John Shaw

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.


3 thoughts on “John Shaw

  1. Lovely words and exactly what I remember of him. The Sunday night shows on Trent were a joy and I remember staying awake into the early hours one Christmas Eve night / Christmas morning as he just played music he loved. Some of it festive, all of it appropriate and enjoyable.

    He’d always leave a pause at the end of a song as well, giving you the chance to have you own thoughts on what you’d just heard and, on Talkback, he wasn’t scared to show emotion if a particular story upset him.

    I wish I’d had the chance to meet him but am please I got a chance to listen.

    RIP John.

  2. RIP John. Another great jock lost. I spoke to him on Talkback, I was very nervous and he was very kind and gentle. Thank you.

  3. I posted this blog on Facebook and received some very touching replies. I thought it would be a good idea to share them, and I hope folk don’t mind me reproducing them here. I’ve removed names to protect privacy.

    “I remember my first few shows at Radio Nottingham and John was so helpful. I’d met him a year before when he had done a tour of Trent in its ‘new’ building. He helped me understand not only how the equipment worked at the BBC, but how to use it well. He also had wise words about how to pitch things on the station. A lot of great information and yet he never once talked down to me – despite his experience and exceptional ability to paint pictures on the radio. Such a kind, talented man.”

    “When I started working on Matchday, he meticulously taught me to do so much, from the very basics of editing and mixing – but he did it without patronising, with seemingly endless patience, kindness and the underlying passion for radio he engendered in so many of us who he so willingly took under his wing.”

    “I’ll never forgot doing an OB at the CSV building in Nottingham and John saying “do your first link outside and make sure you do a time-check telling everyone it’s the time on the Victoria Centre clock.” His motto was describe, describe, describe. I also remember his little tin with razor blade and chinograph, teaching me to edit at Granville House. Rest in peace John.”

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