October 12, 2014 by johnnyseifertradio
Every weekend at 23:00 I try to listen to Stephen Nolan’s networked 11 1:1 interviews on BBC Five Live. These interviews usually last around thirty minutes- an hour and are on such varied topics such as losing a loved one to a sufferer of a medical condition. Whenever the interviewee comes to air, I usually have never heard of them but their journey makes my ears perk up as I intensely listen. However, last night (11th October 2014) something very special happened.
Earlier last night Simon Hirst, the best commercial radio presenter out of London and ex-Breakfast host of Capital FM Yorkshire tweeted, “Tonight 10pm I’m on @BBC5live chatting to @StephenNolan about my life in radio, what I’ve been doing for the past few months and my future”. It is no secret that everyone was a bit shocked when Simon left the Breakfast show in June so suddenly, yet it was never discussed afterwards. I was on the train out to meet some friends for dinner when I saw the tweet and thought that is interesting, a commercial DJ coming to BBC 5 Live. My initial thought was yes at last commercial radio presenters out of London are getting the chance to move to the prestige BBC Radio. We have had this recently with Sam and Amy from Gem 106 in Nottingham covering on BBC Radio2 so I thought maybe it was another great move by the Beeb. However, as the interview started I realised that this was not going to be any normal announcement.
Simon announced that he was currently undergoing surgery to have a sex change to become Stephanie Hirst. There are a lot of blogs and articles being written today focusing on the sex change, focusing on how Simon would dress up as Stephanie walking around the streets late at night in his mums’ high heels, but I want to look at again the power of radio through quotes that Stephanie herself used.
“I knew from around the same time I wanted to be on the radio, I knew something wasn’t right”. Aged 8 Simon wanted to be on the radio, the same age as I discovered the powerful medium. As a radio presenter you want to be seen as a friend and to tell your audience about every detail of your life so that your audience can relate to you and you can relate to them. For example, if you visited a location in your TSA it is likely your audience will also go and visit due to the recommendation that you have personally given to them. When I heard this I felt so bad for Simon because it must have been so hard to keep something a secret when all radio presenters want to do is talk about themselves.
“I used to scream out loud”
I have always said that an audience can trust their favourite radio presenter to listen to their story. For example, The Surgery on BBC Radio 1 will have teenagers calling up to speak with 6 million listeners to tell a story that they think only Aled is listening too. What happens though when you are the radio presenter that needs to talk to their audience? We all have secrets and we all have insecurities but imagine being that isolated that you had to scream on your own? Just imagine sitting at your kitchen table in darkness with no sound but the pain that you are releasing? My perception of Simon changed completely. Gone was this happy cheeky chappy and here I was listening to Stephanie sympathizing and putting myself in stilettos trying to capture the emotions that she went through. I understand now why Simon left Capital so quickly because the judgement from his trusted audience could have completely gone one way or the other. I felt guilt, could this have been me? Was I listener that would have judged him if he told me whilst I was driving to work?
“We don’t change. Yes, the exterior changes, but we’re still the same people. We love people, we care for people…If you’re in an unhappy relationship, you need to change that. If you’re in a job where you’re unhappy you need to change that…”
I always like to walk away from seeing a friend with a message and something that I can learn about myself. Simon, a trusted radio friend who I have heard on the radio a couple of times finished the interview with the above line. First I saw courage. The courage that Simon had to come out as Stephanie in his haven, the radio studio and tell an audience some who knew him and some who didn’t this burden that he had been carrying on his shoulders for over twenty years. The second thing I saw was respect. I have so much respect for Stephanie and can see the selfishness how he wants to please everyone else all the time even now in a time he should be focused on himself.
I want to finish by repeating the words of some of the radio greats who I look up to and share their opinions.
Chris Moyles:”140 characters is just not enough to explain how proud I am of my dear friend @hirstydose and the life she will now lead. It’s all good!”
LeedsJourno: “And if we ever needed proof that #radio is a family just look at the love for @hirstydose on your timeline right now.”
@AllyBallyEuro “I’ve loved working in TV and online journalism, but that interview by @StephenNolan was proof that radio is THE superior broadcast medium.”
Stephanie, welcome back to your radio family we love you!
Link to the audio: https://audioboom.com/boos/2554823-hirsty-on-5-live