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Come the revolution

I was a bit stunned when I came up with this gem, but my first ever appearance on radio was more than fifty years ago. It was a kids’ quiz programme called ‘Regional Round’, and the Scottish input was organised by a lady called Kathleen Garscadden, who was one of the founding figures of the BBC. It went out live, and my family gathered round various valve radios to listen. So there I was; all these squeaky wee boy and girl voices, and me. I was thirteen at the time but . . . Some lads have a terrible time when their voices break; they’re out of control for a while, three or four octave changes in a single sentence. But not me. I woke up one morning and I was a baritone. Every time I answered the phone, the voice on the other end said ‘Hello Bill,’ and I had to explain that I wasn’t my dad. Incidentally, that worked both ways, which led to a couple of embarrassing incidents with girlfriends a few years later. Anyway, there were all these effing chipmunks on the radio, until the inquisitor asked what you called a long pastry filled with cream and with chocolate on the top, and a voice that would have sounded like Lanarkshire’s answer to Bryn Terfel, only he wasn’t born then or even close, boomed out ‘An eclair’. My mother dined out on it for years afterwards . . . the story, not the eclair.

I’ve done a lot of radio since then, home and away, the furthest being New Zealand, where I once did a live interview on a mobile phone while arriving at an airport and getting out of a car. I hadn’t driven it, but my driver had just done a piece herself, a book review, while at the wheel. One of the great things about radio stations is that they’re usually hard to find. The original Radio Clyde studio, for example, was a few floors up in a high-rise in Anderston, but you’d never have known it, and Radio Forth still hides behind an anonymous door in a street that bears its name. (If you doubt me on this, try to find Sunny Govan Radio in Glasgow.) I’ve always imagined that their reclusiveness was based on the fact that the first thing any worthwhile revolutionary does is to seize the radio station. I really did believe this in Prague; the station there was one floor up in a tenement block that reminded me of a back street in Bridgeton. It was magic; they still had turntables, in an era when cd players were becoming rare in British studios, since everything was going digital.

This is all a preamble to what I’m doing on Thursday morning, August 26, around 11am. I’m going into East Lothian’s very own radio station, East Coast FM, for the very first time. At the moment, it broadcasts on-line — http://www.eastcoastfm.co.uk/ — but hopefully it will be awarded an FM community licence at the next allocation. I hope it’s going to be the first of many visits, for of all the stations I’ve been in and on around the world, none will give me more pleasure than this one, the closest to home. Today Haddington, tomorrow, the world.

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