Category Archives: media

The leaving of Liverpool (and the BBC)

This week I’m leaving the BBC. For the last eleven years I have worked for BBC Radio Merseyside as Religious Producer. I have presented the Sunday morning programme “Daybreak” more than five hundred times. Before that I worked for five years as a programme volunteer, and before that I worked with BBC Radio Cleveland and BBC Radio Oxford. I’ve been part of BBC Local Radio religion programmes for more than twenty five years in all, but now I’m leaving.

I’m leaving for good reasons. As well as working in radio I’m an ordained Baptist minister, and I have been called to be full time minister at New North Road Baptist Church in Huddersfield. It’s an exciting new challenge and I know the hand of God is on my calling to go there and work alongside the church to see his kingdom grow.

But I’m also leaving at a time when BBC Radio is struggling with real faith broadcasting. On one level “religion” has been affirmed by BBC Local Radio. Every station has a Religious Producer (now more often called Faith Producer) and a Sunday morning programme with “faith” content. But fewer of those faith producers and presenters have any personal Christian faith and the broadcasts are moving from being an insider’s view of what it means to believe and becoming an outsider’s commentary on faith.

Most of those broadcasters are doing an excellent job in the few hours they are employed. They manage to produce a weekly programme full of variety in the face of pressure from BBC management which is itself under pressure from an embarrassment in society to proclaim personal faith. And if there are fewer believing Christians then the blame lies with the Church who have not reached out to creative communities and have not urged their best people into creative roles and the media.

My new calling is to help to equip the Church to serve the world in workplaces and local communities. My task, and yours, is to pray that the Lord of the harvest will send workers into places of service and influence. We are sent to be salt and light. My prayer is that our loving Lord will answer the call to make his people saltier and shinier in the world.

As the bright shiny Brian Houston sings: “Who is willing to be broken, who will love me enough that when I call your name, you will go where I send and hearts will be changed. Here I am, send me” (from “Spirit and Truth” on the album In the words of Dr Luke).

This article first appeared in Inspire, the bulletin of themedianet.org

Time for a declutter?

When we moved into our new building at BBC Radio Merseyside about five years ago, we were told it would be a paperless office. At the end of every day every desk would be cleared. There was to be no personal storage space because we wouldn’t need it. There would be no personal items on any surface, and only “on message” corporate posters and notices on the walls.

It didn’t work. My desk is far from the messiest in the building but it currently labours under piles of papers, stacks of CDs, a half-finished bottle of Diet Coke and assorted personal items. Other desks around me are decorated with family photos, thank you cards from listeners, and dirty coffee mugs.

The next generation of BBC offices take the theory one stage further. Much of the office space in the BBC buildings at Media City Salford has a radical “clear desk” policy. Individuals have a laptop and a mobile phone which are kept in a locker, and each day they collect these essentials of their work and sit at any available desk. We’ll see how it works out in practice.

It seems to be part of our human nature to be nest-builders. We like to have a space that is personal and is ours. We enjoy our own familiar form of chaos. As those who bear the creative nature of God we live to create places that have meaning and personality. I’ve been told a few times recently that Advent is the time to declutter – to clear out the messiness of our lives and strive for something simpler.

I’m sorry, but I’m having none of it. For me Advent is not a time to banish the mess but to enjoy it. Advent is a creative time, a time when life is enriched by fresh insights into the grace of God, bursting into being from the divine imagination. Advent is the coming of the new world. It’s the new creation emerging from the messiness of human life, bearing the hallmark of the dynamism of God. It’s not tidy or sterile but God’s design emerging from our human malleability.

So don’t tell me to get rid of my clutter. This clutter is my life in messy piles, the seedbed of my best ideas.

Lord, just as your Son came into our chaos, make use of my ragged edges, my unformed ideas. Lord, bless my mess and make it yours.

Going Viral with The Doctor

I attended the Church and Media Conference in Swanwick last week. As together we enjoyed the good food and convivial atmosphere, we shared in sessions about the future of the Media.

Our opening keynote address was from Elaine Storkey. Among other encouraging words, she reflected on the way people use social media, and the sheer scale of the thing. One statistic stuck in my mind – that one in twelve of the world’s population is a regular user of Facebook.

Tweets

I had my own taste of the power of social media as the Conference came to an end. Our speaker Danny Cohen, the controller of BBC One, covered a wide range of topics in conversation with Andrew Graystone. He promised that Songs of Praise would still be around for its sixtieth anniversary in ten years’ time. He also revealed some news about Doctor Who, that there wouldn’t be a full series of the sci-fi favourite in 2012 but there would be more for Who fans in 2013. I was one of several people in the hall who had been tweeting through the Conference, sending out short summaries or comments on what speakers had said. So I tweeted what the controller said about Doctor Who. I hadn’t realised just what I’d done.

My tweet was retweeted by a hundred people, whose retweets were then retweeted hundreds more times. I received responses from other Twitter users, some grateful, some mocking and some insulting. Then the BBC’s entertainment correspondent wanted to speak to me, and then the story started appearing on dozens of blogs and fansites. My tweet was made a “top tweet” by Twitter. Eventually Doctor Who supremo Steven Moffat commented on the story, a story that had started with one comment at a Christian conference and one tweet.

To my mind there were two more significant stories in what Danny Cohen said, which I had also tweeted about. One was Songs of Praise and the other was to do with the representation of Christians on television in everyday situations, but sadly it was the Doctor who grabbed the time and space.

The internet is a big scary place, but it’s a place where we can all make a difference. Our unconsidered tweets and status updates, our blogs and podcasts can influence people. Our responsibility is to make sure our influence is for godliness, for righteousness, and for the coming of the Kingdom of God.

One and Many

My final thought comes from my recent readings in John’s gospel. In John 6 Jesus speaks to many thousands of people in one big crowd. But in the preceding chapters his dealings are with individuals: a woman at a well in Samaria, a royal official with a poorly son, a disabled man at the pool of Bethesda. Sometimes we reach the many, but more often we speak to individuals, and individuals matter. Whether we broadcast or write for millions, or speak to one colleague or one person in need, every word we say matters and can be for the blessing of the ones that God loves.

Review of “The Way”

Before Christianity was called Christianity it was simply “The Way”. It was not a religion, not an organisation, not a set of doctrines, but simply a path to walk.

As someone said in a talk I heard recently, I set out to be a follower of Jesus, not a professional purveyor of religion. Now the film The Way has reminded those of us who follow Jesus that it’s about the journey.

The Way tells us the story of Tom, an American ophthalmologist, whose only son Daniel is killed as he begins to walk the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage route from France across northern Spain, ending at Santiago de Compostela. Tom decides to walk the 800km of the Camino himself to complete what Daniel never achieved. On the Way Tom joins up with two men and a woman who all have their own reasons for walking the Camino.

None of the four companions is walking as a Christian pilgrim, but each walks to find answers and to change their lives for the better. As with all pilgrimage, the purpose is not the destination but the journey.

The film is the work of writer and director Emilio Estevez and his father Martin Sheen. Sheen himself plays Tom, and Estevez appears as Daniel, mostly in flashback and in Tom’s imagination as a companion on the walk. The film is an exploration of the relationship between father and son In addition to the on-screen father-son relationship,  the film is dedicated to the memory of Sheen’s father and was inspired by Estevez’s son, Taylor. 

In every so-called talent programme and casting show these days the story is in the “journey”. Each person we meet has to be weak, talentless and timid at first, progressing through their limited ability to a triumphant climax and launch into superstardom. Of course this is entirely artificial, an invented narrative to fulfil the requirements of a TV format. 

In fiction “the journey” is a narrative device used in much great writing from Canterbury Tales to Huckleberry Finn, and a hundred road films. As the three ragged men and one woman of “The Way” followed the Camino I was reminded of four others who followed the Yellow Brick Road, and was I was delighted to read later that The Wizard of Oz was in the mind of Emilio Estevez as he made the film.

Recent films made by Christian writers and directors have also been road movies. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is, like The Way, a journey of characters thrown together on a quest for salvation. And Africa United, the story of five children walking from Rwanda to South Africa for the football World Cup, has similar themes. 

For Christians The Way is the Way of Christ, and this road movie takes us on that journey, a journey of faith and transformation. It is an inspirational film without any artifice in its emotional appeal. The magnificent scenery, the hardness of the travelling and the purposeful journey of the main characters inspires us to find our way, our way home.

The Way is on general release in the UK from May 13, 2011, and in the US from September 30, 2011. Thanks for the preview tickets go to Premier Christian Radio, official Faith Media Partners with Icon for The Way

How to get your church on the radio

BBC local radio stations are hungry for news. They are also committed to having Sunday morning “Faith and Ethics” programmes and each one has a Religious Producer. By getting to know your local producer and recognising a strong story your church can be the talk of your town.

GET TO KNOW YOUR PRODUCER

Make contact with your BBC station’s Religious Producer (sometimes called Faith Producer). This person will be very busy so don’t waste their time, but they do want to know what you’re doing. Some producers also present the Sunday programme; other stations will have a separate presenter. Listen to their programme and find out what material they make use of.

GET YOUR NEWS STORY OUT THERE

Get a brief press release to the local producer three weeks before your event. Give all the important information including a contact phone number, and say why this is a story that should be on the radio.

WATCH OUT FOR GOOD FEATURE PIECES

Things that you might not consider “news” can still make gripping radio. Does someone have a good conversion story? Does someone run an ethical business? Do your young people have an unusual activity planned?

JOIN THE VOLUNTEER TEAM

Find one of your best people with a passion for communicating and release them from other jobs so they can join the team at the radio station. Most BBC stations will gladly accept offers of volunteer help, as long as you’re genuinely committed to the station and willing to start at the bottom.

OFFER A STRONG THOUGHT FOR THE DAY

Some BBC stations still have a Thought for the Day slot of some kind. Listen to what they do then send a sample Thought to your producer. Make sure it’s not at all preachy, but make it relevant to a current local news story and try to use humour. Be available to write Thoughts at short notice.


This piece first appeared on themedianet website.
http://www.themedianet.org/article?article=39e52f5a-9337-4446-9424-7b0594c5fbf7

Radio revolutionaries

Cross Rhythms logoCongratulations to Cross Rhythms Radio http://www.crossrhythms.co.uk/ for a five-year extension to their licence to broadcast in Stoke. The team there have been pioneers of community radio and have found a way of playing unfamiliar Christian music to a general audience and have gained listeners. Perceived wisdom is that people like to listen to what they recognise and turn off stations that have unfamiliar music, but Cross Rhythms have shown that Christian music can be attractive when it’s presented in a friendly and lively way and backed up by local information and news.

Cross Rhythms started in 1983 with a half-hour radio programme http://www.crossrhythms.co.uk/vision/history/radio/ and in 2002 became Britain’s first Community Radio station. It’s good to remember that Christians in Britain have been pioneers in contemporary media for a long time. William Tyndale’s English New Testament was a pioneering work, the first to take advantage of the new technology of the printing press.

Back in 1983, the same year that Cross Rhythms began its first programmes, Britain’s first ever “special event radio licence” was granted to Greenbelt Festival Radio, a short-term radio station at the Greenbelt arts festival. The station was pioneered and led by Peter Laverock. This was the precursor of the Restricted Service Licence stations we now have, and the first ever legal radio station run by enthusiasts rather than professionals.

From noon on Friday 26th August to noon on Tuesday 30th August a dedicated team presented programmes on 963 AM including Christian music, speakers and poets. There was news from the festival and requests from listeners across the site. The studio was a small caravan in the backstage area, with a minimum amount of technical equipment. Guests included a brief interview with Cliff Richard after his mainstage concert, and an early morning appearance from Garth Hewitt who had to be dragged from his nearby caravan.

For the record, the first sound ever heard on Britain’s first ever short-term radio station was the sound of a flushing toilet. Flushing toilets, it seemed, were the most exciting innovation being introduced to Greenbelt in 1983. But that radio station with the flushing toilets was the beginning of a radio revolution, pioneered by Christians.