It was my old pal of mine called Phil who asked me, a number of years back, if I had ever thought about doing a radio show. He suggested that I contact my local hospital radio and find out if they were taking anyone on. So I sent them an email and never heard anything back.
But as fate would have it I discovered there was a radio station at the Lancaster YMCA called Diversity FM. They were looking for volunteers but when I applied they seemed more interested in getting me involved with their website than presenting a music show. This was mainly because I had been doing a bit of web design work but the setup at Diversity was very different to what I'd been doing and I was hardly jumping with joy at the thought of having to get to grips with this new software.
Part of the induction to becoming a volunteer involved sitting in with one of the presenters and I sat in with Boogie Bill. As his name suggests he is a fan of boogie-woogie, blues, jazz and and bluegrass which he played on his show, and he is also a damn fine piano player. So sitting there alongside him in the studio I got an idea of what was involved in presenting a live show.
One week Bill couldn't make it in and I was asked if I would like to fill in for him. Not, I hasten to add, doing a live show - they weren't that cruel - no, they had a second studio which could be used to pre-record shows. The advantage of doing that was that if I made any mistakes or simply dried up then it could be edited afterwards. Obviously I would have been nervous recording my first ever show but it went ok and got the thumbs up from those in charge. When it became apparent that I was not really interested in developing the website, I was asked if I would like to present my own show. As they didn't have anyone playing folk music, would I like to make that the focus of my show?
And so Off The Beaten Tracks was born (thanks to John H for the name). Not having a huge amount of folk music in my collection I started emailing artists asking if they could send me a cd and most of the time they were happy to oblige. I was blown away one day when I arrived at the station to find that Simon Nicol of Fairport Convention had not only sent me a copy of the band's latest studio album but also four other CDs and a copy of the programme from the tour they were half way through. As the saying goes, if you don't ask you don't get.
Having been involved with the local music scene - I occasionally played at the Gregson Open Mic - I was keen to include local musicians on my show and they, along with established artists like Fairport and Kate Rusby, were also grateful for the airplay. On a few occasions I even had live sessions or guests in the studio choosing tracks and chatting about their music and latterly I co-presented the show with a mate of mine called Wes who certainly livened things up. We had a blast doing the weekly show together but sadly it was not to last as the funding dried up and despite some last minute attempts to bring in money, Diversity FM closed down.
I feel I'm at a crossroads now as things are not going very well at the station i joined a year ago. I won't go into the details, as it's not helpful to wash any dirty linen in public, but I feel torn about what to do next. Should I carry on presenting live shows on what now feels like a commercial radio station or should I do what Mike Harding has been doing over the last 5 years, ie recording shows at home and uploading them to Mixcloud or wherever? Mike has co-incidentally just recorded his final podcast and is retiring from broadcasting.
I had this conversation with someone the other day which makes me feel that I should go down the latter path -
Her - You do a folk show on local radio, don't you?
Me - Yes it goes out on a Thursday.
Her - I'm normally busy on a Thursday so I can't tune in. Is there a podcast I can download?
Me - No, sorry, we're not allowed to do podcasts for copyright reasons.
End of conversation.
If you'd like to listen to the mixes and shows I've recorded at home, check out my page on Mixcloud