Broadcaster John Shaw died this week after a short but sudden illness. Many tributes have been paid, and more will follow. Here’s mine.
Like many of my blogs, my story of John starts with Radio Trent. Through the 1980s I would tune in to shows like the phone in, Talkback, the Sunday Evening Programme (also known as Here Be Dragons) and the arts strand Alternatives. All as different from each other as they could be, but all with one connection. John Shaw.
On the air, I don’t think I ever heard him get angry. His voice mixed emotions of trust, calmness, knowledge and authority all in equal measure. But whatever the subject matter, he always did it to perfection. It’s a cliched phrase, but when John was on, Sundays really were special. Many compared him to John Peel, at least in terms of the eclectic music mix you’d hear on Here Be Dragons. Folk, rock, pop, progressive, electronica and choral. If it was on vinyl, the chances are you’d hear it on that show.
Then there was his immense versatility. One cold January evening in 1989, everything was as it should be, until a passenger plane crashed next to the M1 at Kegworth. Radio Trent and Leicester Sound stayed on air for the whole night as the tragedy unfolded. Early information was hard to come by, but the whole tone of the output needed to be kept “appropriate” for the occasion. It needed a guiding voice to help listeners come to terms with what was unfolding right on their doorstep. That voice was John’s.
Plenty of people are good at talking on the radio, but it’s a far rarer thing to find a broadcaster who also listens, especially to a caller who may be feeling down, or alternatively wanting to make a vocal point on a topical subject. Radio Trent’s Talkback was the place where people did that. And it was all the better for having John on the presenting rota.
It wasn’t until years later that I finally got to meet John. As a bright spark arriving at the BBC in 1998, John was the guy who gave me a tour of the building and sat me down for the voice test before my interview. “Just speak into the microphone Kevin – I know you’ll sound good.” Since then I’ve witnessed a patient and thorough man mentoring dozens of new arrivals – meticulously teaching them the basics of broadcasting. Everything from testing your levels on a studio desk to self operating a complex radio car. And all done with a passion for the medium and a genuine desire for folk to be not just good at their job, but brilliant at it too.
More recently, John’s other great passion – cricket – became his work, commentating for BBC Radio Leicester, but also being a respected member of Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club. After we broadcast a tribute this evening, one of the Trent Bridge stewards, Ted, called into BBC Radio Nottingham.
“The thing is, John would always say hello to us all on the TBI (Trent Bridge Inn) Gate. And once, when it was tipping it down with rain, he went into the commentary box. With no prospect of play, he just filled the time with stories of what was going on around him. He said the stewards, in their waterproofs, looked more like Grimsby fishermen.”
That kind of on air poetry took you right to the heart of the scene. Every scene John ever broadcast from had, above all, a sense of place. It won’t be the same place without him.