York Town Crier and Director at YorkMix Radio
We spoke to Ben Fry about how he came to be Town Crier for York and his life in radio. He currently presents the Breakfast Show on YorkMix Radio and is one of the entrepreneurs behind ‘The Hole in Wand’ and ‘The Potion’s Cauldron’ in York.
Q What did you want to be when you grew up?
A At around age 7, I wanted to have my own carpet cleaning business. Then from about the age of 8, I was making my own radio shows. I remember, just like everybody did who ended up in radio, recording on a cassette and making my parents listen to it. I always had a loud voice and the ability to project, so it’s weird when you look back at how many pointers there are to what you would end up doing.
Q Who is your all-time favourite radio presenter?
A Noel Edmonds because he had his Crinkly Bottom, Mr Blobby and was on the TV. Locally, Dom Busby was my hero. It’s very sad because we have just lost him. He was at MinsterFM when I started my work experience and I answered the phones on his late show. He had such a laid back laconic style.
Q Is that where you went straight from school?
A When I was still at school, I did work experience at MinsterFM and just never left. Radio was very different back then. Local stations were live 24/7 with presenters that were broadcasting live during the middle of the night. There were always people buzzing around so even after I had finished school I would go there in the evenings and just be part of it. It was very, very infectious.
Q How did you make the transition from working behind the scenes to Radio Presenter?
A Ninety-nine times out of a hundred you get on the radio by mistake. If you are in the right place at the right time, things can happen. I was in helping out with the late show, it snowed, and the overnight presenter couldn’t get in. I did the whole show as back then everything was still on cd so there had to be a physical body there to do the show.
Q What do you enjoy the most about presenting on the radio?
A I like sharing stories about my life. I like the connection with people. I think that the best radio presenters are authentic. People say to me: “We really value the travel news and that you tell us about local events but we like the fact that your kids have scribbled on the walls again”!
Q Are you a natural early riser?
A No, I hate it! I get up at 5.15 am. It’s true that you feel jetlagged all the time and on a weekend you still have to go to bed early because you can’t screw up your body clock. I hate the fact that my one-year-old has a later bedtime than I do! But, that’s the price of the job.
Q You must love it though—doing the breakfast show?
A I do, and the weird thing is that on the drive in, there are times when you think I can’t do this anymore. This is hard, particularly now when you are starting with the dark mornings. But the beauty of radio is that you are never tired on air. The minute you do it there is something that just clicks whether it’s adrenaline or maybe professionalism (if I know what that is!).
Q How did the connection to YorkMix come about?
A There were changes within the radio industry and we found ourselves without a radio station. I admired what Chris Titley and Richard McDougall had done to build YorkMix online for nearly a decade. It’s an honest brand, they cover stories that people don’t always want to hear. They have a great reputation and we thought that we could be part of that and hopefully enhance that by spreading the stories that they find through a different type of media.
Q How is YorkMix Radio adapting to the change in radio landscape?
A We’re on DAB. The government is no longer giving out FM licences because it’s making the transition to digital. Most people now listen via smart devices—they have a radio in their home but they choose to listen to the radio via Alexa, in cars via Apple Carplay or via an App. You have to make it easy for people to find you, but people are a lot more savvy now about the different ways they can consume media. It is different in that any radio station is available anywhere, but local radio stations only connect in that area.
Q Complete this sentence.. a song that I love that I would never play on the radio is….?
A Bruce Hornsby and the Range and Mandolin Rain. It was a song that was on air the first time I went on air. I’m a real sucker for a piano solo […] so, sometimes, if I’m driving home and I want to forget about work and not answer any calls I stick that on.
Q What’s your proudest moment?
A Becoming Town Crier. It’s a voluntary role and you go to events and support people who are taking the biggest step and risk of their lives with a new business or a charity event. For me, perhaps not the proudest moment, but the one I will always remember is being Town Crier at Ellie Goulding’s wedding at York Minster and welcoming royalty and celebrities. Being a representative for the city when the world’s press was watching was incredible.
It came about because I commented on a tweet from Ellie Goulding about her wedding in York saying that her day at the Minster won’t be complete without a Town Crier. I was on holiday in Wales at the time and I got a call from her wedding planner saying that Ellie has seen your tweet and of course she would like you there. So, I had to ditch the family on Friday night and drive 5 hours back to York to be there. It’s a good story to dine out on!
Q How does being Town Crier benefit the City?
A It’s a symbol of York and provides a bit of pomp and pageantry. Often the Town Crier supports events alongside the Lord Mayor or the Sheriff, and, if nothing else, the Town Crier is the best warm-up man in the business. You ring the bell and create some noise so that when the Lord Mayor or Sheriff do speak, they have been announced and people know what to expect. Everyone can get a picture of the Minster or the Shambles but they want to be able to post something different and a photo with a guy who looks like a giant pirate with a bell is different!
Q What’s your favourite York attraction?
A Apart from the ones I own, I have to say the Jorvik Centre. It’s so embedded in York culture and is unique to York. When you think about the logistics of how it is built under Coppergate, it is incredible.
Q If you could live anywhere where would it be?
A I think that we are pretty lucky with where we are. It’s very easy to take what’s on your doorstep for granted, and, it’s a cliché, but I’m happy with being in Yorkshire.
Q What made you start your Hole in the Wand Wizard Golf business?
A I spend a lot of time supporting and talking about the importance of independent businesses in the city so I just thought, why not have some skin in the game. York is super-served with amazing heritage attractions but as someone who has younger kids, I was looking for something fun that families could do for an hour. I’m a big kid and love magic and movies—the brand was born out of that. It was important to us to have something right in the city centre. We want to encourage local people to come into the centre and it also ticks the early evening economy because the city doesn’t just close at 5pm. The summer has been busy this year but I think the real test is going to be next year. We have also tried to make it affordable for families—it shouldn’t just be something they can do as a special treat—we want it to be something to do on a Saturday afternoon.
Q Have you got any plans to expand?
A By the time you read this, we will have opened the world’s smallest attraction on the Shambles. As well as our magical apothecary ‘The Potions Cauldron’, our new attraction is hidden in the secret potions room and called ‘The Potions Experience’ where you come and have a magical drink made by one of our wizards but watch out because the room is going to come to life!
Q Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?
A Everything I try to do, be it as Town Crier, on the radio, or with the business is because I want to see York do well. For me, participation matters. Everybody can positively influence their own area and I would encourage as many people as possible to do that.
Q What advice would you give your 16-year-old self?
A You will always lose money on cars. Don’t do anything at work that doesn’t make you happy and you can make a difference.