Don's Diary

April 3, 1998

Monday

Up early in a cold sweat. Today's the day Angel FM goes on air, broadcasting my students' work live to north London. They've had endless lessons in how not to commit libel, and strict instructions: no horoscopes, no hypnotists, no bad language, no racism or sexism, no rude jokes. But will they stick to the rules? I'm a bag of nerves as I put the supper in the slow cooker, pack the lunches, round up the children, PE kit, swimming togs, homework, reading folders and drop them off with the childminder.

Anxiously I tune my radio to 107.2FM. It is such a relief and delight to hear that we are on air. Jonny and Natalie are presenting the breakfast show and it sounds like a real radio station - well almost. Jonny's got the daftest quiz ever devised - he scrunches up a newspaper next to the microphone and asks listeners to phone in and identify which newspaper it is. Surprisingly, someone does phone in. (I suspect it may be Jonny's flatmate.) Even more surprisingly he knows the right answer.

Tuesday

Why, oh why, did I agree to allow a half-hour daily comedy show? It is dire. They have called it Not Fit For Broadcast - how apt. It is painfully unfunny. The Sin Bin is also a programme that is well named. It promised to show us London's naughty bits, but did we really have to have a ten-minute interview with a man talking about female orgasms? What does he know? At least the news is safe - mostly local stories that they have dug out themselves from reliable sources such as New Scotland Yard. And the Out and About programme has got a great restaurant review with lovely sizzling noises. Who said there was no such thing as a free lunch?

Wednesday

Aarrgh! The Angel FM schedule is in meltdown. We were promised a mini-disc recording of the music department's African drumming and Javanese Gamelan concert. Where is it? We cannot repeat the News Quiz again - it's already been on twice. I pounce on Phil, the Drive Time producer, and push him into the studio with a handful of CDs. "Fill," I say. And Phil fills an hour beautifully with music and laddish chat about football. But now there is a crisis on the lunchtime debate. The subject is "Should smoking in public be banned?" We have got the Action on Smoking and Health person, but where is the pro-choice man from FOREST? I lurk anxiously in the foyer. No sign of him. With two minutes to spare the presenter comes running out, panic in her eyes. "There he is," she squeaks, rushing outside. Of course, he was out there on the pavement all along. This is a "No Smoking" campus. The phone-in "problem page of the air" focuses on suicide. There is a nasty moment when a caller suddenly hangs up but Shariq, the presenter, handles it quite well. He seems to enjoy being an "agony uncle". And The Politics Show achieves the impossible - making Westminster interesting to the politically apathetic under-30 year olds.

Thursday

Forget what I said on Monday. Not Fit For Broadcast is an incredibly witty political satire. There is a nasty moment in the news when the editor realises that he is been running a story that is at least two years old. It seems there was a glitch on the Scotland Yard computer and it threw up a couple of crime reports from 1996. So much for reliable sources! Should we correct it on air or just quietly drop the story? We quietly drop it.

The debate on de-criminalising cannabis is surprisingly even-handed. Students at City are not overwhelmingly in favour of it. And a new book called Cocaine gets a real slagging-off in the Dillons Book Review of the Day, sponsored by our campus bookseller. Perhaps today's students are too poor to afford drugs. Or too pure to want them.

Friday

We are all incredibly tired, and sad that it is coming to an end. The Sporting Preview sounds extremely professional, and The Green Gauge, focusing on environmental issues, brings tears to my eyes with an eyewitness account of an aid worker cradling a starving Armenian child in his arms. And to think that that aid worker has been a student on my course for six months and I never knew about his work with refugees!

Craig, the news editor, decides to go out in a blaze of glory, with a ten-minute bulletin, two presenters and special jingles. Sadly there is a technical hitch, and the presenter cues a story only to hear a sort of faint whirring noise. He collapses in giggles and so does his co-presenter. Quick, pull the plug. We are off air, not with a bang but a whimper. Then we are off to the pub for a "feedback" session. Is an RSL licence to broadcast just an expensive toy or a real educational experience? Well, they have learned how to think on their feet, their voices have improved beyond measure and the teamwork has been excellent. But for many of my students who had a miserable time doing work placements in local radio newsrooms, this was the real lesson: "Radio is fun. I want to do it for the rest of my life."

Jan Haworth

Professor of broadcast journalism at City University.

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