In praise of John McCauley

Many reading this will not know who John McCauley is- although if you have read a few of my posts before now you may have read my odd comment or reference to his great work. I’ve referenced John a number of times for his music passion, prep and delivery. In the last few weeks John has stood down from presenting Smooth Breakfast in Scotland, after a glorious 40+ years in broadcasting.

Some background

It was about this time of year- mid November that I started the job of Group Programme Director for Smooth Network under Global. At the time Smooth had a national breakfast show with Simon Bates which had moved into Leicester Square just a month earlier having been established by GMG under previous ownership. Scotland- it being a different nation- had its own show with John and Sharon. My job at the time was to put back in place local breakfast and drive shows across the regional sites (Scotland, North East, North West, East Midlands, West Midlands and London) and build a new network. The London show was complex because of it also being the network hub of course and in essence already had some people in positions but the rest of the sites had no programming on air people (except for Scotland). I remember sitting at my desk on the fourth floor of Global's Leicester Square building thinking about the daunting task of finding 8 presenters across the country that would resonate with their local audiences. 

As I started the job I listened to John in Scotland. I had not heard him before I don’t think and didn’t know of his heritage or legacy, but Richard Park knew him and told me all about John’s rich history in the landscape of broadcasting in Scotland. Whilst the music, format and styling of the show would be different from what Smooth would evolve into, it was clear John had an immense natural talent. His turn of phrase, humour, deftness of touch and style, cut through. I saw in that moment, sat in the corner one afternoon, what John would sound like on the new Smooth we were creating.

Communication was hard. “Hold separate” meant I couldn’t visit Glasgow as Smooth Scotland was part of those businesses formerly under GMG. It wasn’t until all of that concluded and Smooth (and Heart) became Global’s (with Capital going to Communicorp UK) that I finally managed to visit the building in Baillieston and meet John for the first time face to face with the programmer David Treasurer. By this time I had knowledge of John’s talent and had heard a ton of examples on the air of his huge skills in action. Nothing pleased me more than the fact that we got on well too. Over the following few years, with the move to the central Glasgow building and then trips out for a breakfast on my visits with John and Gary Muircroft (the PC at that time)- John’s wry sense of humour, his playfulness and cutting whit were just fantastic to behold. Those are very happy memories.

On the air, John displayed an effortless charm. He has often been quoted as being “Scotland’s Wogan”, and I see the echo of Terry and understand the comparison. John had a similar shortcut with the listener, the understanding with a turn of phrase and comment that what he was saying was tongue in cheek, or a audible wink. He also had that brilliant skill of making a big audience sound like a small club of like-minded people, giving everyone the impression of being an underdog, and inside the joke, without giving newcomers a feeling of not belonging. It never became “in” and exclusive and always welcomed first-timers and passing casual listeners. John understood and still understands radio and communication in a way that makes it look easy. It isn’t. He worked hard at making it look that easy. The most simple and straight forward bits of content, like delivering travel news- John made his own. I remember talking about how he would spend time looking on street view at locations around any incidents so he could drop in references to places- even if he knew them already he would do the legwork so he didn’t always repeat the same comment and become a cliche. It takes effort to spend time on the small things which make the whole picture appear more vivid and realistic.

I used John as an example numerous times, playing his audio from a show I had caught from time to time. He demonstrated the art of presentation in that format so very well, it just made sense. In doing so I enlisted a few more fans to the John McCauley fan club across the network. I have audio of John from breakfast demonstrating examples of all manner of skills. I have a few favourites for which I won’t post the audio, since I have not got the required permissions, but suffice it to say they are all fantastic.

I used to talk about how the audience we were chasing were not nostalgic for an earlier era, wanting things to be how they used to be and live life in a bubble of yesterday. They lived in today’s world and knew who was who and came to the station for the lack of frenetic activity, adult to adult communication and oasis of calm. John absolutely got that. One of my favourite clips I have is John referencing that Eminem was playing at Glasgow Hydro that evening, declaring that he has a few albums from Eminem and has his favourite songs, then – and the description doesn’t do it justice- quoting the opening lines of Slim Shady, on beat, over the opening bars of George Benson, Turn Your Love Around. A two dimensional programmer or broadcaster might take a view that Eminem shouldn’t be mentioned on a station like Smooth, but John is in 3D. It was a huge music event happening in Glasgow and the audience would have known it was happening, even if they didn’t know the music. Some might also be aware of the music too since they lived in the real world and would have heard some of his music on other TV shows and in the TSA over the years. John understood in that one link and content choice that listeners don’t live in isolated demographic groups which programmers sometimes place them in, for ease of programming. The real world doesn’t conform to that construct.

John stepping back from day to day programming was something which was always on the cards of course and I’m so pleased for the time I spent listening to John and working with him during my time with Smooth. He deserves the attention, accolades and the round of applause- and also his greatness needs to be understood wider than the nucleus of Scotland centric broadcasting.

His replacement by the way on day to day, John Mellis studied at the school of John McCauley. We would often spend our time in coaching sessions dissecting links from breakfast and enjoying the skills on display. John Mellis is cut from similar cloth, with his own huge skills and understanding and he is a fantastic heir to the McCauley audience.

Best of luck to all.

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Published by Dick Stone

Radio...its always been radio.

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