My Big Break: Jeff Zycinski, head of Radio, BBC Scotland

AFTER 24 years at BBC Scotland and 12 as head of Radio, Jeff Zycinski is preparing to hand in his I.D. card at Pacific Quay in search of new adventures.

There’s a big management restructuring being planned by the new director, Donalda MacKinnon, and he says that, contrary to some reports, it’s not because he disagrees with plans to launch a second radio station – for music and culture.

“I’ve actually been campaigning for just that,” he told allmediascotland. “Last November, the eight-day Music Extra experiment was a pilot to demonstrate exactly how it might sound.”

When did working in the media become and ambition?

At the age of seven, I built a miniature TV studio out of shoeboxes and pretended I was the director.

I’d shout: “Camera one, cut to camera three,” and all that.

It seemed very exciting. Later, I heard the term, ‘freelance journalist’, and imagined myself travelling the world in a Safari Suit with a camera around my neck and a notebook in my pocket.

By the time I was in my teens, I had fallen in love with radio and would listen to all sorts of stations on my short-wave radio.

It was only when Radio Clyde launched in Glasgow that I began to think that, maybe, just maybe, a wee boy from Easterhouse in Glasgow could actually get one of those brilliant jobs.

What was your first media job?

My first paid job was at Capital Radio, in London. I was studying journalism in Cardiff and a group us were invited to be part of the reporting teams for a programme called ’24 hours in the life of London’.

I was assigned to the Paul Raymond Revue Bar in Soho and spent all day there talking to strippers and punters and worrying about the recording levels on my Sony Walkman recorder.

I got £40 for the job. Seemed like a lot of money when I was a student.

Any particular big break along the way?

I laugh at those words, ‘big break’, because I almost got my first full-time radio job because of a game of pool in an Inverness pub.

I’d been on a two-week student placement at Moray Firth Radio and, on my final Friday, the news editor, Mike Hurry, invited me to join the team for after-work drinks.

He challenged me to a game of pool and said that, if I beat him, he would give me a job.

Well, I lost in dramatic fashion. But he gave me the job, anyway.

My first year at MFR was a joy because there were so many stories that were making national news, including the collapse of the Ness railway viaduct and the so-called ‘Church Trial’ of Lord Mackay of Clashfern.

I was getting great experience and a lot of exposure, which brought me to the attention of Radio Clyde.

Who would you like to thank most?

So many people.

Everyone at MFR, obviously, but also – and I hadn’t thought about this for a while – the lecturers at Central College of Commerce.

I’d gone there after a mediocre school career, and after trying out various jobs – including office work in a colliery and building breakfast bars.

Central College, which is now part of City of Glasgow College, gave me a fresh start.

I secured a certificate in Public Administration and was also entered into an inter-college public speaking competition, which I won.

That, and the encouragement of the staff, game me a real boost in confidence after a couple of years in the wilderness.

I then went on to get my degree and my post-graduate diploma in journalism.

And of course, here at BBC Scotland. So many… such as James Boyle, former head of Radio at BBC Scotland, who gave me my first Beeb job in Selkirk and commissioned all sorts of crazy ideas from me.

And also Maggie Cunningham, who asked me to return to Inverness and launch the Tom Morton morning programme.

What do you know now that you wish you had known when you started?

That listening is more important than talking.

You learn more that way… and we all like people who give us the time to listen to our thoughts, ideas and memories.

So, thanks for listening.