Shaun Keaveny’s journey from the BBC to DIY radio: ‘It’s been an enormous liberation’

Shaun Keaveny is broadcasting to a few thousand folks from a forgotten again room in a shabby Soho workplace that’s all glass and no insulation. The atmosphere is extra knackered Seventies comp than radio studio.

“If I used to be me 18 months in the past taking a look at what I’m doing now, I’d be pondering, ‘Ah, that’s a disgrace, isn’t it? He used to have this large platform and now have a look at what he’s doing,’” says Keaveny who, till September final 12 months, was used to six-figure audiences and the BBC Radio 6 Music studios the place issues, you recognize, labored.

“It’s taken me ages to get my head spherical, however if you drill down into what we’re doing right here it’s phenomenal,” he says. And what he’s doing is of curiosity as a result of it could probably be the way forward for radio in the identical means that YouTube was as soon as the long run (now the current) of video: a reside, impartial radio present broadcast by way of Patreon, the digital platform that lets supporters subscribe to tasks and provides creators a gradual earnings. On this case, £4 a month to entry Shaun Keaveny’s Creative Cul de Sac, a weekly Friday radio present, a podcast and day by day written and recorded missives.

It provides as much as numerous Keaveny (“To be trustworthy, I’m knackered, I took on loads after I left 6 Music as a result of I assumed half of it was going to fail. However issues began working right away.”)

However earlier than we get to the long run, we’ve got to take care of the previous, and the rationale why the 49-year-old has been pressured into DIY radio fairly than remaining a beloved 6 Music presence. In June final 12 months, after a 14-year run, first on breakfast after which afternoons, he introduced he was leaving. “Issues change, locations change, folks change and it’s time for a change,” he stated on the time.

However his listeners didn’t purchase it. Keaveny had turn out to be a necessary a part of 6 Music and their lives together with his good, humorous and heat strategy, however now he was leaving? One thing else needed to be happening, absolutely. Was it ageism? Had he refused to maneuver and work in Manchester? Was there a secret beef? Questions had been even requested in that modern-day model of parliament, Mumsnet: “Is anybody else gutted that Shaun Keaveny is leaving 6 Radio?” requested one thread (they had been).

The BBC was pressured into an announcement, which clarified nothing: “Shaun is a much-loved presenter on 6 Music and we respect his choice to depart the station. We want him one of the best of luck for the long run, in fact.”

So, what occurred? He closes his eyes and thinks for a second. When he speaks, his eyes keep closed, as if he’s been holding it in for a bit too lengthy and is glad to get it out, however needs to be truthful to all involved: “There’s nonetheless some thriller surrounding what occurred – for me in addition to for everyone else. That’s comparatively widespread in radio and TV. I’ve had so many conversations with different broadcasters who say, ‘Effectively, I’ll let you know my story.’”

So that you didn’t really feel you knew what was taking place?

“In actuality there are few bosses who will let you know the total story – and neither have they got to. They only must say, ‘We’ve had a glance, we’ve had a assume and it’s going to be completely different and also you’re not going to be a part of the image,’ and I suppose that was the highest and backside of it.”

After he was advised his present was ending, he was provided what he thought of to be “a lot lesser” alternatives, so though it was his choice to go, it was a pressured one. “However I truthfully can say that it’s been an enormous liberation. Over the previous three or 4 years there have been numerous instances in my skilled life the place I felt dissatisfied with the forms.”

Shaun Keaveny, his head turned sideways and his hand covering most of his face
‘I used to be doing what I’d at all times completed and it felt like coming house’: Shaun Keaveny. {Photograph}: Dean Chalkley/The Observer

However I get that sense he would nonetheless stick up for the establishment. “Too bloody proper! One of many nice issues about leaving the Beeb is that you simply turn out to be free to defend it in a means that you may by no means do if you had been working for it, and I feel that folks would discover that I’ve vociferously completed that. Let me be useless straight on this: I owe them my complete livelihood and I’ll by no means be ungrateful for that.

“However, on the identical time, you’re at all times one hyperlink away from a telephone name from anyone increased up saying, ‘You possibly can’t do this.’ However, regardless of all its large drawbacks, I’d nonetheless a lot fairly that forms be there than be eliminated and changed by one thing Nadine-fucking-Dorries thinks is a good suggestion. Nevertheless it’s additionally only a pleasure to be free as a result of the value of working there’s that you simply’re thwarted loads. Whereas now we simply do what we would like.”

Initially, his intention was to do a podcast – “There are arguably too many podcasts on the market, but when anyone has earned the appropriate to do one after 20 years of broadcasting, it’s me” – however that quickly grew to become two podcasts: The Artistic Cul de Sac, during which he talks to different inventive sorts about deserted tasks languishing of their notebooks, and The Line-Up, the place celebrities talk about their ideally suited pageant line-up. Each have legs, however the reside radio present – virtually an afterthought – has quickly blossomed into the principle gig.

It appears an apparent thought now – take what you’re good at and replicate it by yourself phrases, turn out to be your individual broadcaster – nevertheless it took some time to hatch. He began working with a buddy, Clive Tulloh, from whose manufacturing firm places of work he broadcasts. Tulloh’s son Ben – a fan – got here on board and so they started recording podcasts.

“Then, simply earlier than Christmas, Ben stated to me, ‘You recognize we’ve got this tech which means you are able to do reside radio via Patreon. We will do it out of your spare room’.”

Which is actually what they did.

At first every little thing was seat-of-the-pants as a result of there was no blueprint, no technical back-up. Added to that, Covid restrictions meant Ben produced the primary present from his automotive – though there was no cell reception exterior Keaveny’s home so he needed to drive to neighbouring borough Neasden to get a sign (one thing about that is so very Keaveny: enthusiasm thwarted by the mundanities of on a regular basis life).

Nonetheless, “It was like magic,” says Keaveny, “I performed Ain’t Good Sufficient for You by Bruce Springsteen, one in all my set off tracks anyway; I simply began having a bit cry. I used to be in our spare room alone and Ben was in his automotive texting, ‘Put fader three up.’ I used to be doing what I had at all times completed and it felt like coming house. It’s humorous to look at one thing that we thought would simply be a bit teaser, a aspect dish for the principle of the podcasts, turn out to be the principle focus in a short time.”

Shaun Keaveny with Johnny Marr at 6 Music.
Making waves: with Johnny Marr at 6 Music. {Photograph}: Shaun Keaveny

The explanation it took off so swiftly was due to one thing it’s straightforward to overlook about in discussions of platforms and digital disruption: the listeners. And so they have rallied to him of their hundreds. Nothing in comparison with the quantity he loved on the BBC, however these are the ultras: loyal, engaged and paying.

Throughout breaks within the present, he scans via their emails, chuckling delightedly: “They get it. They only bloody get it,” like he’s amazed that anybody connects with what he does. However they do and plenty of of them have been with him because the starting when he arrived on the nascent 6 Music from nights on that nice radio incubator, London’s Xfm. He got here by way of stints at Studying 210 FM (the place he began out writing advert copy in 1997, transferring from hometown Leigh in Higher Manchester after a friend-of-a-friend put him up for the job) and Wolverhampton’s Beacon FM, taking over Phill Jupitus’s seat on the breakfast present in 2006.

He landed on the proper time. Digital radio was taking off (6 Music is digital-only) and providing one thing new in a panorama the place exhibits appeared caught in wearily acquainted codecs: a studio crammed filled with braying sidekicks yucking it up with a celebrity presenter; the gratingly chummy host, taking part in it as in the event that they’d simply obtained in from an evening on the lash with well-known mates; or the DJ slinging the sanitised, endlessly repeating playlist.

Keaveny, although, didn’t do faux banter or pointless pop. He was simply himself: typically weary, a contact melancholic, usually infantile, however at all times good and intimate and – most significantly – self- deprecating, which the listeners purchased into eagerly. A lot in order that, over time, their emails have taken on the tone of a Hollywood Roast: “Sustain the work,” or “Very whelming this morning,” are favorite sign-offs.

He’s conscious, although, that he can come throughout to the informal listener as dour: “Folks, if they’ve a glancing expertise of me, say: ‘Ooh, isn’t he depressing?’ It’s merely not true. I’m an enormous lover of life. I see it for what it’s, although, I additionally see the brevity of it, and I’m 50 this 12 months so I’m not going to waste no matter working years I’ve obtained left. I work my nuts off on this as a result of, if I’m not going to be with my youngsters, I’m going to do one thing that’s genuine.” And it’s that authenticity which his viewers responds to. It’s why he is ready to broadcast from the again room of a dilapidated workplace, balancing a laptop computer in every hand like a waiter, whereas often rolling his chair over the facility cable and chopping himself off air, and nonetheless appeal to listeners.

I put out a message to his Patreons, asking them to sum up why they’ve adopted him down this experimental rabbit gap. The solutions come again swiftly.

“Listening at all times appears like a hug to me.”

“Heat, depth and humorous as f. It’s like spending time with mate, he helped me via lockdown TBH.”

“He’s fallible and honest (maybe an excessive amount of so for some on the BBC?) It’s a neighborhood, not an viewers and Shaun units himself as a member (Sid James chuckle), not a frontrunner.”

Shaun Keaveny, with Nick Grimshaw and Sara Cox.
Enjoying by ear: with Nick Grimshaw and Sara Cox. {Photograph}: Shaun Keaveny

The day he left the BBC Johnny Marr pitched up on air to pay tribute, whereas Ken Bruce, who helms the UK’s most listened-to radio present on Radio 2 tweeted: “A singular broadcaster and a prime bloke. Your subsequent journey awaits!” whereas Zoë Ball referred to as him “a don of the airwaves”.

The way in which Keaveny’s listeners react, the best way they’re in on the act jogs my memory of another person: Terry Wogan, together with his Togs, the gags that ran for years, and the cocoon he wove round himself and his viewers. I recommend he may very well be seen as a type of Wogan for Technology X.

“Wow!” he chews on the thought for a protracted second, “Terry was – and is – my lodestone. After I began breakfast, he was nonetheless there. He anointed me, was very sort.”

Sort in what means? “What he introduced out in me was this concept that, OK you’re not going to put in writing a novel, OK you may by no means file an album pretty much as good as What’s Going On, however you’re a broadcaster, and be snug with that. And if you happen to get actually good at it and also you do it for lengthy sufficient, you may get the prospect to the touch folks.

“Greater than anyone – excluding possibly Danny Baker – he confirmed me that, if you happen to assume it’s only a radio present, you’re unsuitable. It turns into a neighborhood and that’s a extremely necessary a part of folks’s lives and it stays for years.”

It’s a theme he picked up on throughout his remaining 6 Music broadcast, talking about how one thing as ephemeral and simply dismissed as a radio present can have emotional and cultural heft. “All through these years at 6, I used to be in all types of emotional turmoil as a result of, if you happen to’re a novelist or musician, then it’s, ‘Mummy’s writing a novel, so depart her alone as a result of that is critical.’ Whereas what we do, we’re down right here with DLT dickin’ round and killing three hours on the radio.

“I grew to become like a personality – the creatively thwarted man. The character me was cozy with the concept these large names would are available as visitors and I’d wish to be like them, however I can’t be.”

However, over time, he’s begun to simply accept that radio is his medium and that via it he may simply have ended up producing his personal equal of that novel – a sense underlined by the outpouring of affection from listeners and colleagues on the finish of his 6 Music tenure: “I now realise – it’s gone from head to coronary heart and it’s sunk in – that we’ve created this extremely lovely factor. That’s the nice pleasure of our type of exhibits – like a Danny Baker or a Greg James or a Liza Tarbuck or a Trevor Nelson – you construct an setting, you construct repetition, you construct jokes and everyone understands them and it’s a improbable neighborhood.

“There have been heaps of people that liked what we did at 6. It’d sound disingenuous – like I’m a bread-head who needs to get as many Patreons as attainable so I should buy a gold rest room, however that’s not the case – but when this stayed precisely as it’s now, that will be nice. It will be so beautiful and exquisite and a manageable a part of my life. But when there are extra who wish to be a part of it, I don’t know the place we will go; we talked about making our personal radio station. I don’t see why that’s not attainable.”

Pay attention reside on Fridays at patreon.com/shaunkeaveny, the Line Up and Shaun Keaveny’s Artistic Cul de Sac can be found wherever you get your podcasts

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