He’s the lynchpin of the Radio 2 schedule. As the entire line-up evolved around him, Ken Bruce and the ‘second-biggest audience in UK Radio’ have comfortably inhabited mid-morning for two decades. So how does his classic Popmaster quiz sound on day one of a new jingle set?

Listened In is 2ZY’s air-check blog. Every week, we listen to a random 20 minute sample of a station or programme in the news.

WHO   Ken Bruce

WHAT   BBC Radio 2

WHEN   16 July 2012

1024   White Light/George Michael

… which is the ‘Record of the Week’ apparently, meaning we’ll hear it every day.

1027   OK this is why we’re here! “The brand new sound of .. Popmaster!” says Ken with a jingle that makes Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds sound positively understated. A point Ken picks up, “We’re energised already, listening to that.”

John Hutchinson is in Weymouth. He was expecting the other jingle, he tells Ken. John does grounds maintenance of the outside of buildings. Ken clarifies; “This is the grounds, not the buildings?” He deserves a lifetime Sony for twenty years of just being interested in this kind of stuff. John talks about the weather and how it’s affecting his job. “The bed has been made, you must lie in it. The flower bed that is,” says Ken.

John’s been with Christina for 32 years but never married her. “It’s not a good idea to rush into these things,” quips Ken. There’s the usual perambulation through family minutiae. “And you’re related to a famous person?” He’s Terry Venables’s cousin, which is mildly remarkable, and there’s some good natured Chelsea/Rangers banter. “Forres Mechanics are higher up than Rangers”.

American No 1s or Chart Tributes? John chooses the latter asked to predict his score. “Depends on the day, but low-20s would be good the way the competitions going lately.”

Bed out with a Sonovox-alike, and we’re into it.

East 17‘s hit Stay Another what? Day. Right. Temptations Ball of what? Confusion. Right.

Bonus question on Chart Tributes. Plays a clip of I Feel Like Buddy Holly. Who did it? “Not Shakin’ Stevens, is it?” No, John. It was Alvin Stardust. “The same kind of performer,” says Ken, letting him down easy.

What Ska-influenced group did Can Can and Walking in the Sunshine? John doesn’t beat the countdown – then suggests Buster Bloodvessel. He gets one point for that. Dizzy by Tommy Roe, Ballad of John and Yoko by the Beatles and I Heard it through the Grapevine by Marvin Gaye. In which year were they all number ones? “’68?” No, one year out!, which appears to be a catchphrase if the T-shirt Lynne is wearing on the website is to be believed.

Plays a chunk of ABC’s When Smokey Sings (which doesn’t mention Smokey). Who were they singing about. Smokey Robinson, says John, correctly. Six points, says Ken. Which group from the glam era did Fox on the Run and Action? The Sweet. Correct. Gossip’s current song is Move In What? John doesn’t know. “We’ve been playing it ..” says Ken. The Right Direction is the answer.

Bonus: Here’s a 2007 chart hit referencing The King – but what’s the group? And plays a bit of Scouting for Girls/Elvis Ain’t Dead. This reviewer couldn’t hear John’s answer under the impatient Sonovox count, but Ken must have. It’s wrong. Ricky Martin’s first hit. Un, Dos, Tres, What? Quatro, suggests John, not unreasonably. “They didn’t go any further than three. It’s Maria.”, says Ken.

So John gets 16 points. And sounds disappointed. “Not too bad, you can be proud!” says Ken. And throws forward to Colin Clark, from Scarborough, who’s up next.

1033   I Need A Dollar/Aloe Black

1036   More Popmaster

So we get the full jingle again. Colin’s on. He’s well today. “Goooooooood”, says Ken. Colin’s just going shopping. We never find out what for. He’s retired, and helps at a local school. He’s a birdwatcher, and used to work on a nature reserve. “And you met someone famous there?” Yes, in 1973, David Bellamy. Perhaps not a statistical impossibility. If you’re going to meet David Bellamy anywhere … And Colin also tells us he follows Ipswich Town.

American Number Ones or Girl Groups? Colin goes for American Number Ones rather than Girl Groups and tells us he reckons he and John are well matched.

Umbrella by who? Rihanna. 3 points. Hot Chocolate and Modern Talking both had songs called Brother what? Louie. Yes!

Bonus: Plays Take A Bow. Who did it? “I’m struggling, Ken,” says Colin before not recognising Madonna. Good grief. In 1980, Junior Mervin sang about Police and What? Criminals? “Nearly”, says Ken. Thieves. What year did My Heart Will Go On, Millennium and Believe get to number one? 1989? “The opposite”, says Ken. 98.

Bonus: US Number 1 from 1968. Never made the UK Chart. People Gotta Be Free. By the Rascals. Colin guessed the Temptations. What band had hits called Showdown, Turn to Stone and Ma Ma Ma Bell? ELO. What band came back in 2008 after 9 yeatrs? Boyzone. Two in a row right for Colin.

Bonus: Meko’s 1977 instrumental version of what movie theme? “Towering Inferno?” says Colin! Agh. 7.45m people shout “Star Wars” at their radios. What’s only hit by Toto Coelo? I Eat Cannibals.

15 points. No problem says Colin – who says he was after the T-shirt anyway. Hi to wife Chris and kids Laura, Matthew, Thomas and Katy.

Back to John for ‘Three in Ten’. “It was tough what he had,” John reckons. Three UK single chart hits for Style Council. Not really John’s band, he tells us – only coming up with Long Hot Summer? Crowd moan FX and out. Ken ruminates “Long Hot Summer isn’t one, I’m afraid. That’s always the problem with whether it’s Paul Weller or Style Council. Oh, but actually, it is there! That was on Paris Match.You got one.” But one out of three doesn’t win the day, just “a Beautiful MP3 player.”

Can I say hello to a couple of people? asks John, before reading a list of everyone he ever met. Ken is courteous and patient as ever, before asking us “would you like to hear the jingle once more? A few days and you’ll be saying I don’t know how we ever put up with the old one …”

Popmaster Jingle Out

1044   Don McLean/American Pie

SUMMARY

Ken is a great broadcaster, often turning the slightest material into radio genius. Take John and Colin, today’s contestants. If Popmaster was a sitcom, they’d both be played by Ever Decreasing Circles-era Richard Briars. But he guides them through the occasionally-bizarre Popmaster mechanic and scoring to create a cult radio moment that encourages play-along in the listener.

Popmaster isn’t going to win any awards for creativity. But there’s merit in executing something straightforward with confidence, warmth and wit – consistently.

Radio 2 breaks radio rules. In twenty minutes, Ken didn’t tell us what we were listening to. This was the first day of a new jingle set and all the presenters were (shocked face) talking about it. Anywhere else, that would sound terrible. But the clever involvement of some of the station’s big names in its performance gives this music-interested network the fig-leaf it needs to do that convincingly.

In all the important ways, you know Ken is one of us; a radio head through and through. He’s tight, he’s one-to-one and his audience loves him.

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