The 164-mile round trip was taking its toll. I earned a pittance so after paying bills and shelling out for fuel, I had about 76p to my name.
My daily battle with the M62 wasn’t doing much for my stress levels either. My body has a painful way of letting me know I’m stressed – eczema. I’d had extremely painful hands for a good 12-months, I remember my mum absent mindedly squeezing hand sanitizer on them once and I didn’t know whether to scream or cry. Thankfully I haven’t had a flare up during this pandemic…..
So, way back in 2012 I saw a job advert for a broadcast journalist at my local radio station 2BR in Lancashire – perfect!
Thoughts before applying:
- Nothing EVER happens in Lancashire.
- It’ll be a stop gap, one year, two at the most.
- I won’t have to listen to Freddie Mercury Living on my own again.
- Lots of things happen in Lancashire. Every. Single. Day.
- I stayed for more than five years.
- Of course, Freddie Mercury Living on my own was on the playlist.
- I fell in love with the place and the people there.
From that first meal out with my new teammates, I knew that this job was going to be a lot of fun – one presenter told me about the time he’d been propositioned by the cleaner who turned out to have, shall we say, another job; it was quite the introduction.
Walking into Petre court every day was like home, only you wouldn’t run the risk of E-coli from my kitchen, find a bat on the windowsill (I’d walked past it all morning thinking it was toy) and if there was a pet hamster in my house I’d clean it’s cage (it was a ‘psychic’ hamster for a world cup, obviously, and I hated that creature).
There were so many quirks to that place, for a kick-off, the name. 2BR stood for two boroughs radio, though it actually covered three Burnley, Pendle and Hyndburn and a few years later Chorley, Blackburn with Darwen and Preston. My garden shed is probably more sound-proofed than the news booth ever was and for some reason the first song on the emergency back-up tape was on the playlist. Every time I hear Waterboys ‘The whole of the moon’, I listen for the accompanying run up the stairs to make sure we’re on air.
When I got there, I was struck by some pretty interesting things that were going on, I mean they’d ‘Cancelled Christmas’ and fielded the complaints from angry parents. In actual fact it was part of a bigger competition that saw a child win a trip to Lapland to meet Father Christmas – it wasn’t a station of child hating monsters. The news team felt like it was part of the wider team rather than a separate entity tucked away in a corner (in some stations the news team is literally in a broom cupboard). I wanted to make news an even bigger part of the output and was encouraged to do so.
News in the commercial radio world is seen as expensive – though we’re often the lowest paid – and as a service that doesn’t add value because it is a department that can’t bring money in….easily. There was this attitude at 2BR, I hadn’t walked into a perfect utopia, some minds needed changing and that’s what I was determined to do, get people to see the value of news, how it could fit into programming and bring in some cash. I had a lot of fun doing just that over the next few years and got to do things I’d only dared dream about – mainly becoming news editor and seeing various incarnations of that team nominated for awards and be robbed of winning at EVERY. SINGLE. CEREMONY.
Within my first three months, I found myself taking part in a series called ‘Strictly come horse riding’, where I learnt to horse ride in 12 weeks and competed in a dressage competition on a horse called Bob at the end of it – I even won a rosette. I only fell off once, well I say fell off….I was learning to canter and I hadn’t got my positioning right, so the horse in question was starting to buck. The only thing that was going through my mind was, “I’m going to fall, and I need to be as far away from the legs of this animal as possible” so I dived off and it really hurt. Two days before the competition, Paul told me a story about seeing someone fall off a horse and get trampled, not what I needed to hear.
This wasn’t the only time I hurt myself in the name of radio, in fact I started to become synonymous with danger; there was the 100k walk in some of the worst weather Lancashire has ever seen, it was abandoned as I was about to head up onto a fell in the dark, like an idiot. There was the thunderstorm at the top of the third peak on the Yorkshire peaks – where I cried and save the best for last…the husky sled incident…..
In 2015, I got to play out my break down about turning 30 on air by completing my 30 list. I had successfully, without incident, learnt to ride a motorbike; huskies were my undoing.
There’s a track in Colne, I’d done a few stories with the husky rescue in the past and they got in touch to suggest I come down and have a go on the track, what could possibly go wrong? Lots.
Olly and I headed down there, did a few links with Helen and Tim, I had a walk round the track was told what to do and was all set to go.
You know what’s important when husky sledding? Steering.
I set off all Billy big balls, completely ignored what I’d been told, forgot to steer went flying into a tree.
I can’t tell you much about what happened next, I got back on the damn rig and finished the lap, walked round the corner covered in blood telling Olly, “I fell off”, did a link with Helen and Tim (I have no idea what I said apart from I fell off), sat down smoked a lot drank a lot of brews and waited for Gemma to come and rescue us.
I was in complete shock, managing to hold it together until my phone battery died and then I cried. I remember my team not being entirely sure what to do, Gemma ushering me into the car were I promptly burst into tears again because I’d cried in the office. We spent the next few hours sat at walk-in centre, me feeling sorry for myself, her keeping me company. I still laugh about that very strange morning, the guys at the track had suggested a plaque on the tree saying ‘Collins corner’ I think that sounds a bit dodgy.
It wasn’t all play, my teams and I got to cover some of the toughest stories, in innovative ways. In fact, some of my proudest achievements come from my 2BR days, I often dragged Olly along for the ride, he was a cracking content director willing to give most things a go….
We filled a room with wedding dresses that would be turned into angel gowns for stillborn babies and opened up conversations around stillbirth by working with a mum who’d lost her daughter.
We ran a swim safe campaign to highlight the dangers of swimming in open water – that included swimathons, meetings with MPs and presenters agreeing to take part in an organised rescue with the fire service (Paul, sorry you ended up standing on a dead sheep).
We did two overnight election shows with reporters at each of the counts, for some reason the second time around Olly and I thought it’d be a good idea to be on air from 10:00pm to 10:00am the following morning, weren’t that coherent by the end of it. I remember Mike getting an exclusive from the Ribble Valley count in 2017, his message read “this is gold”, it was, he got the first Tory breaking ranks and going to town on Theresa May. Mike always managed to get decent exclusive interviews where angry people ranted at him, how and why he isn’t a journalist I’ll never know.
We covered the horrific Manchester Arena bombing that affected people across our patch and beyond, working long hours to ensure we provided respectful coverage and paid tribute to the victims.
We spoke openly about suicide and walked through the borough to highlight the need to talk on the Walk with an angel walk.
I got to go to France and Belgium with the army to mark 100 years since the start of world war 1.
Headed to Uganda to work at a school for what was a life changing two weeks.
And (probably my proudest moment) saved Lancashire’s refuges. In 2016, the county council had announced (although it was rather well hidden) that they’d be axing ALL funding for domestic violence refuges, John and Penny Clough had brought it to my attention, their daughter Jane had been murdered by an ex-partner. I decided to fight it, we launched a campaign, I became a right pain in the arse for the county council for the next six months. People shared their stories of survival, refuge staff spoke to me about the real possibility of having to close, then at 8:00pm on a Friday night of bank holiday weekend, the council backed down. I don’t think I’ll ever do anything as important in my life.
I got to shape my own service and build my own team – many times over. That’s the problem with finding talented journos, they tend to get poached! Only joking, I’ve loved being able to give people their first job, the freedom to get creative, do the things they care about, develop and move on. I’m proud of each and every one of them and love seeing their careers progress, they’re all talented and I’ve learnt a lot from them all.
I have to give special mention to Laura here, her story, quite simply is fabulous. She applied for work experience and for some reason ended up being invited for a group sales interview, how I have no idea. By all accounts she wasn’t the worst person in the room and didn’t admit she wanted news work experience until the end of the ordeal. She came for two weeks and basically never left; she’d come in once a week, became a part time member of staff and eventually a full-time member of staff. It wasn’t plain sailing, telling her on one occasion she hadn’t got a full-time job was hard, she set about proving me wrong and has never stopped grafting, she fully deserves every success.
Every single one of them went above and beyond, Vicky’s work with St Catherine’s hospice is still some of the most memorable radio I have ever heard. She was raising money by doing a skydive and had spoken to lady called Pat about the hospice who sadly died before her interview aired, Vicky chose to speak about it on air I still get goose bumps thinking about it. It is no surprise she gets award nominations and I fully expect to see her on TV.
Craddock would never stop working, I had serious concerns that boy was going to collapse of exhaustion. I remember being asked about risk assessments (those again) after he got a little battered and bruised training for a wrestling competition. I interviewed the poor lad three times, the first time I didn’t give him job and told him what he needed to do in future interviews; the second time he applied, I made him do a second interview just to be sure – sorry mate, that in hindsight, was cruel. He went on to run his own team before joining the BBC, I think his aim is to live in EVERY area of the UK.
Alice brought a desire to be the best with her, a ball of energy with lots of ideas, fresh takes on stories and enthusiasm. If I could bottle that enthusiasm, I would. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone as competitive before in my life, I include myself in that. She made her mark on 2BR immediately, I’m only sorry I abandoned her a couple of months later.
While Janine was my absolute rock, someone I could rely on and trust completely, who reminded me that it was only radio, sometimes it just wasn’t worth getting stressed out about, I probably would have collapsed of exhaustion without her unwavering support and friendship. They are all amazing friends….
I’m guessing at this point I can hear presenters shouting, ‘hang on what about me?’ I’m getting there don’t worry.
Working at Petre, never felt like work, there were challenges, there always is. I knew something or someone would make me belly laugh every day – usually Paul one of life’s really decent, genuine, humans.
There’d be occasion where I’d be very aware I didn’t have an adult job like reading the news from a motor home, watching Helen rehearse her Cher set before going out busking, photographing Chris Dean in a bikini (cheers mate), playing CDs from my car when the entire radio station broke because of a virus, chucking a cream pie in Tim’s face or just generally being with some good friends every day, making brilliant radio and punching way above our weight. That’s why deciding to leave was hard….
Obviously, everything has to come to an end, I’d got to the point where I knew there was nowhere else for me to go, so when a new opportunity presented itself, I had to jump. Staying would have been the easy, comfortable, option.
I cried when I handed my notice in, which was very strange because it was 2BR’s 18thbirthday and someone was filming it. It was even stranger a week later when it was announced the station had been bought by my new company.
8 months later I was there as the shutters came down and Olly broadcast the last ever link on 2BR.
I can’t be too sad about that, I have some great memories and even better friends (always friends not colleagues) from my 2BR days and like Dr Suess wrote “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
P.S Big thanks to Chris Dean for actually giving me a job
P.P.S This is the briefest snap-shot of a wonderful place.
Journalist, writer, traveller, music lover, collector of hats, news addict, bookworm