Season 3 of The Skewer begins on Wednesday, January 13th 2021 for a 12 week run on BBC Radio 4 at 11.15pm. For 12 weeks. Which is around 3 months. Christ.
1.How would you describe the show?
Hmm. Tricky. The best I can do is that it’s a kind of concept album made of news. We’ve been using the phrase ‘satirical river of sound’, which sort of sums it up and seems to work. What I’d say is that it’s a sort of new approach to topical news jokes and, unusually for such things, rewards repeat listens. I’ll let others describe it instead:
'An immersive, otherworldly, freeform assault on the senses constituting a ludic yet deeply haunting collection of juicy quotes and well-placed soundbites from recent global bulletins, juxtaposed to form an eerily beautiful, discombobulating mosaic of political spin.'
'Holmes takes the newsscape as his playground, juggling countless noises and titbits from topical Brexit coverage to create a jarring, unsettling work specifically designed to be experienced immersively via headphones. A mind-boggling collage of extracts, interviews, and fragments of speech, it satirically defamiliarised the (all too) familiar, critiquing the Machiavellian nature of yah-boo politics.'
‘Cleverest thing on radio by at least 8 distances’.
‘The boldest thing I’ve heard on BBC Radio in years. A masterful piece of radio. Brilliant.’ ‘An audio rollercoaster. Magnificent. Give this all of the awards.’
‘Mind-bogglingly brilliant and distressing. Intelligent, catchy and powerful.’
‘I’d be quite happy to stop listening to the news and just listen to The Skewer.’
‘Wonderful. It’s been a while since something was this engaging and listenable from start to finish.’
‘Simply brilliant. Please listen to it. It’s the most incredible satire of current affairs I’ve ever heard.’
‘Nightmarish. But – oh my God - in a good way.’
‘Audio news drugs to medicate the strange world we live in.’
‘There is just nothing like this out there. Brilliant songs, cutting edge satire. Compelling and you have to listen more than once. Evocative. Intoxicating. Incredibly original. Listen and listen again – you always hear something new.’
2. How Do You Put The Show Together?
With Pro-Tools. Deadlines vary – see bottom of document. (Fyi for s3 we’ll be mixing Tuesday and on Wednesday we’ll master and add last min topicals up to 5pm.) Over the week I make stuff, weave it into contributions from the likes of you, and then send rough mixes and audio stems to our brilliant engineer (Tony Churnside). Then I travel to Manchester (where he’s based) to put it all together and mix it properly. We’re constantly tweaking and adding stuff and I am forever saying things like ‘flip the stereo on that one particular word’ and ‘where’s the plug-in that makes it sound backwards?, which I think drives him mental.
3. How Would You Describe The Perfect Contributor?
No such thing. Everyone is different and anyone is welcome to pitch in. This is what gives us such a broad range of voices and ideas. It’s diversity in action! It’s not an ‘opinion’ show, we just take audio that’s out there and present it in our style. We’re neither left nor right, nor ‘woke’ nor whatever the opposite of woke is. One advantage of this approach is that because no-one is having to be on a stage (remember those days?) we don’t have to say the same old predictable crowd-pleasing stuff to a radio theatre audience of Guardian readers. And because we don’t have to chase gags and punchlines, we can also make people think and reflect. We’ve had messages from people who have cried at, to give just a couple of examples, our coverage of Grenfell and Holocaust Day.
4. What Kind of Contributions Are You Looking For?
We take long form ideas or simple, short cut-up ideas. Listening to the programme will give you an idea of what we mean by that (s1 & s2 are both available on BBC Sounds.) So, for example, one of our contributors for s2 said ‘What about Farage in Baywatch, given he spends so much time on the beach looking for migrants?’ And so we made that. Ditto Ghislaine Maxwell as the Childcatcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Some of it’s silly, some of it is very dark – but we do like it to be ‘satirical’ (small ‘s’) in the sense that you should be making a point, or making listeners think. And certainly maybe making them think something they possibly haven’t considered before. We’re happy to jolt people.
5. How Would I Format My Contribution?
In the first instance, an email pitch to firstname.lastname@example.org with an idea. To be clear, we don’t just take stuff from people who are adept at fiddling with audio, we also just take ideas on paper. Often, if we like it, we’ll ask you to source clips and then send over the links with timecodes on an email. You don’t have to build it – we can do that. Many great bits come in in this way and it means that anyone can pile in with ideas - which is what we like. Others will make the whole thing themselves. We then ask for the separate audio stems which we reserve the right to cut down, add to, mess with, repurpose and remix into the overall soundscape. You can make it in anything from Audacity to Reaper to Audition to Pro Tools – that’s up to you. All we need are the separate .wavs.
We have some regular commissioned contributors, which we review and will add to if we feel your contributions are regular and you are consistent in getting stuff on. As a non-com contributor you will be paid if we use your stuff on air. We pay per minute of delivered, ‘made’ material or, if you have a simple cut up line (usually mixed somewhere into at the beginning of each the ep) we pay a one liner fee. If you have a have a long form idea but don’t want to / don’t have the tech to make it and are just happy for us to take the idea and run with it, we pay an ‘idea’ fee, if it makes it to air. We will ask you to source links to clips and timecodes for these.
7. Any Prizes?
Yes. How kind of you to ask. The pilot won an award at the 2019 Audio Production Awards and Series 1 won Gold at the New York Radio Festival, and a British Podcast Award. We also won Gold (Best Comedy Producer) and Bronze (Sound Design) at the 2020 Audio Production Awards. Further nominations include the Chortle Awards, the BBC Audio Drama Awards, and the BBC Music and Radio Awards, but Covid kicked the ceremony in the bollocks, so at time of writing we may have already lost.
8. Why Is Radio 150 Times Better Than TV?
Well it just is. Let me give you a recent example. In one ep of s2, as late as the afternoon on day of transmission, we had the idea that Donald Trump was appointing Derodomontatus the Supreme Imperial Magistrate from the Transformers universe to replace Ruth Bader Ginsberg in the US Supreme Court. We then put that together in about half an hour. Can you do that on TV? No. Well, you could, but it would require hundreds of people in dozens of departments at enormous expense, and everyone would get cross because the show is due to air in a matter of hours and the set builders, make up, sfx, camera crew and IN FACT everyone concerned is rightly due a break. We can do it with few clicks. Also, we like playing with sound and aural perception. We like to treat people who are listening on headphones with special little sound easter-eggs. There are so many layers, and we use all kinds of techniques from binaural stereo to ASMR. As I said earlier, we reward repeat listens.
Do get in touch if you’d like to contribute. The ABSOLUTE key is to go back and listen to previous shows. To be honest, they’re a much better guide than this load of old shit that I’ve just written.
Your long form ideas ‘on paper’ that you’d like us to make at our end: FRIDAY MORNING (prior to the coming Wednesday’s show.)
Long form ideas you’re making yourself: email pitch by FRIDAY (prior to Wednesday’s show) and, if it’s a ‘yes’, delivery by END OF SATURDAY please. Obviously if big news stories break after this (or you have an idea that you think we simply MUST look at) we will still accept stuff later than this. It takes a while to collate stuff and integrate it into the overall soundscape which is why we prefer things early; it means it stands a better chance.
Quickie topical stuff (eg simple cut ups like the stuff that usually ends up in the first few minutes of each programme) you can send anytime MONDAY- WEDNESDAY. We can drop these in as late as Wednesday afternoon.
All this said, feel free to pitch at anytime, because your idea could work for a future episode, you never know.
Finally, don’t be disheartened if your idea doesn’t get on first (or even second) time, and we don’t get back to you with a box of tissues and a kind shoulder. Firstly, tissues aren’t provided for in the budget and second, TWO FUCKING METRES. We just don’t have time to contact everyone individually with feedback, I’m afraid. But keep trying. We still like you.
© unusual. december 2020