Sister Sledge once sang about the importance of family and over the last couple of weeks I have come to realise mine is much, much bigger than I had ever thought.
Since I announced that I was leaving BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, after ten years behind the microphone, the love I have experienced from my extra sisters and brothers has been incredible, something that I will remember until my dying days.
You hope, when that red light goes on in the studio, that people are listening and that you can make a difference to someone’s life, however small, however insignificant.
My team and I always started with the listener and worked backwards. What are they talking about today, what interests them in the news and how do we get them involved and above all else, entertain them?
Never mind what the managers want, what do the listeners want? It got me into trouble many times because I refused to be beige, boring or safe. Instead I chose to push the envelope, to challenge and leave people wondering what was going to happen next.
My mission statement was thus to the team; First and foremost, get the news right and then find different and creative ways to entertain.
Of course, I could always point to the listening figures as a barometer; in every time slot that we broadcast in we produced record figures – 80,000 is no mean feat for a show without music, almost 40,000 more than tune in now at breakfast.
Judging by the correspondence that I have received privately, over the last two weeks, we seem to have succeeded in giving the listeners exactly what they desired over the years.
Some of the private messages have been very difficult to read, with people crediting our brand of radio with saving them from loneliness, depression and suicidal thoughts.
My heart has never felt such love, in most cases from people I have never met personally; our little radio show, a tonic for the masses, I had no idea of the depth of feeling out there for what we do.
Pete from Upwell and many others, have made me cry more in the last two weeks than I have in the last fifty years – “Paul, you gave the little man a voice, the blind a picture, the lonely a friend and the elderly respect. Thanks, Pete.”
I found it difficult to quantify and put into words, to come to terms with such affection. It appears we did more than play records and make people smile; we helped create a radio family, a place where people felt comfortable to tell their stories, contribute their opinions and poke fun at the world, each other and me. Which is a beautiful thing.
Maybe that explains why over two hundred people braved pouring rain and turned up for a goodbye drink last Saturday night at Orton Hall, many on their mobility scooters. Others had rallied round and picked people up from across the county, organised via social media, because with this family, when the radio show stopped, they continued online and built lasting friendships through the show.
Many had turned up with Paul Stainton face masks, they had baked cakes, bought presents and spent money some of them could ill afford.
It was a humbling, emotional experience that made me realise just how beautiful people can be when we try.
So why would I leave behind a family such as this and give up something I absolutely love doing? Well, quite simply, the BBC made me an offer I could easily refuse.
I was forced to choose between my media and communications business and working for the BBC. Their offer was a 25 per cent real-terms pay cut, worse terms and conditions and the current difficult working environment. It really was no choice at all.
I didn’t come back to local radio for the money, I could have got a job in telly for that, I came back to train and inspire others and do a job I love, but like everyone else, you want and need to feel valued by your employer.
It’s a very difficult place to work now, with the budget for BBC local radio constantly being siphoned off for other things, leaving radio short of staff and positions left uncovered. I was told there was no budget for someone to answer the phones, despite the Big Conversation being a phone-in show!
Radio’s money (your licence fee) is used to make films for Facebook (ten years too late) that are apparently big in India and good journalists are wasted on something called Local Live – a local internet news feed that gets less views than a three-bed semi in Beirut.
Most right thinking people in the organisation know what the problem is – nobody ever gets sacked.
Ineptitude is instead rewarded with a special project or a manager’s job and eventually that will cripple an organisation – It’s called the Peter Principle, which states that successful members of a hierarchicalorganisation are eventually promoted to their highest level of competence, after which further promotion raises them to a level at which they are not competent – the people that suffer are the staff and the listeners, whilst the incompetents walk away with huge pay offs and massive pension pots.
I and others in my team, worked very hard to gain the trust of the Peterborough public and win credibility for BBC Radio Cambridgeshire in the city but in the New Year it is highly likely that the ability to broadcast any programmes from Peterborough will disappear completely.
The danger is that the station retreats, back to when I first joined in 1994, when it really was just Radio Cambridge, with the odd report from ‘up north.’
A city of nearly 200,000 people, the biggest conurbation in the county, warrants a radio station that is based in the city, that talks about the city and has a dedicated team of journalists that hold the decision makers to account and report our news.
Hereward Radio proved back in the day that proper local radio works and I think what we have achieved in the last ten years proves that there is still an appetite for engaging and entertaining radio here.
All we need is a licence, some cash and a catchy name – Posh FM anyone??
Who knows, I may even come out of retirement.