Many years ago, there was a radio station in the west of Scotland called Beat 106.
Its remit was pretty much dance music, and it was popular. As a bootleg / MTV DJ at the time, I was asked to do a few guest mixes over a year or so, which was a lot of fun. I operated under the name McSleazy.
I received a few cryptic emails from a producer at the station telling me that there may be an opportunity on the horizon for me, but no details as such. I was used to hearing things like this, and I was also a little cynical having seen lots of supposed big opportunities fail to materialise. A while later, however, I heard that the owners of Beat 106 were rebranding it into something very special.
XFM was a big deal. At the time, XFM broadcast to London only in FM, but you could get it online. (Bear in mind that this was around the end of 2005, so things weren’t as advanced as they are now.) I loved Eddy Temple Morris on a Sunday evening playing out some amazing remixes and rock / dance crossover tunes (even some of my own creations).
So when I learned that Beat 106 was being rebranded as XFM Scotland, I was excited. I was then beyond thrilled when I got a call and a meeting where they asked me if I’d be interested in working for the new station. I was buzzing at the idea of creating regular mixes for the station, but the excitement turned to fear. They didn’t want me to do mixes. They wanted me to be a DJ. To talk. On air. Between records and stuff.
I got the fear. This wasn’t part of my plan. There’s a world of difference between being a DJ playing tunes in a club, and being a DJ on the radio. I didn’t know what the hell to talk about, or how to do it without sounding like Smashy & Nicey. I also didn’t know who’d want to listen to me talking. The tunes – yeah, no problem. The tunes were excellent, but I had a crisis of confidence about the radio DJ bit. The producer, Stuart, seemed to think that this wasn’t going to be a problem, so I went along with it.
I was shown around the full building. I remember being asked “what do you think the point of XFM is?” to which I answered “good music?” No, I was told. It was to “sell advertising”. This shocked me somewhat. I knew that commercials subsidised the station (it’s called commercial radio for a reason) but to hear it so upfront and blatant was sad. I’m glad that I found plenty of other folk who felt that the music was the main reason for being there.
Meeting the other DJs for the first time was memorable, not least because I had terrible social anxiety issues. Meeting these proper DJs was intimidating, amongst other reasons, because I felt like a sham. Jim Gellatly, for example, is a legend in Scottish music circles, and for all the right reasons. I knew who he was from gigs & the press, so for me he was a big deal. Manda Rin was the singer in Bis, for God’s sake. I taped their performance from Top of the Pops and watched it til it faded. (I tried to copy them in a band called Ricky which had one gig in King Tuts then imploded.) Dominik Diamond was a childhood hero from Gamesmaster. Julyan Sinclair and Heather Suttie were familiar faces from TV. The other DJs – like Fraser Thomson, Lisa Littlewood, the unbelievably nice Huggy – all knew each other from Beat 106 and clubs, so I was a bit of a new boy, but everyone was welcoming. I, on the other hand, was a wreck.
The first time I met Dominik was when I’d dropped in to the studio early to pick up tunes, and he was presenting the breakfast show. His producer, a chap with an infectious beaming smile, was Scott Shaw. He took me into the studio to meet Dominik, who was between segments. He was in the zone, prepping the next link with another presenter Marisa de Andrade, going over it in some details. He looked up at me with a who the fuck is this? expression. Scott introduced me, and his manner changed completely to being incredibly welcoming and friendly. When the mic was off, he swore incessantly. How he managed not to accidently swear on air is something I never figured out.
Martyn (Mash) and Ali (from the Jengaheads) and Paul N’Jie were also speciality DJs, meaning that they chose their own content, as was an old, old friend (ie 15 years earlier) called Martin Bate who did the rock show. I was told that we weren’t the personality DJs. We were the speciality DJs. (Those are two phrases which inadvertently insulted every DJ involved.)
In the build up to the launch, we all had to get promo photos taken next to the River Clyde. My session was on a particularly freezing winter’s day. The first couple of photos were taken with me wearing a hoodie but I was asked if it could be removed for more photos. So, for a further 20 minutes, I stood by the King George V bridge in Glasgow, my skin turning blue, and trying my best to pose for pictures before my toes dropped off. Needless to say, they used the very first photo that they took.
I did a practice run in the second studio, which didn’t do much to bolster confidence, but we steamrollered on. The first TWO times that I did the show, I had my producer sit in with me, then I was left to it. There were some ground rules, like no swearing, no records that swore, stay away from anything contentious because advertisers might get annoyed. Also, no dead air aka silence. If there was silence for 30 seconds then the systems would assume the worst and kick in with a pre-recorded mix.
Over my time at XFM, I came to hear that emergency mix on quite a few occasions.