Station to Station
IN THIS PHOTO: Ken Bruce/PHOTO CREDIT: Lorenzo Agius/BBC
Song Two: Ken Bruce (BBC Radio 2)
IN the second part of my new feature...
PHOTO CREDIT: BBC/Getty Images
I am looking at a radio personality that has brought so much life and energy to so many people! In my next instalment, I am going back to BBC Radio 6 Music – I opened last week by spotlighting Lauren Laverne – next week but I felt it only right that I give some time to Ken Bruce. One of the biggest drawbacks featuring Ken Bruce is the lack of publicity photos online. I guess radio personalities are never going to be too stocked when it comes to images and the only reason I managed to find a lot of images for Lauren Laverne is the magazine interviews she has given and the fact I embedded a few tweets. I will do that for Ken Bruce as well (putting tweets in) but, when one thinks of a classic radio voice, Bruce comes to mind. It has been a little while since I have heard his morning show but, after breakfast, Ken Bruce is there to ease us all towards lunchtime. I was a bit fearful last year when the moves were announced on BBC Radio 2. I was not concerned they’d can Ken Bruce because, let’s face it, he is the longest-serving male presenter on the station and someone who will be there until he dies! The fact that a few of the best female presenters on the station were being moved, I thought, might mean Bruce moving to a later slot.
The transition and substitutions performed meant that we got a new breakfast host (Zoe Ball); a great one-two of Sara Cox (at five in the afternoon) and Jo Whiley (following her at seven) and the feeling of a more balanced station. Maybe this is not the best week to highlight Ken Bruce’s place in the rankings as many of the D.J.s are off next week. Bruce is being covered by Jo Whiley whereas Whiley is being covered by Mark Radcliffe. No worries, though! Regardless of whether Ken Bruce sees this feature or not that does not matter. He will be back in his regular slot very soon and, if you are reading this, chances are you know what he is about and how his show sounds. Like Lauren Laverne, I am going to start with Kate Bush. Bush was right when, in 2011, she spoke with Ken Bruce and said that he had the best radio voice ever! Their conversation was great and, when promoting Director’s Cut, there was this easy flow and sense of trust. You could listen to Ken Bruce talk for hours because he has that naturally smooth, warming and comforting voice that brings the best out of his subject. Not only does Ken Bruce have that affection and bond with his guests but he has a much more personable nature. Many interviewers can appear stiff and business-like when they interview artists and popular figures but Bruce is a different kettle of fish.
I have a lot of respect for his work and I could not imagine radio without him. The Glasgow-born D.J. and broadcaster started life on radio in the 1970s and moved to BBC Radio Scotland in 1978. By 1980, he moved to a mid-morning slot and, by 1983, he presented a daily current affairs programme. All of these early experiences prepared him for the move to BBC Radio 2: his natural home that has been lucky enough to have him since 1984. It must have been quite a difficult and stressful start to life on BBC Radio 2. He started with a late-night show but was also doing his presenting duties at BBC Radio Scotland. There was a move to breakfast show in 1985 but, in 1992, Bruce stepped into the mid-morning slot. It is amazing to think he has been in that position for twenty-seven years and looks set to be there a lot longer. I look at the radio schedules now and you see a lot of people who have been at stations a while but never in the same slot! Breakfast hosts might be able to last a decade before they get too tired; there are rotations all the time but Ken Bruce, stoic and ever-popular, is still where he is. It would have been a travesty if he were to be moved or was pushed back to a later slot as part of the moves last year. Zoe Ball tees him up and, whilst Lynn Bowles departure as traffic reporter (Richey Anderson is the new traffic reporter) last year was a blow for the station and Ken Bruce, there has not been a great deal of change regarding format and personnel.
Bruce has worked his way to where he is and has his set formula. His show is the perfect way to get people ready for the rest of the day and, aside from dedications and love songs, there are features that we all know and love. Matt Everitt presents music news on Thursday mornings (he is a regular on Shaun Keaveny’s BBC Radio 6 Music afternoon show so gets the best of both worlds, seeing as both stations are housed in the same building!) and there is the Record and Album of the Week slot. I am not sure how much Ken Bruce backs the albums featured because you’d think, at times, he would prefer other albums to be featured. I guess that is the problem with radio: you are told what to promote but, for the most part, you know Bruce is behind the music. The two biggest and most-impressive features on his show are Tracks of My Years and PopMaster. The former is sort of like Desert Island Discs. Whereas the BBC Radio 4 cornerstone involves guests selecting eight records to play, Ken Bruce’s equivalent is a bit different. Each week, there is a popular guest who picks a couple of tracks each day of the week that means a lot to them. It is a simpler format but, crucially, we get more music.
It is great to find out the musical tastes of personalities that, for the most part, we only hear about through the media. Like the interviews Ken Bruce performs, Tracks of My Years has that naturally warm and friendly tone that brings a lot of laughter and banter to the plate! I think there are few funnier broadcasters than Ken Bruce and, every morning, we can rely on his sharp wit and observations. I used to listen in when Lynn Bowles was at the station and was amazed how much humour they brought to the traffic slots. The loving and sometimes-teasing interactions between them is one reason why so many listeners have stayed with the show. There is a new traffic reporter but that is not to say that the laughter has dried at all. I shall cover other things before I wrap this up but the words ‘Ken Bruce’ and ‘PopMaster’ seem to go as naturally together as ‘Piers Morgan’ and ‘massive twat’. The weekday music quiz has been running for years – it was revamped in 2008 with new jingles after possible phone-in allegations and controversy – and it is almost an institution! Against all the stress of the morning and work responsibilities, we can all congregate around the radio to catch two callers battle it out in PopMaster! The format is quite simple, really. There are general music questions but, for bonus points, the caller picks a specialist subject.
Not many competitions and features last this long but you can tell just how much Ken Bruce loves PopMaster after all these years! It is great when you listen and get the questions right but, on many days, there are some tough ones! I am amazed by the knowledge of some of the callers and the fact they are so calm given the pressure and time limits. The bonus rounds are pretty cool and you never quite know what you’d going to get. There are some smart-ass callers who score big points but, normally, there is a pretty close call. The winner of the head-to-head goes through to the final segment – where a band/artist is named and the caller has to name three hits. It is pot luck so you do not know whether you are going to get The Beatles, James Blunt or Fairport Convention! It is a great relief when we get an artist we can all name hits for but, given the fact callers have ten seconds to name three hits, there is often a silence as we all try and recall a hit. You can check out the PopMaster page to get your fix and all the information you need. PopMaster is part of the radio fabric and a big reason why so many people tune into BBC Radio 2! I cannot foresee a day when PopMaster vanishes from the airwaves!
Even though Ken Bruce has been on the radio for decades, he is always keen to spread his wings and step into new realms. He is BBC Radio 2’s commentator for Eurovision and always provides a very witty and fun turn. Like the late Sir Terry Wogan, there is definitely tongue very much in cheek and Bruce is keen to acknowledge the pantomime and silliness of it all. I do love the fact that Bruce is not confined to radio and we get to see him step into other areas. He is on a well-earned break right now but we will be hearing him cover Eurovision next month and he will be back on his regular weekday radio slot. There have been some stand-in presenters for Bruce’s show – including Jo Whiley, Simon May; Michael Ball and Trevor Nelson – but none have the same charm and lure as the man himself. Have there been any bad moments across his run on BBC Radio 2’s mid-morning show. This article from Irish News revealed one guest who was not memorable – not in the right way, anyway! Geri Horner was the one name that stood out:
“Bruce said: “She brought in somebody she had met on the street, and this was just after a major terrorism incident.”
He added: “And a dog that farted.”
Bruce has been a BBC fixture for more than three decades, is Radio 2’s longest-serving male broadcaster, and his mid-morning show has an audience of more than 8 million.
Is there a secret to his success and popularity? Modest as ever, Bruce feels there is not a special ingredient or reason why he has been taken to heart:
“But of his secret to success, he said he believes there is none.
He said: “I just come on and am roughly myself – or a slightly better version – and hope that’s what people like.
“I don’t do laugh-out-loud stuff: wry smiles are what I like to get.”
The veteran DJ said: “Would something that works for someone my age work for someone of 15 who is listening in the car with their mum, or someone who is 35?”
In this feature from Radio Times, Ken Bruce talked about the connection he has with his listeners and his love of BBC Radio 2:
“This downplays his rapport with the Radio 2 audience, which rivals that of Terry Wogan. “I’ll take that as a compliment,” says Bruce. “The Radio 2 audience is a very giving group. It really is a dialogue. People have a feeling of ownership about the station.” On his first day at Radio 2, sitting in for Ray Moore in 1982, he was handed a box of records to play and a pile of cards from Moore’s listeners, welcoming him to the show. But you mess with this audience’s expectations at your peril. When Davina McCall stood in for Bruce in 2007, there were 150 complaints.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
“Maybe Davina lacked his common touch. “You have to remember the broad sweep of the audience,” says Bruce. “Would something that works for someone my age work for someone of 15 who is listening in the car with their mum, or someone who is 35? Broadly speaking, I do normal life: things going wrong with your washing machine, children not cleaning their bedrooms. I don’t go to showbiz parties, but I wouldn’t talk about it if I did. If you talk about digging the garden – not everyone’s got a garden. Not everyone can afford a car. You have to not say things that’ll make people think, ‘He doesn’t begin to understand my life’.”
“We used to smoke in the studio,” says Bruce, “and the drinking culture – God, it was massive.” But some things never change: “In 1978 I went to a meeting and was told radio was a dying medium and TV was going to be everything now. But television audiences have declined. Radio has seen a massive number of stations join in and the radio audience appears to have grown. People will download podcasts and the iPlayer is successful, but it’s not going to replace hearing something live, in its own time, on radio.”
Bruce was the fourth and least extrovert child of a Glasgow businessman, which contributed to his appreciation of the well-timed quip. He attended grammar school and trained as an accountant then worked for a car-hire firm, until his voluntary work for hospital radio led him to the BBC. He’s done some television but prefers the intimacy, spontaneity and “lack of paraphernalia” of radio. He commutes in by train each morning from Oxfordshire, where he lives with his third wife Kerith, who was a broadcast assistant on his annual gig presenting the Eurovision Song Contest. He has three adult children from his first two marriages and three – the eldest of whom, 15-year-old Murray, is autistic – with Kerith”.
Who knows what is ahead for Ken Bruce! There will be more big interviews – maybe he’ll get to speak with Kate Bush again! – and I do hope that he stays on BBC Radio 2 for many years to come. He has side-projects like Eurovision and the odd T.V. bit but it seems like he has found his home. Bruce is still in his sixties so I think we have a couple more decades of Ken Bruce on the radio. Balancing family life in Oxford with his daily duties in London, Ken Bruce is an essential figure in radio. I have featured him because I feel he is one of the most inspiring personalities around and the fact he has been with BBC Radio 2 for so many years shows he is doing something right! I love his show and the fact that these established features work so well. I am not such a fan of all the music he plays but that is not really his choice! The main attractions are the humour, professionalism and, of course, PopMaster! If you want to have a long and successful career in radio then follow Ken Bruce! The man has been on the airwaves for decades and has one of the biggest daily audiences on British radio. The voice alone can lead cults, sink ships and seduce anyone and, when it comes down to it, you’d do anything Ken Bruce asked of you with that voice! Even though Bruce is off next week, make sure you keep the man on your dials! When it comes to the radio game, there are few as loved and popular…
PHOTO CREDIT: BBC
AS Ken Bruce.