Passion Money Can’t Buy

Australian station Triple J and one listener with a passion show how radio can still inspire

Australia's Gold Coast - Sea, Sun, Shimmering Cities . . . and great radio

Australia’s Gold Coast – Sea, Sun, Shimmering Cities . . . and great radio

(all images on this post used with the permission of Annette Paradies)

Yesterday was Australia Day. As I passed through Facebook there was perhaps a smattering more than usual of Aussie inspired material amongst the endless  pictures of flowers and kittens, the exhortations to be one of the 7% to repost some piece of chain-letter guff, and Youtube clips of 70s disco hits.

But then something caught my eye.

Passion.

Pure unadulterated passion, by the bucketload, and for two subjects very close to my heart – radio and music.

An Aussie girl Annette Paradies who friended me a couple of years ago after stumbling across Shiprocked and enjoying it (so, in other words, a rock chick of impeccable taste) was giving a blow by blow account of one of the high points of her radio year – station Triple J’s annual Hottest 100 countdown.

It was impossible not to be sucked in by the sheer enthusiasm and enjoyment she was displaying as she posted every entry on the Hot 100 with her own commentary  – on the band, on her own selections, on the radio station – the sort of passion that radio needs to inspire if it is to stay ahead of the game in a world full of mp3 players, video streaming, and limitless TV channels.

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I had only intended being online for a few minutes, but Annette had me hooked, and I was soon visiting the Triple J website and finding out all about the station for myself.

This is the sort of advocacy that money can’t buy, and I can only hope that other stations sit up and take notice.

Your listeners are your strongest asset. Feed them safe pap and they’ll stay tranquilized.

Excite them, and they’ll be selling you station for you, on every street corner.

By the way, the image at the top of the post, is how I imagine Australia is, always, and the Hottest 100 certainly took place against such a sunny backdrop inside my head.

But below is what this weekend actually looked like on the Gold Coast . .

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Thanks Annette for a vivid slice of Australian life and music, and I hope you all stay safe in those storms.

Steve


Inside Out or Outside In?

 

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What Do DJs Dream About?

Steam-punk style radio ships, terrible choices, but above all: dead air.

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I often tell people that many of the ideas for my stories and posts come to me in the small hours of the morning, but this one is very literally so – I’m writing this fresh out of bed, having just woken from one of those dreams . .  you know, the ones radio presenters seem to have.

This one was a modern variation on the age-old basic theme, so before I recount my latest fevered imaginings, let’s have a look at the theme.

We all have a vast array of dreams, from the wild and wonderful to the mundane, and of those we can remember amongst the many unique and sometimes inexplicable ones there are also those that come from time to time that fit into certain basic themes that many people share: dreams of childhood, encounters with partners long estranged and parents and other relatives who have passed away. There are the erotic or romantic dreams, repetitive and unfinished dreams, and of course the classic dreams of anxiety.

Many people seem to dream of finding themselves naked in strange places, but I don’t seem to suffer from those.

For me it is usually a different terror – I find myself back on the day of my first Leaving Cert exam, conscious that the results will affect my life and job prospects, but somehow aware at the same time that it has been 30 years since my last class, I’ve forgotten almost everything of the course, and the exam is about to start NOW. (there is also another one I have occasionally, where I have to choose between going back out to sea with Caroline and losing my home and financial stability, or going on shore and being stable, but missing out on wonderful times)

These are all dreams or types of dreams that most, if not all people share

But there is another dream, which comes maybe once or twice a year, which I call the DJs dream.

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The details vary slightly from time to time, but the basic formula is always the same (hey, that sounds like a description of commercial radio formats!)

I’m in a radio studio, on air. It’s a really important show. This is make or break for me. I’ve (unaccountably) been asked to fill in for someone on a huge station, BBC Radio 1 or RTE 2FM or some such. It’s a one-off, but if I perform well I will be invited back.

The track is coming to an end and I can’t find my next one. (In years gone by the dream would having me desperately trying to cue a vinyl record but unable to find the right groove on the album for the track, these days it is more often flicking through a set of CDs or playout system and unable to find anything that will play). or perhaps, as the song run out, and the dreaded silence starts, I really want to press play on the next track, but my arms just won’t move . .

Minute follows minute of agonising dead air, and I desperately struggle to hit something that will put audio back onto the airwaves again. I know everyone is listening, judging. My opportunity is slipping away and I am helpless . . .

I thought that was my dream alone, but over the years I’ve heard it back from many other people in the industry, all of whom, like myself, are (or seem to be) normal, well-adjusted presenters, with no particular anxieties, content with their careers etc.  I guess it comes from the horror of dead air that fills the radio presenter, and fact that we are so keyed up during our shows to be ready to put something – anything – on that will fill the gap left by a misfiring computer or a suddenly defunct CD.

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Speaking of misfiring computers, I had a dream around 8 months ago that I was totally alone on a radio ship miles out at sea (I think it was Radio Seagull) and about to go live on air. I had my laptop with playout system and tens of thousands of tracks with me, and an outstanding playlist prepared. The studio was ready to go, except that no where on board could I find a cable to connect the laptop to the mixing desk, and there was no one else on board to help me, and no other music, only what was on my laptop . .

As I’ve been a newsreader as well as a presenter, I sometimes have a different style of the dream. This comes about once a year also, and in it I am back out at sea with Radio Caroline, which is for some reason broadcasting again on high power AM, and expecting at any moment to see a government tug coming over the horizon to take us away. We’ll only be here for a few days before the powers that be silence us, so it’s really important for us to make those few days count. And day after day after day in this dream I wake up at around 9am to find that I have overslept and missed my morning news shift. That’s bad, but at least I have an evening show. But I fall asleep again and miss that too. Today, and tomorrow, and the day after . . .

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The Radio Caroline of my dreams (I’m talking actual dreams here rather than aspirations) is a very strange place.

The ship. seeming perfectly normal above the waterline is yet enormously bigger underneath, with vast Lord-Of-The-Rings style underworld caverns full of clanking machinery, unguarded pits, and hissing steam pipes.

Hissing steam pipes? Yes, for in these dreams the radio ship is steam powered, and down in the very darkest depths our engineer can be found stoking an enormous furnace . .

Above the waterline it is different too, with extra corridors of lavishly furnished cabins, which we discover during the dream, and wonder how we could have been unaware of them all the years that we were previously out at sea.

The dream I’ve just woken from this morning though, was biased in the other direction – modern, clean, but equally frustrating.

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Along with Simon Maher, Richie McCormack and other former Phantom 105.2 heads, I am in a makeshift radio studio in London. We’ve decided to bring the goodness of old-style pirate Phantom to London, and are launching a temporary licenced station to bring Irish indie and unsigned music to the UK, convinced that we will take the market by storm.

Richie is presenting the breakfast show, and I’m the news guy.

It’s just touching 8am, and time for the first news bulletin. I have, for some reason, typed it into my iPhone, and will be reading it from that.

As the news jingle tails away I have lost my place on the phone, and am swiping through the various home screens desperately trying to find the notepad app.  The dead air is beginning, and Richie starts ad-libbing to fill it, looking at me anxiously. I find the app, but am then confronted with a seemingly endless set of pages of other text i have to swipe aside to get to the news bulletin I have prepared.

This is so unfair – I’ve slaved over this bulletin, I’ve bought stories from AP and reuters, I’ve chased down stories myself, this was going to be the perfect, pithy yet punchy two minutes of news, But i can’t find it and I’m swiping and swiping and swiping . . . time stretches on, it’s five past 8, then ten past, and poor Richie is still ad-libbing, while managing to stay remarkably patient. He should be killing me by now.

I have an idea. We’re an Irish rooted station. Why don’t I go to the RTE news site and give our public some Irish news? I quickly find RTE news on the phone, prepared at this point just to read out their stories verbatim, but all that comes up is a series of ads for an Irish Garden Festival due to be held in five years time . .

As with all these dreams, there is never any resolution, and poor Richie is probably waiting still. It does dawn on me that that it might come as a surprise to the poor guy to find himself starring in my nightmare, but hey, my subconscious was obviously going to go with the top-flight A-list presenters for this important venture, so who else could I possibly have chosen? The guy was a legend on breakfast.

Well, from vinyl to CDs to playout systems to apps, my dreams of radio are adapting to modern technology, but the underlying theme is staying the same.

Well, at least that’s it done for the moment. There won’t be another radio-based nightmare for six to nine months or so, and goodness knows what technology I’ll be using in that one . .

Steve


The Tower, One St George Wharf (photo)

Looming into the mist above the River Thames, this massive tower and crane captured my interest on a recent walk, but would later be the scene of a tragic helicopter accident.

The Tower, One St George Wharf seen from Westminster, with the tip of the crane shrouded in low cloud

The Tower, One St George Wharf seen from Westminster, with the tip of the crane shrouded in low cloud

The Tower, One St George Wharf under construction in November 2012

The Tower, One St George Wharf under construction in October 2012

Walking along the Thames Path from Westminster one cold and misty day in October 2012, I couldn’t help but be drawn to the sight of the massive tower under construction on the south bank of the river. Standing far taller than the surrounding skyline, the crane alongside and tethered to it served to make it look somewhat like a rocket on the launchpad, waiting to blast off with spacebound cargo, the image all the more appropriate given it’s location just streets away from the London HQ of the British Interplanetary Society.

I was compelled to photograph it, and it made a great landmark on my walk as I came towards and finally past it.

How sad today to see it at the centre of a very tragic accident involving a diverted helicopter which crashed having clipped the crane in cloudy conditions.

However much we reach skywards, however proudly our buildings and our machines rise upwards in defiance of the laws of gravity, it takes so very little in the way or circumstance, or weather, to bring us crashing down again.

But we will keep building high, keep flying, keep reaching for the stars. It’s what we do.

Steve


HMV & Blockbuster, The Melting Glaciers Of My Past

How one branch of HMV kept Radio Caroline afloat in the 80s, and Blockbuster rescued my life

Blockbuster

The new that both Blockbuster and HMV in the UK have gone into administration this week would have been a huge blow to my much younger self, for whom those stores were an essential component of living.

I remember the first time I saw a Blockbuster Video – it was such a revelation compared to the tiny stores that were all we knew in the mid 80s, and where any enquiry for a popular video would be met with the new that their only copy was out on loan.

The arrival of Blockbuster in Ashford, Kent in 1989 was quite the most exciting thing to happen to the town since . . well, since my arrival earlier in the year.

Ashford in modern times has grown to a massive extent and now has a huge international station, but when I went to live there in 1989 it had little in the way of excitement, and the only cinema was soon to be demolished. Apart from the lure of the nearby countryside, the only thing that possibly kept me there was the girlfriend who had lured me to Kent in the first place.

Blockbuster was great, there was dozens of copies of each video, and many more titles than you could get elsewhere. I was a firm customer in those days.

I can’t remember when I last rented a video or DVD, it would have been sometime in the late 90s, but by 2000 it was more economic to buy rather than rent, especially as I can be something of a collector.

So I guess I’m as responsible as anyone for the demise of the store.

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HMV is a different story. This is a store I still use to this very day, for although I no longer buy music from them (preferring to purchase online) I still regularly impulse buy DVDs from their store in Dublin. In fact you could say that they were the beneficiary of my lost Blockbuster custom.

One store will always have a special place in my heart though – HMV in Oxford Street, London.

Here it was during my period as Programme Controller of Radio Caroline in the late 80s that I would come to buy music in bulk, to bring out to the North Sea with me. Usually hotfooting it over from Chelsea, following a meeting with Ronan O’Rahilly, I would have a bundle of money provided for music purchases, and I would spend this carefully, buying as many new albums as possible, rather than singles, so that we would have fresh music for the weeks and months ahead.

I remember one day spending £400 in the store in a single visit – which, in todays money amounts to £884 (or over a thousand euro).  My arms were aching by the time I had dragged my two heavy rucksacks of music from oxford Street, all the way to Victoria Station, down to Dover on the train, across to Calais, and on to Dunkirk from when our supply ship departed.

The Oxford Street store also had another connection to Caroline – it had an in-house radio station where many DJs worked while on leave from the ship – I remember Simon West being the mainstay there, but there were others too. Simon always made sure that advance or promo copies of new tracks given to the station were left in a package for me to collect and bring out to the ship also, so it was a “safe” way for record companies and promoters to get their product out to the ship.

In later years, that same store was where I bought my first console games – Super Mario 2 and 3, and Zelda for the Nintendo.

Hopefully the stores can survive, though these are indeed changed time, and I fear they will not.

Another iceberg from my past melted to nothing.

Steve


Pictures of Empty Sea

to view the wholly perfect horizon around you in full 360 degrees, nothing but water as far as you can see, with your own self at the perfect centre of it

Just sea, and sky, and horizon - the beauty of an empty sea

Just sea, and sky, and horizon – the beauty of an empty sea

This set of photos comes to you by request – your request.

Every week, sometimes as often as every day, a particular phrase pop up in my search referrer logs (the bit in my stats which tells me what people were searching for on Google or other search engines which led them to click through to this site).

“pictures of empty sea” or sometimes just “empty sea”

Several people a week, over the last three years, a steady stream from around the world, adds up to quite a few views over the years, and all looking for empty sea.

This blog is actually the first result presented on Google for “images of empty sea” and the second for the text phrase “empty sea”.

This all stems from a post I wrote almost five years ago, talking about a particular scene in a book I had just completed writing, then known as “Somewhere Down The Crazy River” but since published as “Shiprocked – Life On The Waves With Radio Caroline”.

The post contained a shot of the view from the Caroline ship – nothing but the horizon and empty sea. And it’s that picture which has brought people here. But since so many people come to look for it, and the sea is, and always has been, my lover, I’ve decided to share a few more of the intimate pictures taken during our many trysts.

It's not all sunshine - a classic grey sky, grey sea, so often the view.

It’s not all sunshine – a classic grey sky, grey sea, so often the view.

As always, you can click on any picture for a bigger version. All pictures taken of the North Sea (or its daughter the Waddenzzee ) off the English and Dutch coasts, unless otherwise specified, during my stints on Radio Caroline and Radio Seagull.

Let's look through . .the round window. Whatt do we see . . the empty sea.

Let’s look through . .the round window. What do we see?  . . the empty sea.

When I went to work on the offshore radio ships, people kept asking if life was boring. After all, the sea was the sea, and was always the same they reasoned.

Boring? When the view through the porthole is never the same two days in a row? The sea is a mistress of infinite moods.

Blue sky, blue sea, an unlimited horizon on the Atlantic.

Blue sky, blue sea, an unlimited horizon on the Atlantic.

Evening falls on the Waddenzee

Evening falls on the Waddenzee

A cold wind, and a lumpy sea - slight to moderate in nautical terms.

A cold wind, and a lumpy sea – slight to moderate in nautical terms.

The almost dreamlike quality of the sea pounded and smoothed by a torrential downpour - photographed through a porthole at eye-level to my bunk - what a gorgeous way to wake up!

The almost dreamlike quality of the sea pounded and smoothed by a torrential downpour – photographed through a porthole at eye-level to my bunk – what a gorgeous way to wake up!

The sun is about to rise over an empty sea

The sun is about to rise over an empty sea

Sunrise 2

Sunrise 2

Sunrise complete - 5.26AM in early June.

Sunrise complete – 5.26AM in early June.

The pink tinge of sunrise on the waters of the Waddenzee

The pink tinge of sunrise on the waters of the Waddenzee

So, those are the “empty sea photos.

Below I include a couple more, where the sea is not quite empty, but which I feel are similarly beautiful.

For some reason this photo brings back the most intense memories of the "feel" of being at sea - grey skies, moderate sea, and a fishing boat just glimpsed through a spray-streaked porthole. I can almost hear the wind moaning in the superstructure . .

For some reason this photo brings back the most intense memories of the “feel” of being at sea – grey skies, moderate sea, and a fishing boat just glimpsed through a spray-streaked porthole. I can almost hear the wind moaning in the superstructure . .

4.55AM, I've been on watch overnight, and am just about to make another round of the ship and check anchor chain in the pre-dawn light.

4.55AM, I’ve been on watch overnight, and am just about to make another round of the ship and check anchor chain in the pre-dawn light.

A little later, and the sun is risen.

A little later, and the sun is risen.

Wonderful experiences and a great life. The radio was exciting, but the sea was always breathtaking.

Always my lover, I’m not sure if I possess her soul, or she mine.

A beautiful and lonely place to live and work

A beautiful and lonely place to live and work

I hope you enjoyed these as much as I did.

Steve

 


More on Fairy Tree & Forbidden Ground

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Amongst the response to my post on things seen in 2012, the Fairy Tree and the Forbidden Ground sign have elicited the following query from a UK-based reader, the always inspiring Christopher England (whose own blog can be found here).

Chris says:

“I’ve never seen fairy trees before. I guess it’s an Irish thing. It reminded me of the Tibetan wind-prayer flags that are placed alone and forever, right up in the remote parts of the mountains. Although they do wear and come to pieces in the wind, many remain there long after the person originating the prayer has died. That always makes them something special, imho”

The fairy tree, while not exclusive to this island, does seem to have a long connection with Irish superstition and folklore.

Although I was unaware of them myself before coming across this example in a Dublin park, according to this site they can be found at many locations around the country.  There is certainly a lot of fairy folklore in Ireland, and I remember my father pointing out to me the fairy rings and fairy forts in rural Cork and Tipperary when I was very young, and noting how farmers would avoid ploughing or disturbing the ground at these locations.

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Perhaps more common in Ireland is the Holy Well or Holy Bush – these can be found in many rural locations, and to this day you will still find strips of ribbon and clothing tied to trees at a “holy” location on a roadside.

The only time I ever saw anything similar in the UK was at Barnes Common, where the tree that killed Marc Bolan is still visited and decorated regularly by his fans, despite the passage of four decades.

A path in a park in Co. Kerry is blocked after a bridge is washed away in a storm. The choice of wording on the warning sign makes it seem far more interesting . .

A path in a park in Co. Kerry is blocked after a bridge is washed away in a storm. The choice of wording on the warning sign makes it seem far more interesting . .

Chris goes on to comment on the “Forbidden Ground” sign I photographed in Co. Kerry.

“Also, possibly an Irish thing, is the phrase ‘Forbidden Ground’. An interesting choice of words I’ve not seen before, being more used to ‘Restricted Area’ or the like”.

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This one is certainly not Irish, and I am as baffled as Chris by its usage to cordon off a closed pathway in Reenagross Park, Kenmare.  I have never seen the phrase “Forbidden Ground” used in a civilian context, and the crime-scene style tape makes it look even more curious. That forbidden zone is just begging to be penetrated if you ask me!

Chris goes on to comment:

“with regard to the many ‘Do Not’ signs in the Dublin Dockland, and mindful of it being an area with an ‘Explosive Atmosphere’, they do seem to have missed out a pretty obvious one of ‘Do Not Smoke’”

Just down the road from the original sign here:

On the subject of warning notices, this one in Dublin Docklands is pretty comprehensive. Is there anything you ARE allowed to do?

On the subject of warning notices, this one in Dublin Docklands is pretty comprehensive. Is there anything you ARE allowed to do?

there is another one, on a presumably similarly explosive compound, which does caution against smoking, as well as “spark ignition vehicles” (petrol engines to you and me)  – the first time I’ve seen that warning., although apparently if you make a prior arrangement, they are not dangerous . .

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As for what is hidden behind the fence, well that also has some interesting signage:

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The “Stripping Pumphouse” eh?

Now THAT’S what I call “forbidden ground” in goold old catholic Ireland!

Steve