Back podcasting at last

Ten years ago I started a weekly podcast called UK DVD Review and for a while it was in the top ten of all podcasts of all types across the world. Chiefly, I think, because there were only nine podcasts at the time. For five years that became an important show for me in how it seemed to validate certain things I believe about radio: for instance the fact that you may be broadcasting but you’re only ever speaking to one person.

It was a factual series yet I also got to dabble in drama. I remember some Top Gear DVD coming out the same week as a Knight Rider one so I had an episode that purported to be coming live from a race track somewhere. Top Gear’s the Stig in a race against Knight Rider’s KITT. The joke of it being that the two cars zoomed off leaving me behind and I spent the rest of the episode getting back to my home studio.

Or there’s an okay film called The Prestige which is based on a deeply wonderful novel by Christopher Priest and I reckoned there was a bit of The Princess Bride effect about it: if you saw the film first, you preferred it to the book and vice versa. (The Princess Bride film is not one pixel as good as the book.) So I staged an argument with one person as a fan of the film and the other as a fan of the book instead. Only, I was both of them. I argued with myself and it was all about writing dialogue that had pace and vigour but also difference. I did muck around with the stereo image so that one of me was on the left of your speakers, one on the right, and I did do a spot of acting to just make the tiniest change in my voices.

But it was the writing that did it. The real reason for doing UK DVD Review, before it became an important part of my life just for itself, was that I am a scriptwriter and I wanted to practice writing dialogue. It was my own dialogue, I scripted every word but the secondmost thing I’m proud of in the whole thing is that you couldn’t know that. I promise you couldn’t and that mattered to me a lot.

The firstmost thing I’m proud of, by the way, is that to this day I have friends I made because of that show. I used to do this thing where I’d end the year with a poll and have people voting on the best DVD releases. For the very last episode I’d get them on and we’d have a blather. Loved it.

That was the best part of the year but it was also why I stopped. In 2010, I ended the podcast because I simply could not give it enough time to do that end of the year show well enough. I often wonder whether I should’ve found a way and it touches my very soul how often I get asked to bring it back.

I haven’t brought it back. This time last week, I had no thought of doing a podcast of any description. I have been contributing to one by, the Macintosh News Network site that I write a bit for, but that’s just being an occasional guest. Plus I got to do an episode of Gigi Peterkin’s The Successful Failure and I remember telling her how good it was to have a little taste of radio again. I’ve done a fair bit of being interviewed on BBC local radio too and it’s all been reminding me how much I love this stuff.

Then I did some work with Birmingham City University that included a minute or three just walking through their seven radio studios. There is something inexpressibly great about a radio studio but I’m going to try expressing it. I think it’s the potency, the pregnant feel that this still, quiet, empty space can and will become alive and vibrant and an entire new world.

In retrospect, I shouldn’t be surprised that I’m back doing a podcast but I hadn’t thought of it until a casual chat last Monday. MacNN staffers were discussing how well the podcast is going and somehow the idea of an extra weekly episode was floated. By Wednesday night, I’d produced the first episode of what’s called MacNN: One More Thing and it’s available on iTunes and Soundcloud right now. It’s a separate series, though you get it in the same iTunes feed as the main show, and I co-present it with MacNN news writer Malcolm Owen.

So it’s not the same as UK DVD Review in that I don’t have to find ways to carry each episode by myself and it’s more about technology than arts but I’m producing and co-presenting. This is week 1 and actually I don’t know how long this will go on for. The ratings are already good but One More Thing is here in part because there’s a lot of Apple news going on at the moment and that will ebb and flow. One More Thing may need to run in seasons. We’ll see.

But, oh, to be producing again, even if it were just for one episode. I cannot explain the sheer joy of crafting radio: hearing your own voice as just one more asset to be edited and used. Shaping a programme, driving it forward, applying all my news skills to making a topical, timely, interesting episode. Applying all my writing and editing skills to fashioning a complete, coherent edition. One More Thing isn’t supposed to be edited much but of course it is and the old satisfaction of an edit done well came back in shovels.

I have an advantage that I’m encouraged to make this podcast different from MacNN’s other one and that’s a blessing. MacNN’s main podcast is produced and presented by editor Charles Martin and I could not match him if I tried. So I’ve devised a different format, a different tone and it runs for 30 minutes which is quite short for an Apple-related podcast but just seems right for a midweek extra series. In my head I’m doing the It Takes Two spinoff from Strictly Come Dancing or the Extra Slice for The Great British Bakeoff.

I’ve now daunted myself and I’ve got to go produce episode 2. Thanks.

But it’s good to be back and it’s far more good than I imagined. Write yourself a radio show, would you? It’s the best thingm especially for writers.