… or the importance of You and the Night and the Music
We now take 24-hour broadcasting for granted but there was a time when early risers or
insomniacs could only tune through the dial to hear the World Service, the odd foreign station or just a load of static.
It was back in 1965 that the Light Programme started to extend its broadcasting hours with a 5:30 a.m. start and a 2:00 a.m. closedown. Both the Home and Third tucked their listeners up in bed before midnight.
This pattern continued into the 70s with just an extra half-hour added to Radio 2, with a 5:00 a.m. start, in 1972. The economic crisis and tight licence fee settlements meant cutbacks in 1975 when Radios 1&2 kicked off at 6:00 a.m. and closed at 0:30 a.m. Later that year another 30 minutes was lost with closedown after the midnight news.
During this decade Britain’s first batch of 19 independent radio stations were opening and the large city stations – Capital, LBC, Clyde, BRMB, Piccadilly and City – offered 24 hour listening.
By 1978 the BBC had plans to extend Radio 2’s hours and make it the first national 24-hour network. In April they reverted back to the 5:00 a.m to 2.00 a.m. pattern. By September the BBC announced the changes for Radio 2 as well as a greater separation of programmes for Radio 1 and the introduction of more Newsbeat bulletins. Here’s Head of Radio Aubrey Singer, the Radio 4 newsreader is Laurie MacMillan:
In the event Radio 2 opted to go 24-hour in the early hours of 23 November, to coincide with the frequency changes. The Radio Times showed that a new series called You and the Night and the Music was due on the air at 2:00 a.m. -the first presenter was to be Bill Rennells with a rota of announcers hosting on a daily basis.
This was the plan – but it failed to happen and that night Radio 2 closed down as usual. Industrial action by the Association of Broadcasting Staff (ABS) meant that Radio 2 had to delay its round-the-clock programming until early 1979. The ABS action culminated in the shutdown of BBC tv and the temporary merging of all the radio networks on 22 December 1978.
As you’ll hear even from these brief clips needletime restrictions meant that the programme relied heavily on BBC session recordings. In the show presented by Sheila Tracy you would’ve heard, as well as the BBC Midland Radio Orchestra, the BBC Scottish Radio Orchestra conducted by Brian Fahey, the BBC Northern Radio Orchestra conducted by Brian Fitzgerald, the BBC Radio Orchestra, the BBC Big Band, the Mike Sammes Singers, the Colin Campbell Trio and the Quartets of Harry Stoneham, Tommy Whittle, Ray Swinfield and Harry Pitch. Actual records were few and far between.