Jeff Zycinski was the BBC's Head of Radio in Scotland from 2005 to 2018, the longest-serving occupant of that role.
Zycinski was born in Easterhouse, Glasgow in 1963, the youngest of seven brothers and a sister, to a Scottish mother and a Polish father, an ex-sailor who settled in Scotland after serving with the Polish Free Navy during the Second World War.
Growing up as the youngest in a noisy, crowded household, Zycinski says he became a great listener "because I couldn't get a word in". By the time he was a teenager, each of his brothers had left home. "At one point, five of them were in the army and when they were back on leave the house was a riot of irreverent army humour, everybody competing for the funniest line. So, I've always loved comedy and tuning in to people like Kenny Everett, Tony Hancock and the Goons."
It was at this time Zycinski became an insomniacal radio addict, listening to great classical dramatisations on the BBC World Service, the place where he first encountered The Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
"And then I would turn to Radio Prague in wonderment at the propaganda. In fact, I've still got the vinyl single of Czech folk music which I won in the Radio Prague competition. This was during the Cold War, of course, and my dad was very suspicious of me writing off to eastern bloc countries."
He recalled that in his diary from 1978 each page began, "I was listening to the radio last night, therefore slept in this morning, therefore late for school, therefore got such a row."
He later recalled that it took a long time to get over what he saw as the lack of self-esteem endemic in areas such as Easterhouse.
Although I loved radio, it never entered my mind to consider working in it. My voice was wrong, I didn't come from a background where further education was considered. Leaving school as soon as I could was my priority. I knew I didn't want to join the army, and I started working in the pay office of a colliery. But the reality of the working world was mind blowingly, relentlessly tedious.
He lasted three months in the job before giving up and going to night school to gain the Highers needed to take a degree in psychology.
From 1982–83 he studied for an SNC in public administration at the Central College of Commerce, Glasgow.
He went on to study at Glasgow College of Technology, graduating in 1987 with BA (Hons) in Social Sciences.
During this period, became seriously involved in journalism through the student magazine and writing short detective stories for Radio Clyde's overnight programme, until it was cancelled six months later.
He then progressed to University College, Cardiff, where he gained a postgraduate qualification in journalism in 1988. Part of that course involved broadcasting and, for the first time, he realised his voice and style when presenting did pass scrutiny.
Zycinski was initially offered a two-week placement at Moray Firth Radio in Inverness, and then a year's contract as a news reporter between January 1989 and January 1990. This period overlapped with work as a senior news reporter at Radio Clyde between November 1989 and September 1993.
In October 1993 he joined BBC Scotland as senior producer in Selkirk.
A year later he moved to the BBC in Inverness to launch the Tom Morton morning programme.
He returned to Glasgow in September 1997 when he was promoted to Editor, Topical Programmes, a post he remained in for more than seven years, launching both the lunchtime Lesley Riddoch programme (which won a Sony Silver Award in 2001 and again in 2002) and the Gary Robertson mid-morning programme in Autumn 2000.
Zycinski had a brief career as a stand-up comic. He recalled that it began as a dare on the Fred MacAulay programme. "The Comedy Store were holding auditions in Glasgow and I was caught mouthing off in the production office that anybody could do that," he told the Herald. Challenged to prove his claim, Zycinski invented a loser called Johnnie Sellotape who, strapped for material, reeled off jokes written on bits of paper stuck to his jacket:
"That way I knew I'd get through the audition but, lo and behold, I won and two weeks later there I was at the King's Theatre in front of 2000 people. Anyway, the act just died, and I remember thinking that nothing would ever frighten me again."
The man on the clapometer, measuring audience reaction, was none other than MacAulay himself.
Head of BBC Radio, Scotland
Upon being promoted to head of radio in 2005, he declared three areas he wanted to develop: original comedy, original drama, and original journalism.
Pledging a new culture of creativity and risk-taking at the station, he broke the monthly planning meeting into two parts: one for the finance people and one for the creatives, in an effort to stop brainstorming getting stifled by budget discussions. "We were being second-guessed all the time by business consequences," he told the Sunday Herald. "Now we can talk about what the audience wants to hear and then work out how to make it happen."
He also remarked that BBC Radio Scotland had the advantage of far fewer 'sacred cows' than some stations with only Good Morning Scotland and folk presenter Robbie Shepherd immoveable parts of the schedule.
After being made head of radio in 2005 he moved to Inverness with his wife and two children and worked from BBC Scotland's newly-refurbished premises at Culduthel Road, commuting regularly to visit the station's main production teams in Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh.
He launched his own blog to have dialogue with the audience and give listeners a behind-the-scenes glimpse of Radio Scotland.
Zycinski wanted more human-interest journalism and more public participation on Good Morning Scotland. "Whenever you hear real people talking about the impact of political decisions, it just makes better radio. It brings the story to life," he said.
Desiring a 'newsier' feel between 9am and 9.30am, in recognition of changing work patterns that stretched news demand further into the morning, he introduced a new daily breakfast phone-in programme, Morning Extra, presented initially by Gary Robertson. "This is where we'll focus on the interactive element of listeners' comments on that day's news agenda," he explained to the Herald, "rather than having opinions, often anonymous, drifting in and out of Good Morning Scotland." Later in the day, Robertson returned to host the 12-1pm slot of news and current affairs reworked along the lines of his Sunday Live programme.
The Arts Show, hosted by Clare English and Janice Forsyth, was re-branded as The Radio Cafe, designed to give it a sharper, interactive edge. It was broadcast after the one o' clock news for 50 minutes, and repeated each evening from 6.10pm.
In the 2006 Sony Awards, Jeff was nominated as Station Programmer of the Year.
In 2008 BBC Radio Scotland was nominated as Station of the Year at the Celtic Media Festival.
Other awards as Editor include a Sony Silver for Asking For You (2003) and Sony Bronze awards for Old Firm Day (2002) and Life Stories (2005).
The SoundTown project was launched by Jeff in 2003 and involved a year-long partnership with Doon Academy in Dalmellington where a radio studio was built in the school. The project continued in Grangemouth, Elgin, Kelso and Dundee.
- 'Why managers should make their own coffee', Herald, 3 November 2005.
- Anne Simpson, 'Controller Jeff Zycinski reveals his radical plans for the future', Herald, 11 May 2005.
- 'Why managers should make their own coffee', Scotsman, 3 November 2005.
|Head of Radio, BBC Scotland