Interview with Liz Kershaw 25/05/07
If you live in the Coventry area and listen to BBC Radio Coventry and Warwickshire you will hear my next guest waking you up every weekday morning between seven and ten on the Breakfast Show. I am delighted to say that Liz Kershaw is with me now. It's great to see you. Thank you for agreeing to speak to me. What I would like to know first of all was how did it all get started for you within the industry.
Well, I am a music fan. I got my first record player when I was seven. I got chicken pox and I couldn't play out so I was there putting on my records that I got free with cereals, and some that my Mum and Dad gave me and other relatives handed to me, like 'I'm a Pink Toothbrush', Max Bygraves, things like that, and I just loved music. I used to get in trouble for learning the words to records rather than my revision for what was O Levels then, and my Dad thought nothing would ever become of me, and he was wrong. I did follow the path he wanted me to follow, which was academic,
and he did say: 'When you've got your degree you can do whatever you want'.
So I did. I did get a sensible job at BT and my hobby was helping out in a local radio station in Leeds, then I got my own show on a Saturday night just an hour long. Then, I got poached by Radio Leeds; that was commercial, and I did a rock show, a couple of hours on a Wednesday night. I was in a band by then, so I was making music as well and I got a taste for radio. Then I made a demo with a friend of mine. My brother was on Radio 1 and I didn't want to queer my pitch, thinking they wouldn't have two Kershaws, so I got my friend to take it in. They loved it, it was a unique format which is why I got my foot in the door. I wasn't just trying to be a clone of everybody else, and they gave me a show on a Saturday afternoon preceding the Chart Show, which was massive then, everybody listened, it was called 'Backchat'. That was twenty years ago, in October 1987. I won an award for it in the first year, and then they decided I was good enough to let loose with proper turntables, because that was a magazine programme, and be a proper DJ.
So you talk about how you got experience before. Would you say that the experience is the crucial bit for anybody who wants to break into the media, just doing anything you want to do with local radio?
Well, first of all I have to say, you have to have a speciality and a passion. It's no use going into it because you want to be famous and you want to be on the radio. You have to have a knowledge, whether it's sport, or local knowledge, or music or something that gives you that cutting edge. I think listeners can hear straight through people who are flaky and don't have a basis of expertise, and that's my advice. The go into local radio and volunteer. I didn't get a single penny. I went into local radio in 1981 and I didn't earn a penny until 1987, so that's six years of an apprenticeship: helping out for the love of it, making yourself useful, making yourself someone people can depend on and want to have around, and that's my advice. Don't expect a quick fix, learn the ropes and really get your foot in the door.
Yes, you have to learn, start at the bottom and work your way up. I mean, you've done television as well, most notably 'Watchdog' with 'the person who winks', Anne Robinson. Is radio very different from television?
As a presenter in radio, if you're doing a live show, once you're on air you are in total control. You're the director of operations. Obviously you're not alone, you have support and you have help and you have guidance and advice, but you're controlling the studio in most cases. Not on Radio 4, but on most radio stations you're controlling the studio. There's that aspect of it, rather than being a 'larynx on legs' where they just push you around and paint your nose and point you in front of the camera. Another thing is, if you do live radio it is immediate and spontaneous. If it's great you've done a good job, if it's rubbish, you know have to do better tomorrow, but you don't spend hours and hours crafting three minutes of broadcasting. It's just an immediate contribution to the airwaves.
I've done live show on 'Synergy FM' which is a student radio station in Coventry, and that was good experience for me. I never had such a buzz as when I did a live show: 'Ed Lowe at the Weekend', it was called. I think I get more buzz out of doing a live show a pre-recorded one because you know you've got to go with it and even if you make a mistake you have try and to work around it. I mean, have you ever made mistakes on radio or done that?
I've never sworn on radio, which is great after twenty years because I do swear in real life. There have obviously been mistakes in live shows when you think you're interviewing somebody and it turns out to be somebody else. I think a mistake which wasn't mine was a guest was booked for half an hour on Radio5 and they didn't turn up and the production team had no contingency plan and I had to fill for thirty minutes, so that was the most horrific experience of radio for me. That was a mistake but it wasn't mine.
Did you have nothing to mention, so you had to fill it up?
I had nothing because the whole half hour was that I was interviewing this celebrity and the listeners could to ring in with questions, but there was no celebrity so there was nobody to talk to and nobody was ringing in with any questions because there was nobody to address them to. So I had to fill for thirty minutes and at the end of it the producer said:'Oh my God, Kershaw, well done. You've certainly earned your money today'. At which point I nearly punched her, because nobody should ever be put in that position.
Now you've moved to Coventry and Warwickshire, what's it like working back in local radio after having done TV and all the nationals?
Well I first went back into local radio in 2000 when I took over the Breakfast Show on BBC Radio Northampton. It was a real challenge because I'd never done an all-speech show on current affairs on my own. I had done current affairs programmes on Five Live and the old Radio Five, but they were always double-headers. In fact there is only, out of 360 breakfast shows in the UK, commercial, BBC, national and local, there are only five women who do what I do, which is a solo speech breakfast show. As far as I know, there are no women now since the departure of Sarah Cox on Radio One, who do music breakfast shows. So the total for breakfast shows, women on their own in the UK, is 5 out of 360, so I'm really proud of what I do.
What's been the best topic that you've covered on the programme?
Oh, I enjoy all topics. I enjoy getting the facts out of people, because so many people spend their whole lives trying to pull the wool over our eyes, whether it's the War in Iraq or dustbins, rubbish disposal in Warwickshire. I enjoy getting to the bottom of things.
I suppose it's a bit like 'Watchdog' in a way. You had to deal with a lot of issues and a lot of companies. Would you say that 'Watchdog' and your breakfast show are closely linked?
They're both looking after the rights of the licence payers, who pay my wages. 'Watchdog': the first time I went on 'Watchdog' I was sent to Butlins, in Pwllhelli, Wales, undercover. That was terrifying, three days trying not to be identified as a BBC reporter, just hanging out as a holidaymaker, secret filming, interviewing, so that was a baptism of fire. Everything else I did on Watchdog after that was quite tame, things like, you know, getting to the bottom of Mercedes cars which people had paid a fortune for, whose brakes were causing accidents and things like that. Yes, in a way, it's the small person who pays for the licence fee against big business or government, whether local or national.
You also made 'Liz'll Fix It'. Tell me about what that was like, to be able to make the dreams come true for some incredible people?
Well, it was a terrible responsibility and there were so many heartfelt wishes and dreams and I think I felt slightly embarrassed about how much faith people were investing in me. But we did pull off some remarkable 'fix-its' and I was very proud of it. I won an award for that and when I went up to collect my award I said: 'This just shows everybody, and that was something I was brought up to believe, everybody has a story to tell. No matter how insignificant somebody may seem, if you sit next to somebody on a bench in a town centre, don't dismiss them because they have got a story and it can be fascinating. That was brought out by 'Liz'll Fix It'. All the people I met in Coventry and Warwickshire around shopping centres, every one of them had a life experience and story to share, and I think nobody touches that nerve better than local radio. No national station does it like we do, and no commercial station does it like we do.
Because you're constantly working on the radio, because you do another show on a Saturday, 6 Music as well, you don't really get a rest except on a Sunday. How do you manage?
Doing 6 Music is a labour of love, because I love music and I get paid to play music I really like. When 6 Music was devised, I wrote about it first in 'The Independent' and when they asked me to join I was really flattered and excited. It's absolutely targeted at people like me, so it's great to do. I'm home on Saturday about 2 o'clock, I'm home during the week about half eleven. I'm a real home bird and I like pottering around for the rest of the day. It's hard to get up six days a week, but I know how lucky I am and I'm not going to moan, and I do it through choice. I do have my lie-in on a Sunday.
What do you do to relax?
I spend time with my family. I'm a bit of a couch potato at the weekend. I like to spend as much time in my pyjamas as possible. I have fun with my boys. I like going away at the weekend, Saturday lunchtime till Sunday night, spending time with friends, normal stuff really.
I've had the privilege of being interviewed by you on several topics. One I do really do remember was about the benefits for disabled people. We were trying to get more people into work, and we were talking about this with James Plaskett, MP. I was really privileged to be asked to be on the programme because it's a subject which I feel passionate about. Is there
But don't you think you should have been on the programme? Because don't you think too often that people talk about others and across others? I spend a lot of time, I think, talking about youths and young people in hoodies, and it's very rarely that anyone actually goes up to a teenager on a street corner and asks them why they're hanging out there and what their goals are in life, why they're causing trouble. So I would say, if you're talking about people, talk with those people as well.
You need to confront them and see if you can help them out in any way, because you mention there about hanging out on street corners and things like that. Because they've probably got nothing to do, whereas if you sit and talk with them, and find out what their goals are, then maybe you can help them achieve that. I just think that I would like to do more radio stuff like that. I would like to help people.
Well, as I've said before, you never get bored with talking to people because everybody's got a story. I mean if you went up to a lad on a street corner in Coventry this morning, and asked him why he's hanging about, what his background is, what his future might be, it's interesting. Especially if you're naturally nosy and curious.
Well, Liz, than you very much indeed.
Thank you for your time and good luck with your radio career.
Thank you very much.
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