Parental Guidance Advised
Contains Swearing and Violence
Some Mild Sexual Content
Some years ago I used to co-present a show on a community radio station. My co-presenter was a guy called Martin, and strictly speaking it was his show, but I used to go along to make things a bit more interesting for him. It gets lonely sitting in a studio for a couple of hours when you know that nobody’s actually listening to you.
Nobody listened. A community local radio station, run by volunteers, and only available on cable, has an audience of 0, or 1 when the station manager bothered to tune in. We didn’t have ratings, we had a black hole.
Over a couple of weeks Martin and I got into a comfortable swing. He was very intelligent and articulate, and we had a lot of common interests. The format was nothing new. Intro music, a bit of blather, some more music, some more blather, da di da di da, for all of two hours on a Sunday morning. It was all unscripted; we’d just turn up with some scribbled notes and a fistful of CDs each, and vamp it.
There was a bit of colour introduced by the differences between our two voices. Martin has one of the most mellifluous speaking voices I’ve ever heard. You could stick him in Downton Abbey, and he’d fit in seamlessly. Or he’d make a first class jovial uncle figure for a talking book for children. I meanwhile had retained the flat vowel sounds and rapid delivery of my native Lancashire, albeit overlaid with some horrid Estuary English. A guy in a record store in Salt Lake City once told me I sound like Robert Smith of The Cure.
The blather could be about anything at all that had caught our interest that week. So we might one minute be discussing quantum physics or astronomy, then the next having a rant about cowboy plumbers. We made a point of using as much of the English vocabulary as we could both muster, and that was quite a lot, but for subject matter, pretty much anything went. It was like zoo radio for those who like slippers and a nice cup of tea.
We had one major area in which we disagreed. Martin’s musical tastes would make Classic FM sound avant garde, while I, in my state of arrested development, favoured techno, or Indie bands with guitars that sounded like Stukas on a dive bombing run, and with a bass line that shook out your fillings. To get round our musical differences, we had a strict rota. Talk bollocks for a few minutes, one piece of music from Martin, more bollocks, then a piece of music from me. It all went swimmingly. Several months passed, and the show continued. It was as good a way as any of whiling away a couple of hours till the pub opened.
Then I started to take some liberties.
I started out small. One of the few rules of the format was that just before we played a piece of music we’d remind our non-existent audience of the radio station’s phone number. You know the deal.
‘This is XXX Community Radio. If you have anything to say, please call us.’
Martin would then give the dialling code (I think that’s the area code in the US), and I’d chip in with the number as Martin faded up the music. Slick or what?
‘So, if you’d like to give us a call, we’re on 01279…’ said Martin
Then I gave out his home number.
He didn’t clock this at first, fiddling as he was with faders and sound levels, then as he sat back, a horrible realisation dawned.
‘You wanker! That’s my home number you just gave out!’
‘Martin, it doesn’t matter if I play a joke like that. Nobody’s listening. You know it, I know it. Anyway, even if someone does ring, they’ll get your boy, and good luck with that. Surly adolescence might have been invented for him. He wears the mantle with pride.’
‘Yes, I suppose you’re right.’
In all the time we broadcast, and that was nearly every week for a year, we only got one call from anyone other than the station manager, who normally wanted to know if there were enough teabags left. We were listening to some music between the oral bollocks. I was doodling, and Martin was wistfully eyeing up the life-size poster of Shania Twain some pervert had stuck on the wall of the studio. Then the call light came on. We looked at each other in frank disbelief. Scramble for headphones, then Martin answered.
‘XXX Community Radio. Good morning.’
We never did discover what our avid listener wanted. It was like trying to have a conversation with someone who spoke one of those languages that has died out, attempting to describe a particularly complex smartphone’s capabilities.
After the telephone number gag, which only failed because of our having no audience, I decided to ramp things up a bit.
‘So, Duncan, I think you’ve got something you’d like to discuss?’
‘Indeed I have, Martin.’
Then I just leaned back in my chair and watched the sweat stains grow under his armpits. Even on community radio, dead air is verboten; you can only get away with it on Radio 3.
Martin missed a beat, then struggled gamely on, ever the professional.
‘And what would that be?’ He somehow managed to hiss this while still sounding the very voice of urbane avuncularity.
Now he was on the ropes. You have to watch what you say about even minor celebs if you don’t want a torrent of writs coming through the letterbox. I let him off the hook.
‘Well, more something she said earlier this week about the UK not going in very much for mixer taps in washbasins.’
I then launched into a diatribe about these infernal contraptions, flew off at a tangent on the perils of turning on a tap in a basement anywhere in the Netherlands, since nearly the entire country is below sea level. This gave Martin time to recover his composure.
The dead air thing gave me an idea for the next week. I handed Martin a CD for my next musical interlude.
‘You’ll like this, Martin. Not my usual style at all. It’s a live performance for solo piano. It’s very quiet.’
Fade music. The clear sounds of a concert hall, people having a last cough, getting comfortable.
Then nothing. Silence. Martin shot bolt upright and spilled his cup of tea.
‘Fuck, dead air!’
Fade up the mikes.
‘Sorry about that everyone, a bit of a technical hitch I’m afraid.’ Avuncular chuckle.
‘Hey Martin, it had only just started!’
‘It’s that piece by John Cage…’
I went from bad to worse.
‘What’s this piece of music you’ve chosen for us , Duncan.’
‘It’s about the delights of having breakfast.’
‘That sounds ideal for a Sunday morning show.’ Deep brown chuckle.
Martin started the track, which opened with my trademark scuzzy guitars and pounding bass. I scribbled on a piece of paper then held my note up for Martin to see. ‘It’s a track called Serial Killer.’
Then there was the time I tricked him into playing not Sunday Morning by the Velvet Underground, as he was expecting, but I’m Waiting For The Man, which for those who don’t know it is about a drug deal going wrong in Harlem.
On another occasion I had him start a track then scribbled another note and stood up as if I were going to take a leak. I got the sound desk safely between him and me before I shoved the note under his nose. ‘Get ready to hit the bleep button or the dropout. At 1’44” they rap the words Get on your motherfuckin knees.’ I was lucky to get away with my life for that one.
I could go on. But I think you get the gist.