Tuesday 30 July 2013

The Last Farewell

It was May 2000. Two burly security guards burst into my office and escorted me off the premises at Century 106 in Nottingham, as my time in management there ended and the Capital Group ownership began.  It was an uncomfortable moment; and I was not planning to leave without a fight.

At least, that was the rumour I later heard from various sources.  Tales like that fascinate me. Whoever decided to create the wholly fictitious story had clearly decided that one security guard was not enough. It had to be two.

The truth was altogether more prosaic. I’d resigned, and Capital’s lovely Julie Fair journeyed from BRMB for the staff meeting to announce future plans.  When she phoned en route, I reassured her I’d put the kettle on.  Which I duly did.  The staff meeting passed without incident and we all gathered for some Macon Village later.

The sale of Absolute to Bauer brings back memories for me of last time the keys to One Golden Square were handed over.

It’s a reality in any business now that, if you’re fortunate enough to have been running something  from the top table and someone else buys it, they'll want to do it their way and that means there's just a chance they may not  need you.  There’s a thoroughly grown up response to that. They’ve bought the train set and they can play with it how they like.  But, given this is radio, and given we genuinely feel such passion for it, there’s the private temptation to want to lie on your back in the office, legs flailing, and scream like a spoilt three year old because the runny-nosed lad next door has stolen your toy.

When a company’s taken over, there is a phoney war period.  Nothing changes; albeit it feels a little ‘end of termy’.  Then, suddenly, there’s a ‘moment’ when the reality hits.  A significant decision taken without your knowledge; or people just treating you a little bit differently. It’s not that they were in any way deferential before, for goodness sake, it’s just that people are more interested in their futures than your past.
When Capital first arrived to survey their new Century assets, as they acquired the former Border TV radio interests in the year 2000,  I peered out the first floor window of the 106 offices in a less than beautiful part of Nottingham.  A succession of stretched black cars pulled up and the smooth Capital management team got out, in force.  It reminded me a little of those films of Wartime Europe.  Of course it was sad: we’d built a great team and more than doubled the audience in two years; 106 had just broken into profit; and I had the feeling that the format was about to break through.  And it was my home town.  Capital though, felt that a male-targeted ‘fun and football’ format was the answer for this market with only a CHR competitor, so I thought I’d leave them to it.

As Virgin morphed into Absolute in 2008, the farewell was probably one of the nicest ever, as befits the team there.  I’d always known my spell at the Company was likely to be short, given the 'For Sale' sign outside.  As I walked down the wonderful Carnaby Street, en route to One Golden Square, I cherished the moment each morning.  When Clive and the TIML guys arrived, they were open, pleasant and honest, and I hope the ‘we can probably manage without you’ conversation was not a difficult one for them to have with me.  Clive, bless him, squeezed in a small desk for himself in a dark corner next to the coat stand; whilst I remained in my office with seeming impunity, gazing over sunny Golden Square.  And, as they planned their changes, he talked them over with me, lest I knew of any relevant buried bodies.  It was a dignified end.  And the farewell, well it was true Golden Square style.  Hic.  That team will forever have a warm place in my heart.  Not many companies allow you a farewell blog on their own website.

As Huntingford/Riley/Thomson's exceptional Chrysalis Radio became the foundation for an ambitious Global Radio in 2007, I had a feeling Ashley and Richard would want to do it their way. I resigned as LBC MD, probably just before they’d had the chance to finalise their management plans, which I suspect would likely not have had a seat for me.  I said to Richard Park: 'I think we'd argue'.  He said not; but on this rare occasion, he's probably wrong.  But, turning on the radio now and hearing ‘London’s Biggest Conversation gives me a huge sense of pride.  We’d been a key part of the rehabilitation journey for this talk station; and they’ve now taken it forward in their way to become the giant it deserved to be.  

A little like splitting from a lover, there’s a time when it hurts to turn on the radio and spend time with your old station.  But after a decent interval, you can become friends again.

BBC farewells appear a little odder. They de-activated my card access key the second I resigned.  I was stuck in a hallway, banging on the door.  I guess that's what happens when you only bother staying in post two weeks. Sorry.

By the way, for the record, there is nothing timely about this blog whatsoever. I rather hope I'm not about to wave any more goodbyes just yet.

But when you’re a spiky young jock, well, you can afford a little more dramatic emotion, albeit painfully embarrassing to reflect upon now.  I walked out of Leicester Sound in a 1991 fit of pique; and left Trent in a 1987 quest for a management gig. Those were simpler exits. I just cried.

 Last Trent link and Carpenters wow-in

Grab a copy of my book 'How to Make Great Radio', published by Biteback


  1. "A little like splitting from a lover, there’s a time when it hurts to turn on the radio and spend time with your old station."

    Very poignant and perceptive ~ and sadly you can't 'spend time' with them as most of those old stations have now gone.

  2. Great post...I've heard the stories for many years of how presenters and I guess some in management are treated when their time at a station comes to an end.

    It doesn't happen everywhere...or perhaps I should say that it didn't, suspect its the norm these days.

    We hear similar tales in other businesses too, where personal possessions are boxed ready for you to take with you. And you are stopped from even saying "goodbye" to those you may've worked with only hours ago and perhaps for years.

    Also as Len says most of the old stations no longer exist.

    I thought it was you at LBC(but did not want to put my foot in it if I was wrong)I thought you were doing a great job there. LBC coming onto DAB and being available across most of the UK had me purchaing my first DAB radio and tuning in to LBC a lot.

    Not so much these days I'll admit and I have returned to listening to a lot of BBC radio or stations via the internet like Len's.

    Always interesting to read your views and opinions...


  3. I once had a lovely letter from someone who was "Let Go" when the new money came in. It was a surprise, because we'd not spoken for a while since I'd moved out of the area. It said a lot, between the lines and was a sad indictment of the way once "valued" People can just be dug up and thrown out by the new brooms with the fancy ideas, forward facing haircuts and overblown expense accounts.

    Horrible that People can work very hard to get a station liked and create a loyalty, which is then wiped out by someone who knows better and "Because it worked in Brighton it will work in Bolton" sort of thing. Bet you could get nostalgic memories and a longing for the way a station used to be from people in many parts of the country infected by the Big Corporates today.


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