As much-loved Chipping Campden community radio station NCCR sadly closes next week after 15 years DJ Steve Sutherland reflects on his time hosting the Theme Time Radio show
Time for nostalgia as Steve Sutherland, weekly DJ for much-loved Chipping Campden community radio station NCCR, takes a look back over the years ahead of the station's sad closure next week.
HALLOWEEN has always been a big occasion for The Sutherlands. Ever since they were very little, the kids looked forward to October’s spooky shenanigans almost as much as they couldn’t wait for Christmas. One of the ghoulish things we used to get up to was the Scream-ometer – I’d play a Halloween-y song and they would scream at the end, extremely loud if they deemed it really scary, a muted groan if it didn’t deliver the chills.
They’re all grown up now - not kids anymore – so we won’t be doing that ever again. Another reason our beloved tradition’s over, though, is because we used to do it on the radio. NCCR to be precise. North Cotswold Community Radio, run out of “The Cooler” in the basement of the old Police Station in Chipping Campden where, apparently, they used to chuck the drunks to sober up and where a ghost still prowls the premises.
NCCR is to cease broadcasting at the end of December after being a fully functional, seven-day-a-week internet offering for 15 years. The station’s founder, Robb Eden, a man with a whole anecdote-filled career working in radio, has decided to pull the plug having struggled to find funding, backing, technical expertise and voluntary staffing to help keep it going.
My involvement with NCCR began about a dozen years back, not long after we moved our family out into the sticks from London. I’d had a little radio experience back in the Smoke - I did a weekly record review show on XFM, guested now and then on Radio 1, and then helped set up and do shows for NME Radio, the music publication I was editing at the time.
My show for NCCR was – is – Theme Time Radio, every Sunday evening, 5-7pm – an idea stolen from the spirited go that Bob Dylan had at doing radio. He did 101 hour-long shows. By my calculation, I will have done roughly 500 two-hour outings by the time the station shuts down; shows about rain, sun, roads, eyes, legs arms, brains, birds, bugs, dogs, cats, horses, flowers, boys, girls, school, work, war, peace, booze, drugs, trains, planes, automobiles, dark, light, new, old, red, black, white, blue… you name it, Theme Time has done a show about it. Sometimes we even went naked - “themeless” - and just played what we considered to be cool stuff we were into that week like Black Box Recorder, The Unthanks, PJ Harvey, Captain Beefheart, Big Star, Amon Duul, Felt, Mazzy Star, Geto Boys, Tinariwen, Electric Prunes, Trees, Linda Perhacs, Laura Nyro, Darondo, Tim Buckley, My Bloody Valentine, Bikini Kill, Cocteau Twins, Johnny Thunders, Sparklehorse... artists that seldom, if ever, get any airtime anywhere else. And we always found time for a little Lana Del Rey, The Cramps, Ramones and The B-52’s.
You may have noticed the “I’ has turned to a “We”. That’s because, after a couple of years with Robb Eden sitting at the controls and kind of producing the show while I just whittered on between numbers, recounting relevant - and sometime irrelevant – journalistic encounters with the likes of Axl Rose, David Bowie, Phil Lynott, Peter Tosh, Van Halen, Blur, Oasis, Alice Cooper, Nick Cave, Kate Bush etc – the eldest Sutherland kid, Molly, then aged about 12 – took over the controls and we did it together, playlisting the shows, arguing over each song’s merits and rejoicing at any new, mostly indie, discoveries which Molly would always declare “Genius”. When she headed off to Uni, the youngest Suth, Mery, took over and brought a new hip-hoppy sensibility to the play listing – plenty of Lizzo, Sza, Girl In Red and Kali Uchis. She’s been in and out since, in the saddle when the Sundays don’t clash with her Chipping Campden School and Warwick Playbox theatrical rehearsals.
So, anyway, I’m sure you’ll appreciate that NCCR closing down feels a bit like losing a close friend of the family – it seems to have always been part of our lives and we will mourn and miss it as I’m sure many of the other presenters who’ve given up their time to do their NCCR stint will also.
One of the great things about it was that we could play what we liked – there was no pre-set playlist or anything restrictive like that. Should there be an F-word or two in any of the songs, we’d programme them into the second half of the show, our self-imposed watershed for profanity being 6pm.
Now and again I’d get a stern email from Robb admonishing us for going off on richly deserved anti-Tory rants or diatribes against fox hunters who snootily continue to ignore the law and ride roughshod over our local fields and lanes.
We solved this by sarcastically announcing that the opinions we were sharing on air were ours and ours alone and did not necessarily reflect those of the station blah blah blah. Boy, did we have the giggles!
One of the other great things was that we never knew how many people – if any – were actually listening. We did it cos we loved it, not for the plaudits or the stats. Some of the other presenters preferred to create their shows at home and dial them in but we always loved the ritual of rocking up to the studio on a Sunday evening come rain, snow or shine, and doing it all shonky and live.
Then, of course, picking up the curry from the Volunteer pub on the way back home. Once in a while we’d get some feedback from people who’d listened in, mostly complimentary thankfully – and when the Listen Again facility worked, folks could listen back through the library of shows hosted on the website.
There’s an art to playlisting any radio show and we’d always pop a reggae or soul or hiphop tune on after Morrissey or The Smiths because, y’know, it was our way of chiding mad old Moz for his questionable opinions on race. We would also get a private thrill after segueing, say, Butthole Surfers into Otis Redding or Barbra Streisand into 1000 Homo DJs in the knowledge that no-one else in the world had ever done that before.
Sometimes, when the mood took us, we’d line up a trio of Christmas Shows to run consecutively because we wanted to air all those wonderful Killers Xmas one-offs plus as many Sufjan Stevens seasonal numbers as we could, more often than not topped off by the greatest Christmas song ever, Christmas In Harlem by the now sadly insane Kanye West. We even had Kip, our cocker spaniel puppy, woofing along on air to We Wish You A Merry Christmas. And sometimes the sheer brilliance of what we were playing would get to us and we could hardly go on through the emotion of it all – Jonathan Richman would do that to us with That Summer Feeling, Bryan Ferry with his take on These Foolish Things, Lou Reed’s Coney Island Baby, Eels with Climbing To The Moon, The Shangri-La’s with I Can Never Go Home Anymore, and dear old Daniel Johnston with Life In Vain. And sometimes we laughed so much we cried – Barnes & Barnes’ Fishheads would always get us going, as would Cristina’s take on Is That All There Is and Sparks’ Hippopotamus or Let The Monkey Drive.
I must say I think it’s sad that more local enterprises didn’t get behind NCCR. Chipping Campden School’s just opened a brand spanking new theatrical department and yet seems reluctant to get involved with the station even though tons of their students have gained skills and work experience running their own shows on NCCR. All presenters were encouraged to promote local events and we always bigged-up school plays and local fetes and charitable events and so forth. But hey, I guess nothing ever lasts forever as The Bunnymen once said.
In the studio, above the CD player, there’s a drawing stuck on the wall that Molly did when she was about 14. It’s a cat with Ziggy Stardust make-up. The Bowie Cat. And the message in its speech bubble reads: “You may think you’re ugly sometimes but I think you’re beautiful.” I’ll be taking it with me when I depart my last show - a small reminder of years and years and years gone by, never to be lived again.
When the music’s over, turn out the lights….