As a newbie, the XFM studio looked like it was lit like the spaceship at the end of Close Encounters.
Buttons, faders, meters and the like connected to carts, cd players, decks and to trigger the adverts. I was going to mess up, 100% guaranteed. No doubt about it. There was a lot to learn and any errors I made would be on air to tens of thousands.
I was given a hole in the wall where record companies would send me records and CDs almost every day along with press releases. There were a mix of big name artists to CDs that aspiring bedroom music producers had burned themselves. I listened to each and every one of them and used them where I could. I was allowed to play anything I wanted. Anything. Occasionally I was asked to play a particular artist, which I was ok with. Unless I wasn’t, in which case I didn’t play them.
The show was on before Twitter was a thing. This meant that the only real-time feedback was through text messages to the station or people who phoned in. People who did text in were usually requesting the tunes that were on during the day. So, I’d be playing a 20 minute mix from a guest musician like JunkieXL and someone would text in for some Razorlight or suchlike. No. You’re not getting it.
Sometimes I did competitions where I gave away a CD copy of the worst compilation of dance crap imaginable. Really, really dire stuff, and usually a style that wouldn’t fit in with the music I was playing. Unsurprisingly, I couldn’t give the stuff away. I was told that, if I didn’t get any entrants, I was to make up the names of winners and announce it on air.
An even more worrying trend was when I was asked to fake competitions completely. Sometimes the show was pre-recorded. I’d come in in advance to the smaller studio and record the show into chunks to fit between ad breaks, then load it into the system and programme the carts to go on air. One week I was planning my pre-record when my producer gave me three cds to give away as a prize.
I explained that I couldn’t run a live competition. I wasn’t going to be live. “Just fake it”, I was told. So, there I was, on a Saturday morning, being asked to pretend that I was running a competition live that night, and being asked to make up names of winners in advance. You have to bear in mind, this was right in the middle of the phone-in scandals on the TV. I couldn’t figure it out. What was the point of a crap CD giveaway with no real winners? That was a low point.
Occasionally we were allowed out of the studio. XFM put on big bands at small studios. In my time, there were gigs from Snow Patrol and Primal Scream in King Tuts Wah Wah Hut in Glasgow, with an audience of around 300.
As a perk of being there, I DJ’d at the Primal Scream gig alongside the legend Andy Wetherall. I was delighted to discover that he was as short as I, although he was dressed like a WW1 fighter pilot.
Our DJ outings included a double-decker bus in the campsite at T in the Park, which was as bizarre as it sounds. We also did a gig at a shopping centre in Leith which led to a very odd night.
To bolster publicity, XFM brought up the wonderful Eddy Temple-Morris to headline, while a couple other XFM Scotland DJs, including me, warmed up. The whole thing was to be broadcast live. I went on, and had a good time. Then I was informed that there had been a technical issue back in Glasgow. There’d been radio silence and that damned emergency tape had kicked in. The show we were doing live wasn’t being broadcast as planned. All this on a Saturday night which had been promoted on air all that week. There were glum faces all round.
It was left to me to race back along the M8 – a good 60 mile journey – to get into the studio and get some tunes online until the next show was due to begin. Ordinarily for a show, I had a prepared playlist, or even pre-mixed segments. This, however, was all on the fly, rummaging through my bag to try and find things to play while operating the studio, triggering ads, and set the other pre-recorded shows up to play properly.
I don’t think I ever got paid for that….