Liverpool Sound City 2013 Interview: Chris Hawkins (Part 1)

By on Tuesday, 28th May 2013 at 11:00 am
 

At this year’s conference portion of Liverpool Sound City 2013, there were loads of sessions I was interested in sitting in on, including one with the unusual title of ‘Radio Friendly Unit Shifter’. A strange mouthful of words, but the panel consisted of some very important heavy hitters from the BBC, last.fm, and Xfm and they were going to discuss how bands could get their music proper radio airplay, something that I’ve always felt would be a beneficial real world extension to all the promotion we do of new bands at TGTF. Unfortunately, the timing of the session coincided with another one that both John and I said we probably should attend – one on how to start creative and digital businesses, should we one day decide to go entirely business legit full time with TGTF – and I recall questioning my Twitter following which they thought was better to attend. Who else should reply to my Tweet but BBC 6music’s own Chris Hawkins? Taken aback by a great of the radio station that has changed the way I’ve viewed music in the last 5 years, it was no contest which session I would attend.

I found the discussion itself very intriguing, on how presenters and producers of radio channels view the radio business these days and how despite illegal downloading affecting record label bottom lines and band profits, radio is surviving – and indeed thriving! – when listeners tune into their favourite programmes and put their faith in their beloved presenters. I was very pleased that before I left America, Mr. Hawkins helpfully agreed to a chat with me when we were in Liverpool. I had to wait a while as the masses went up to Chris to say what big fans they were of his, to give him demos in the hopes that he’d listen to them, to ask for advice on how to make it in the radio industry.

Chris Hawkins interviewI felt somewhat awful, dragging him away from a well-deserved drinks with the others in his crew, but he was such an affable chap to speak with in the bar of the Hilton Liverpool, my worries vanished into thin air. 6music, as many of you know, is my audio lifeline to Britain during my working day, and it’s such an important part of my daily life, I really do not know how I would have coped these past couple of years without it. While I was on holiday in Britain for 3 weeks this May, I couldn’t listen to it at all in any sort of regular schedule because my laptop charger broke 4 days into the trip; to say that I felt lost without my beloved 6 is a huge understatement. I was very pleased to be able to speak with Chris about his work, especially considering that he has championed my friends Van Susans and the Crookes in recent times. This was the first time he attended Sound City and he says he’s been convinced, maybe in some small part by me but surely by the strength of the sessions and the industry people who do make it up to Liverpool, that it’s an event he will attend for sure in future years.

I always thought that being the first presenter in the morning must be a difficult task; I know in Washington, if I’m having a bad commute into work, my eyes are shooting poison arrows into the radio console on my dashboard, and not because I’m mad at whoever presenting, it’s just the situation. So I really wanted to know from Chris how he felt presenting so early in the day. “There is no greater relationship with your audience, with your listeners than first thing in the morning, because you’re all very much in it together. The relationship is like being part of the family with your audience. No-one likes getting up at half past 3 in the morning, which is what I have to do. But once I’m at work, in the studio, I’m as excited about doing the show at that time of the day as I would be doing it at any other time of day.

But I think you have to tailor what you do to what your audience is doing. You’re waking up with your audience. I think the iPlayer and Listen Again facilities are great, but I always think morning shows sound very out of context if you’re listening to them in broad daylight, whereas when I’m starting in the morning, it’s dark outside, and over the course of the 2-hour show, people are opening their curtains, getting in the shower, having their breakfast. And that routine doesn’t change much. So we try not to change the show too much, because we want the audience to know where they’re at any given time, as much as they have their routines. So we want to fit in with them, to have them work their mornings to ideally around the songs and junctions we have on the show.”

I also was curious how a Shropshire lad was fitting in up north, now that his show has moved from London to MediaCity in Manchester. “I lived in London for 15 years, having worked in Western House and then previously at Marylebone High Street, which is where GLR, Greater London Radio was, where I’d come down to London to work there, because it was a radio station with the likes of Danny Baker, Chris Evans, Chris Morris had all worked there, a great radio station that still has a very important piece of a lot of people’s hearts. And then, Western House for 10 years? And then MediaCity, which is an incredible BBC development in the North West.

“It’s unbelievable, the show has gone from strength to strength since we’ve moved. It was a great fresh start for me, and it’s great not least there’s a window in the studio, which is actually very unusual. We can actually see outside! It’s not a boxed room, which is very common in radio and you can actually see through a window what is going on in the real world outside your little booth. And it’s been a fantastic year to be based in the North West, you can become very London-centric and end up talking about tubes and things that outside of London have any concept about. The tube is unique to London, and the things you do in London are very different than the way people’s lives are outside of it.”

Check back here on TGTF for the exciting conclusion of my interview with Chris Hawkins, which posts tomorrow.

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TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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