Made Here: Brainwaves, BBC Radio Scotland

A NEW series launches on BBC Radio Scotland from today, Brainwaves, with episode one (of 13) being broadcast from 13.30.

Says a BBC Radio Scotland media release: “Presenter, Pennie Latin, begins with a look at the Addictive Brain, as many people begin to detox after the season of indulgence. Pennie investigates the science behind addiction and whether there is any truth in the notion of an addictive brain. In this first programme, Pennie also talks to Professor David Nutt about his new alternative to alcohol which aims to simulate the same social high as booze, but without the toxicity.”

Here, senior producer, Helen Needham, answers the questions…

Who commissioned the series?

The series was commissioned by Donalda MacKinnon, head of programmes and services for BBC Scotland. This is part of an ongoing strategy to develop more production from the Aberdeen base. We have a long history of environmental output from this base, so it seemed logical to build on that expertise and broaden it with this series.

Explain the thinking behind the production’s ‘sound and feel’.

We very much wanted to bring the science of the everyday alive in an accessible and engaging way. Many people find even the word, ‘science’, off-putting and scary. We want people to hardly notice that they are listening to a science programme but be drawn in by the powerful stories and the informal tone. So, for example, in our first feature, which looks at the Addictive Brain, we intercut some very emotive personal accounts from real addicts with fascinating scientific evaluation from our experts. As a result, you come away not only emotionally moved, but having learnt something too. The scientific content is rich but interwoven seamlessly with every day life.

Who are the key personnel?

Our presenter, Pennie Latin, is best known for presenting BBC Radio Scotland’s ‘Kitchen Garden’. Pennie has a background in psychology and was really keen to revisit her scientific past through presenting this series. Jennifer Perry and Rhona Brudenell are the producers on the series. And Laura Seawright is our content assistant.

What kit and software?

Most interviews were conducted using a AKGD130 mic and a ROLAND R26 recorder. Pennie also uses a Sound Devices 722. The programmes were rough-cut on VCS Startrack and then craft-edited on SADiE.

What have been the main production challenges?

The main challenge has been achieving the right balance of science with real life stories and scenarios.

Whilst instinctively, as programme-makers, we are drawn to personal stories, since these make content accessible, we have been very aware of making sure that we have the hard science to back up our stories.

For example, in the second of our features – looking at the Truth Behind Bi-Polar – we were all blown away by our real-life example, Alistair, who was so candid about how he dealt with the rollercoaster of highs and lows that characterise the condition.

The challenge here was to pick out the key moments of his account and bring in the science to analyse what was actually going on in his brain at the time. The other aspect we have come to accept throughout developing the series is that we don’t have all the answers, and neither do the scientists. So it has very much been about establishing a sense of curiosity and asking the right questions.

What did you most learn and enjoy from the experience?

We’ve all found it completely fascinating recording the series so far and are indebted to the many scientists who have helped us research, as well as record, the programmes.

The range of subject matter we have covered has equipped us with lots of good dinner party chat!

For example, our Valentine’s Day special looks at the Science of Love. We’ve learnt that finding a mate often comes down to armpit odour which transmits important messages about an individual’s genes.

And also, we’ll all be keeping a strict eye on our teenage children now that we know that adolescence is a key vulnerable time when it comes to determining if you are likely to be addicted to substances like alcohol, cigarettes and drugs.