Chewing gum for the ears

This is a blog which starts off with me in the shower, so readers of a nervous disposition may wish to look away now.

Jr Emu #1 bought me a radio for my Christmas present; one that I can listen to when I’m out of the shower in the mornings. Given that I take a morning shower in the basement of the office after running into work, however, this creates an issue. My radio stations of choice for the morning are Radio 4 (light political grillings – just the thing to kick off the morning meetings) or Radio 5 (relatively inane banter that might inform the odd conversation during the day on football). And unfortunately, even though the great British Broadcasting institution reaches all around the world, it is unable to penetrate the lower ground floor in the NR4 postcode area.

Unless, it seems, it is masquerading as BBC Radio Norfolk, which has signal like you wouldn’t believe. I don’t quite understand this, as I thought that all BBC channels would be transmitted from the same masts at the same strength, but the truth is there to be heard in glorious mono, every morning at 8am.

So, to get to the point, I am compelled to listen to Radio Norfolk in the morning. Now, me and Radio Norfolk actually go back quite a long way.

In my youth, I worked at Radio Norfolk for what was probably all of about 4 weeks. I had a very brief stint as an assistant to an assistant, and very briefly reached the position of bona fide assistant when the teatime show presenter went on holiday, thus allowing his assistant to stop being an assistant, and thereby needing his own assistant.

The best fun on local radio was devising phone-in competitions, and at Radio Norfolk we had the added challenge of having no audience with any enthusiasm for phoning in. Or possibly no audience with any enthusiasm. Or possibly no audience.

Which left us pretty much to our own devices, and this meant getting our friends to phone up in a style that I like to think was ripped off wholesale by shock-jocks a few years later. So, for example, we would announce the ‘talented pets competition’. “Phone us with your talented pets, and we’ll let the county know”, we’d call out. “If you can’t get through right away, keep trying, as the phones are really hot here at Radio Norfolk”, we’d cry, looking out into the control room, where the work experience girl was looking intently at a phone that was steadfastly refusing to ring. At which point, we’d call in our special weapon, which for the sake of this blog, we’ll call Mike Todd, on account of that being his name.

Mike would appear on the phone (we had to dial him, which always left the work experience girl a bit more miserable), and he’d pretend to be a caller with an interesting pet. Initially this was a yodelling dog, which was basically his flatmate making howling noises while MIke played the piano. Then it was a tap dancing tortoise, introduced by a nervous schoolboy, who’d discovered this talent while a) his Dad was out, and b) he’d let the tortoise stand on the hotplate. And so on. We did get a few genuine callers, which left us a bit flustered, but we soldiered on. I don’t think anybody from Radio Norfolk noticed anything was unusual – largely you were alright, even on primetime, as long as you didn’t use up any of the ‘needletime’ budget.

This may have changed now, but certainly in those days, the royalties you had to play on records, calculated by ‘needletime’, could make or break the budget of the show. So you did one of three things. 1. Talk about absolutely anything for as long as possible. 2. Play music from unsigned bands. 3. Play music from ‘pre-paid’ albums (Now that’s what I call… etc). Fortunately, we managed to fill hours and hours with 1 & 2 and seldom resorted to 3.

But the best bit about Radio Norfolk was the institutional parochialism that filled the place in a pleasant, practical fashion. The best example of this was the traffic report. Growing up near London, I was familiar with Capital Radio’s ‘Eye in the Sky’, swooping down on the North Circular and giving up to the minute reports at all hours of the day. Things in Norfolk were slightly different. Firstly, the only road that anyone was bothered about was the A11. It got people into Norfolk, and it got people out. Secondly, the budget didn’t really run to helicopter surveillance. So, very practically, one of the editorial staff would phone up her Dad every morning. Her Dad lived on the side of the A11, just outside Wymondham. So, after the normal father/daughter greetings were complete, he’d put the phone down, go to the front door, look to the right and to the left, then report back accordingly.

So, although I would never listen to Radio Norfolk if I had any real choice, if I do have to then it’s always a bit nostalgically. Certainly I listen to the webcam driven traffic reports with some disappointment, as I’d just really like to know that the A11 is clear at Wymondham. And I listened with abject horror on Friday, when the phone in was ‘what do you look for in a chicken’. Just asking for trouble, quite frankly.

And imagine my surprise when I came across this on the BBC Norwich City website tonight.

You need to look at the last item under ‘local news’.

And if you can’t read this, it says “Farmer reunited with lost fowl”. I suppose when you see real life imitating stereotypes, we may as well enjoy it.


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