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The future of radio: Phin ‘Pop Man’ Adams, a Cambridge theology undergraduate who wears a bow tie

  • @iburrell

Among the audience in the ballroom of London’s Grosvenor House hotel for the radio industry “Oscars” next month will be a Cambridge University theology student who is contemplating changing his name by deed poll to “Pop Man”.

Phin Adams, 23, a third-year student at Pembroke College, has surprised the professional broadcasting sector by winning a nomination as “Speech Radio Personality of the Year”, alongside such established presenters as Danny Baker, Johnny Vaughan and Nick Ferrari.

The undergraduate, who broadcasts his Sunday show “Phin’s Barmy Brunch” on the Cambridge student network Cam FM, will be one of the few award nominees in the ballroom to have forked out the £300 cost of his own ticket. “I wouldn’t dream of doing it on Cam FM expenses,” he said yesterday.

Weighing even heavier on his mind than his imminent finals and the completion of a thesis on “Religious Broadcasting” is the prospect of having to accept his degree under the name Pop Man, something he has promised his listeners if he fails to meet his own challenge of playing every historic UK Number One ahead of graduation day.

“I don’t want to graduate with the name Pop Man on my degree certificate,” he says pensively. “I’m currently on 1983, about halfway. It’s tight but I’m pretty sure I can do it.” After his exams he intends to turn his Barmy Brunch into a daily event in order to play more chart-toppers.

It was during the summer holiday of his first year at Cambridge that Adams realised he might be more cut out for a career as a radio jock than as a theologian. A stint on the air at Somer Valley FM, a community station in his home town of Bath, inspired him to seek a slot in the schedule at Cam FM, which broadcasts to both the University of Cambridge and neighbouring Anglia Ruskin University.

Although he admits to some regrets over choosing theology – saying he selected a thesis topic “linked to what I want to do afterwards” – he has used his faith studies to land a couple of notable broadcasting scoops.

Spotting Rowan Williams pounding the streets of Cambridge, Adams made the acquaintance of the former Archbishop of Canterbury and now master of Magdalene College. He managed to access an event for theology academics at which Williams was speaking, and used his course credentials to gain an interview at the former Archbishop’s home.

Another wheeze saw Adams gain access to an event hosted by the Global Scholars Symposium at which the Dalai Lama was guest of honour. “I got up the front and made sure I was the first person to ask a question,” he said.

The student’s request showed an instinct for gathering good audio footage. “I asked ‘If you could sing a song to sum up your life what would it be and could you sing it now?’” Although the Buddhist leader declined the invitation on the grounds of not being allowed to sing (only chant) since childhood, the exchange generated a memorable clip for listeners to Barmy Brunch.

Other interviewees on the show have included spin doctor Alastair Campbell, actor Tony Robinson and illustrator Quentin Blake.

Less PJ Harvey and more PG Wodehouse, Adams has a taste for multi-coloured bowties and admits to harbouring no ambition to work on BBC Radio 1. “It’s far too trendy and I don’t think I’m cool enough,” he said.

The broadcaster he most admires is BBC Radio 2 breakfast show host Chris Evans. “I would absolutely love to have a light entertainment show; to have the freedom to create, produce and execute it.”

But, having come so far, he is not sure he has it in him to feign enthusiasm for the life of a lowly broadcast assistant – the obvious step up from student radio. “It seems false to pretend you enjoy making the breakfast presenter’s coffee when you really want to be doing something more creative,” he says.

If he beats Messrs Baker, Vaughan and Ferrari and emerges from his £300 seat to collect a prized Radio Academy Award on 12 May, Adams might not have to make anyone’s hot beverage – even if he ends up answering to the name Pop Man.