How Liz became a pilot of the airwaves
Liz Franklin shares a longstanding love of broadcasting with her TV producer brother and fulfilled an ambition as one of the original presenters on Radio Teesdale. When lack of cash forced the station’s closure, Liz was determined that would not spell the end of her time on the air. She set about creating a studio at the home in Startforth she has shared with husband Michael for the past five decades and from where she continues to produce folk shows for three different stations each week.
Have you always been interested in broadcasting?
My brother is a TV producer and did some radio with the old TFM in the 80s.
When they did outside broadcasts at the airshows at Teesside airport, I took my children along and as well as watching the aircraft, we spent time in the radio tent with presenters like Alistair Pirrie and I was hooked, I wanted to present.
How did you become a presenter?
It was difficult for a young mum who was (and is still) a non-driver to do anything about it but as soon as I heard that there were moves afoot to form a community station in Barnard Castle I saw my chance.
I joined and took part in all the training available and offered to do a folk music show as it was a subject that I knew quite a bit about, being a frequent visitor to various folk clubs over the years.
There’s obviously more to it than simply speaking into a microphone – what’s the secret to presenting a programme for the radio, especially a specialist show such as your folk show?
I do all my own research and try to link songs about subjects, but with a subtle, entertaining flair and often highlighting parallels between to day and the past.
I have learned more about history from folk music than ever I did at school, and somehow it is more real as it is all written from the point of view of ordinary people.
It is also important to mix humour and sadness, male and female artists, traditional and contemporary music, songs and instrumentals, keeping the audience interested and engaged.
Can you remember the first programme you presented?
I do remember the first show I presented and I cringe thinking of it now. I scripted everything and sounded so wooden.
I find I work better if not exactly winging it, just having a set of guidance notes. It’s much more relaxed and friendly sounding.
What’s the best thing about hosting a radio show?
The best thing is the interaction with the audience, the ability to share the enthusiasm with like minded individuals.
I do pre-record my shows now but I do a Facebook thread with links to the artists’ websites while the show airs which then invites comments from fans and artists alike. Great fun.
How did you get into folk music – and what is it about folk music that sustains your interest?
I have had a liking for folk music since I was a child, as my father, although not a musician, always sang folk songs to us as children.
He was a pitman and so I grew up hearing the songs about the mines and other songs local to the north of England coupled with some music hall ditties, some of which are still popular in the folk canon.
The new music which is coming into the scene is intelligent and entertaining and often surprising, coming from former pop and rock musicians who have moved into the folk area as they have retired from the rat race while still wishing to play and sing.
I have found too, as I have worked with these musicians over the years, that they are there for the same reasons as I am – the love of the music and the very friendly and inclusive attitudes of both performers and audiences.
Were you surprised by the popularity of your folk show on Radio Teesdale?
I was – and still am – surprised and delighted that my shows are popular and feel very blessed to be doing something I enjoy and that also that gives others pleasure.
I do love lots of different kinds of music and have a lot of music by the likes of David Bowie, Queen and of course, the Beatles, although I must admit to a liking for some of the more quirky songs that have charted over the years.
How did you come to set up your own studio at home?
I set up my studio through necessity as I needed to have somewhere I could keep all my music, as more and more CDs started to arrive with the post as my shows were heard.
It is also the means to make the shows in one place with no noise, TV or phone distractions, easy access to all my material and even a little room for a studio guest or two.
We converted an old washhouse into a studio and it is perfect, although small. When a really talented group of five musicians from Newcastle, called Appletwig Songbook, came we had to use the sitting room and dining room to accommodate keyboard, guitars, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, flute and all the microphones etc.
Since the demise of Radio Teesdale, you’ve gone global – how did that come about?
When Radio Teesdale closed I was very upset.
I loved my time there and I had been with the station from the very beginning. I got lots of messages on Facebook from listeners and musicians saying how sorry they were and what now?
Former Strawb member, Brian Willoughby, who had joined me in the studio on several occasions with his wife, American singer Cathryn Craig, had become good friends of ours.
He sent me a private message to say he did not feel it was good for the scene to lose my show so could he put me in touch with Stevie Connor, from Blues and Roots Radio, in Canada, whose station concentrated on blues, folk and roots music of all kinds.
I spoke to Stevie who said Brian was not the only person to contact him about my shows, so he had researched my work and said there was a place for me in the schedule as soon as I could get a show together.
I gave myself a crash course in editing and three weeks later I sent my first show just for him to check out.
He said it was fine and to keep them coming – so here I am on show number 225 and also doing two other shows for other stations.
In total I have produced and presented 518 shows since Radio Teesdale closed in 2016.
Have you had to change the way you produce your shows since the Covid pandemic?
The only thing different about doing shows during Covid is the lack of live studio guests. I have always enjoyed the guest spots and I do miss them very much.
I have had some fabulous musicians in the studio with me and really love the interaction.
I have worked with the guys from Lindisfarne, Steeleye Span, Bob Fox, Jez Lowe, Vin Garbutt, John Tams (the man who wrote the music for the Warhorse stage show), and may more, including musicians from Ireland, Wales, Scotland, America, Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany and Russia as well as some very talented people from Startforth and Barnard Castle.
On the radio/folk music front, what are you most looking forward to in 2021?
I am looking forward most to the return of live gigs when we come out of the grips of Covid. I have missed that most of all and I can’t wait for them to return.
When and where can listeners hear your shows?
Tuesday 6-8pm Folk Garden www.blues androotsradio.com; Wednesday 8-10pm Folk Show www.edenfm.co.uk repeated Sunday 8-10pm; Thursday 8-10pm Folkus www.darloradio.com, repeated. Sunday 2-4pm.