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In praise of... Scott Mills
Why has he stayed at the top of his game?
It’s the last week of Scott Mills afternoon show on BBC Radio 1. He has not had a bad innings at the station with a 24-year run from October 1998 to today.
Staying on a youth-focused station for so long (aged 25 to 49) is no mean feat. Now, your age isn’t what signifies how long you get to stay somewhere, it’s your focus on relating to the station’s target audience.
A previous controller of Radio 1, Andy Parfitt, described the station as a conveyor belt of talent. The good ones could keep jumping back delaying the inevitable time they fall off the end. Scott seems to have been a championship player.
Most DJs, irrespective of their age, just get sick of the station that they’re on. Or have a desire to be somewhere else. Listening in I never really got that with Scott. He’s clearly worked very hard, alongside his team, to reimagine his show regularly, staying focused on delivering for the target audience. It’s something that’s incredibly hard to do. Most DJs have a somewhat singular act that stays with them - and it’s the audience that has to get used to it. Again, not the case with Scott.
There’s four elements that I think have made the show, and him as a DJ so successful:
A fundamental understanding of the rhythm of pop radio. His speech breaks are always the appropriate length for the content. He’s not afraid of short ones if it gives pace or builds anticipation. He can also handle longer form segments, but they’re usually focused to remove the extraneous fluff.
Great features. Features can be difficult on a younger-focused pop station. Capital chooses not to really have any in daytime. The balance is always tune out vs appointment to listen. Are they strong enough to keep people listening and make a habit. Scott’s had a huge number over the years including Flirt Divert, 24 Years at the Tap End and Innuendo Bingo. Knowing when to keep or kill them is also vital.
Also included is the sister of the feature, the catchphrase. Balancing these to be inclusive, rather than exclusive is pretty tough. “It’s only bley Friday” and “Love you bye” have become synonymous (for a time).
Storylines. On Radio 1 he was one of the first people to properly take listeners on a content journey over a week (or longer). A mini short-term soap opera with an enjoyable resolution. Be that the Scott Mils Bridge, a live-stream from his house for a week or creating Scott Mills The Musical at the Edinburgh Fringe.
Partners in crime. Staying relevant or reaching the breadth of your audience can often be helped by co-presenters and side-kicks. This relationship is also pretty fraught as egos are forced to share their airwaves. Scott’s consistently enhanced his show with team members, from Chappers to Laura to now 10 years with Chris Stark. Helping co-hosts be successful always reflects well on the anchor. Something he seems to always have been generous with.
If you want a great example of how Scott does a brilliant job, do listen back to Monday 8th August’s episode on BBC Sounds. It’s an edition that I just managed to catch on that day. I’m sure there’s better shows, and worse ones, but listening in to that random pick - there’s so much in it that any budding radio DJ or producer should pay attention to.
Things I noticed in the first hour:
Kicks off with a good character definition montage of the two of them and then a scene-setter - they’re doing the show from Newquay. It’s a link less than 20 secs.
Two songs back to back and then another 20 seconder with some listener voice notes and an appeal for more.
A reset that they’re leaving Radio 1 and this was a core place for their relationship, a nice sense of place for Newquay with a good line “if Newquay was on a dating app, what I can see would be the profile picture”. A reflect on the weather and a gag about Scott providing a 50 or a 30 factor sun cream for the team - playing to his position as the show’s ‘mum’. A quick shout of “this is a work event” into the next tune.
A great story about travelling down, via Par, and their uselessness getting some food with some great detail that the only place that would serve them had a weird playlist of “a Callum Scott megamix and the Kids Bop version of Justin Bieber”. Then into Scott always providing an itinerary for a trip (again Mum-style character) giving him the opportunity to mention loads of local place names and repeat, a now recurring joke, that it’s not a holiday but a '“work event”. Finally finishes with a great audio gag “and if all goes to plan, Senior Dicks” (say it out loud) before straight into a song.
We’re 23mins in so far. Some speedier links and some segues either side of the news means the next speech break is at 41mins in and we’re doing listener mentions asking Scott to play in a local Rugby team. There’s then a setup, and first execution, for ‘Stupid Street’ a returning feature about rubbish responses to vox pop questions with loads of real-people audio. Its 6mins in length - pretty long, but it’s engaging with lots of content and a variety of voices.
Another couple of songs and a reminiscence link, which again re-affirms why they’re in Newquay and a pick up of listener responses to Stupid Street before a second hit - all around 4 mins.
A couple more tunes and its the end of the hour - all that content and they still got 14 songs away. Pretty good! It’s entertaining, sharp, funny, there’s production in the Stupid Street voxes and there’s really good writing - the itinerary, the recall of the music in the trip - it’s prepared material used in an effortless way. But they’re not over-prepared, there’s room for listener comments to add to what they have planned, plus still reflect a sense of day too. To me, it’s a pretty perfect hour of entertaining radio.
Scott now moves on to Radio 2, taking over from Steve Wright. Whilst different in style, they both share a certain artistry in how they structure their shows. In adjusting what he does for a different audience, I’m sure it will be a task that Scott relishes. It help he’s now in the target group, rather than out of it. But I think the last 24 years shows he’ll rise to the challenge.
Tickets are on sale for Podcast Day 24 on Tuesday 4th October. Whether you’re in Australia, America or Europe - there’s events for you - as we hit Sydney, New York and London. Go see what’s on and get your tickets.
I’m experimenting with a new Substack feature where you can hear me read the post. Sorry, maybe I should have said that at the top. Anyway - feedback welcome, it’ll be on the web version, I guess.
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