BBC Introducing Lancashire – Sean McGinty

sean mcginty in northern life magazine steven suttie

This first appeared in NORTHERN LIFE magazine

DECEMBER 2014 ISSUE

I have long been a lover of local radio. In fact, from being a very small boy in the 1980’s I’ve taken a massive interest in it. But as computer-run stations and nationally syndicated services have slowly and surely eroded the magic that local radio once created, I am becoming more and more bored by the same old thing, just like many hundreds of thousands of radio listeners who are deserting local radio and re-tuning to Radio 2 instead.

But then, just as I’m about to give up completely – I discover a radio show that completely recharges my enthusiasm and gets me fully, properly excited again. I’m talking about BBC Introducing, a national network of 40 local radio programmes that champion local music in their area. In particular, I’m talking about BBC Radio Lancashire’s “Introducing” show on Saturday evenings, which is on air between 8pm and 10pm. radio lancs

If you want to be completely bowled over by an eclectic showcase of the amazing musical talent that there is here in Lancashire – I can guarantee that you will be surprised by just how much emerging talent there is in the Red Rose county, and then, I suspect that you will feel ever so proud of the whole concept.

It’s always a great feeling to stumble across a genuinely inspirational, amusing and enjoyable radio show that isn’t all about the DJ, but about what the DJ can do for others. I went down to the BBC Lancashire studios to meet the programme’s creator and presenter Sean McGinty, a man so full of energy, enthusiasm and passion for his work that it is easy to see how it all translates so well into such a bloody good radio show.

As he ate a sandwich, eaves-dropped on a band recording a session next door, while trying to discover who blocked the radio-car in with a silver peugeot, I had a good old natter with Sean about his work.

BBC radio lancashire studios in Blackburn town centre

You can tell from listening to the BBC Lancashire Introducing show that you clearly love it. What has been your highlight of doing this show so far? It’s not really on air that I get the real highlight. That comes when I listen through the one hundred and fifty songs I receive a week and hear something that’s just amazing. For example, we play a lot of music from Aquilo. When I first heard their song I was like “wow!” It just hits you and it’s amazing. And now, eighteen months later, they are doing really well, one of their songs is going to be in a film, and being a BBC Introducing presenter, you get a great “wow-factor” when you hear someone with some real talent and a great song.

Another group who are doing great things are Bondax from Lancaster, who are regularly played on BBC Radio 1. They started out on your show. Yes, through us, Radio 1 have picked up on them. Don’t get me wrong, these guys work hard on their own, and they’ve got good people representing them and they’ve done very well without the BBC involvement. Having said that, it’s always good to say “We’ve been on BBC Introducing and we’ve done a Maida Vale session.” They’ve done all that stuff, and they were at Bestival this year, and now they’re travelling the world. It’s a great result for us, but it’s down to the artist. They do all the work, they put all the time in. Just because I play a track by Aquilo, or Bondax, or Rae Morris and say I love it, that isn’t necessarily the route to how they become successful.

The show is now ten years old in Lancashire. Is it getting harder to find exciting new bands and artists to showcase, or does it get easier? I think as technology and social media has developed we are seeing more music sent to us now. We can get any where between one hundred and two hundred tracks sent in each week via the BBC Introducing Uploader on the website, as well as links to songs on Soundcloud and Youtube as well as CD’s in the post. So it is a lot of music that’s coming in to us, and almost all of it is from Lancashire.

What advice do you have for local bands who have the talent, and want to get played, but can’t necessarily afford the studio time to get a professional sounding demo together? Well, Rae Morris is a great example of that. Rae is now signed to Atlantic Records, her new single is being played on Radio 1 and her album is out in January. There’s some really good stuff happening with her right now, but the music that she sent me at first just wasn’t recorded well enough to play on the radio. It was an absolutely beautiful song, and I loved it, but I couldn’t play it. But there are other things we can do, and we invited Rae in and let her do a live session. So assuming they can do that, there’s always different options.

The Extra Third Photography

You came to radio quite late in life after a career in banking and telecoms. What made you give up secure employment and a good salary for a career in a notoriously difficult to enter industry, that probably pays a lot less? I’ve just always loved radio, and I love the job I’m doing and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It is a very different earning potential as you pointed out, but as I’m approaching my fiftieth birthday, I’m really enjoying this, and all the other projects that I’m involved with and that really matters to me.

You must have to spend a lot of time listening to the music that is sent in by hopeful bands, plus you do other slots on the BBC Radio Lancashire schedule. You are also embarking on the difficult task of launching Blackpool’s Radio Victoria as a full time community radio station. How do you get the time to fit all this in? I don’t do anything that’s remotely sociable anymore! That’s it really. I’m very much into social enterprise and not for profit businesses. I was working with the hospital trust in Blackpool and suggested that they go after a community radio license, and they said go for it. So now we have the license, and just need to find about twenty five grand for the mast and various bits and pieces. I really think community radio could be fantastic for the Fylde. So yes, I’m kept very busy but I love it, and you’re a long time dead aren’t you?

Your Introducing slot is on air at 8pm on Saturdays, but it’s available all week long on the iPlayer. Are you finding that this new “on demand” technology is helping you to build a bigger audience? I don’t really look at the numbers. We used to be on Thursday evenings and we had the most radio listeners in the county on that slot, beating Radio 1, Radio 2 and everybody else. When the senior BBC management decided that all of the Introducing shows across the national network were being moved to Saturdays, we lost a lot of listeners. Mainly because most of our listeners were out playing, or listening to bands on that night. It’s possibly the worst night to have a new music show on the radio to be honest. I do get e-mails during the week from people who are listening to the I-player, but I have no idea how many there are.

introducing logo on cassette

What advice would you have for anybody who would like to follow in your footsteps and get a job in radio?Well, don’t wait until you are 38 before you even think about doing it. Do it in your 20’s! What I did was I went to the University of Central Lancashire and started a broadcast journalism course, and then I camped on the doorstep here at BBC Radio Lancashire until they let me in. When they did let me in, I just worked really hard and really long and made sure that what I did was good and eventually I got some regular paid work here.

Your wife must be very supportive of you? Yes, we both changed careers at the same time. I went into this and she went into teaching. She was very supportive of me in the early years, and now I’m supportive of her in what she does. It’s a partnership.

What ambitions are left for the BBC Lancashire Introducing show? Loads! I mean we’ve started doing BBC Introducing Live gigs at the Ferret in Preston which is a fine local venue, and a great place to play. It’s a great night for people who want to support local music and it’s free. That’s on the second Saturday of every month, and I want to build on that and get more gigs in more towns. And of course to continue showcasing the very best of Lancashire’s new music on the BBC Introducing show.

BBC Introducing programmes are on air on your local BBC station on Saturday evenings from 8 until 10pm, and available anytime on BBC Radio I-player.

More about what Sean is doing.

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Buzz Hawkins – The Man behind The Bradshaws

The Bradshaws Story
(By Steve Suttie – first published in Northern Life Magazine October 2011 Edition)

Long before Peter Kay burst onto the comedy circuit and made millions from his unique style of turning everyday conversation into humour, Alf, Audrey and Billy Bradshaw were leading the way – entertaining housewives, van drivers, factory floors and offices on a daily basis.

The well loved “Bradshaws” radio series was broadcast on local radio stations the length and breadth of the region. Like most folk in the North, Peter Kay could not escape the broadcasts that coincided nicely with brew time. In fact, it was very probably the Bradshaw family that first inspired him to try his hand at comedy. (His Mum had all the tapes.)

It was in the early 1980s that the Bradshaws first opened the front door of their mid terraced 2 up 2 down. The population were shown through to the parlour and invited to eaves drop on this very typical Northern family who kept us chuckling at their exceptionally normal lifestyle, the typical day to day occurrences and their inimitable observations of Northern life.

Today, the Bradshaws are still going strong on local radio stations from the Midlands to Gateshead. I met up with one of the nicest men in radio, the Bradshaws creator Buzz Hawkins at his brilliant new recording facility, and the spiritual home of the Bradshaws “Hotsox Studios” in Mossley – to hear his story about the much loved, award winning radio comedy that started by accident!

How did the Bradshaws first come about?

I’m a musician as you know, and in 1982 I started working at Piccadilly Radio in Manchester as a session musician on a programme called NightBeat. In those days radio stations only had a certain amount of records they could play per day, so my job was to sit on a stool and play my guitar and sing some songs live on the radio as a way to get around the rules about playing too many records. It was a great job, but very early into it I started thinking of telling stories and doing other things on my shift between midnight and six in the morning. I got this idea for a comedy sketch of a Northern tale involving a Mum, a Dad and a little lad when I was going home early one morning and as soon as I got in I started writing. By the time I got back to Piccadilly that night I was really looking forward to going on the air with it and seeing if it would work.

And that was it, the birth of the Bradshaws?

Not quite. Although it was nearly 30 years ago I can remember it like it was yesterday! I had the script in front of me and about half an hour before I was due to go on air I realised that it would sound better if each character had their own voice rather than me just reading it out as a monologue. So, I went into the record library and practised using my deepest voice for the Dad, my highest voice for the lad and one inbetween for the Mum.

Wait, are you saying that not only do you write the Bradshaws, you are also the voice of all 3 characters?

That’s right, As if you didn’t know! But at this time of course it was only a one off sketch I was doing, just to break the songs up a bit, have a bit of fun and see what happened. Gary Davies was the DJ on air and I told him what I planned to do. I asked him to slip some slow brass band music under my voice as I launched into this story. From that moment the phones started ringing, the whole switchboard lit up and the phone hasn’t stopped ringing ever since.

And this was in the middle of the night?

It was half two in the morning! It was bakers, security guards, the valium barmcakes, table top scribblers – they were all there! It was stunning. The interesting thing was that people were ringing up asking all sorts of questions about them, things I hadn’t even thought about. They were saying “who are these people?” “what are they called?” For the first ten or twelve episodes they didn’t have a name. They were just Mam, Dad and a little boy. But, as time went on I called the lad Billy, and then the parents became Alf and Audrey. Then people were calling in asking for a surname! I couldn’t believe it. The DJ asked me what the surname was live on air and I just said off the top of my head “Bradshaw.” I didn’t know where it had come from. And that was it, the family had a name and I’d no idea where I’d plucked it from. Later on, I found out that we have relatives on my Father in laws side of the family called Bradshaw, and later still, I found out that they’d asked Piccadilly for royalties for using the family name!

So the concept was clearly popular from the beginning, but when did you first realise that you had created an enormous hit with the Bradshaws?

I remember it well. It was at Christmas of the second year of doing it. Listeners had started ringing up asking for cassette tapes to give their family as presents. Piccadillys bosses smelled a rose, and called a meeting with me. They said they’d pay me an extra £5 per script on top of the wages I was getting for being a producer, and that they wanted to take the Bradshaws onto afternoons and sell cassettes over the counter at the radio station. I agreed to everything, but I said don’t pay me for the scripts. It was the best thing I ever did, because if I’d agreed to that they’d have owned the rights to the Bradshaws. So, we moved the series onto afternoon radio and it went crazy! As Christmas approached I got called into the reception at Piccadilly and that was the moment I really understood how popular the family had become. For as far as the eye could see was a queue of fans waiting to buy the tapes! It was quite incredible.

One of the biggest TV shows of the 1990s was the Royle Family. It was obvious from the start that this was very similar to the Bradshaws. Did you make that link?

I have to say, when I saw the first episode my heart sank. I felt absolutely gutted because the premise was identical to the one I’d been using for the twelve or fourteen years before it came out. That was, the grumpy old fellah and his occasional use of the word “arse,” sat in the armchair opposite a dippy woman and just everything in general, the whole thing took place in a living room and talked about the daily life of daily life. It hurt me when I saw it, and I didn’t watch it again after that first one. I thought it was odd because I knew the people behind it, and I know they were fans of the Bradshaws. But they never mentioned it at the time, and it hasn’t been mentioned since. Bill Tarmey bless him, came up to me one day when the Royle Family was at its peak and said “Arent you just a bit brassed off by this?” which was nice, he cared enough. But it did stop the Bradshaws TV series very early in its tracks, because thanks to the Royle Family, it had already been done! Its funny how things work out but I’m sure they didn’t mean any harm by it.

Are there any other examples of the Bradshaws being copied?

Occasionally. Even Coronation Street have been guilty of it! I remember once, Granadas script writing department had contacted Piccadilly and asked for some of the Bradshaws cassettes. Low and behold a few weeks later, a story that I’d written about Alf sitting in his chair and a bird getting caught in the chimney was played out identically on Corry, complete with the character ending being covered in soot! But it never did me any harm, in fact it has opened doors for me, like the Bradshaws TV series.

Did you enjoy doing the TV adaptation of the Bradshaws?

It was great while it lasted, we did ten episodes of it. It was on at ten to seven on each week night after Granada Reports. The difficulty was that I wanted to protect peoples thoughts of what the Bradshaws looked like. Everybody has their own vision of the characters, and now we were taking it onto telly I had to be really strict about how to do it and not ruin the “theatre of the mind” magic that radio creates. As a result, Alf and Audreys face never appeared on the screen – the cameraman focused on objects and hand movements and of course Billys animatronic puppet. It worked though, it meant they got some really fascinating shots without spoiling anybodys minds-eye view. My only regret with the TV show was that the set designers gave Audrey an over greasy cooker. Audrey would never have a greasy cooker!

The Bradshaws has become the biggest thing on the radio in the North, that’s no small achievement! How many stations are broadcasting the series and why do you think it is still so popular after such a long time?

Last time I counted, which was a couple of years ago we were on 36 stations from Stoke upto Gateshead! BBC Radio Merseyside only started broadcasting it about 5 years ago on the Billy Butler show and its really at its peak there now which is obviously strange because it was at its peak in Manchester in the 80s and 90s. It just connects with the audience because everybody knows a Billy, an Alf and Audrey in their own families or community and they all do the same things, have the same conversations or use the same phrases. I’m forever being told “you’ve not done one about nits, or about working in the mill” and it just doesn’t stop.

You now have 300 episodes recorded, and 2 Sony Radio Awards for your efforts. Are there plans for more episodes of the Bradshaws?

Well, I’ve taken a few years off from writing new material because I’ve been busy building my new studio, and I’ve also been touring a lot with the stage show. But I am in the process of recording volume 26 and that will be on local radio very soon.

Thanks for a lovely chat Buzz and good luck with the tour. Finally for now, I’d like you to share your opinion on what makes the North such a special place?

Its full of real people – theres an honesty in the north, “a spades a spade” honesty that I fail to find anywhere else. Not to say that Southerners are dishonest, but theres a brutal honesty up here, people say what they mean. In the south you wouldn’t get that because they are too polite and their politeness comes across as ignorance sometimes. If you go down there you’re a kind of stranger wherever you go – whereas up here, I can go anywhere and before I even open my mouth people welcome me. In the North people give you a chance, theres a warmth here that you just can’t find anywhere else.

The Bradshaws are appearing daily on a local radio station near you!

Click here to buy the official Bradshaws CD’s (no tapes left!)

And Click here to visit the official Bradshaws website.

And completely unrelated but dead good anyway, click hither to read about Steve’s 5 star rated novel, The Clitheroe Prime Minister.