Don's Diary

March 5, 1999

Thursday. It's sweaty in the studio here at City University. My students are making jingles for their news service on Sound Radio, a community station in Hackney. The backing track on the jingle sounds like the theme tune from Drop the Dead Donkey, but after all that sweat and hard work, it seems churlish to criticise.


We struggle over to Hackney with all our kit. Disaster! Sound Radio doesn't exist yet. It's a derelict supermarket surrounded by grim tower blocks and crawling with builders and electricians. My students are polite young middle-class people. They don't swear and shout - but they don't want to leave their laptops in this building site. And they're definitely going to wear old clothes next time they come.


We're on air. By some miracle, the building site has become a studio and a newsroom. We have an exclusive interview with Dame Judi Dench, who is the patron of Sound Radio and may also be our patron saint, bless her.


Sometimes I forget how young these students are. I pick up a set of news scripts and notice that some are handwritten. "Why aren't you using the electric typewriter?" I ask. "Oh, is THAT what it is?" comes the embarrassed reply. "We've just been queuing up to use the computer because we don't know how to use the typewriter."


Now that the logistics are sorted, we can tackle the fancy bits like the news agenda: does our audience care about genetically modified pollen? Well, there aren't any arable farmers in Hackney, but there are a lot of right-on whole-food shops. What about golf? Don't they prefer boxing? We decide to follow the example of the police and their new definition of racial crime: "If anyone here thinks it's a racial incident, it is." Thus, if anyone at Sound Radio thinks it's a news story, it is. So much for semiotics!


A nasty moment. The Sound Radio DJ takes exception to the news interrupting his programme at the top of the hour. "Now it's time to hand over to the boring old news," he says on air. Our Anna is incandescent. She can hardly speak for indignation. But she manages to deliver the bulletin like a true professional. At last the voice training has paid off! One of Sound Radio's community workers pops his head round the newsroom door. "This is character-forming, isn't it?" he says. "It's a real education."

Jan Howarth

Director of broadcast journalism at City University

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