Radio virgin at 54

Radio virgin

There is an old saying that if a job is worth doing it is worth buggering about a lot before you start (or something like that). At the tender age of 23, I got my backside in gear and got involved with hospital radio. I phoned in match reports from Elland Road, a tricky task at that time, trying to make the games sound interesting. It was also long before the advent of mobile phones (at least for me) so I had to use a pay phone in the back of the bar which meant constant interruptions. Anyway, my real job got in the way of my budding radio career before I even graduated to having my own show. I said I would go back to it once I had more time. Just thirty one years later I am back!

I left the world of corporate IT just before Christmas and said at the time it was a chance to do things I wanted to do rather than things I had to. Something in radio was secretly part of that list. But, if opportunities for a 23 year old in 1984 were limited, surely a 54 year old today has no chance? At least that is what I thought. However, while on holiday in Florida over Christmas I did a bit of a web trawl and the South Leeds Media site caught my eye. Formerly known as South Leeds Community Radio, these nice people offer radio production courses amongst other things. I fired off an email and, just two months later, got a reply. I told you there was no point rushing these things. Anyway, it turned out there was a course about to start and would I like a place? Yes please was the obvious reply and I was in.

The course

So, on a cold Tuesday night, six of us sat rather nervously in the studio in Beeston and wondered what we had let ourselves in for. (As did Phil – the technical brains of the outfit who was our tutor.)The course consisted of four sessions, each a couple of hours long. Week one was introducing us to the techie equipment – very different to 1984. We soon got to play with the mixing desk, studio and guest microphones, pc media players, CD players and headphones. We also got to look at the stuff we weren’t allowed to touch – compressors and clever stuff like that. These came under the heading of “if you don’t understand what these do – leave them alone” – wise advice in any working environment.

Radio virgin - South Leeds Community Radio studio
South Leeds Community Radio studio

Week two was devoted to the software to be used – RadioDJ to play the music and Adobe Audition to record and edit the shows. In true IT style, I scurried away to download the software at home and play with it there. Nothing scary, except that it is PC based and we have recently switched to Apple. Once I was comfortable with both packages, I realised that GarageBand would do a good job and the old laptop was mothballed once again – narrowly averting Ruth’s nightmare of a Houston style control centre consisting of multiple desktops and laptops.

By the third week we had lost a couple of the original group but gained others. The topic for the week was interviewing techniques. Portable recorders were explained and dished out and role playing chaos ensued. Remembering to speak into the pointy end before aiming the microphone at the interviewee is not as easy as it looks. Not swearing is quite a challenge as well. Making an idiot of yourself is fine – there is an edit facility. If only life were like that.

Radio virgin - Radio production course week 4
Radio virgin – Radio production course week 4

By week four, we were putting together a programme, all of us taking turns to present, interview, be interviewed etc. Hopefully, this will never see the light of day but good fun nevertheless. We were then invited back to speak to the station managers and pitch ideas for programmes. I went with a music show based on the classic era of soul music – early sixties to mid seventies, plus a bit of disco and modern soul as I see fit. They were happy with it and I have now recorded two shows with a third to come this week. I am still waiting to hear when they will be scheduled, maybe it is their way to wait until I have practised a bit before unleashing me! It is certainly a strange experience to sit in a room and talk to yourself. Strangely enough i did this quite a lot towards the end of my time with a certain bank so should have been good preparation!

I suppose it is a bit like passing a driving test. only by being allowed out unsupervised do you learn how to drive. My two attempts so far have certainly taught me things to avoid doing but, after thirty one years waiting, I don’t care if things are a bit rough around the edges. i am enjoying it immensely and, one way or another, I will get better!

The show

As a preview, I have uploaded show one to Mixcloud. Remember – it is not as easy as it looks!! Feedback and requests welcome.

Soul Man 1 by Roy Burgess on Mixcloud

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It’s science innit

Science has always been a bit of a mystery.

My Christmas present from Ruth’s parents (Tom and Dot) came with strings attached. Well, not real strings like a puppet but conditions. I was required to understand how it worked and write up an explanation. I suspect this was in response to my stupid questions over the years. As a physicist I suspected Dot could explain the mysteries of the universe for me. I started the Ask Dot routine many years ago with “Why doesn’t the electricity fall out of the holes when you take a plug out” (frankly, I am not sure about her response and this still worries me). She quickly accepted that her eldest daughter had married an idiot and has since tackled many such questions.

Anyway, back to the gift. It is called an Impossible Balancer and was featured in the BBC programme QI in January last year. If you are going to click on the link and watch the clip I will be very offended if you don’t come back. I can wait.

Science - The Impossible Balancer at rest
Science – The Impossible Balancer at rest

It probably hasn’t escaped your notice that it is almost five months since Christmas and I haven’t responded yet. In my defence, we were away for the holiday so didn’t get the present until January but I accept that my homework is long overdue. I delayed until I could devote enough time to this to understand the science involved. I know it will come as a shock but I am not a proper scientist, unless mixing cocktails counts. When I was eight I had a book called something like 100 Amazing Facts. I figured this was enough to see me through and further study was probably over doing it.

I don’t even have an ology

My only proper excuse for my lack of knowledge is the school timetable from forty years ago. Both Physics and Chemistry were scheduled straight after PE. The science labs were on the third floor of the building. By the time I had slogged round a cross country course or flopped over like a beached Olga Korbett for an hour I was good for nothing, never mind hauling a huge holdall (so called because it had to hold all the contents of WH Smiths as well as smelly trainers) up to the top floor and actively participate in a class. As a result, unless it involved actually setting fire to stuff, my interest tended to wander. I scraped a C at Physics O level (probably the equivalent to a degree these days) but Chemistry was unceremoniously dropped as soon as I got the chance.

During the intervening forty years I have often thought that I should plug the gaps in my knowledge. However, a bit like cleaning the oven, I acknowledge that other people do it, it would improve my quality of life but somehow never comes to the top of my list of fun things to do next.

So, given the obvious lack of scientific background to work it out for myself, the obvious thing is RTFM. My IT background and gender obviously prevents me from reading instruction manuals of any kind. However, this one is just one, quite small piece of paper. How hard could it be? The answer would appear to be quite a bit. The next step, as with any problem was Google. I was quickly immersed in research papers from various universities. To give you an idea what I was up against, here is an extract from Motion of the Tippe Top Gyroscopic Balance Condition and Stability
Takahiro UEDA∗, Ken SASAKI† and Shinsuke WATANABE.
Figure 1:
A loaded sphere (eccentric) version of the tippe top. The center of mass
O is off center (S) by distance a. The tippe top spins on a horizontal table with
point of contact P. Its axis of symmetry, Oz, and the vertical axis, OZ, define a
plane Π, which precesses about OZ with angular velocity Ω(t) = (0, 0, Ω). OXYZ is
a rotating frame of reference with OX horizontal in the plane Π. The height of O
above the table is h(θ) = R−acosθ, where R is the radius. The position vector of
P from O is XP = (XP,0,ZP), where XP = dh and ZP = −h(θ).

This is a 51 page document and, to be honest, I’m not sure they understand it either. So, on the grounds that I won’t get away with putting it down to magic (I’ve tried that in the past and it doesn’t work, especially in A level Economics exams), here is my idiot’s guide.

The scientific bit!

As the explanation in the box says, the most important feature is that the centre of mass does not sit in the geometric centre of the top. In other words, when you spin the top it gets a bit of a wobble on (just like me!).

Science - The Impossible Balancer starts to wobble
Science – The Impossible Balancer starts to wobble

Rather than spinning on a single spot, the top will slide in a circle, usually falling off the kitchen worktop. However, with practice, this can be controlled. The point where the top spins creates friction with the surface, creating a twisting force that we scientists call torque (as opposed to speaking which we call talk). Now the clever bit. Because the centre isn’t the centre (see above and try to keep up), the side of the top will be pulled down and it will spin on its side. The pointy bit is no longer rotating about its axis but spinning sideways.

Science - The Impossible Balancer spinning sideways
Science – The Impossible Balancer spinning sideways

As the pointy bit slows down (friction) it will touch the work surface, exerting more friction which in turn increases the torque. This is enough to lift the top and flip it onto the pointy bit. Inertia means that the top still wants to spin but, as it is now upside down (on the pointy bit) it will spin in the opposite direction.

Science - The Impossible Balancer on the pointy bit and spinning the other way - hoopla
Science – The Impossible Balancer on the pointy bit and spinning the other way – hoopla

I could have spun this out to 51 pages but I am not a proper scientist.

I am visiting Tom and Dot tomorrow so need a good question to ask. I think a glass of wine will be needed to come up with a good one. After all, it’s science innit.

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