If you have ever listened to radio searching for a show that makes you laugh, makes you think and bends the very fabric of what a radio show is ‘supposed’ to be…then you have probably heard of Iain lee.
In my opinion, he is one of the bravest and most creative voices (and minds) on air these days. A creative whirlwind who is not only not afraid to try something new, but constantly searches it out. Not only ‘new’ but also something that can expose him and challenges him as a radio presenter.
Some of his calls are already in my file of ‘How To’ audio clips.
But don’t expect seasoned journalism…he doesn’t do that. Expect (sometimes long) conversations with callers, surreal moments born out of nothing and patience to get to the ‘great bit’ of a call. His late night show has been allowed to breathe and hovers between the knife edge and the cushion — both dangerous and comforting at the same time.
I was delighted when both Iain and his producer Katherine Boyle agreed to sit down with me for a chat recently.
They are the shining example of experience, creativity and belief in what they are doing.
I met up with them in the studios of talkRadio in London a few hours before they went on air.
Iain met me in the lobby. Bounding down the hall, as tall as I expected and (I felt) maybe a little unsure if he really wanted to do this? Big handshake before wondering where Katherine was “Where is that woman!!”
Within a minute, ‘the woman’ was there. The lady who, I believe is just as important to this show as the host. Their chemistry is obvious from the moment they both stand beside eachother.
I loved the way they took a regular local radio morning show and turned it upside down.
I first asked about that and how did this develop?
KB (Katherine Boyle) — On paper it looked like the show the BBC wanted and they couldn’t deny we were doing it. But there was a whole other show going on that wasn’t scripted.
IL (Iain Lee) — The first year at 3 Counties, I lost confidence in who I was and what I was doing. I’d got the boot from Absolute and knocked on so many doors trying to get a job. No one wanted me. I went to 3 Counties to see if I could get some cover shifts and the lady in charge there said ‘Oh, we might have a breakfast show going. Do you want it’?
So, I took it but didn’t know who I was or what I was doing so I let the producers direct the show and it was a very straight and very dull show. Then Katherine took over as producer and we started to play and started to have more fun.
KB — We kind of had a feeling that the BBC didn’t get it though.
You might have noticed something there. Iain stating that he didn’t know who he was.
That is the one thing I always say you need to figure out if you are to develop your style. You have to know who you are. Or at least keep trying to find out.
I mentioned that I listen to the show because I enjoy the gaps…the way it is allowed time to breathe.
IL- That’s your job (pointing to Katherine) To let it breathe.
KB — The thing is, I didn’t want to be your producer because I had been all over the BBC — presenting my own shows. I was told once by a producer at the BBC that it didn’t matter who the presenter was, the show was always the same. I’m so glad I know it’s bollox now! So I watched Iain and wondered, why hire Iain and just get him to read out a news bulletin? So they asked me to produce it and I said ‘Only in the way I think it needs to be done’. It was when he was allowed to talk and think out loud that we generated the calls.
ME (Nails Mahoney) — You don’t really do ‘Benchmarks’.
IL — I wonder if that’s its downfall though because people like these things they can cling on to.
ME — But people have followed you to talkRADIO, so there must be something in what you’re doing.
IL — To most people, I disappeared for four years because I was on a local station. Then, we got people phoning up from the 3 Counties days, from the Absolute days, from the Virgin and LBC days and even from the XFM days. So suddenly all these people came from different eras of my life in this one place and it was joyous. Except if they’re tossers…then I’ll just tell them.
KB — Ha ha, that’s true.
ME — So, how is it different in talkRADIO?
IL — Our bosses here leave us alone. To the point where I almost had a row with my immediate boss the other day because he doesn’t give any feedback. And the reason he doesn’t is because he just trusts what we’re doing and he likes it. If I get too much feedback I get nervous, but if I get NO feedback I get nervous. But, I had this ‘passionate conversation’ with my boss about a ‘bit’…I wanted something and he wanted something from it. In the end…we compromised! And I’ve not had that sort of conversation since I was at LBC twelve years ago.
ME — So, how have you brought all of your other station experience to this show?
IL — When I was brought into LBC, I didn’t know the rules. So I just made it up. Some of it was brilliant and some of it was awful. But the skill I have is getting the best out of people. I got that from The 11 O’Clock Show on TV doing Vox Pops which went from tightly scripted silly gags to where I could squeeze something out of someone. So I took that to LBC and then to Absolute and the BBC and I learned different aspects of it and more things. And that’s my skill — getting stories out of people. I think…
I noticed Iain wearing an Andy Kaufman badge on his jacket…a sure indicator of an influence there!
IL — I’ve done some Kaufman-esque things lately, like blaming the audience for poor rating: saying It’s YOUR fault. And then I did a thing about going on strike and they’re both Kaufman-esque..because radio was bland.
KB — We’re not doing a thing.
I love that simple sentence because it describes their show and their ‘philosophy’ perfectly…they’re not doing a ‘thing’ They’re being themselves. They are incredibly honest and real and are truly the people you hear on air. That’s very rare.
I was interested in Iain’s description of himself. I am under no doubt that he knows he has massive talent and like some incredibly talented people, he may have trouble with that.
He says he doesn’t know if he has “anything of great interest to say”.
Maybe that’s why I listen…because he is constantly questioning and re-evaluating who he is and what they do on air. He never rests on his laurels.
IL — With my style, I think I’m destined to be on the fringe, to be a cult. And I don’t think you can get away with being a cult on a national radio station.
KB — That’s your worry.
IL — That’s…my prediction.
KB — We’ll see.
IL — If it fails, as in this show…if I get let go…the show won’t have failed because it’s a great show.
It is a great show.
With a great presenter and a great producer.
No matter what he says ! ;)
Click the pic below for one of my favourite Iain Lee calls.