Wednesday 7 July 2010

On the radio

10:00p.m. IRN has started playing, the Lady in London sounding as foxy as ever. Anna the resident beauty puts her head round the door.

"Three minutes then you're go."

Absently I nod, too engrossed to look up from the turntable where I fiddle frantically with the pitch adjust. The first track is a short intro, so it has to be played at the speed of the third to economise on time to guarantee a mix. War of the Worlds disk one; plus six percent on Richard Burton shouldn't sound too chipmunks, but time will tell.

"This is IRN"

The pips follow, notching my heart rate up a step.

"Thirty seconds" purrs Anna through the pre-fade on the headphones. As if I needed to know.

Fragma comes off for Burton to be cued for the last time tonight. Already I can hear on the loopback the advert for tessa accounts from B&B. I’ve heard it so many times before, and know only too well the lines on which it ends. In the last few moments I remember the faders are still down from the pre-fading. Desperately I take them to the top. Made it!

“Cue,” purrs Anna, “You are live”

With a soft click the turntable drive engages on my command, and the voice of Richard Burton fills my headphones. No time to listen – the mix is quick and short. I already know from experience that there is one syllable that I am listening for. Starting ‘gram two at just the right moment will ensure his vocals are matched to the beat as it starts on Fragma. I barely notice Anna peeping round the door into the studio, her hair across her face and looking as gorgeous as ever with that sweetest of sweet smiles. No time to flirt – the syllable comes and ‘gram two starts to spin. Relax: spot on!

I feel some of the pressure drop – a few minutes to spare to get things right. Flipping War of the Worlds into its sleeve, a sixth sense bristles and I turn to see Anna by my side flicking through my record box on the floor.

“Wotcha got for us tonight?” she asks playfully, trying to catch my eye with an infectious smile.

I laugh and brush her out of the way so I can get the next twelve inch from the box.

“A bit of this. A bit of that.” I reply evasively with a wry grin.

She digs me in the ribs, but it’s all for fun here. Space Brothers hits the platter, and the needle moves across as I check the speeds to synch the beat.

I give a glance to ‘gram two – still plenty of groove to go.

Another mix down and I let myself glance to the clock: six minutes past. Cripes! And I’ve got all the way back to the top of the hour to fill.

“It’ll soon pass.” Purrs Anna in my ear. She’s read my mind.

“So do the records,” I say, referring to the two short tracks I know are to come after Space Brothers.

Beat synch perfection! Legacy plays perfectly to the tune of Kawala. So much so I relax to hear thirty seconds of perfect cross-fading magic as I slide the faders back and forth. If only those listening across the airwaves would appreciate the years of practice that went into making this possible! Then it’s no time to be smug. This is the tricky bit I told Anna about. As soon as the faders are to the bottom, the twelve inch is off and handed to unexpected hands.

“Here, make yourself useful: put this back in the sleeve.”

She snaps a salute.

Ja mein M├Ądchen!

Japes all the way. No time to laugh; Verbacocha is already cueing as I press the headphone to my ear for the beat. If this works at least I’ll be impressed, even if the listeners live in apathy.

We’re in. Synth part on cue and the autostarts kick in on my command. Perfect! I couldn’t have done it better in a hundred takes. Anna nods her head in the appreciation of the connoisseur, behind me.


I turn and wink, then it’s back to the groove. Already Kawala is about to kick back in on the beat – if I let it do so on air it would ruin the web of magic I have woven on the radio. With a careful progressive tweak of the EQ channels I kill it frequency by frequency until it is gone, the platter cleared for the next twelve inch.


I wave her away.

“Not now.”

A hot drink at a time like this?! My hands are sweaty as it is. Good job the next one is a long one. Chance to get to the canteen and back to flash my fingers under the tap to clear the inevitable stickiness a radio studio brings. Perhaps I should go without telling Anna what I’m doing, just to rattle her cage. In the end I tell her where I’m going if only because I like her too much to do something so cruel. Still, it’s a thought for when Helen is on night shift with me.

Another glance to the clock. Gosh! Anna was right – as always. Time has flown. I look to my record box and realise for the first time tonight that as usual I’ve brought far more than I need. An easy mistake I always make. I’ll get a bad back lugging all these records to every studio I go to; I never learn from experience.

“Told you!” whispers Anna in my ear, reading my mind in one.

We hug close.

“Always right. I owe you a drink for that one.”

She laughs and wriggles under my arm.

“Put it on my tab.”

Last mix. It went quicker in my mind than last week. A sign of having fun. As I lean over the turntables checking speeds for the United States of Dance, Anna calls to me from the door.

“I’ll be in the control room ready.”

I nod absent-minded again, too engrossed in pitch faders to look up. Her head disappears from the door jam and moments later I hear the crackle of static across the loopback as she settles the headphones over her ears.

No time for musings. Cue points revolve past in the mottled groove of the plastic, and the last record starts like a dream. This one’s a chop-and-shop, so no time to ease off yet. There’s my cue! The fader drops like a stone, and we’re in the final home straight. I feel the relief wash over – I like this part of the mix night, when I don’t have to mix any more.

“Time check.” Comes the voice in my ear.

I check the groove and glance to the wall clock before replying,

“We are looking slinky.”

“Good. Standby.”

Static clicks on the line, hissing in my ear. Just as well only Anna and I can hear the loopback – that sounds terrible. Probably a loose connection somewhere. I’ll have to write that in the engineer’s log before we hand over tonight.

This is the synthy tail out on the twelve inch; already I can hear the staccato of the beat changing for the last time. Time for cueing cartridges: the jingles are ready, though not loaded because the blasted Sonifex has been having overheating fits of late. Pushed home, the christmas tree of diagnostic LEDs lights up. Yellow, yellow-green, red. Cued. Funny order to have diagnostics lights flicker in. Then the beat dies, and I hit the green button, and the infinite loop is rolling. Satisfied I hear my personalised ident jingles on the loopback. The ego trip has landed!

“In the mix with JM Peugeot on Pinnacle 89.2, mixed by MD and Ivo.”

Anna’s voice purrs out across the airwaves, then the pips.

“Good evening. The time is 11pm. This is the news from IRN,” calls London down the line. Finally we’re clear, and I can drop the faders for one last time. Putting United States of Dance back into its sleeve, I wonder what the listeners would make of it if they knew that MD and Ivo – in reality me and Anna - were the girls also responsible for the Thursday night rock show, and the Sunday classical hour.

Hell, we only work here. Like we care.

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