10 Questions with ... Graham Mack
September 18, 2012
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
In 1993 my first paid radio job was at 2PK Parkes in the Central West of New South Wales Australia, presenting the afternoon drive-time show. Then I did Breakfast at 5SE Mount Gambier in South Australia for a year, then nights at 2GO, just north of Sydney.
I moved back to the UK in 1997. I did breakfast at 2CR FM on the south coast, then Century in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, worked at BRMB in Birmingham and Century in the East Midlands. Then was Program Director back at 2CR FM on the south coast. Breakfast at TFM in the North East and have been with the BBC for the last two and a half years.
1. How did you get into radio? Why radio?
I was working as an air-conditioning mechanic in Sydney, Australia. Driving home one day, listening to a "not very good" host, I decided "I could do better than that". Got home, said to my wife, "I want to be on the radio". She said, "Go on then". So, I did Community Radio (unpaid) in Sydney for a while. Eventually got accepted at the Australian Film Television & Radio School, graduated in 1993. Got my first commercial radio gig at 2PK Parkes doing Afternoon Drive.
I've always been a radio fan, and at the age of ten was given a secondhand reel to reel tape recorder for my birthday. I was always making my own radio programs. I've done television, but prefer radio because of the intimacy and you're in more control. It doesn't take as many people, so you can respond much quicker to what's going on.
2. As a local BBC morning guy, you compete not only with commercial local and national radio but with the BBC itself. What do you do to stand out for local listeners -- how do you make yourself a viable choice among so many high-profile stations available to Swindon-area listeners?
The short answer is entertainment, and I can be more relevant to the people who live here than any of the national stations because I live here too. The show has to be as much about Swindon as possible, so we take national stories and give them a local spin .There is a lot going on here and there are a lot of local politicians and civic leaders that I really enjoy holding to account. Taping into the heritage of the area has also been fun, Swindon has a massive railway heritage and bringing that to life always works.
3. You've raised money for charity by forming a band -- how did that come about? Why a band? Is it a lark or fulfilling dreams of rock stardom?
Yes, so far 'The Graham Mack Rock Band' has raised over #20,000 ($33,000USD) for local charities in a little over a year. I've played and sung in bands for years, so I was eventually going to find my way into a band of some kind when I moved here. One day I got to interview Gavin Jones, the Chief Executive of Swindon Council. It was to be a pretty hard edged interview about his huge pay packet and recent council job losses. During my research, I discovered he fancied himself as a rock guitar player. So hoping to ambush him live on air, I snuck a Marshall amp and PRS guitar into the studio. At the end of what turned out to be quite a tense interview I said, "I hear you think you're a bit of a Jimmy Page, lets see what you've got." Full credit to him, he picked up the guitar, turned up the amp and played live on the air. To my surprise, and most of Swindon, he was very good. Afterwards I called him up and asked him if he wanted to form a band. The rest is rock 'n' roll history.
4. You spent much of your life in New Zealand and Australia, and worked for several years in Australia -- Was getting back to England always the goal while there?
No. I really liked Australia and even became a citizen, but in 1997 commercial radio in the UK was expanding, with new stations going on the air almost every month. It was the place to be and an exciting time to be part of an industry that was finally coming of age. Britain didn't have commercial radio until 1973 and very strict regulation had held it back until the mid 90's.
How much, if at all, has your overseas experience informed your work today?
It's given me a tremendous perspective on Britain and how it's seen from the outside.
5. You've done commercial radio, but the BBC is commercial-free and you don't play music, so... how hard is it to do talk radio with long stretches when you don't get a break? How hard was that adjustment from doing commercial music morning shows to talking and not getting a break?
Well, the most important thing is realizing that if you don't take a toilet break during the top and bottom of hour news bulletin, you've got to hang on for another half an hour!
I haven't found it difficult at all switching from music to talk. I've always got so much to say and I love talking to interesting people on the phones and the guests we book. I always have plenty of pre-prepared material, so if a phone drops out or a guest is a no-show, I'm not filling with endless cross promotes and extended weather forecasts.
6. How do you use social media in conjunction with your show?
Radio is the original social medium, it's personal and interactive. So modern social media is just an extension of that. I use Twitter a lot. I let followers know what interesting topics or guests we've got coming up from quite early. A lot of people check their Twitter accounts before they turn on the radio in the morning, so I want to grab them as early as I can. I also Tweet links to my latest podcast and write a weekly blog.
7. What's your process -- how do you prepare for each day's show?
As soon as the show finishes at 9am, I have a quick review meeting with the producers, then work begins on the next day's show. I'm very lucky that I have producer's working on the program from before 5am in the morning, right through till after 5pm in the evening, so most of the guests and topics are set up in advance. I arrive at work at 3.30am, go through the running order, polish up the copy and research the guests for the big interviews of the morning. By the time we go live at 6.30, I'm pretty well across everything and ready to go, but you just never know what's going to happen during a live show, that will send you in a completely different direction from the one we've planned.
8. Of what are you most proud?
Last year, I won the Sony Radio Academy Gold Award for Best Breakfast Show. It's the biggest radio award in the UK, the equivalent of your Marconi Awards.
9. Fill in the blank: I can't make it through the day without _________.
my wife Julie, married for 25 years on October 3rd. She was the one that said, "Go on then."
10; What's the best advice you ever got?
If you're not having fun; you're not doing it right.
Shut up and play the music.