Sunday, 7 November 2010

Ricky Gervais, Jarvis Cocker, Ed Byrne and Peter Kay

The 2010 Student Radio Awards take place this week. I am usually involved as a judge, and this year I had the privilege of arguing over who should win the non-news speech category. I was also asked to contribute my memories of the first two* awards ceremonies.

Although some of the key moments of the first (in 1996) spring readily to mind, I had to ask where the 1997 awards were held. At this point they probably should have taken me off the project.

They didn't, so I made an appeal on Facebook and Twitter to see if anyone else could remember anything about either awards.

Despite several people coming forward, which at least established the 1997 awards' location (Oxford), it seems there is a general air of folk amnesia surrounding what happened. This, I think, suggests both were a spectacular success.

If you were at either event (or the third in '98 at Brick Lane), please add your comments below. This is a slightly re-written version of what I submitted to the 2010 awards organisers:

"Details of the first two Sudent Radio Awards are largely lost in the mists of time, with most of the participants now dead, or having faded into insignificance.

This was in the days before your social medias, your so-called Facebooks and fancy Twitterspaces. Hard though it may be to imagine, mobile phones were the size and weight of gold ingots, with about the same functionality.

There were no digital cameras (thankfully), and because the water in the last century wasn't safe to drink, most students survived on a form of methanol suspended in food colouring, known as Mad Dog 20/20.

As a result almost no records of these events taking place actually exist, and the ones that do are a little hazy. But ULU 96 and Oxford Brookes 97 did definitely happen, much to the surprise of almost everyone involved.

This much I know. In November 1995 I was elected Chair of the SRA. In December 1995 I wrote (when people conducted business by sending letters in the post to each other) to Matthew Bannister, the then Controller of Radio 1, suggesting the SRA and Radio 1 set up a student radio awards.

He wrote back, on a letter (I know!), two weeks later, saying it was a jolly good idea and that we ought to come down to Radio 1 to discuss it.

For a student with far-off dreams of working in the radio industry this was like receiving an invitation to the Emerald City.

Armed with the Secretary of the SRA and a nice man called Dan McEvoy (now a high up at 5live) who independently had the same idea as me, we converged on an office somewhere in Yalding House (or was it Egton? It was probably the now-demolished Egton).

There we were welcomed by the poshest woman I have ever met. In a faintly disinterested manner, she told us Matthew Bannister was sorry he couldn't come to our meeting, but he really wanted the awards to happen and so they would.

We went away and did everything we could to make sure student stations entered the competition and came to the event. Radio 1 put a genuinely fantastic team (not including the posh lady, who I never saw again) on the case, who provided patient, friendly and expert guidance whilst making sure the very first Radio 1 Student Radio Awards was worthy of the name.

The first ceremony took place at the University of London Union in November 1996. The Evening Session's Jo Whiley and Steve Lamacq hosted. The gig afterwards featured the bands Shoot, The Longpigs and Space.

The compere at the gig was a chubby, cheerful northern fella called Peter Kay, who had recorded childrens' TV theme tunes onto a dictaphone, and spent most of his act playing them out through the PA and saying "Remember that?".

Jarvis Cocker, one of the most famous people in the country, was on the guest list that night. I remember seeing his name and asking the Radio 1 press person "Why is Jarvis Cocker on the guest list?".

She said "Dunno, we thought he might like to come, we invited him, and he said yes..."

Never going to happen, I thought. A few hours later I was standing at the bar and Jarvis Cocker walked past. "Jarvis Cocker!" I blurted, in amazement.

"Hello." he said politely, and walked on. The man who wrote Common People and who, the previous year, had headlined Glastonbury with Pulp, had just popped his head round the door at an event I helped set up.

Mind you the Ents Manager at ULU...

Me: "Is the ents manager alright with us coming here and taking over most of his union for a private function on a Friday night?"
Radio 1 person: "yeah he's fine. He's a really nice bloke actually..."
.... was Ricky Gervais, who was 8 years away from being in the same room as Clint Eastwood and Jack Nicholson, clutching a Golden Globe for The Office.

It was a good night.

The second Radio 1 Student Radio awards was the centrepiece of the 1997 Student Radio Association autumn conference, held at Oxford Brookes University. Word had spread through the student radio community (using some sort of rudimentary semaphore) about the success of the inaugural event and loads of students from all over the country piled into Oxford.

All the talk was of Oxygen 107.9, the student radio station which had broken out of closed-loop AM broadcasting and FM RSLs to win a permanent FM licence. We all know how that turned out. Oh well.

The star turn at the awards was Ed Byrne, a hilarious young comedian who went on to become the voice of Mowbli in the Carphone Warehouse adverts, and despite never having to work again, is a now an older, but still hilarious, award-winning comedian.

Ed was effectively hired to give us all a laugh before the awards started, but when Dave Pearce dropped out of presenting duties due to illness, Ed was forced to announce himself as the host, a job he did with considerable aplomb, given it had been sprung on him at the last moment.

There are rumours that Oxford Brookes marked the first sit-down dinner at a student radio awards, but I don't remember it like that. At ULU the refreshments were basically crisps, nuts and beer. I seem to remember us being seated theatre-style for Oxford Brookes.

Having trawled around for peoples' memories, that recollection appears to be in dispute.

As I say, it's all a little hazy now."

I'd like to wish all the students who have been nominated for awards this year the very best of luck. The standard in the category I judged was particularly high, and there is some genuine talent there, which I hope the industry will be in good enough shape to pick up before long.


*The Radio 1/student radio awards relationship had actually existed well before the "first" ones in 1996. I didn't know this when I first approached Radio 1, and neither did the people at Radio 1. At that time there was something of a scorched earth policy towards Radio 1's previous regime and everything it represented.

The previous existence of an older awards scheme became apparent when we were working on the new ones. The discovery that Radio 1, in its incredibly naff phase, had held a relationship with the Student Radio Association's predecessor NASB (National Association of Student Broadcasters) filled me with terror. If Radio 1 discovered the previous regime had also thought holding a student radio awards was a good idea, they might feel it was tainted by association and drop the new one like a shot.

Nonetheless I felt I had to bring it to Radio 1's attention. After all, knowing the awards had existed previously hardly meant we could launch the new awards as the first.

The conversation went something like this:

Me: "Er... I've discovered that Radio 1 used to have a student radio awards scheme which it ran with our predecessor organisation."
Radio 1 person: "And...?"
Me: "Well that means this isn't the first Radio 1 student radio awards, like we've been calling them."
Radio 1: "Oh, I don't think we need to worry about it now."
Me: "Er... okay."

And so the new awards were born. The first between Radio 1 and the SRA, and the ones that have grown into the extraordinary talent-sourcing behemoth they are today.

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