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In conversation with Jeff Nolan

Radio stations have always been a core element over the years to catch the latest music, news, sports, TV spoilers, celebrity gossip as well as local news.

Jeff Nolan has dedicated his career to the industry and is an integral part of the airwaves past and present.

We caught up with Jeff to talk all things broadcasting, celebrity interviews and the inspiration behind picking up them earphones and mic.

In conversation with - Jeff Nolan

At what age would you say your love for music first began?

If you ask my Mum this question she’ll probably be able to detail specific performances from me being a small child onwards where I’d dance around the living room watching top of the pops but the big moment for me which I’ll never forget was the day I found two cassette tapes of my Dad’s. One was the Beatles 20 Greatest Hits which I played until it snapped and the other was Wings Greatest Hits. I will never forget the moment I pressed play and heard ‘Love me do’ for the first time. I listened to that tape from start to finish & It was like I’d discovered magic! From that very day in the late 80s through to now in 2021 I still listen to The Beatles at least once a day.

Who inspired you to get into the radio profession?

The first radio presenter I was ever aware of that made an impression on me was Tony Snell who I thought back then and still to this day is a brilliant broadcaster. I loved his breakfast show, he was relatable, funny and you felt part of his gang listening in (even though his jingles claimed he had no mates).

The one that made me want to do this though was James Whale. I started listening to his late show on Talk Radio in the mid 90’s and was instantly addicted. I’d listen every night from start to finish. I loved his attitude, he had no fear and delivered 3 hours of brilliant content night after night (and still does to this very day).

As it would happen I got a chance to be in the audience when he took his show on the road across the UK. I remember getting there to the Everyman Theatre in town and looking around thinking ‘I’m the youngest here’.

It didn’t matter though, to me I was about to see how the magic happened.

Anyway as the show comes towards the end the last caller said they were celebrating their birthday so James wanted someone to come up & sing to the caller. I literally ran forward and next thing I’m on air. James gives me instruction and I begin to sing ‘happy birthday’ which was going well until I forgot the callers name and sang HAPPY BIRTHDAY WHOEVER.

STOP!!! What did you say you stupid boy? He said to me on air! 

What is your name? Jeff I mumbled, he then gave me a telling off and made me start again. This time luckily I got it right but I left that building on cloud 9 thinking I’ve just been on National Radio and I’m only 15! It didn’t matter if it was at 12:55am I’d cracked it baby!! 

I got to speak with James briefly afterwards and I think he was even shocked I was there but I remember telling him I wanted to be on the radio when I left school. He gave me a few words of advice (which I’ve since forgotten because I was starstruck) but that was the moment I knew I wanted to do this. I truly believe in life things happen for a reason and I very much doubt had I not been scanning around the dial late at night in 1995 and missed finding James show my life may have taken a different path. His show was the match that started my fire for radio!

In conversation with - Jeff Nolan

What was the first radio job you got, and how different was the process back then to nowadays?

Wow, it’s like night & day. Not long after the story I told above I had to pick a place to go for my school work experience. I ended up for 2 weeks at an RSL (Restricted Service Licence) station in Kirkby called KFM. The studios there had cart machines for jingles / adverts, you’d edit on quarter inch tape where you literally would cut the tape with a blade and tape it back together once you’d removed the part you didn’t need, they played vinyl records. It was about 1 billion miles away from how I work now.

Even a couple of years after that when I got my big break helping Janice Long on Crash FM breakfast I remember her telling me a story about how one day shows would not be live and the computer would do everything. She’d tell me tales about voice tracking & what was going on in America with networking and I’d be sat there thinking she was crazy! 

Fast forward to now and every single word she uttered has happened. The freedom that was once a given to do an actual ‘radio show’ has almost been beaten out of most by the big groups. Local radio has been killed off by the big groups so it’s a whole different ballgame.

I remember towards the end of my time at Heart being told what TV shows I should talk about, how I should mention stories about woman’s fashion, how I shouldn’t really mention football as it was not ‘on brand’ so I think to answer the question beyond the obvious changes to the technology we use (everything is on a computer these days) I’d say the process of presenting a show is very different for a lot of people.

Out of all the guests and interviews you have done celebrity wise, who has been your favourite person to speak to and why?

I get asked this question all the time and I’ve been so lucky to meet, interview & be in the company of some of the biggest names in music & TV over the years so it’s really hard to answer. Meeting heroes like Paul Weller, legends like Brian May are always up there but I would say the one I have enjoyed the most was Paul Draper the former lead singer of 90s band Mansun. I spent the best part of an hour with him and it just clicked, we broke down the days of Britpop, him touring with Bowie & our mutual love of Paul McCartney it was just one of those interviews where you forget it’s an interview it flowed that well. As I said though this is probably the most asked question I’ve ever get and even now I have names flashing up in my mind. Kelly from Stereophonics! Even Gareth Southgate just popped up. Let’s move on before I bore you!

If you could only play one last radio set and had to choose five songs to play, what would they be and why?

I could probably spend an hour discussing each of them individually but I’ll try keep it short & sweet.

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – Mary Jane’s Last Dance: I’m kicking off my last dance so why not? Just a solid bit of rock n roll which I’ve always loved and to this day never been able to play on the radio. 

Oasis – Live Forever: A lot like hearing the Beatles for the first time this is another life changing moment for me hearing this for the first time. The line ‘Maybe I will never be, All the things that I wanna be, Now is not the time to cry, Now’s the time to find out why’ still inspires me to this day. I remember hearing it for the first time and it shook me to the core. Oasis did that though in the 90s, they made you believe anything was possible.

John Lennon – Nobody Told Me: I just love this song! I love it that much I recreated John & Yoko’s foxtrot they did in the video just off Wall Street with my missus a few years back. I got some strange looks from New Yorkers that day!  I just love the chorus though, it’s something I’ve muttered many a time when looking back on some of the things I’ve been able to experience over the last 25 years thanks to the radio business.

Chris Cornell’s version of Watching The Wheels – I’m normally dead against cover versions especially if it’s a cover of anything Beatle related but this is quite simply just a beautiful version of a beautiful song which makes me think of my kids.

The Beatles – The End: I mean what else could I pick? It’s the line ‘and in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make’ what a way to go out! 

Do you think there is enough hype and information out there to inspire people to join the radio industry?

No, I think radio has almost been pushed to the back of what is becoming quite a big queue communication wise now. Most kids growing up these days (including my eldest) put the likes of You Tubers & Tik Tokers (is that even a thing?) ahead of radio. 

I remember Howard Stern telling a story on his show over in America about how his Dad forever said to him ‘why do you want to work in a business where if the cleaner comes in with a good voice he can take your job?’ well the cleaner doesn’t need to go to a radio station now, they’re on Instagram & You Tube making millions without needing to learn their craft & make a name on radio.

I don’t think the networking and almost total destruction of local output has helped either because the local voices and personalities we could all relate to and even aspire to be are mostly gone replaced by some whopper who was on Towie or Love Island. 

We as an industry need to change that perception and I hope with the introduction of Small Scale DAB which you can read about elsewhere on this site it will give more young people opportunities and inspiration to go for it. I still believe to this day radio at its best is the greatest form of entertainment and we need that next generation to keep it going!

What would your advice be to anyone thinking of joining the radio industry?

Find your voice & style and work on it. When I say find your voice I don’t mean turn into Smash & Nicey calling everyone ‘great mate’ but discover what type of presenter you are and really work on it. If it’s personality listen & learn from the best and begin honing your craft. If you want to be a music jock the same advice applies.

Then just get out and find shows. It’s hard these days as they’re aren’t as many places to go as there once was but the more different styles of stations you broadcast at alongside working with different creative minds & approaches will serve you well in the long run.

You’ll have to work hard but if you have passion & can build that connection with an audience where ever you go then it will all work out. You have to love this business though I truly believe that.

What does the future hold for Jeff Nolan?

I definitely want to get back to traveling as pre pandemic I was on a plane off somewhere at least once a month but that’s all dependent on Covid because as it stands I’m unsure if I’m going to make it into my local boozer in November never mind getting back to Copenhagen. 

I will say though If you’d have asked this 18 months ago you’d have got a very different answer but after the pandemic I think we’re all viewing life a bit differently. I became a Dad for the second time this year and also turned 40 (does that make me old now?) but I’d say whatever happens as long as it involves my daughter Emily, son Jude & fiancée Fiona I’ll be happy.

Right now I’m all about the moment and don’t tend to think of the future other than family. I have pretty much done everything I ever wanted and more with my radio career so beyond my next show at Zest who knows? 

I try not to think about the future too much because as Bob Dylan once said ‘that’s the problem with thought, it will f&*k you up’.

Check out Jeff on the waves on Zest Breakfast every Monday-Friday from 7am!

READ MORE: In Conversation with – Sarah Halpin

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