Julian Clover reveals how Cambridge 105 Radio has continued broadcasting throughout the pandemic
The government’s instructions were clear, or at least this one was: “work at home if you possibly can”. That’s achievable if you’re an accountant or design websites or, like me, work as a journalist. But what if you’re a radio station?
That was the challenge on 23 March, when Boris Johnson’s prime ministerial broadcast challenged EastEnders Den and Angie’s Christmas Day divorce as one of the most watched TV moments of all time. Fortunately, my engineering colleagues Rob, Dom and Lawrence had already started to plan for this scenario when it became clear there was a possibility the UK might follow its European counterparts and enter lockdown.
Daytime shows on Cambridge 105 Radio use the Rivendell playout system. It’s linked to the music library with 20,000 songs, just not necessarily the right 20,000. Of course, transferring 20,000 songs at short notice is problematic.
To get around this, our tech team created a single version that presenters would be able to access over the internet and start the music they needed for their shows as if they were in the studio. They’d hand back to an empty Gwydir Street studio for our national Sky News bulletin before adding the local news.
But a radio presenter is nothing without a microphone. Some of us had suitable microphones, others hastily ordered them from Amazon, the stocks dwindling like toilet rolls in the supermarket as radio presenters and podcasters filled their baskets. It turns out that radio listening had something of a resurgence during lockdown as people tuned in for the latest updates.
Microphones purchased, it was a matter of getting the soundproofing right so that we didn’t sound like we were broadcasting from a cave. That meant soft furnishings, cushions, pillows, mattresses. At one stage, I attempted to create a booth to record some news items in by wrapping a mattress topper around my desk.
Presenters Neil Whiteside, Ian Daborn and Chris Brown already had studio set-ups at home, so it was relatively easy for them to go live. But for all of us, it has meant the learning of new skills, making sure everything is timed perfectly and finding new ways of recording interviews.
That’s what I’ve missed the most. While for most of lockdown I’ve had Lucy sitting opposite me on Cambridge Breakfast, we both miss having guests in the studio with us. It’s not just the company, but the Russian roulette of not knowing how good the sound quality will be until the guest begins to speak.
Remarkably, we’ve spent the past five months broadcasting from home, but now we’re preparing to gradually return to Gwydir Street. Many presenters miss being in the radio studio and want to get back in front of the traditional radio desk. But if the quality is good enough, it doesn’t matter where we broadcast from as long as the audience continues to be there, too.
Julian Clover & Lucy Milazzo present Cambridge Breakfast on Cambridge 105 Radio, weekdays from 7am. Tune in to catch editor Nicola’s monthly what’s-on round-up.