Ali Burnett ….
… grew up in a family which didn’t DO church, but went to a school what did! That is, it did hymns and Very Boring Assemblies.
One day, when she was 12 and making her bed, she was singing one of the aforementioned hymns (the words were something about asking God to take control of your life) when He said “OK, I’m here; what are you going to do about it?”
“Wow,” said Ali. “You’re fantastic. How come no one told me believing in God felt this good?”
She started to do religious things, like go to a Very Boring (C of E; sorry guys!) church up the road. It didn’t believe in the resurrection and was very “high”. “This is stupid,” said Ali. “Either it’s true or it’s not; I can’t be doing with all this half and half rubbish.” Not having ever done church, apart from C of E on rare occasions like weddings, she didn’t fancy the Baptist church down the road instead; it had funny posters outside and looked a bit weird. Anyway, it wasn’t a Proper Church! So she drifted for about the next 6 years till she arrived at Warwick Uni aged 18, walked into the Students’ Union and beheld a banner which said “Jesus is alive and well and living at Warwick.” “O-KAY,” said Ali, “Jesus freaks!” (This was the early 70s, remember. Nationwide Festival of Light time, and all that.) But when an older girl from the Christian Union explained that believing in Jesus meant having a daily relationship with Him, ie praying about stuff 24/7 and reading a bit of the Bible every day so God could get a word in edgeways, it all started to make sense.
She was the life and soul of the CU for approximately one and a half terms, when it occurred to her that she hadn’t been to a good party for ages. After that, things went a bit pear-shaped and she didn’t come back to faith till age 21, by which time she was Depressed and Desperate (ever noticed the way God has to back stubborn people into a corner to get their attention?). God healed her overnight of the depression and took her to work at Scripture Union while she thought about what she wanted to do. It occurred to her that most people she knew didn’t do church, that over half the country didn’t do church, and that therefore most people didn’t know all the good stuff she’d found – 7 day a week Christianity, a live giving Relationship with a Friend, and all the subculture that went with it. Christian books, Christian holidays, Christian music, Christian Good Gardeners – you know the territory. “People should know about this stuff and where to find it so they can decide better what to believe,” thought Ali. “It’s not on the radio or TV; why not?” All she saw was Songs of Praise, which was not geared to people who don’t Do Church. So working in the media seemed the best way of redressing the balance and providing a bit of salt.
The rest is history – of what a great God can do with a very ordinary and not very well organised person who has a bit of a talent for writing and a not too bad voice.
1982 Cambridge Radio Course. Residential, one month. Brilliant, partly BBC-staffed training course in Biblical principles and how they apply to broadcasting, plus all the practical stuff like production and presentation. Unforgettable experience with life shaping results.
1983 BBC Radio 2 – Researcher on Good Morning Sunday (with Nick Page). Taught her a lot about how to survive as a Christian at the BBC. She nearly didn’t!
1984-7 West Essex Gazette – Reporter. Fantastic training in what makes news
1987 BBC Essex – co-presenter on Sunday morning Godslot. Fantastic training in what does not make news, but churchgoers think it does …
1988 BBC Beds (now 3 Counties) – Religious Producer. In Luton!! Fantastic training in how to survive as a Christian in a multi faith culture and respect other faiths without believing that all roads lead to Rome.
1989 BBC Essex – ditto BBC Beds. Yes, they asked her back. More of the above – less multi faith but more tabloid. Interviews with Kriss Akabusi, Ian McCaskill, even on one occasion, Barbara Smoker (no, not a tobacco campaigner, but the Richard Dawkins of her day).
1990 Orchard FM – Drivetime Presenter and Religious Producer on a MUSIC station. Defection from the BBC caused by Peter Kerridge, now MD of Premier, who pointed out how much easier it was to reach a non believing audience when you actually had some listeners. This brought home to Ali the difference between BBC local radio (around 19% of the audience on average) and commercial stations (in most cases, about 40%). So she crossed the floor … (Question. How come a man like Peter, with life changing views about reaching the real world, ends up at Premier????!!)
1991 Breeze AM in Essex. Overnight Presenter. Orchard sacked her because she wasn’t very good.
1992-5 Chiltern Radio SuperGold – general on air dogsbody, doing all the shifts no one wanted. Started as Overnight Presenter then graduated to a Breakfast Show (briefly, not being what you might call a Morning Person). Finally she got given, appropriately for anyone who knows her, the Late Show (10 pm-2 am).
1993-95 Chiltern Radio SuperGold – Religious Producer. During the above, she also got lumbered with producing and presenting an hour’s Godslot on Sunday mornings, which stuck out like a sore thumb because, while the rest of the station played great 60s and 70s music, this one played hymns and the occasional rather bad worship song. It also featured Interviews – even though the rest of the station avoided them like the plague. “This is silly,” said Ali. “The audience don’t want stuff like this! They don’t Do Church!” So once she took it over, the show turned into the Good God Guide – 100 mile an hour music, normal station stuff (Beatles, Stones, Elvis, Cilla, Manfred Mann, ELO, Beach Boys …). Minimal chat, but with the occasional 2 or 3 minutes of Really Interesting Interview (Samantha Fox, Helen Shapiro, the Blind Date Vicar, a Christian Dream Analyst, Masseuse, Escapologist, Male Model … etc etc. If the Sun wasn’t interested, neither was the Good God Guide). Billed as the show that makes your average vicar run for cover. Oddly enough, by a freak of fate (or God) SuperGold was expanding its empire and was at this time taken overnight as a sustaining service by lots of FM music stations which didn’t want to pay an overnight presenter, and on Sundays they often took the feed until 8 am. GGG aired from 7 am to 8 am. So the show went out on around 14 FM stations as well as half a dozen AM SuperGold transmitters. During this time it received a very welcome grant from Jerusalem Trust to keep body and soul together.
1995 “CCM” on Horizon FM, MK. After much pestering the Programme Controller about the lack of anything religious on Chiltern FM, Ali got permission to run a specialist Contemporary Christian Music show on Horizon FM in Milton Keynes. It only lasted about 3 months, then the GWR group took over and axed all specialist music, but the PC of Horizon asked Ali to continue producing her one-minute “thought for the week” features (not mini sermons, but mini dramas, a bit like adverts, entitled Get Real). Which she did – remotely, because by that time she’d changed job …
1995-98 Mercury FM – Drivetime Presenter and by default, Religious Producer. After much effort Ali finally got together a demo that someone thought was good enough for FM (ie cool) music stations. After she’d been at Mercury a month, the Programme Controller (who hadn’t realised there was no longer a legal requirement to Do God on commercial radio) asked her to Do God at the weekends. This took the form of 2 features – one the “Get Real” thoughts (always music-based and using playlisted songs from the station’s secular library) and the other a one minute, fast-moving, celebrity- and entertainment-news bulletin entitled “God Goss”. Then they got a new boss, and he sacked 5 of the station’s 6 presenters including Ali. (“The most sacked person I know” – Rev Tony Miles, author, broadcaster and co-enthusiast for salting the media.)
1999-2000 Ten 17 Harlow – Drivetime Presenter and Head of Music (no God stuff, because the PC was more au fait with broadcast law than the one at Mercury). Sacked because … well, because. She wasn’t very good, or her face didn’t fit any more, or the format changed. That’s how it goes in radio.
2000-2003 ITN News Direct “Travel on the Ones”. Yes, she became a Travel Presenter, though occasionally still asked to “do God” for some radio stations. During this time she was having a bit of an altercation with God and so He took her off religious broadcasting, presumably because she could’ve been a liability. But the travel was fun. Later on, ITN’s travel service was bought by LBC and Ali ended up there for the last 6 months of this.
1999-2002 TV Continuity for Anglia and Living TV. Getting paid silly money to sit and watch TV for 8 hours and occasionally say “In 30 minutes, there’s chaos in Coronation Street, but first here’s Jerry Springer on a paternity question. Time for a bit of Who’s Your Father …”. Money for old rope, and the sort of job we were all born to do … again, huge fun. Trouble was, the silly money was only for about one or two days a month. See, everyone wants to do this job …!
2004-6 Star Radio Cambridge – Presenter. Ali actually head hunted by a Programme Controller who grew up listening to her on Mercury! Alas, by this time age was catching up with her … hence the move to smaller stations …
2006-7 Freelance radio presenting work on Star, KLFM in King’s Lynn, etc. As well as this, a bit of freelance CD production. By this time the argument with God was resolved and the case for salting the media more urgent than ever. At which point Ali discovered
2007-16 ChurchAds.Net (formerly Churches’ Advertising Network). The UK’s only ad agency for the Christian faith. At the time, making brilliant radio ads which were hardly ever used because churches do not Do Advertising. So Ali got hired to change all that … partly the result of a promotional CD, making the case for advertising to churches, which ChurchAds commissioned and liked.
2008-11 Freelance Radio Presenter on another hotchpotch of stations – Mercury FM Watford (another Mercury, but like practically every other local radio station from that time, now called Heart) and the Adventure Radio Network Late Show (pre-recorded, and NOT fun. Bring back live broadcasting!!)
2008-10 God Goss Producer & Promoter. During this time, having realised that the Godslot was a thing of the past, but radio was still very much alive, Ali was promoting the idea of short sponsored features to keep Jesus’ name in the world’s frame. On Bank Holiday Monday in May 08, a friend and prayer supporter rang her with the offer of 6K to kick this off on Heart Cambridge. So “God Goss” was reborn – first as a sponsored feature and later it was forced, against its will(!) into becoming a commercial. Imagine trying to produce balanced, fair news reporting in an advertising context …. Nightmare. But the project lasted 2.5 years, gained the support of JT, Church Army and others, and aired on Heart Cambridge, Norwich and Bristol. It also launched a website and was about to launch a podcast (named the “Godcast”) on the stations’ websites, when the Group Programme Director got informed there was something religious going out and decided to axe the feature. When asked why, he told Ali: “It’s too good. It sounds too much like the rest of the radio station.” Hell-O?? So God Goss died, temporarily, but resurrection on a non-Heart station (or even on Heart, maybe, by now) is possible tomorrow if churches can offer a monthly airtime budget of about £1K. Church Army still owns the url of godgoss.com. And prayer continues … we have a great God. Watch this space.
2011-16 Freelance Writer, Voiceover, Media Trainer for churches. Other than pre-Christmas time with ChurchAds.Net, acting as Liaison between the churches and radio stations to get their excellent Christmas radio ads to air, Ali didn’t do much paid work because of family responsibilities, but she was fortunate to witness the birth of a miracle in Milton Keynes, where churches of all kinds actually understood what she was trying to say in her annual presentations about media and advertising, and decided to run regular radio ad campaigns. The model they have created is so successful, and has such incredible possibilities for “salting” all areas of media (including social) that she’s currently praying for the idea to spread. Hence this year’s Deaneries Synod – and hopefully, Other Animals … let’s do like every other organisation in the world with a message, and advertise! That way WE control what goes out, and the listener gets a fairer idea of what we are all about. Make sense?
2016 Currently Job-seeking. Family responsibilities having eased, and money having dried up, she is once more trudging the round of radio stations with demos of all descriptions and seeking work of all descriptions (news, presenting, travel, washing up, stacking shelves in Sainsbury’s) and praying for God to send younger workers into the media harvest! Again, watch this space.