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Duncan Newmarch: “The Jingles I Grew Up With”

Posted 5th June 2015

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I’ve linked to many jingle montages in my time. This, however, is something special. The above audio is 2 hours 10 minutes long – and is really less of a jingle montage, and more of a journey through one man’s radio history.

That man is Duncan Newmarch – former radio DJ and producer, current BBC television continuity announcer. I caught up with him for a brief chat about his creation… and what radio means to him.

JOHN: So, what the hell is this, and why have you made it?

DUNCAN: (laughing) That’s a good question! I’ve got to come up with an answer.

Well, the idea was to mix hissy old cassette recordings with lovely clean copies from master tapes and CDs of all the things I just loved listening to as a kid. This is the radio and the jingles that I have grown up with. I did play a few little bits and pieces to somebody and they said: “You can hear where it goes from the crappy quality to lovely, crisp clean explosions… why don’t you just make the whole thing mono and make it sound like it’s from a medium wave speaker?” And I thought “Well, that’s not the point”. I think anybody can find old cassette copies of old radio. If you could have taken all that radio from the 80s and the 90s, how would it have sounded through their headphones? Because I grew up listening to Radio 1 in medium wave, and it sounded horrible for most of the time! But of course, in the studio, they were listening to it sounding beautiful.

But yeah, how do you describe it in one sentence? It’s a radio trip down memory lane, isn’t it?

I just spend so much time in the car. I wanted to have something that I could start at home, and get all the way to work and it still hadn’t finished. And the problem is, I don’t think I’ve changed a lot from being a ten year old – I’m still listening to really weird stuff in the car, rather than just putting the radio on. As a kid, like most kids of the 80s, I had this drawer under the bed which was just full of cassettes. But rather than them being filled with music, I was one of those boys who recorded the Top 40, and had my finger over the Pause button – but rather than recording the music and stopping the tape when Bruno Brookes would start to speak, I was the wrong way round! So I’d be recording what he said, to try and get copies of all the jingles, and all of the silliness in-between.

So there was all these cassettes which I found recently, and I thought: “Well, what the point of having this if you don’t listen to it?” There are lots of jingle collectors, and I don’t blame them, but they’ve got all these jingles and they never listen to them. So I wanted to archive all of those cassettes, and then, rather than just listening to them, mix these hissy old recordings with lovely clean quality versions of all the jingles and the beds and all the things I loved listening to as a kid, and unfortunately still love listening to them now.

How long did it actually take you to make this?

It just started as a little birthday thing, with Tony Blackburn saying “Pop-a-doodle-tastic”… and now it’s two hours long, and it’s a year on, and I’m never going to get that time back in my life.

Thing is, I’ve spent enough of my life in the studio mixing things… I think if I was getting paid and that was all I was doing, I think it would probably have only taken me a month or two. The biggest thing was finding all the really small things that people other than me won’t even notice. But for me, because everything is in absolutely the right order, from the first thing I remember hearing, right through to what I’m listening to now – there were just certain little things, and I knew I had a copy somewhere – but which cassette’s it on? And of course, you have to listen to all this stuff in real time. So, to piece all that together like a huge jigsaw just took ages.

So yes, I started it Easter of 2014, and now I’m finishing it in June 2015. But that was just a few hours here, and then I might not do anything for two or three weeks. And then – ooh, I’ve got a bit of spare time… so, I don’t know how long it would have taken me if I’d actually concentrated.

Listening to the montage, what comes across to me is you’ve got a real love for radio. What is it about radio that you love so much?

As a kid I loved Swap Shop on the telly. It sounds a cliche, but it was one of those programmes where you believed Noel Edmonds who presented it was talking to me. Every single Saturday morning I would wake up, go downstairs, sit on the sofa – I’d still be in my pyjamas – and I would be there until the Grandstand theme started. And then one Sunday morning, completely by accident, I switched the radio on and Keith Chegwin and Maggie Philbin – who used to co-present Swap Shop – were on Junior Choice with Tony Blackburn. Hold on – there’s like a mini Swap Shop on this thing as well, what’s this?

And then I heard Steve Wright and – bang! All of a sudden there are voices and noises and sound effects and these wonderful jingles: in ten seconds you have a beginning, a middle and an end, and every time you listen to it, there is something different – there are explosions, and little twiddly bits, and these wonderful harmonies that you want to listen to again and again and again… and panning! The first time I heard that Radio 1 jingle go “One-One-One-One” left and right, panning, you just wanted to put headphones on and listen to it again and again, thinking: this is blowing my mind.

So, I love theatre of the mind, I love the fact Adrian Juste did this wonderful sketch – of course, he sat in the studio pressing play on a sound effect, but as a listener, you can actually hear a woman running down the stairs, whilst the husband is sat in the living room. In fact, the first thing he ever did that I remember: he had a fly sound effect – bzzzzzzzz – in the studio, and he was trying to kill it. And he said, “Let’s play a record while I hit this with a flypaper, and then the gag was “I didn’t know flies could read”. But I saw him in the studio being attacked by a fly. I didn’t see him pressing play on a cart. And I loved that idea of creating bigger pictures than television could.

But I also just wanted to cock about and play jingles and get paid.

It’s sometimes very difficult to explain to people what it is about jingles that is that gets our mind racing.

I think they condense what would be a decent song into 10 to 15 seconds which are really good. You get singers who can actually sing. It’s going somewhere, there’s a key change, there’s an explosion in there for – well, why not? – and then it ends with you wanting more. I swear, Radio 1 Roadshow in Cleethorpes, you hear the pips, it’s just coming up to 11 o’clock, and then all of a sudden – BANG! Off fires the jingle. And I used to get the goosebumps, the hairs on my arms stand up, just thinking about it now. I guess I didn’t really ever want to be on the radio to tell listeners about new albums, or where they could go to see bands performing. To be honest, the music got in the way of me messing about and playing jingles and things. Whether the listeners would ever actually want to hear that or not… I don’t suppose it ever occurred to me. I was just having great fun.

Mums up and down the country of fellow anoraks, they all say the same thing: “But they all sound the same! You’re listening to the same thing again and again and again!” And of course that is kind of the purpose – they’re supposed to kind of sound the same, to have that melody running through. But there are very few girlfriends who get it, and I have eventually learned that there are two types of CDs or two types of categories in the iPod that I listen to in the car. There’s the one I listen to when I’m alone, and then when normal humans get into the car… it’s time to listen to music.

But something like this is more than just 30 jingles in a row, isn’t it? This is an audio history. Do you think that, frankly, someone normal could sit and listen to this and actually get something out of it?

I’m not sure even the biggest anoraks will get through it from beginning to end without at some point thinking “I’ve got to do something normal! I’ve got to get away from this!”

There is a part of this which goes back to the Superstation, which was the sustaining service on a lot of commercial stations in the early 90s. Just those few minutes are really intense – there are a lot of things going on, being thrown at you – but that is how it sounded on air. American deep voices and laser blasts, and stupid pointless comments about beaming live from satellites in space – what difference does it make? There is a story there, but it’s my story – I’m going to listen to this and I will be that young boy waking up really early in the morning to hear Radio 1’s little 15 minute segment of jingles before the programmes started. And then I’ll be at hospital radio or in the Roadshow audience… and then I’ll be sat behind the mixer about to do my first show on Lincs [FM], or then ordering jingles for Lincs, and then leaving Lincs and coming to sit behind the microphones here introducing TV shows.

I hope it inspires people to make their own versions, but along the way they’ll hear things which hopefully they’ll recognise. It’s very easy to slag off everything that’s old, but at the time it worked perfectly, and hopefully a lot of people will hear these little songs and remember “Do you know what, radio was brilliant back then”. Forget what people tell you in these documentaries about everything being rubbish – no, it worked perfectly for the time.

Do you have any favourite bits of the montage?

The last thing I made for it is Adrian Juste doing that Roadshow introduction, so it’s funny how things go round in full circles. From me being the little lad in the Roadshow audience getting the goosebumps, now recreating it with all the original jingles, the proper drum roll, an audience sound effect which isn’t just an audience sound effect, it is actually from a Radio 1 Roadshow, and with the great man doing that voice. In 30 years time I will still really be proud and smile and think: I never quite got to do it [for real], but this is the closest I’ll get.

[There’s also] getting Noel Edmonds to record anything, because of the Swap Shop thing. I just assumed he never would. Finally, just having those jingles. From being the boy trying to record something, and then Gary Davies will talk all over the end of it, and you think “No, be quiet!” Whenever they used to make a cock-up, and it’d go: “Number 19!” [pause] “Yes, I got Number 19!” Finally to have something you desperately wanted for so long… I’ve finally completed it. I’ve finally got the thing I never thought I would have, and I will never tire of listening to it. On my deathbed, if it’s playing in the background, it will make me smile and my last words may be: “Just rewind that, so… argh!”

What would you like others to get out of it? This is something you made purely for you – but then you’re also putting it out there. Presumably there’s the idea that other people are interested. What are you trying to get across? When they’ve sat back and listened to two hours of it, what do you want them to feel at the end of it?

Dirty! (laughing) I don’t want to say that “All radio today is bad!” because it’s not – there are some great people on… but I still do miss radio when each presenter had their own personality. People would get a job at, for example, Radio 1, and the first question would be: “What can you do that’s different?” And now, it’s more: “You’re not going to do anything different, are you?” And this reminds me of a time… not necessarily when radio was better, but when there were bigger personalities. Cheese has become a word which is very negative, but I grew up listening to a sound which just seemed perfect, and I miss that kind of radio. I don’t know whether I want it to come back, but I want to be reminded of it, and this will do that. So perhaps I want other people maybe to listen to it and… I don’t know, I don’t want to force that style of radio onto anybody else, but perhaps they’ll hear: hey, it was done well.

Do you know, I don’t know. The honest answer is: I haven’t really thought about anybody else. I haven’t made this for anybody else, I made it for me, but then thought: there may be some people who would like to hear it. This is just taking me back to those times to remind me what I loved about radio. It’s just a celebration. If people hear it and enjoy bits of it, then good. It’s for me, and if other people enjoy bits of it, then I’m pleased.

With many thanks to Duncan Newmarch, who is currently appearing between the programmes on BBC television.

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