My Life In Media: Sammy Jacob


Sammy Jacob, 44, is managing director of NME Radio, which launches later this month, though you can listen to a pre-launch show presented by Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant and Karl Pilkington from today. Jacob worked on a series of pirate radio stations before founding Xfm from his bedroom in Hackney, east London, in 1992.

What inspired you to embark on a career in the media?

The love of new music and the lack of exposure it received on broadcast media. I simply wanted to share the great music I discovered, via nightclubs and friends, with a wider audience. I couldn't understand, or indeed accept, the limited choice of radio at the time.

When you were 15, which newspaper did your family get, and did you read it?

I don't think we read any specific newspaper. It depended on what we were interested in at any given time, so included tabloids and broadsheets. However, living in Hackney, I do recall the Hackney Gazette being a family favourite.

And what were your favourite TV and radio programmes?

Greg Edwards' Soul Spectrum on Capital Radio. It was the only true dance alternative on the radio at the time. If you wanted to hear the latest US dance imports it was essential listening. My favourite TV shows included (and still do) Tom and Jerry and Laurel and Hardy. They have yet to be beaten.

Describe your job?

Mad but fantastically exciting. There are new challenges each day. It ranges from dealing with budgets and financial forecasts, to arguing about what music we should play and the influence of various bands in shaping modern rock. My top three artists are Elvis, Lennon and Kurt. Without them, life would have been very different for me.

What's the first media you turn to in the mornings?

Radio, because it's able to keep me company wherever I go. It's versatile and convenient, and easy to absorb.

Do you consult any media sources during the day?

I'm continuously online, viewing news and music related websites. I don't think I could live without the net.

What do you tune into when you get home?

I normally get home around 10pm and tend to watch Sky News. The breadth and pace of information fits my attention span perfectly, and the delivery is well balanced. Then I revert to online news providers to get my fix of media-related stories, especially digital media.

What is the best thing about your job?

Hearing great music and meeting wonderful people, and being creative and impacting positively on people's lives. Discovering and nurturing new broadcast talent is also very rewarding when you get it right.

And the worst?

There's nothing really bad about it, apart from being disappointed with people who somehow let their childish attitudes get in the way of the bigger picture.

How do you feel you influence the media?

Being behind the early dance pirates and creating Xfm certainly changed the music and media landscape. The BBC's Radio 1, 6 Music and 1Xtra wouldn't be what they are without people like me and Gordon Mac, founder of Kiss FM. I believe NME Radio will continue to innovate and influence the more established stations, so its impact will be felt across the board.

What's the proudest achievement in your working life?

The founding of Xfm, both as a radio entity and brand, is pretty pleasing, although the station does seem to have lost its way somewhat over recent years, not to mention its audience. And arranging a licensing deal with IPC (a Time Warner company) and being responsible for NME Radio – the latest development for the UK's most established music brand.

The two most memorable moments of my career are engineering an acoustic session with Noel Gallagher and hearing "Wonderwall" for the first time, and a Radiohead session during their Bends period.

And what's your most embarrassing moment?

Being introduced to the Radiohead guitarist Ed O'Brien and telling him how much I loved Radiohead, then asking him what he does for a living. I don't think he's ever forgiven me.

What is your Sunday paper? And do you have a favourite magazine?

I don't buy papers any more as I do all my reading online, but I still read music magazines such as Uncut, NME and Word. Magazines still provide more in-depth coverage than you get online.

Name the one career ambition you want to realise before you retire?

I've pretty much achieved all I ever wanted. However, I'd love to interview Paul Simon, and do a pop quiz with Bowie, McCartney and Plant vs the NME, or Noel Gallagher and friends.

What would you do if you didn't work in the media?

Look after stray dogs. I find dogs are far more humane than humans.

Whom in the media do you most admire, and why?

Stephen Fry, Sir David Attenborough and John Cleese. Although I've never actually met them, they all come across as being truly wonderful people and fantastically bright and intelligent, while being totally down to earth. Their contribution to entertaining and enlightening us is second to none.

The CV

1983: Joins London pirate dance station Horizon Radio; forms dance station Solar Radio following year

1989: Founds London indie station Q102

1990: Works as a sound engineer for Mean Fiddler, and as a promoter

1991: Carries out one of the UK's first RSLs (restricted service licences) for the Reading Festival

1992: Creates Xfm and carries out a series of RSLs in central London

1996: Provides radio service for Oasis at Knebworth

1997: Xfm wins last FM licence in London and starts broadcasting 1 September

2007: After working abroad with dance DJs, returns to UK and forms DX Media in preparation for NME Radio

NME Radio launches on 24 June. Listen to Ricky Gervais's test transmission on nme.com/radio

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