I was firstly going to apologise for this blog being somewhat self-absorbed. It is about love and it is about passion and it is about my experiences of both these things. Then I thought, well, I always say you should never apologise for how you feel because you can’t help how you feel. And in terms of my love and my passion, it feels amazing.
It’s hard to know the difference between passion and love. I suppose passion is something that flares wildly and ignites an excitement within and, although it can’t sustain forever, it can constantly be reignited and burn brightly; albeit momentarily. Love, I think, is the fundamental basis on which passion burns. Love is the glue. Love endures. Love is the oil at the bottom of the flame that is passion. Love is everything and passion compliments it rather well. Of course, I may be entirely wrong.
15 years ago on this very day, I signed my first ever radio contract. I love radio. There have been times throughout my career when I become extremely passionate about it and, to this very day, if we were to have a conversation about it, I would be passionate and animated about it still. But you can’t constantly be passionate about something all the time. Sometimes, you can just be in love with it in a whole other way. After 15 years, I still love radio.
I can’t remember why I wanted to work in radio. As a youth, I wanted to write comedy sketches. I think that’s what I thought radio was and that’s how I would go about it. I had a job at a roofing firm in Hull and I used to fax in different presenters for different reasons. They had one of those features where you guess the year and I would frequently fax with a little Vic & Bob-esque note attached to my guess. “Is it 1987 because I remember that was the year that I slightly over-rated the glance of a wizened spider.” That sort of thing…
One day the afternoon presenter asked listeners to send in a joke. In my mind, it was a plea for talented young writers, passionate about the subject they wanted to make a career out of, to come forth and display their talents for the people of East Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire. It was a call of fate. It was the cry of hope in a darkened desert of a career that seemed as if it were never to shine in the sun.
Or, as I later found out, it was because the presenter, JK, had been out the night before and not prepared much for the show….
No matter. I rallied to this call and, in a reply to the man on the radio asking for a joke, I seized the opportunity. If I did this right, I could get it read out on air. I could, momentarily, be “on the radio”. I could make thousands of people across Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire laugh. People I had grown up with would hear it and laugh at something I crafted. I, Alistair John Booth, Roofing Estimator at a firm in Hull, a man with an E at GCSE maths and an F in GCSE art – who only got the job that involved drawing roofs and counting tiles because the interviewer asked, “Are you good at maths and art?” and I replied, “Yes” – I could become an entertainer of the airwaves.
Now, I am not entirely sure what made me write what I wrote. I could have written many things, made up many jokes. Instead, I wrote this (and I remember it word for word to this day):
Q) What came first: the chicken or the egg? A) Neither, it was Trevor McDonald on a flour powered space hopper!
I wrote it. I faxed it. I waited. I had a tingle of anticipation as I craned my neck to the radio in order to hear the groundbreaking moment that the north of England collectively welcomed the arrival of a new light entertainment sheriff in town. I waited. I waited a bit longer. And then… nothing. A song. Mentions of other, lesser jokes… but then a song. My heart sank. This part of the world clearly wasn’t ready for poultry and yet-to-be knighted newsreader wordplay.
And then the phone rang. It was Lorraine from accounts. When you’re pinning your hopes of making an impression in the media world with your heartfelt creations, and you receive a phone call, you don’t really hope that it will be Lorraine from accounts.
“Hi Lorraine,” I said (not really needing to establish the department she worked in as there were only about 8 of us in the entire place).
“Er Al,” said Lorraine from accounts in her best Hull phone voice, “Jehy Kehy from the rey-dee-ur is on the furn.”
Excitedly – but also somewhat worriedly because I thought he may think I was an idiot – I waited for the click. “Hello.” I was calm. After all, I was probably about to become a leading entertainer in the world of showbusiness. Or “shurbisniss”, as it’s said back hurme.
“Hi, Al? It’s JK. I just got your fax… what does it mean, fella?”
“Oh, hi mate.” I nonchalantly replied, “Yeah, it’s a joke. I wrote it myself.” I thought it best to point that out for fear that anyone would ever think I had plagiarised it.
“I wasn’t sure if the fax machine was broken because it doesn’t make sense…”, Jay said. He was half right.
And so it was, from the very moment I hit the send button on that fax machine, and thanks to JK’s confusion and generosity, my whole life changed. One, admittedly bizarre scrawling in pen on a sheet of paper, and one hit of a send button led to everything that my life as it is today. Aside from my friends back home and the family I have, everyone I have met since, or worked with, I have done because of writing that one… again I was going to say “joke” but I think we all know it’s not that. I don’t know what it was. “Fated worked of scriptured art”? No. No, definitely not.
After that fax, we met for a drink and JK asked me to write topical gags for him on a daily basis, as well as just general observational stuff. So that’s what I did. I even had a daily slot on his show called Al’s Bad Gags, where I’d tell a joke that’d I’d created that day (I know; even after the Trevor hopper flour thing!).
Now, in this roofing firm that I still worked at, we weren’t allowed lunch breaks. Or heating. So I would secretly hide the papers under all the massive plans for housing developments, scan the papers and write out one liners before faxing them over. One day my boss, Little G, came in and caught me. He had a little look of little rage on his little face. Pointing at the plans, and then the newspapers and the sheets of A4 I’d scribbled on, he glared at me. “Where,” he said, pointing at the words I’d sort of crafted, “is this s**t going to get you? This,” he pointed at the plans, “is going to lead somewhere.”
He was right. Not long after, I was made redundant from the roofing firm (I think they realised that my qualifications, like myself, just didn’t add up) and I was asked to go and produced JK @ Breakfast, the new breakfast show on my home station of Viking FM in Hull. All turned out rather well, didn’t it?
On the morning of the 9th November 1998, I walked into the Hull studios as a volunteer to work on JK’s new breakfast show. Before the show had ended, the boss – Apple – came in and asked to see me in his office. I immediately thought Jase hadn’t asked permission for me to be there and that I was going to be banned from radio forevermore. My fledgling career over before it had even hatched. I needn’t have worried. There and then, in Apple’s office, I was presented with a contract and asked to sign. For £10,000 a year, I would be an actual bona-fide member of the radio industry. £10,000 a year! I was Hugh Hefner in the drying of a signature. Ten thousand pounds! (Back then I was genuinely worried that I didn’t do enough to justify that.)
So there I was. Officially aA writer; a producer; a man embarking on a legitimate love affair that would be filled with passion from that day forward.
In the 15 years that have followed from that morning, there’s been a fair bit that’s gone on. I have met some amazing people and made friends for life. I have come up with a few ideas and done a few things with got people talking. Most of all, I have never lost that passion or desire; even if its lost me sometimes.
My passion for radio doesn’t just come from the creating side, nor purely from the interaction with members of the public. It comes from the carefree, fun things that can’t be planned. For everything that is well thought out, there are moments you just find yourself in. You do things because you care but you also do things because you want a laugh.
After leaving Viking FM in Hull, I went to a station called Radio Aire in Leeds. That’s where I met one of my now oldest friends but, at the time, he was soon to be my first flatmate. We had the massive Party in the Park in Leeds. All these top celebrities and A-list starts turning up to perform in front of thousands of Yorkshire folk. The best thing about that, aside from being on stage in front of a sprawl of people, was that that it was the time of Foot & Mouth disease. The down to earth Leeds security fellas and lasses were making the top acts get out of their limos and walk through disinfectant before entering the place. Also, Matt and I decided that we needed some nice towels for the flat; so we nicked Ricky Martin’s. (He’d have ruined them with his orange glow anyway.)
After Leeds, I moved to Birmingham where I got to go to Paris for the first time. Not on a romantic get away, but doing the show with my friend Dave (a six-foot something Brummie biker) and my overtly camp, lovely boss Neil. (Not who I’d envisaged sharing my first experience with in the world’s most romantic city; flipping fun though.) I also came up with an idea which saw us opening Birmingham’s Selfridge’s store and the iconic BullRing shopping place. From one silly little, odd quip sent on a fax machine back in Hull; I had ended up opening the UK’s newest shopping complex in the 2nd city with an idea I’d had. That’s just ridiculous.
When I moved to Birmingham, I was engaged to someone from back home. However, that didn’t last and we eventually decided to go out separate ways. The timing of this wasn’t great. Weeks before we split, I’d just devised a station promotion called Vex Your Ex. I put it to my boss, the marketing team and the presenters. It got sold, it got marketed and dates got put in for the launch.
The idea was that we’d get a recently split couple on-air for 2 weeks and, through a variety of tasks, interviews and following their story, we’d have listeners vote on a daily basis to see whether the Dumper or the Dumpee should win a dream holiday. I launched it all on air with a big announcement; the very day after my fiancee and I split up. At the time it was the first station-wide competition I’d ever come up with myself and it came on the very day after I split with the only fiancee I had ever had (and still have ever had to this day, for that matter). Mind, the next set of listening results proved that it was worthwhile. More than worthwhile, actually. (We knew it had worked because on the day of the figures, the MD – who always wore a suit and was immaculately turned out – came in in jeans and t-shirt, almost representative of our “youth brand”. Awww…)
There have been a variety of amazing things that have happened which have only ever grown my love for radio. It has led to me working with A-list celebs on-stage and laughing with people calling up whilst on the bus on the way to work. It has led to some of my most professional moments and some of my most frivolous. There have been lots of “sliding doors” moments too: What if I’d have signed with that station when they asked me? What if I had gone to that city when they asked? What if I’d have stayed a producer and not a presenter? What if I’d have gone to bed earlier more? What if I’d have gone to that penthouse hot tub party with the girls from Spearmint Rhino that afternoon they phoned met at home, and I said I was too tired? (Actually, that last one couldn’t have ended well really…)
As it turns out, all the decisions I made, all the things that happened through coincidence or curiosity, got me to where I am today. With amazing people in my life and the best memories. I still love radio, I would still love to be presenting on the radio; my radio career has taught me that you never know what comes next.
What I love about radio is that you can plan the most well thought out, exciting, massive creative pieces and big money competitions that will completely hook in and excite listeners. You can work with a team of like minded people to really make something happen. What I also love about radio is that you can say something during a song or in the office, and it instantly becomes and idea that you get to share. You can work with massive budgets or just big smiles. There is no rule apart from the fact that you just get it: whatever “it” is. And you get to work with people who just get “it” and love “it”. Then you share it with thousands upon thousands of people, and you know what? They just get “it” AND they love “it”. Whatever “it” is, “it” is amazing.
Radio has led to me moving to places I love, working in places and with incredibly talented colleagues I love and meeting people I love. I don’t know if I’ll continue to work in radio but, there is one thing for certain, it has been responsible for 15 years of my life that I wouldn’t have enjoyed anywhere near as much otherwise. Radio is my love and my passion. I am fortunate to have played a part and, hopefully, I can continue to do so. I still write ideas; I just don’t have anywhere to share them now. Well, not for the moment, at least.
That said if anyone out there has a fax machine, please do get in touch…