The Guide: RADIO DAZE: PETER ROBINSON TUNES IN TO MODERN RADIO. THIS MONTH, 60S PIRATE GONE LEGIT, RADIO JACKIE
(Guardian (UK) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Radio Jackie is a rather eccentric station broadcasting to south-west London from a former post office on a busy Surbiton high street. It dates back to 1969 and, once upon a time when it was a pirate, it would broadcast from countryside locations or a pram loaded with car batteries, but it's been legal since 2003.
I meet Jackie's owner, 56-year-old Tony Collis, in the far corner of the station's open-plan HQ. Within easy reach is a spectrum analyser, which allows Tony to monitor Jackie's output, and a toy pirate ship. There's no computer on his desk and Tony doesn't do email, but there is a stressball that looks like an orange. An engineer by trade, he's been working on radio equipment since he was 12 and with Jackie since he was 14. Today, and I suspect perhaps every day, he sports a well-worn Radio Jackie hooded top, and reclines in his chair with one arm draped over his head.
Tony doesn't seem very comfortable with my visit. He's an interesting man with extraordinary stories about a life in radio, but he's wary of what
my agenda might be, and whether my iPhone's microphone is suitable for picking up our interview. "There are no frills here," he announces, swivelling
a nearby chair round so I can see
a rough-and-ready repair. "There's the gaffer tape."
Jackie's own music content - like everything else about the station, from the 70s logo it still uses to the fact that you can walk straight in off the high street - is pleasingly idiosyncratic. While I'm visiting I'll hear recent hits from the Wanted and Example, but I'll also hear Texas and Pet Shop Boys and Dusty Springfield. Tony seems like he wouldn't welcome comparisons with either station, but Jackie's playlist feels like a cross between Capital and Magic, a tune-heavy mix of classics and current hits.
"It's basically upbeat and friendly," Tony says in a manner that is, frankly, neither. "There
are no ballads."
But you can't go wrong with
a ballad every now and again,
I offer, cheerily.
"OK, so listen to Magic."
I laugh what a later inspection of my recording will reveal to be a chronically nervous laugh. This is followed by some awkward silence, followed by me asking Tony what constitutes a ballad.
"Actually, I don't know anything about music," he reports, "but I know if something is slowing the sound down. I don't want to hear it. So I will point that out and it will be removed."
The way he says 'it will be removed' feels slightly dark. I ask about the station's alumni, such as Paul McKenna.
"He started [doing] breakfast in the 80s."
What was he like to work with
"I didn't have to work with him."
How about Dave Pearce What did he do for the station
Do you remember him
Tony is not loosening up very much; he'll later explain that he has a lot on his mind today. He opens a filing cabinet and pulls out scrapbooks ("there are piles of these wretched things") and a document entitled Encouraging Growth And Competition In The UK Radio Industry, which was filed to the government in 1985. "Let it go and let it happen," he says of the way radio stations
have homogenised in the intervening three decades, "but let anyone who wants to start
a local station."
At this point, Tony's long-term colleague Steve Mowbray
appears. "Good to see you!" Steve smiles. "Ah, the photo albums are out, I see!" Immaculately presented, personable and chatty, Steve shows me round the
office and introduces me to the station's staff.
We go through to the studio, where radio legend Mick 'Pat And Mick' Brown is on air. After Mick tells his listeners about a charity auction for Surrey Air Ambulance in Tamworth ("It's at a lovely location - the pub") I ask how, after almost three decades with Capital, he ended up on Jackie. The question sounds a bit rude, unintentionally, but is not taken as such, and inspires an extremely long story involving Rocky's nightclub in Cobham, Sean Connery's stuntman, someone called Dave and, eventually, a meeting with Tony. The upshot is that he's got the weekday afternoon slot, which suits him fine as he only lives down the road. People can be quite sniffy about local radio, I say.
"Rather than get sniffy, we embrace it," Steve explains. "Every hour we'll read one of these out." He finds some index cards, each with a different event written on it. "An Elvis show in Epsom. Oxfam ladies' night. Carshalton community allotments. It's not Justin Bieber on the red carpet, but it works for our audience."
I notice that Mick, like Tony,
is wearing a Radio Jackie hoodie. I ask if it's a uniform. "Want me to take it off " he says, and he pulls it up to reveal a Radio Jackie T-shirt underneath. He guffaws. "Cut me open," he hoots, "and you'll find a Radio Jackie logo! Being here reminds me of the spirit of Capital in the 80s. It feels like real radio again."
I admit to Steve and Mick that for most of my chat with Tony, their boss looked like he was going to punch me.
"That's just Tony," Steve says. "You got as far as the photo albums. He likes and respects you."
So I leave Radio Jackie this afternoon feeling liked and respected. It's an unusual feeling for me, to be honest, but it strikes me that Radio Jackie's continued relevance is down to its passion for giving local listeners the same feeling. Although I still think the occasional ballad wouldn't hurt *
(c) 2013 Guardian Newspapers Limited.
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