I owe a lot to Mike Harding. I think of him as a friend because after I was made redundant he encouraged me to start this blog.
We'd met for lunch and he asked why I'd stopped writing about music? I said it had crossed my mind to start my own blog but that, low as I was, I wasn't sure I'd have anything to write about. "Come to the folk awards" he said. It was kind, I went along and it was the catalyst I needed. Writing this blog has cheered me up and reminded me of a lot of things I needed to remember but which had slipped away in the chaos of losing a job I'd loved.
Tomorrow - December 30th, 2012 - Mike is starting a new venture himself in a very similar situation. His new radio show will be kicking off online at 5pm at www.mikehardingfolkshow.com, I wish him the very best of luck and had a chat with him about it the other day.
"I've been messing about with databases and other admin stuff," he explained. "I'd had hundreds and hundreds of emails from people as a result of the Radio 2 show being axed and I thought: 'Do it on the web and finance it myself.'
"I've always had the studio - two in fact, there's also one in Ireland where I have a home - and I've just invested another £2,000 in new equipment and a PRS licence - a big one. I've also had to sort out a new server for the website. But I used to co-produce my own show when it was on the beeb so I know how it goes.
"It's going to be an hour plus, starting at 5pm - which is a good time on a Sunday for a lot of people - and it'll be free streaming, live. Then it will be turned into a podcast and added to an archive for downloading."
The BBC never got the hang of turning Mike's show into a podcast.
So how will the new show be different from the one on Radio 2? "There won't be any adverts for other people's shows - which used to really annoy me. But apart from that it will keep the overall ambience."
He added that the website will eventually allow him to do some things that the BBC wouldn't, like link to the websites of bands and other people's folk ventures.
"But I'm not looking for adverts. If someone approached me about advertising on the website or the programme it would be something I'd have to think about very carefully."
I wasn't sure whether this was a political standpoint, a hangover from working at the BBC or a bargaining position: all media - unless state supported and that comes with its own baggage - are somehow subject to market forces. But there's a good argument to be made that refusing to bend to advertising pressure strengthens the brand of a show - or any medium - rather than undermining it in the long run. Why advertise on something good if all you want to do is change it? So I hope that Mike finds a way for the show to pay its way without compromising anything that matters to him: if he can't make it work after the following he's built over 15 years then what hope is there for anyone else?
He said that he's forged a relationship with a new production company, Whistledown, which makes Feedback and The Reunion for Radio 4, and that they may be doing a little PR for the digital show while also being in discussion about some ideas for programmes and series that Mike's been working on.
"There's no way I could have stayed at Smooth Operations," he said. "They wouldn't make another folk show while also producing Mark Radcliffe for Radio 2. It was the portal through which I worked for Radio 2 but I also doubt any radio station will commission another folk show at this stage."
I think - hope - that Mike might be a bit more pessimistic about that than the situation strictly requires. Mumford and Sons are arguably the biggest band in the world at the moment. And folk has an audience of young people for whom "folk" simply means "a bit historical", which they seem to actively embrace judging by the fashion for all things vintage and moustachey. Plus the recession has made very many of us necessarily conservative (with a small c) about our personal habits. Admittedly the Mumfords have a euphoric, joyful quality not often found in folk. But that's easy enough to remedy... Bellowhead also do this very successfully. It's simply a question of finding a way to lift people's spirits, as that's what the present climate seems to require.
I wondered about the short gap between the end of the BBC show (Boxing Day) and the beginning of the digital show. While applauding Mike's enthusiasm, it also occurred to me that a holiday often helps with perspective after the shock of an upheaval. "I don't need a holiday," he responded. "My work is my pleasure - the thing I enjoy most."
He added that he's hoping to get Andy Kershaw on the show to talk about his new book very soon, which is called No Off Switch, and that seemed about right under the circumstances.
Best of luck, Mike. I want to see you make it work.
* The show can be found here. Mike says the website will be ready in time.
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