (although I seem to recall that there was always a hard core of cool people in my class who claimed to just go to bed “when they wanted”), but that was just the start of the evening as far as I was concerned. With the clichéd transistor radio tucked under my pillow, just loud enough for me to hear (and just quiet enough that my parents couldn’t) I would often be awake until 10pm or 11pm, tuning and retuning around the stations, and building up images in my head of the presenters whose voices became my familiar companions. A creak on the stairs, and I could turn that radio off in a split second, and assume the position and facial expression of a long since slumbering schoolboy (a situation that I could just as quickly reverse as soon I perceived the “all clear”).
It used to fascinate me how radio worked. How did the presenters mix one record into another, so that they slightly overlapped ? How did they get the music to start just when they wanted it to ? What about the “jingles”, those short and snappy pieces of music, particular to each station or presenter (and very much of their time) ? How were they played, and who made them in the first place? Nowadays, of course, most people who have even a passing interest in such matters will know about mixing desks, and much of the “magic” which intrigued me. The Wizard of Oz has long since hauled back his curtain, to reveal the knobs and buttons behind the scenes at Radio Emerald City, but back then it was still not common knowledge (and all the more beguiling to me for that).
Through a progression of playing music into a tape recorder, and talking whilst I put the next record on the record player (one of those in a box, which you could carry around – remember them ?), to my dad buying me my first little “mixer” to allow me to emulate the art of mixing the output of two record players together, my fascination in radio knew no ends. By the time I was eleven, I had a mini radio studio in my bedroom, complete with decks, microphone, jingle machine and, I am slightly embarrassed to recall, even a red light over my bedroom door ( I was only young – I didn’t know that this had other connotations) , which came on whenever the microphone “went live”.
No doubt keen to get me out of the house (and to stop me talking to myself in the name of practising my radio presentation technique) my dad eventually arranged for me to go along to our local hospital radio station, where (at the age of 12) I became their youngest ever presenter. From then, until the age of 18, I spent as much of my spare time as possible at their studios, either presenting shows (at one time I was on air for 4 hours every Saturday afternoon – as much of an endurance test for me as for any recovering patient unlucky and unwell enough not to be able to operate the off switch on their headset), or learning skills such as how to operate all of their equipment (much more impressive than my own little collection), produce shows for other people, or edit tape with a white chinagraph pencil, a razor blade and a metal block with slots in (an art long since forgotten in these days of digital music and sound).
The next logical step would have been (of course) to turn my passion for radio, and the experience which I’d got from my time at the hospital station, into a living. I naturally thought that every station in the South East of England would be queuing up for my services when I left school, but real life isn’t like that is it ?
Radio was (and remains) an extremely competitive business to get into to, and I have never been a very patient person. When the broadcasting world didn’t slow down it’s merry-go-round long enough to allow me to jump on, I needed to consider whether there was another way for me to earn a living.
But what to do ?
What other jobs were there for an argumentative young man, who liked the sound of his own voice ?
I ended up qualifying as a Solicitor
Whilst I was at Hull University studying Law, I presented my own show on the Student Radio Station (broadcast to the canteen area at lunchtimes – provided that nobody in there could find the volume button and turn it down), and also became their programme manager. I again toyed with the idea of going into professional radio when I graduated, and even had an interview with the company who now own Classic FM and Capital Radio, but by then I’d decided that the law was for me (and in any event I didn’t get the radio job !).
The radio bug has never quite gone away (although my wife has never allowed me to have a studio in the bedroom – nor a red light over the door).
Wind forward a few years (quite a few years actually), and here I am working as a Senior Solicitor with Neil Hudgell Solicitors in Hull. The firm has a very strong ethos of working with the community, and as part of that have been pleased to establish links with WHCR. I have to admit that I personally had no part in establishing those links, but didn’t need asking twice when it was suggested that I dust off my old headphones , and head down WHCR’s Anlaby Road studios and become their Legal Eagle.
So far, people seem to be finding the Legal Eagle slot quite useful. We’ve certainly had plenty of enquiries to answer, and as the feature starts to air every second Thursday (instead of every month) for the next few months at least, we’re hoping that it will go from strength to strength, and help even more people.
In the next blog, I’ll try to give you an insight into how the Legal Eagle feature is put together, and what goes into broadcasting a typical show.