The fascinating, entertaining, likeable extrovert known to radio fans as DJ ‘Big Al’ Reporter: Martyn Torr
Publication: Oldham Chronicle Date published: 24 January 2012
SOME people are simply larger than life — and I am not talking physicality but personality.
Alan Nield has oodles, boodles, bundles of the stuff, certainly enough to spread around the rest of Oldham, oh and throw in Tameside and Rochdale too.
Little wonder then, only a couple of months after his acrimonious split with Revolution 96.2, the one-time radio presenter has two other other broadcast job offers to consider.
Both will put him in direct competition with Steve Penk, the Oldham-based radio station owner with whom he had a very public spat last November — which ended with Big Al making a big arrivederci...
He has yet to take up either offer: he is still negotiating with one station; and is still formatting plans, with partners, for the other.
For Big Al not only has big ideas, he has big plans for his future. Anyone thinking that his departure from 96.2 The Revolution was the beginning of the end, simply doesn’t know the big fella.
To be honest, I didn’t, either, until a couple of weeks ago. Sure, we had been aware of each other, and had referred stuff to each other, and been at events together, but I had never sat down and shared a conversation with this fascinating, entertaining, likeable, extrovert, musician and family man.
And did I mention formerly sportsman, a national champion too, and motorcyclist?
Big Al hasn’t always been, well... big. In his youth he was skinny — a swimmer who won three successive national championships at water polo with Royton. He was a goalkeeper, and a good one too — but he had a head start: his mother Irene was a swimming teacher at Shaw baths.
Young Alan spent a lot of time in the water and was a lifeguard for a while at the baths. It was here he met his future wife Joanne, 13 at the time and he was 16.
They were friends for a while but Alan met and married another girl, they had a child, but the marriage didn’t work out and Alan took himself off to live in Bath with his sister Karen — one of the country’s first female quantity surveyors, so there’s real talent in the Nield family genes — to get away from it all.
The homesick future prince of the airwaves was soon back in Shaw and back in touch with Joanne. They married, had twin daughters Beth and Chelsea and have been together ever since.
Jo is clearly a saint, and an understanding one too, for having spent time drinking coffee with Alan, to be fair he had water, this is one busy bloke who hardly ever seems to be at home.
No wonder we got on so well. But I digress.
He left school with the normal raft of O and A-levels but little idea of a career direction, hence poolside time with his mum as a lifeguard. Which left him lots of time to hone his water polo skills.
This was going really well, as three successive national championships by the age of 18 testify. A freak leg injury put an end to his career in the water.
“It also led to me putting on a little weight,” he confessed, not that he looks uncomfortable with his new size, in fact, far from it.
Being out of the water meant Alan had to find a proper job, so he moved into sales and his gift of the gab which, later in life was to bring him to the attention of none other than Peter Kay.
After time driving a taxi for his father Frank, who owned Crompton Cars, he got back into retail sales with PC World, managing stores in Oldham, Huddersfield, Bolton, St Helens and Warrington.
Big Al’s big break came around 12 years ago while listening to Oldham FM, which used to be broadcast from The Spindles. “The presenter said his PC was going belly up so I rang in and offered to fix it, for free, at PC World.
“I was invited into the new studio and sat around for a while, just listening and chatting off air with Lee Glasby, while the records were playing.
“One thing led to another and soon I was an on-air regular having banter and live chat.”
Around this time, Hannah and Blummy were presenting the breakfast show but they left and he and Lee — who gave Alan his moniker “Big Al” — were offered the slot as a double act.
“I would go into the studio early in the morning, help present the show and then shoot off to work at which ever PC World store I was based at! Life was hectic for a while but it was fun and PC World were very good about it, too.”
And all the while he was also playing bass guitar in a band. I told you he was never at home, didn’t I?
“I’ve played in bands for as long as I can remember. The first was called Understanding Jane. Then I joined Remote and Against The Grain. There were a few of them.”
For the past eight years, Big Al and his pals — drummer Norman Radcliffe, from Littleborough; rhythm guitarist Arron Burns, from Delph; vocalist Graham Wheeler, from Moorside; and lead guitarist Jake Fletcher, from Waterhead — have been playing as Stifler’s Mom, named after a character in the cult teen “American Pie” movie series.
“It’s a long story and I’m not going into the origins of the name here. Suffice to say it’s stuck and we’ve been playing as Stifler’s Mom for a while now.”
The band plays at weddings and hotels and gets the majority of its bookings through word of mouth, but they must be half decent, vocalist Graham has twice made the later stages of the hit television series “The X Factor”.
“Once he actually made it to judges’ houses,” announced Big Al, proudly and almost protectively.
And all the while he was doing the breakfast show with Lee and working at PC World. It’s a miracle he remained Big Al, with all the racing about — he should have been as thin as a rake.
He was six months out of broadcasting when Tameside Radio gave him a call to work on a breakfast show called Weekend Malarkey, which went out on Saturdays and Sundays.
Life was good for Big Al, he was content with his triple life as a salesman, broadcaster and musician, not forgetting his three adorable daughters and loving wife Joanne.
Then life changed again. “Steve Penk rang me. He had just taken over at Revolution and I had never met him. I’d heard of him, obviously, through his time in Manchester, but his call came out of the blue.
“He asked me to call in for a chat and I agreed. Then he rang again the same day, I remember I was in the car driving to the gym and was asked to call in — there and then — so I did.”
Big Al was offered the evening drive-time slot on Penk’s new-look station and, after thinking it over during a family holiday in Spain, he agreed. It meant leaving the band, but that was a sacrifice worth making.
Then he came to the notice of Peter Kay, the Bolton comic.
“I remember making some comments, which weren’t at all favourable, about his television show, the one that was a parody on the ‘X Factor’. I hammered it.”
That led to another call from Mr Penk and another interview. Big Al feared the worst . . . “but Peter Kay had told Penky I was the funniest radioman he had ever heard. So I was offered the lunchtime slot!”
Taking a sabbatical from PC World he became a full-time broadcaster and was happy, back with his band and out of full-time sales. PC World offered to keep open his job, and did so for three years. It didn’t really matter, for Big Al was a big name and his future as a radio anchor was secure . . . or was it?
At this point I was treated to chapter and verse — admittedly only one side of the argument, about his acrimonious departure from 96.2 The Revolution.
He was broadcasting live at 11am on the morning of November 11, 2011, when the station, as a matter of policy, chose not to offer a two-minute silence for Armistice Day.
“I had no problems with that, it was their call, but I wasn’t prepared for the abuse I got from the listeners.
“Some of it was appalling, horrible. I pre-recorded the rest of the show and left.”
The rest, as they say, is history. “Penk called to say I had stormed out of the station, which he said wasn’t acceptable, even though my voice was still broadcasting!”
The parting was inevitable as Big Al moved on to pastures new, including learning to scuba-dive, starting a new business and riding his Suzuki TL 1000R motorcycle “but only on warm and dry days.”
He’s still in demand and I suspect one day we will hear his dulcet tones once more on the airwaves.
And don’t be at all surprised if he’s in competition with his former employer.
Not bad for a born and bred Gawby, and one who’s proud of his Shaw roots too.