Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Order, Order!

Forty years ago today the permanent radio broadcasting of proceedings in the House of Commons began. There had been a month long experiment in 1975 and a vote in favour of switching on the mics in 1976 but it still took another two years before the first broadcast of the Question Time session on the afternoon of Monday 3 April 1978. Not PMQs mind (that was on the next day), but the Secretary of State for Wales The Rt Hon John Morris answering questions of the Welsh National language.

It may well have been a triumph for what we would now call the  openness and transparency of the democratic process but Radio 4 listeners weren't pretty aggrieved about it. Coverage was on medium wave, so depriving those that missed Afternoon Theatre which went out on VHF only, which most listeners, it seemed, avoided. Within the first 36 hours the BBC received 343 phone calls and letters of complaint; by the end of May complaints totalled 2,799 as against 31 letters of appreciation.

However, the impact was positive elsewhere as recorded highlights could at last be used on Today in Parliament (which saw its listenership increase) and in news bulletins on both the BBC and IRN.

Radio 4 controller Ian McIntyre wasn't exactly enamoured in  having to split his network for live PMQs every Tuesday and Thursday. "The BBC's business was making programmes, not relaying the source material for them." The live coverage stopped after 15 months.

Former BBC Political Editor Peter Hardiman Scott writes about the long road 
to securing live Parliamentary broadcasting for the Radio Times

Monday, 12 March 2018

Down Your Local - BBC Radio Stoke

It was a familiar voice, a broadcasting institution no less, in the form of John Snagge that welcomed listeners to the latest of the first wave of home town radio stations, BBC Radio Stoke-on-Trent, as it launched on Wednesday 14 March 1968.

Snagge's career at the BBC had started in Stoke some forty-odd years earlier when he'd been appointed as Assistant Director of the relay station, known by the call sign 6ST. His opening remarks gave a nod to history: “This is BBC Radio Stoke on Trent. We must apologise to listeners for the break in transmission which occurred at 12 o'clock midnight, on October 30th 1928. This was due to circumstances beyond our control. Normal transmission has now been resumed”.

The local authority in Stoke was a keen advocate of the local radio experiments and had secured sufficient funding for the first two years. The area had been involved in the 1961 broadcasting trials proposed by Frank Gillard and recordings of the Stoke tests had been used in the submission to the Pilkington Committee. Supposedly BBC Radio Stoke-on-Trent (it was shortened to BBC Radio Stoke in the 1980s) was set to go on-air earlier but the outbreak on foot and mouth in 1967 had prevented engineers crossing fields to access the VHF mast at Alsagers Bank near Newcastle-under-Lyme. In the event the station launched using a low-powered VHF transmitter at Hanchurch Water Tower south of Stoke.

The station came on air at 5 p.m. on the 14th - complete with its own ID theme, a nod to the Potteries heritage composed by the Radiophonic Workshop using the sound of tinkling fine bone china - with an announcement from manager Harold Williams and then John Snagge. Producing that opening evening was Owen Bentley who remembers what came next: 

"There followed an eclectic mix of programming: interviews with the Lord Mayor and John Snagge, the local news or as we called it the Home News, the pop show Take One and the evening news magazine Potteries Roundabout which I studio produced.

I then did a couple of continuity announcements introducing a local choir and the business programme, Enterprise 68 before my first ever 30 minute feature 6 ST Calling (over which I had sweated blood) was broadcast.

I then chaired a gentle discussion with John Snagge reminiscing about the station with old friends and colleagues."

Owen Bentley had come to BBC local radio from the World Service and though initially appointed to work in Stoke he'd spent a few months at BBC Radio Sheffield due to the delay in launching . He moved to Radio Oxford when that launched in 1970, had a short stint in Botswana and then was back at Sheffield in 1974/75 as their Programme Organiser and then manager at Radio Leicester (1975-82) where he was instrumental in getting the Asian Network off the ground. In the 80s he was the head of Local Radio and Network Radio for the Midlands.      

Raising their glasses are  programme organiser John Cordeaux, news editor Tony Inchley, station engineer
Simon Penfold with Sheila Penfold
Stoke's studios were in Conway House, Cheapside in Hanley (the current studios are now further down Cheapside). Among the small team assembled by Harold Williams was his second in command, Programme Organiser John Cordeaux. John had joined the BBC in 1945 and by the mid-50s was working as the Overseas Instructor in the BBC's Staff Training Department.  After three years in Stoke he left to manage Radio Humberside. Williams himself would leave to become Assistant Head of Local Radio Development.  

There short themes were composed for the station by David Cain of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.

This is how the schedule looked just a month after going live with the Radio Times listings for the week commencing 13 April 1968. The weekday programmes, just four or five hours a day, are clustered around breakfast, lunch and teatimes; for the rest of the day they dipped into the network offerings from Radios 1, 2 and 4.

On the Sunday, Easter Sunday in this case, you'll spot the church service In Thy Name. Uniquely across local radio the station was the only one that has broadcast a weekly service from the start and continues to do so, now known as In Praise of God.

Some other names you'll have heard on air that year were David Gredington, later the first Programme Organiser at Radio Humberside, Ann Skellern, Tony Waters, Gerry Northam and John Abberley.

Gerry left Stoke in the early 70s to work on BBC TV educational programmes and network radio before joining File on 4 in 1979 first as producer then editor and then for many years as the programme's main investigative reporter. Most recently he's been the picker on Pick of the Week.  

A page from the 1978 booklet Serving Neighbourhood and Nation 
John Abberley was well-versed in the Potteries area having worked on the Evening Sentinel since 1949. He joined the station at launch as one of the production assistants where he would specialise in sports coverage, he presented the Saturday teatime round-up On the Ball, and news reporting, working with the station's first news editor Tony Inchley (later the manager at BBC WM) - though in common with most of the new local stations they initially used a news agency, in Stoke's case the local branch of Raymonds News Agency. After just over 20 years at the station Abbo rejoined the Sentinel. He died in 2010 aged 78.   

Moving on three years this is the Stoke schedule for week commencing 28 August 1971. By this time the station manager was David Harding and Geoff Lawrence, a very experienced Light Programme and Radio 2 producer, had come in as the programme organiser; he would go on to be the station manager in the mid-80s, replacing Sandra Chalmers.    

Popping up on Saturday morning and Friday's Lucky Numbers is Gordon Astley, with possibly his first radio gig. This was well before his Cheggers Plays Pop and TISWAS days and radio work at Mercia Sound, BBC Southern Counties,  BBC WM, BBC Radio Northampton and Century 106.

Presenting Enterprise is renowned journalist Arfon Roberts. He was one of the station's first news producers who'd come to Stoke from BBC Wales were he'd been the first journalist on the scene when the Aberfan Disaster occurred.

Other names here include long-time presenter and producer Bill Humphreys who worked with the 'Legendary Lonnie' and Andy Ridler who I've a vague recollection also did a stint at Humberside. But just who is 'Josephine' who presents Lazy Sunday?

All this is a few years before one of radio's best known names started his career at the station. Local lad Bruno Brookes had appeared on the station on the Topics for Teenagers programme and eventually joined the staff hosting an afternoon show Bruno at Three between 1982 and 1984 before receiving a call from Doreen Davies to join Radio 1.

BBC Radio Stoke is celebrating its 50th anniversary this week with a series of six specials, Who We Are, presented by Nick Hancock. 

Thursday, 8 March 2018

40 Years of Hitch-Hiking

Exactly forty years ago today Radio 4 unleashed on an unsuspecting audience the first ever episode of that comedy adventure in space and time, The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The Radio Times was of the opinion that "science-fiction fans with a sense of humour will welcome (the) six-part adventure story" but its wide appeal immediately became apparent and, in an unprecedented move, the BBC gave it a repeat just a fortnight after the last episode went out  plus a third airing that November.

Tonight Radio 4 starts a new series of what is termed the Hexagonal Phase. Based on some unpublished notes from Douglas Adams's archive and the follow-up novel And Another Thing...  by Eoin Colfer it re-unites some of the original cast: Simon Jones, Geoffrey McGivern, Mark Wing-Davey and Sandra Dickinson plus other star names including Lenny Henry, Jim Broadbent, Jane Horrocks, Ed Byrne, Jon Culshaw and Stephen Hawking.

The story (according to The Guardian) follows our heroes,  Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect, who  visit the tiny planet of Nano, where they find an Irish community run by a chancer called Hillman Hunter. The colony is getting unruly, so Hunter wants a God to supply a few rules. Meanwhile, the Vogons have also discovered the existence of this unlikely Irish colony and are naturally sending a force to eradicate it.     

More from Dirk Maggs and John Lloyd on the new series
in the current issue of the Radio Times

There's more about Douglas Adams and how Hitch-Hikers came to be written and recorded in the recent edition of The Archive Hour: Don't Panic! It's The Douglas Adams Papers with his old mate and co-writer (and voice of The Book in the new series) John Lloyd.

In this article, from the Observer Magazine of 14 October 1979, Robin Lustig talks to the "young creator" Douglas Adams who confesses his difficulty in writing: as "a desperately difficult process fraught with all kinds of mental blocks and worries."

I wrote about Hitch-Hikers back in June 2012 in Share and Enjoy and in April 2014 in The Art of Hitch-Hiking

Monday, 12 February 2018

Down Your Local – BBC Radio Brighton

The fifth of the BBC local radio stations, and the first outside of the north and Midlands, was BBC Radio Brighton (now BBC Sussex). Its planned launch date was 14 February 1968 but the station had already made an impromptu appearance in December 1967 (from some old BBC regional studios at the Royal Pavilion) when snow storms brought Sussex grinding to a halt, thus immediately demonstrating the value of a local service in bad weather and the importance of a 'snow line'. 

Pulling together the new station was Bob Gunnell. Bob had joined the BBC engineering staff in the 1940s and by the late 50s was a producer and then later presenter working on such programmes as The Younger Generation, Listen Awhile and Home This Afternoon.
Brighton's studios were located at the old Blenheim Hotel on the corner of Marlborough Place (pictured above). Helping to kit it out was station engineer Ted Castle who'd previously worked for the OB unit in London and second engineer George Orchard. Bob's deputy, was programme organiser David Waine. David had been at TV reporter for the BBC in Southampton and would go on to manage BBC Radio Bristol, then as regional Television manger in Plymouth and finally as head of Network Production Centre and then Head of Broadcasting BBC Midlands at Pebble Mill.

Bob Gunnell famously made two quirky managerial decisions when the station launched. First he was very much against playing any pop announcing that "we aim to be a sweet station rather than a hard pop music station." More controversially was the insistence on time checks being given in 24-hour clock much to the confusion of presenters, contributors and listeners alike, though this directive was soon dropped. Bob remained in charge of the station for 15 years and following his retirement he served on the local council, was a magistrate and helped create the Brighton and Hove Arts Council. He died in 2014 aged 87.    

Other staff appointed were John Henty (pictured above), Keith Slade, Mike Matthews, Chris Jones, Hilda Bamber and Carole Stone. Mike had gained his broadcasting experience in New Zealand at NZBC and would later be part of the launch team at Radio 210. Hilda Bamber had started broadcasting with the BFBS and had for some commercial station experience in New Zealand. She would later join Radio 4 as a continuity announcer before becoming an IRN newsreader. Carole Stone had started at  the BBC in 1963 as a news copy-taker. She remained with Radio Brighton until 1970 when she joined Radio 4 as a talks producer and then to BBC Bristol where she produced Down Your Way and Any Questions?  

The station officially went on air at 6 p.m. on Wednesday 14 February 1968 with the Mayor of Brighton, Councillor Ronald Bates, cutting a piece of recording tape across the station entrance. A star-studded cast told the story of the town; Laurence Olivier, Flora Robson, John Clements and Dora Bryan all lived locally. Other guests, introduced by Mike Matthews included Elsie and Doris Waters, perhaps suggesting that the station wasn't too interested in pulling in a young audience. The opening programme also included an OB with John Henty positioned on Sussex Heights, then the tallest building in the area, where he was to describe the view. Unfortunately, a heavy sea mist came down and he had to explain his predicament and rely on his memory. 

This is how the Radio Brighton's programme schedule looked for the week commencing 16 October 1971.

One of the best known voices in the early days of BBC Radio Brighton was that of John Henty. Born and educated in Surrey John started his working life as a clerk for Shell before joining the Croydon Advertiser as a junior reporter. He lists his first broadcast as reading the news on KIST in Santa Barbara in March 1960, although I've no idea what he was doing over in California at that time. He spent five years with BEA as an airline public relations officer and was also volunteering for a local hospital radio station where he eventually started to provide football commentary. It was that commentating experience that swung him the job at Radio Brighton, nominally in charge of their sports programmes. He presented local radio's first travel show, Travel Bag ('produced in collaboration with local travel agents' per the programme billing) and in the mid-70s had the distinction of broadcasting on the breakfast show, Coastwise, a feature called My Early Bird Club that was introduced by a worm called Wurley. John went on to work at Blue Danube Radio and in the late 80s made programmes for hospital radio sponsored by British Telecom under the title Nice 'n' Easy. He also a leading authority on the British illustrator Mabel Lucie Atwell and founded and ran a museum dedicated to her.     

Keith Slade (above) was brought into the station having had no broadcasting experience and in time became a regular arts programme producer. Born in Brighton he'd studied drama and worked for The Argus for a short time before going into teaching at the Florence Moore Theatre School in Hove. His knowledge of the local arts scene gave him the opportunity to contribute to many Radio Brighton programmes until his retirement in 1988. He died in 2002 aged 74.

Ivan Howlett was born in Suffolk but moved to the Brighton area to take up teaching. He joined Radio Brighton mainly contributing to arts programmes but later became the station's news editor. Ivan moved back to his home county in 1990 as Managing Editor on the newly launched BBC Radio Suffolk. Leaving the station in 1998 he returned to programme making, principally for Radio 4 with series such as Making History, Rare Books, Rare People and a number of editions of The Archive Hour. He died in 2008 aged 66.

Radio Brighton featured in the 1978 booklet Serving Neighbourhood and Nation
Phil Fothergill, here listed as introducing Trend on Saturday afternoon, had started his broadcasting career as a technical operator. He moved over to commercial radio when that started in 1974 at Swansea Sound. Later he worked at KNET in Texas, Radio Orwell, Radio 210, Blue Danube Radio and was programme controller at Chiltern Radio when that launched in 1981. By the end of the eighties Phil moved over to television as a continuity announcer and then promotions director at Anglia TV. He was a production manager at QVC and set up his own production company TVUK. More recent radio work has included MKFM and Radio Vienna International. 

Note that Paul Hollingdale pops up on Saturday afternoons. Paul had returned to his home town after been given the boot by his Radio 2 bosses as one of the hosts of Breakfast Special. He freelanced for a while and that included a spell at Radio Brighton. By 1976 he was up in Reading as the launch DJ on Radio 210.

You'll also spot as one of the contributors on Trend the name of Jeremy Pascall. Jeremy was an NME reporter and first appeared on BBC Radio Brighton in 1969 as part of Pop Inside team alongside Anne Nightingale and Tony Baker to discuss the Brighton music scene. He'd go on to join Capital Radio where he is perhaps best known for The Uncyclopedia of Rock and being part of the Brunch team. For the BBC he and Phil Swern were the question setters on a number of TV and radio quizzes. He died in 2001. 

One of Radio Brighton's best-known alumni is Desmond Lynam. Appearing on the station a few weeks after it had gone on air Des was working in banking and then insurance. He'd dabbled in writing the odd sports article for local papers and football magazines. In 1968 the station had advertised that it was looking for volunteers and Des was invited in by David Waine and given an audition. He soon found himself reading the Saturday afternoon football results and other sports news. "In no time at all, under the experienced eye of an amiable chap called John Henty, I was presenting the Saturday night sports desk. Soon I was writing a weekly review of the local press, which involved arriving at the studio at 6.30 in the morning; reading through the three local weekly papers and writing, by hand, a three-minute piece to be voiced live just before the 8 a.m. news bulletins".

Des remembers an early attempt at radio comedy: "Together with Ivan Howlett, John Henty, Peter Vincent (who went on to be a top comedy writer for The Two Ronnies and others), and a girl singer called Amaryllis, I began putting together and performing in a Sunday half-hour show called How Lunchtime It Is - there was a TV series called How Late It Is that had prompted the idea for the title". Apparently Des's contribution included passable imitations of Harold Wilson and Ted Heath. In due course he joined the staff of the station but by late 1969 had moved to network radio in London as a Sports News Assistant.    

The proximity of Brighton to the capital meant that some other broadcasters made to trip up the Brighton line to Broadcasting House. In this extract from the Radio Times schedule for the week commencing 4 September 1976, picked up on my one and only visit to Brighton, lists John Walmsley, who'd actually been with the station since 1968 and later was on Radio 1's Newsbeat and Peter Brackley, later on Sport on 2. By this time Piers Bishop had also joined the station and he would go on to open BBC Radio Sussex.

Other well-known names that passed through the doors at Marlborough Place in the early days were Kate Adie, playwright and screenwriter Ken Blakeson, the Rev Frank Topping, a regular contributor to Radio 2's Pause for Thought and Barbara Myers later on Radio 4 and a presenter of Outlook on the BBC World Service. 

The name BBC Radio Brighton was dropped in October 1983 as the station became BBC Radio Sussex, then BBC Southern Counties Radio in 1994 and finally BBC Sussex in 2009. To mark 30 years of the name change to BBC Radio Sussex this programme, presented by Ian Collington, traced the history of local radio in the area to the start of BBC Radio Brighton so there are plenty of clips from that era. BBC Sussex at 30 was broadcast on 22 October 2013.

A special 3-hour programme 50 Years of the BBC in Sussex airs this Wednesday evening at 7.00 pm on BBC Sussex.

Monday, 29 January 2018

Down Your Local - BBC Radio Nottingham

Following the launch of the first three home radio stations in November 1967 - Leicester, Sheffield and Merseyside - the rollout of the experimental BBC local radio stations resumed on 31 January 1968 in Nottingham.

The BBC previously had a presence in the city in the early 1920s when relay station 5NG based in Bridlesmith Gate had contributed a small number of programmes to supplement the service from 2LO. The post-war Home Service also had an East Midlands Representative housed in the Bentinck Buildings in Wheeler Gate, later Wilson House on Derby Road, who was expected to contribute reports and programmes for the Midlands Region. Throughout the 50s and 60s that representative was Gerald Nethercot, and so he was ideally placed to be appointed as the first Station Manager for Radio Nottingham.

The new station was housed in studios at the back of York House on Mansfield Road transmitting  a VHF only service on 94.8Mhz. Gerald Nethercot had gathered together a dozen staff to run the station and after some test transmission it was formally opened on the evening, at 6.00 pm, rather an odd time for a station launch. Programme organiser Robert McLeish introduced the chimes of Little John from the Council House, Nethercot outlined the plans for the new station and there were short speeches from the Lord Mayor and the Postmaster General Edward Short.  That evening's entertainment consisted of Wednesday Club, which was an early fixture in the schedules billed as "of special interest to the blind" and presented by George Miller. This was followed by the documentary, Snot's Estate, a light-hearted look at the history of the city written by Emrys Bryson of the Evening Post and produced by Tony Church.   

Here's how the Radio Nottingham schedules looked (above) after nearly a year of operation, with the Radio Times listings for the week commencing 11 January 1969. Typically of the early local stations though they broadcast throughout the day, from just before 7.00 am to around 8.00 pm the actual number of hours on air totalled about seven, with various gaps during the day given over to network programmes which, according to the blurb at the top of the page, were taken from Radios 1, 2, 3 and 4. So in between the local programmes you'd have a burst of the JY Prog and The World at One, though I'm not aware they ever switched over to Radio 3.  

This is how BBC Radio Nottingham sounded in its early days together with some later clips from the early 70s:  

There was no breakfast show as such and the early morning schedule had the look of the old Home Service about it with short programmes billed as Town Crier and Morning Town Ride interspersed with the national news, presumably Radio 4's 10-minute bulletins. No presenters are listed but they will have been drawn from the team of presenter/producers who, when the station launched, were Tony Church, Tony Cook (ex. Anglia TV and not to be confused with the Radio Trent/Centre Radio news presenter namesake), Keith Salmon, Colin Walters and Bob Brookes.

The staffing structure in 1968. From The First Ten Years by Trevor Dann
With the introduction of the BBC local stations listeners were finally given the public forum to question those in power, often this was their local councillors, and to seek consumer advice. Two such Nottingham programmes were What Are They Up to Now? and You and the Law. Tony Church presented the first of these programmes and its generally acknowledged that this was the earliest example of a radio phone-in on UK radio.  

London-born Tony Church had ambitions to work in the film industry and had studied at the National Film School and freelanced in sound and lighting jobs before he was called up for his National Service. Moving to Nottingham in 1950 he worked at the Playhouse for 13 years, leaving following  an artistic disagreement with director Tyrone Guthrie. Moving over to the BBC Midlands Region as a producer he joined Radio Nottingham from the start and stayed with the station for 20 years. Tony died in 2006 aged 75.

Page from the 1978 BBC booklet Serving Neighbourhood and Nation
For many years Keith Salmon was the managing editor at BBC Radio Norfolk until his retirement in 1995. He'd joined the BBC in 1961 as a studio manager and in the mid-60s was briefly attached the Radiophonic Workshop (later Radio Nottingham would use Radiophonic-produced themes and jingles including a main logo composed by John Baker). Keith was at Nottingham for a couple of years before moving to Radio Oxford to help launch that station. In 1982 he became the manager at Radio Norfolk.

Colin Walters, listed here as presenting Trademark Nottingham and Sports Preview, is best known as the MD at Manchester's Piccadilly Radio from 1974 to 1991. He'd studied at Nottingham University in the early 60s before a brief spell as a news reporter on the Loughborough Monitor and as Deputy Editor at the Fleet Street Letter. At Radio Nottingham Colin progressed from presenter/producer to deputy manager in 1970 and then manager by 1972. With the arrival of commercial radio he successfully applied for the role of programme controller at Piccadilly. After leaving Manchester he was a consultant and advised on several commercial radio bids. Now retired and living in France.  

Radio Nottingham's answer to Gus Honeybun was Squeg, a squirrel who supposedly lived on 
top of the transmitter at Colwick. Invented by Tony Church, here he's pictured with Gina Madgett.  
Presenting Memories are Made of This and All People was programme organiser Robert McLeish. He'd joined the BBC in 1956 working in the Control Room at 200 Oxford Street. He became a studio manager at Bush House, was attached to Bristol and then worked on music shows on the Light Programme. He took a two-year secondment to the Solomon Islands to run the broadcasting service there. Back in the UK he joined Radio Nottingham and then became head of the local radio Training Unit at the Langham. His final job was as Head of Corporate Management Training before he retired in 1989. He is the author of the book Radio Production, now in its sixth edition.    

At this time the station didn't have its own newsroom and, in common with the other fledging BBC local stations, news bulletins were supplied by local news agency. One of those writing the bulletins was John Hobson (pictured above) over at Bradshaw's News Agency. "Our office was across the city, and the one who drew the short straw had a fifteen-minute walk to the studio carrying the bulletin in a big brown envelope". John had started his journalistic career at Ilkeston Advertiser and then the Ilkeston Pioneer, Wolverhampton Star, Nottingham Evening News and then the Nottingham Post. In 1970 he was asked to form the first BBC local radio station newsroom at Nottingham where he became the news editor. John left the BBC in 1986 to take over the Leicester News Service and later worked as a freelance reporter and media trainer. He died in 2014 aged 76.   

Other names listed in the 1968 schedule include Bob Brookes who'd joined from the Nottingham University's Adult Education Department and would be the main producer in charge of the station's education output and Kit Poxon, previously at Nottingham County Council and who'd later work at Radio Derby.

Providing the Saturday afternoon sports reporting, though not listed here, is likely to have been Colin Slater. A local newspaper journalist he'd joined the station in the summer of 1968 and continued as a match commentator until the end of the 2016/17 season.  

One name I can't overlook is the man would come to define the station during his 28 years at Radio Nottingham. Dennis McCarthy came from an acting family and had ended up in Nottingham when he was evacuated during World War Two. He was a movie collector and a dog breeder of some renown, and it was because of this that he got the chance to make his first broadcast with a report about Crufts within a few days of the station going on air. On the back of his performance he was offered some other freelance report work and eventually some programmes, one of the earliest I can trace is a 15-minute Mapperley Hospital Show. By 1969 he'd got his own show of music and interviews, Date with Dennis which ran for a number of years and he also presented  Take the Lead billed as 'local dog news and the breed of the week'. A regular Sunday show followed - in which he managed to rope in his own family, son Owen (aka Digger) and daughter Tara - and by 1974 he'd gained what would be his regular weekday slot, Afternoon Special, which ran until his untimely death in 1996.  

You can read and hear more about Dennis McCarthy on David Lloyd's Radio Moments blog.  

The Radio Nottingham team will be celebrating 50 years on air this Wednesday and Trevor Dann has compiled a retrospective of the station's history called On the Street Where You Live  Presented by Simon Mayo it was broadcast yesterday and will be availlable to listen again for 29 days.  

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Ed Doolan

For four decades Ed Doolan was one of the broadcasters that defined radio for the listening folk of the West Midlands. An intelligent interviewer, a champion of consumer affairs and with one of the biggest contact books in the business Aussie-born Ed became an honorary Brummie on BRMB and BBC WM. His death was announced today.

Born in 1941 in Sydney, Australia Ed had always wanted to be a broadcaster but his parents had other ideas and were keen for him to have a career in teaching.  But that didn't stop him hanging around the Macquarie Broadcasting audience shows in the 50s and 60s to get his radio fix.

Like many fellow young Australians he chose to pursue his career in the UK and in 1966 he became a teacher in Edinburgh and then London. By 1970 he'd moved across to West Germany as part of an exchange programme and dipped his toe into radio at Deutsche Welle. "Some friends who had contacts in Cologne told me they needed an English voice on German Overseas Radio. Mine was near enough".  His first broadcast was in September of that year on a 15-minute documentary called Hitch-Hikers in Germany. He also presented Afrika-Englisch Current Affairs for Deutsche Welle, Deutschlandfunk English transmissions to Britain and Top Marks School Quiz for the BFBS.     

Ed moved back to the UK and joined the newly launched BRMB station in Birmingham. Initially presenting the weekday afternoon show he later moved into mid-mornings, a timeslot that later would become his natural home for many years. He was keen to hone his craft and took to recording his own shows. "Every night when I go home I listen to every link," he said in 1975. If  something had gone wrong "I will sit and listen to it two or three times until I have put my finger on where it went wrong". Incidentally Ed was a keen home taper and his archive of TV and radio shows have since helped fill some of the gaps left after broadcasters junked their tapes.   

In September 1982 he jumped over to the opposition at BBC WM presenting a show between 12 noon and 1 pm, later on the breakfast show and then a mid-morning show. As well as covering the news stories of the day he would interview many politicians and celebrities - some of those celebrity set piece interviews have enjoyed repeats on Radio 7/4 Extra. By 1988 his programme started to champion the cause of his listeners and he was adept at challenging local government and companies to sort out injustices and shoddy service.  His broadcasting style was, albeit briefly, recognised by network radio when he sat in for Jimmy Young on Radio 2 in 1995 and 1996 but he remained loyal to his West Midlands audience.  He was awarded an MBE for his services to broadcasting and charity, won a Gillard Award and was inducted into the Radio Academy Hall of Fame.

In 2011 he stepped down from his daily show, Lunch with Ed Doolan - at the time he was also presenting a Sunday afternoon show, Ed Doolan: Other Side of - and just retained the Friday show and a new 3-hour Sunday morning show.  In 2015 he announced that he been coping with dementia for a couple of years but he continued to record introductions for a one-hour Sunday show featuring highlights from his big name interviews and radio archive, with the most recent show going out just a few days ago.

This tribute programme aired in 2015 and is presented by Jasper Carrott.

Ed Doolan (E double D double O LAN) 1941-2018

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Can I Take That Again? - Part 4

This post should be subtitled The Sound of Silence. When this week's Jamie Cullum's Radio 2 show was unexpectedly truncated - a beginning and an end but seemingly the middle section had dropped down a digital black hole - and the 'emergency tape' kicked in it didn't go unnoticed; social media and the fact that it's the biggest station in the UK saw to that. [The full pre-recorded version of Jamie's show is no online]  

The use of playout automation and voice-tracking have long been a feature of radio station output and, for the most part, work seamlessly so listeners shouldn't be able to spot the difference. But when Radio 2 adopted the VCS Autoplayer in September 2012 for a while it was a case of 'mind the gap'.

Radio 2 was aiming to make efficiencies and the use of automation was noticeable in the evening and weekend programming when, one assumes, technical staff were thin on the ground. Most of the early teething problems involved the junctions out of news bulletins with the next programmes fired off at exactly three minutes past the hour cutting off newsreaders in their prime. 

The network's problems were compounded when in January 2013 two programmes played out at the same time with Michael Ball and Russell Davies's show both simultaneously competing for about 15 minutes of airtime. Later that year, in October, we got two Bob Harris's for the price of one when the end of BST seemed to send the system haywire.

Here are a few example I collected at the time.

Note the jokey but rather pointed comment from Richard Allinson "normal service ... well that went out the window ages ago" was made around the time in 2012 when the old team of newsreaders was phased out and the automation came in.

The news at 1:10 is very odd. This is Susan Rae, on 23 September 2012, presumably reading the 2-minute 11.00 pm Radio 4 bulletin but on Radio 2! Hence we get a full minute of silence before the trailer kicks in.     

At 6:19 we get part of the infamous Bob Harris show from 27 October 2013 with two parts being played out at once.

At 8:24 it's the Ball/Davies cock-up.

And finally at 12:49 from 22 June 2015 Jeremy Vine signing off and Steve Wright loving a technical fault.

Needless to say Feedback picked up on all the drop -outs. On 28 September 2012 they dealt with one minute silence the previous Sunday night which was blamed on an "internal broadcast circuit" plus other losses of lines on Any Questions? and Today.  The 1 February 2013 edition called Radio 2 controller Bob Shennan to account who puts it down to 'human error'.  

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Sports Report Turns 70

In January 2013 I wrote about Sports Report and Saturday afternoon sports coverage. This month we've now hit the 70th anniversary of that venerable radio institution which has prompted me to have a dig around in my archive and uncover past anniversary editions.

I've previously posted the 40th anniversary edition of Sport on 2 with Peter Jones but this is now uploaded to YouTube.  

For the 50th anniversary there was a special edition of Sport on Five with Ian Payne. It seems I only kept the Sports Report sequence which was pretty much business as usual though there are some reminiscences from Cliff Morgan towards the end.   

On 3 January 2008 Mark Saggers presented a special edition of 5 live Sport to mark the 60th. With Mark thoughout the programme are Des Lynam and the late James Alexander Gordon. You'll also hear Mark Pougatch, Mark Clemmit, the Grimethorpe Colliery Band, Jenny Pitman, Ian Payne, Cornelious Lysaght, Sir Henry Cooper, Sheena Mackay, Pat Nevin, Pat Murphy, Stuart Hall, Tony Adamson, Eleanor Oldroyd, Stuart Jones, Jimmy Armfield and Mike Ingham.  

As for the 70th anniversary last Friday (5th) on 5 live Daily Chris Warburton gathered together some familiar voices, speaking to Mark Pougatch, John Murray, Jim Rosenthal, and producer Mark Williams.

The recording then shifts to Saturday (6th) with the start of 5 live Sport on FA Cup Third Round day presented by Mark Chapman and then Sports Report, just a 30-minute edition to allow for commentary on the evening match between Norwich City and Chelsea. 

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