BBC Radio Lancashire's Nish Hindocha talks her 'crazy' career, Covid, and the privilege of broadcasting
Even over the phone, Nish's smile radiates through her words.
Discussing the wonderful unpredictability of her job and her affection for the station's listeners, the presenter of BBC Radio Lancashire's afternoon show chuckles as she recounts an unexpected turn of events during a recent broadcast. Before she knew what was happening, she was live on air talking about magpies.
"We'd be nowhere without the contribution of our listeners - they get involved in everything no matter what we throw out there, which really makes the station tick because they're all as crazy as we are!" she says. "For example, we had a massive chat recently about magpies and you wouldn't believe the number of people we had ringing up about saluting magpies!
"I'd never heard of it and found it bizarre, but it seemed like everyone in Lancashire saluted Mr Magpie and asked about Mrs Magpie! This is how random it gets; it's such good fun."
Nishma Hindocha has worked at Radio Lancashire for 14 years, having started out as a broadcast assistant on the breakfast show with Tony Livesey in the mid-2000s before becoming the breakfast reporter and then going on to produce the drive-time show. A veritable radio all-rounder now, Nish's career in radio started the good, old-fashioned way: work experience.
"When I finished university, I wanted to get into broadcasting - either TV or radio - but, if you had a degree, you also needed experience and, if you had experience, you also needed a degree," she explains. "So, I did a year of voluntary work for Radio Lancashire, which was invaluable because it gave me a grounding in radio. That's where it all started, really."
Still working a full-time job whilst volunteering with the station to get a taste of a career she was increasingly sure was very much for her, Nish relished the chance to flex her journalistic muscles and show what she could do.
"Being given a chance to develop my ideas and put them across really made me realise how much I loved the work," says Nish, 38. "I applied for so many BBC jobs and got so many rejections - honesty, hundreds and hundreds of rejections - and there were times when I thought 'am I ever going to get a break?'
"But, because I'd got the background knowledge and confidence from the voluntary work, I was in a better position when the job on the breakfast show came up," she adds. "I went for it and got aboard with a six-month contract which turned into 12 months and then another 12 after that, then I was made staff.
"When opportunities present themselves, you've got to take them."
Speaking to the Lancashire Post just as BBC Radio Lancashire celebrates its 50th birthday, Nish is effusive in her praise of the historic station, saying it's a 'privilege' to work at a place which can trace its roots back to a meeting in October 1970, when the eager 25 soon-to-be members of staff of the newly-founded BBC Radio Blackburn met at The Langham, the BBC’s London training centre for new local radio crews.
Following a three-week course, the team headed back North ahead of their scheduled launch on January 26th, 1971, but - as a result of the miners' strikes - the winter of 1970 was bedevilled by rolling power cuts, spurring the fledgling team, spearheaded by new station manager John Musgrave, into action.
Relying on batteries and broadcasting by candlelight, Radio Blackburn spluttered into existence a few weeks prematurely, with their supposed 'test transmissions' quickly becoming the real deal even as builders were putting the finishing touches to their studios at what had formerly been a motorcycle showroom on King Street.
That work ethic and creative get-up-and-go remains to this day.
"That's the beauty of BBC Radio Lancashire: we cover everything and anything," says Nish, who is from Blackburn. "News can be a happy story or a barking mad story and the people who work here are fantastic, which is what makes the station. We're always here for people and it's a privilege to work for Radio Lancashire because it's a place where you can be creative.
"When I got the breakfast reporter gig, it was on-the-day stories as well as some really random stuff which was really, really nerve-wracking because you're under pressure and are pushed in at the deep end," she adds. "The things we got up to and covered... That's the best thing about radio: it's instant, so if you think of a good idea, you can pretty much do it.
"I love it because every day is different and unpredictable and I wouldn't change it for anything," Nish continues. "You can plan something, but it goes out the window as soon as you go on air, which I really enjoy because I'm a people-person who can talk for England and who's genuinely interested in others, so I love my job.
"So long as you're creative, anyone from any walk of life can do radio."
As well as radio, Nish has also done stints in television, working on North West Tonight for two-and-a-half years followed by The One Show, harking back to her post-uni days when broadcast media, regardless of the medium, first gripped her. And, despite TV and radio being so different, Nish says she learned a lot by working in both.
"I remember asking Louise Minchin if she still gets nervous and she said 'Every. Single. Day'," says Nish, who lives in Fulwood, Preston. "So I see nerves as good; the day you don't have those nerves is when you should worry. Everyone's human, so you make mistakes and fluff-up all the time on air, even now that I'm 14 years in.
"Listeners appreciate the fact that you're human - if you got everything right, you'd sound like a robot," she adds. "It's all about developing your skills as the years go by as you get more experience - if you listened to my early interviews, you'd laugh your head off, but now I'm so much more confident.
"And I love that my job still gives me those butterflies."
Conversation turns to the past year - 12 months of confusion, chaos, isolation, sorrow, and sadness for so many. But it has also been a time when people's humanity has shone through.
"It's been a really bizarre time since the pandemic hit us," says Nish, who had been presenting alongside John Gillmore prior to the first Covid-19-enforced lockdown. "I worked from home for the first six months of the first lockdown and I was ripping my hair out; I hated every minute of it because of the pressures of home-schooling, of looking after an 18-month-old, and of working full-time.
"I know what people are going through and it was and still is an unknown and unsettling time," she adds. "But radio has been there for us all as a form of escapism and I don't think radio has ever been as important as it is now. We're in people's homes, their cars, their bedrooms, their bathrooms, their showers - we're everywhere, and we're part of their routine.
"Radio is organic, which is what people are looking for," Nish says. "It's about relatability."
In a year where human contact has had to tragically become anathema to us all, Nish says that those bonds formed across the airwaves have been a lifeline at a time when a lifeline has been needed more than ever.
"Listeners ring up and say that we're helping them, which is phenomenal, but it's the other way around, too," she explains. "They help us because we build a relationship with them over time and that relationship in turn becomes like a friendship, which is huge for all of us, especially at a time like this.
"People have given me the chance to speak to them, so I feel privileged to be able to give something back."