Living with the Storm: A Retrospective in Mementos

Hard to believe now that it’s been three whole years since I first set out from hell to find my place in the world, with nothing but a few bags of clothes, some books and some venison steaks (Yeah… really… Venison steaks! Wouldn’t be eating anything like that for the next three years I can tell you). That first day I arrived in Bangor someone came up to me and handed me a little postcard. It was nothing spectacular, but it told of a student radio station, run by students for students. It was the start of something special for me, a love affair that persists to this day. I still have that postcard. It’s a little dull… Just white with a red logo depicting a radio tower with circles coming out of it- Run of the mill.

But like I said… It was the start. At the Freshers fair theirs was one of the first stalls I visited… And I looked at joining a hell of a lot of societies that day. My friends spent five minutes wandering round. I spent something ridiculous there… like an hour… eager young fresher and all. I signed up for all sorts of things. A Canoeing session for instance, which I would rather forget about as I was utterly crap (and I mean crap) at it… And ended up walking home to halls the S.U miserable and soaked to the bone. I lost a sock as well… Don’t ask me how or where because I don’t know. I also signed up for the society that would have my biggest commitment for the next year… The archaeology society. However, I’ll save it for another day. I came out with a lot of stuff, including a leaflet for a theatre group which again, i won’t go into now. I’ve still got one leaflet, the one I was given when I signed my name down on that very first stall. It promises so much for what now, after everything I’ve been through and done, seems so little. The section on the news team mentions their ‘two weekly shows.’  If only I could go back in time and tell them about the thrice daily bulletins and all the other news shows that were going out by the time I left…  It makes me laugh, looking at it now. So much hope and prospects but in retrospective nothing compared to what was about to come.

A few days later the email arrived inviting me to the evening that changed everything. That was the evening I signed my life away… And ended up vomiting in the bin outside, at about eight in the evening. I was to find out that it was the Strongbow in that place that was doing it after I went through the same process for a second time.

After signing my life away the result was a key ring. It’s now a bit faded after being exposed to my jacket pocket for so long, but like the postcard it’s got that red logo with the radio tower and circles on it.

It wasn’t long before presenter training, the legal test and then the show proposal form. I spent, quite literally, a week drafting out and redrafting my proposal, trying to create something unbeatable. What I came up with was certainly different. I didn’t know much about music at the time so I had opted not to do a music show. but music would be a part of it and gradually the music part was what I became more and more interested in keeping up.  What came out of that week was a show the likes of which the station has not seen before or since. Some have come close, but none have matched the original. It was a history show: PAST FORCE. Every week I would explain all about a different event or period in history, interspersed with appropriate music. The notes and the playlists, brief as they are, tell the story of that show and not many recordings survive. I have kept them all.

One of my most genius playlists was for the history of sewage and contains such wonderful gems: ‘Every Little thing She Does is Magic,’ ‘I Did What I did for Maria,’ ‘As long as he needs me,’ and ‘I can’t keep it in,’ by Cat Stevens.

How I got away with half the stuff I did on that show I have no idea. On my very first show I insinuated that I didn’t use condoms and I also asked the guy showing me the system, live on air I might add, if we had any sea shanties. Unsurprisingly the answer was no but on the last Past Force i brought things full circle by playing a selection of sea shanties. That was also where Optimus Prime came in… fighting Blackbeard… And later other such figures as Julius Caesar, Jeremy Clarkson and a castle full of Palestinians. Other crimes on that show included an imaginary concept artist sat in the corner of the room, endlessly claiming neolithic people lived in trees, practically the entire Jack Ripper episode (which in hindsight shouldn’t have been done live!) and the only thing I ever got in trouble over.

It was during an early show and to be fair I didn’t even notice at the time. There was an email with a joke name that I didn’t realise was a joke name and promptly read it out live on air. Needless to say, the ghost of Mike Litorus has haunted me ever since. And let this be a lesson to any potential DJs to always check that the names on your emails are real.

Things of note from my days presenting Past Force include the original black and white poster, my folder of notes and playlists, The CD of Sea Shanties from the last episode and, strangest of all… a review for the Jack the Ripper episode. I’ve never known what to make of it really as it tries to be flattering but simply isn’t. It claims Fred Dibnah is smiling down on me and compares the entire show to a badly scripted episode of Blackadder.

Everything changed at Storm whilst I was busy blundering my way around world history. Midway through my first year we went online for the first time and  there was a whole re-brand with a new logo and everything in time for the second year. Past Force carried on, despite the mounting pressure for me to do better and better all the time. Past Force’s ‘first birthday’ episode was a shambles for a start. One of the best ideas I had was during the stations ‘radio reborn’ campaign, designed to celebrate one year of being online. I decided to do my bit by giving the shows a military theme, namely ‘Military March.’ I had a whole new set of sweepers produced and everything.

In just eighteen months the station had changed unbelievably from what I’d first known. The Radio Reborn card I have is all glossy and shiny, a world away from the white postcard i had first been given. The final memento from the Past Force days is possibly my favourite. It’s a hoodie… a STORM FM HOODIE. Personalised and under the logo is written: JPC: PAST FORCE. I am quite pleased to say that hoodie comes with me on all my adventures, usually at the bottom of my bag in summer and helping to keep me warm in winter. It’s been with me in Bristol, Manchester, Cardiff, Liverpool, Lancaster and the mountains of Snowdonia.

Nothing lasts forever though and around Easter of my second year the demands of Past Force simply became too great to carry on with. It was too much work. I was tired and increasingly preferring just to play the music. I think I had grown out of it as well. I’d changed. On Sunday 2nd may 2010, after nearly 50 hours of history, Past Force bowed out with a Sid and Nancy inspired ending: Optimus Prime and The Concept Artist turned up driving a taxi whilst i was dancing with some kids in the car park.

One week later on the 9th of May SideTracked (also spelt as Side-Tracked and Side Tracked) took it’s place on a Sunday lunchtime. If Past Force was where I cut my teeth, SideTracked was where I really learned how to be a radio presenter. I started off by listening to way other people did it, taking what they did well, what they didn’t, and from there moulding my own style. Add in the musical style of your average Past Force episode And heck… It worked. It worked well and by Christmas my confidence and skill had built up enough to do a weekly breakfast show as well. Even Past Force eventually came back as a regular feature on those breakfast shows.  I ended my second year with a bang… Quite literally a bang… We were due to move to a bigger and better studio so I pretended the old one was about to hit critical mass and ended my second year with an explosion, interrupting me in mid sentence.

Despite being shuffled around the schedules a bit to begin with, SideTracked soon settled down on a Saturday Afternoon between three and four. I even got the Welsh on the posters to rhyme! Being a better show, Side Tracked posters soon became splashed all over the campus, one in each of the main buildings, except those few on Anglesey which I never got around to doing.

November came around fast and so did the second anniversary of my first show on radio. As I had done the previous year, I decided to do something different. But what to do? There were two things I had: The old Past Force format and the completed drafts of Dark Legend. In the end I merged the two into an oratorio piece and in one hour I told a shortened version of the story, complete with music, returning back to the sort of format I started from. I know it proved popular though I have no idea how many people listened.

Storm had one more surprise for me though and from then on I would be working towards one goal, one dream, one vision: DARK LEGEND, or the radio adaptation of it at least. Even though we had our problems I still think of that as one of the best times of my life. Considering I had stopped Past Force the year before due to workload, I was now writing a dissertation, presenting two mainstream shows and doing my darned hardest to get this project off the ground, no easy task as it turned out. But hey, we did it, and in my scrapbook of writing bits now sits the a double page spread of official cast photos, the poster and the audition notes. The audio edition of Dark Legend was my last show to air on the station. Not a bad end to three of the best years of my life.

But there is one more thing. Well two. Hanging on the wall next to my laptop are two things. The first is a nifty certificate comprised of a disk, written on which is the following: STATION MANAGER AWARD 2011: JAMES CHURCHILL, awarded to me for all the hard work I’d done and the shocking way in which my talents as a radio DJ had developed. It shows… I had gone from being one of the worst presenters, doing a dodgy (at best) show that at times should quite rightly have been pulled off the air, to one of the best with a dedicated following, two weekly shows and one final (and truly epic) dance with the devil due to air a week later. Next to the award is a photograph I pulled it off Facebook… But I look at it now with fondness and as a reminder of the best time of my life. I’ve gathered a lot of stuff from Storm over the years; posters, beermats, flyers, postcards… But that photograph and the award are the most personal.

Some people would call this junk… I call it the best three years of my life.

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