Wednesday, 9 September 2020

Down Your Local - 50 Years of BBC Radio Manchester

BBC Radio Manchester first came on air fifty years ago this week on 10 September 1970. In this post I look at some of the programmes and presenters in the first decade or so.

The city has a long history of broadcasting both regionally and nationally dating back to May 1922 when station 2ZY started test transmissions and became part of the BBC that November. Initially part of Metropolitan Vickers Ltd it operated from Trafford Park before moving into studios in an old cotton warehouse on Dickenson Street, then the Orme Building at The Parsonage off Deansgate before the BBC built a new broadcasting house in Piccadilly that opened in October 1928. 

The studios in Piccadilly would become the home of the Regional Programme for the north of England and the Northern Home Service after the War. When Radio Manchester launched it was also based at 33 Piccadilly before moving to the new centre on Oxford Road in September 1975. In October 2011 the station moved over to Media City.    

Initially on 95.1MHz only from the transmitter at Holme Moss, the area included Salford, Bury, Bolton, Rochdale, Oldham, Stockport, Macclesfield, Altrincham, Warrington and Wigan. It was a couple of years before the station was also heard on 206m medium wave.

The staff for the station were drawn roughly one-third from the ex-North region staff, one-third from existing local stations and one-third "outsiders who are brining other kinds of expertise".   

Here's the opening hour, We've Arrived!, heard between 6 and 7 am on Thursday 10 September. Alan Sykes was one of the ex-North region staff having been an announcer on the Home Service and Radio 4 in Manchester. He'd started with the BBC as a studio manager, working on shows such as The Clitheroe Kid and presented network radio shows including The N.D.O. Sound on the Light and Challenging Brass on Network Three. Alan continued to appear on Radio Manchester into the 1990s and over on Radio 2 compered many shows featuring the Syd Lawrence Orchestra.

Alongside Alan is Ian Murray who had previously worked at BBC Radio Merseyside. There are some attempts at humour and by the sounds of it they may have already opened some of the champagne they have on offer. There's a specially recorded theme from the Northern Dance Orchestra arranged by Peter Husband and sung by Jill Allison, Friday Brown, Terry Burton and Pat Keeters (sp?). Note too how there's no needletime allocation in this hour; the music is either non-commercial (such as the BBC coded music scheme discs) or from film soundtracks.

Also on air that day was another ex-North region announcer Sandra Chalmers (pictured below). She'd gained her first broadcasting experience on Children's Hour shows from Manchester. Sandy was a regular presenter of the Up and About breakfast show and later the mid-morning phone-in show Talk In. She left the station in 1976 to take up the post of manager at  Radio Stoke, the first woman to manage a BBC station. By 1983 she was the editor of Woman's Hour and subsequently became Head of Radio Publicity and Promotions. She left the Corporation in 1994 and for six years was Director of Communications for Help the Aged, offering media training and regularly acting as an expert contributor on TV and radio on over-50s issues.

Latterly Sandy ran Chalmers Communications, was on the Board of Directors at Saga Radio and presented programmes on Primetime Radio between 2000 and 2006 such as The Collection on Sunday afternoons.  Sadly she died in 2015.    

Manchester's station manager was Allen Holden, a former network radio producer, who went on to manage BBC Radio London. He was keen to put news at the centre of the schedule: " News is going to be the most important thing on Radio Manchester, and because Manchester is a national news centre we feel we ought to do world news, national news and local news - all from Manchester". On a typical weekday the early station schedules include a longer News Round North West bulletin most hours from 6am to midnight with a 30 minute news magazine at 6 pm followed by 30 minutes of Sports Round North West with sports editor and presenter Ian Frame.

Those news programmes were under the control of the first news editor Alec Greenhalgh. A news paper journalist, he'd started on  the Oldham Evening Chronicle, and later worked for Oldham Press Agency, the Daily Sketch and the Manchester Guardian. In the early 70s the reporting team included Eric Purnell (deputy news editor), Vic Crossland, Charles Guest, John Tait, Peter Everett (later a radio producer mainly on Radio 4 and head of network production in Birmingham and Bristol), Bob Wrack (formerly of the Manchester Evening News and in the early 80s manager at Radio Newcastle), David Hulme, Tony Donlan and Steve Taylor.

The education producer was Chris Walmsley (no direct relation) who later worked on the BBC2 documentary series Brass Tacks before becoming politically active in the Liberal Party, though ultimately failing to make it as an MP.

Presenting some of the sports coverage such as Kick Off and the Saturday afternoon Sports Round North West was former Oldham Evening Chronicle journalist Tom Tyrrell. Tom would move over to Piccadilly Radio when it started in 1974 and commentated on football for many years as well as providing the tannoy announcements at Old Trafford. Later he provided match commentaries for Today FM in Dublin. He died in 2017.

Joining the station from Radio Leeds was Diana Stenson who would present the early afternoon Midway from the mid-70s to the early 80s. She produced the Manchester editions of Woman's Hour when they still had regional editions and between 1985 and 1992 produced Gardeners' Question Time.

A DJ best known for his time at Radio City was Dave Eastwood. He'd started in forces broadcasting and did interviews on Radio 1 Club but appeared on Radio Manchester in 1973 presenting both Sunday Morning Manchester and  Music Match in which listeners could nominate a record they thought should be the North West's choice. Dave also worked for Radio Teeside and Piccadilly before moving to City followed by spells at Luxembourg and Essex Radio (1985-89).

Similarly a DJ more associated with Radio Clyde was Mike Riddoch. He was in Manchester in the mid-70s presenting various music shows including The All Crackling Steam Radio Show playing old 78 records, the mid-morning Piccadilly 33 and producing the arts magazine Scope.

Here's the programme schedule for the week commencing 22 March 1975.

A couple of programmes are worth highlighting here. Firstly, the nightly The Baron from the BBC. The Baron (pictured below), we never know his real name, had been a Manchester club DJ before passing an audition to join Radio Luxembourg where he appeared for eight months in 1967-68. Meanwhile over at Radio 1 producer Stuart Grundy, also ex-Luxembourg, offered him an 11-week Saturday show as The Baron from the BBC which was " a type of candid camera thing originally where I went round with my tape recorder hidden under my coast and asked stupid questions".  A further couple of short series on Radio 1 followed in 1972 and 1973 when The Baron joined Radio Manchester to present the weekday evening show City Scene. This became The Baron from the BBC and he encouraged a select group of  listeners, known as The Mob, to join him in the studio. There were also Sunday shows called Buzz the Baron and Out Talking with The Baron. He left the station some time in 1976 and seems to have disappeared without trace.   

The other show scheduled here for Wednesday night is Pedal, Percussion and Pipes which was something of a rarity, a show featuring the sound of theatre and electronic organs, little heard at the time aside from Radio 2's The Organist Entertains, Arnold Loxam on Radio Leeds and Charles McNichol on Radio Nottingham.  At the time the BBC's third theatre organ was in the Playhouse Theatre in Manchester but it was disposed of in the mid-80s and Alan's shows also came to an end, though you can still hear him online each month on Organ1st Radio.

Presenting the North West Picture Show on Sunday afternoon is Alan Nixon. Alan went on to be a prolific comedy producer on both radio and television with Week Ending, The News Quiz, The News Huddlines, Son of Cliche, The All-New Alexi Sayle Show, Absolutely and Hale and Pace appearing on his CV. Later he was Network Television Controller for Channel 5.

Extract from 1977 BBC booklet Serving Neighbourhood and Nation

A fair few local radio broadcasters came from teaching (must be something to do with keeping a class full of kids both educated and entertained). Radio Manchester's Iqbal Ahmad was one such broadcaster who, in 1970, was asked to help with programmes covering ethnic minority groups. Born in India in 1930 he qualified as an accountant in the UK, was an assistant editor of the Islamic Review and later trained to be a teacher. He presented Eastwards North-Westwards and Link but died in 1978.

Presenting On Stage is Natalie Anglesey. Natalie quickly gained a national profile co-presenting with Mike Riddoch the Radio 2 show Two in Mind that featured the music of the Northern Radio Orchestra. On TV she appeared on BBC1's Open Air (at one point co-presenting with another Radio Manchester presenter Mike Shaft) and ITV's This Morning. Other radio work included LBC, various Radio 4 programmes and Radio 2's The Arts Programme. Natalie has  written theatre reviews for the Manchester Evening News, The Stage and other publications.   

Moving on to October 1983 and its steeplejack legend Fred Dibdah who's on hand to help launch Radio Oldham, the first of the pop-up community stations that the BBC ran on 1296kHz in 1983/84. The others were Radio Bury, Radio Rochdale, Radio Trafford and Radio Wigan.

Looking after the main breakfast show Up and About is another familiar voice in the north west, Peter Wheeler. For BBC national radio he'd appeared on the Home Service (Home this Afternoon), the Light Programme (Music Through Midnight), Radio 4 (Plain Sailing and reading the regional news bulletins) and Radio 2 (shows with the NRO). On BBC tv (Call My Bluff and Come Dancing) and for Granada tv (the voice-over on Crown Court and What the Papers Say). Peter was on the station for about six years.

Hosting 206 Tonight is Jeff Cooper. Radio Manchester is just one of the many station's Jeff's worked for. His radio career started at Radio Veronica, he was a continuity announcer/newsreader on Radio2 then at Piccadilly, Trent, Clyde, City, LBC Music Radio in Italy, Beacon, Chiltern Radio, The Superstation, Rock FM, Hallam FM, Silk FM, Peak 107 and online stations Radio 2XS and Radio Trent. More recently Jeff has been providing pre-recorded public announcements for Stagecoach.

With Grundy's Grumbles on Saturday morning is Bill Grundy. He'd started his broadcasting career in the late 50s in the north west at Granada tv but after that Today incident on Thames tv in 1976 work was think on the ground though he did appear on tv for the BBC in the north west and here on Radio Manchester.

For the station's 40th anniversary in 2010 Sandra Chalmers, Diana Stenson and Martin Henfield joined heather Stott to remember the early days of Radio Manchester. Martin joined the station from Radio Birmingham in 1975 initially as deputy manager, becoming the manager for five years in 1988. On television he read the news on Look North and later North West Tonight.

Other broadcasters who have appeared (or appear) on BBC Radio Manchester (and its 1988-2006 incarnation as GMR) include Allan Beswick, Phil Trow, Becky Want, Mike Shaft, Phil ("Mind the gap") Sayer, Norman Prince, Richard Fair, Mike Kiddey, Tricia Newbrook, Dianne Oxberry, Susie Mathis, Fred Fielder, Phil Wood (ex. Piccadilly), Terry Christian, Michelle Adamson, Stuart Barrett, Victoria Derbyshire, Jimmy Wagg, Eamonn O'Neal, Michelle Daniel, Mark Edwardson, Michelle Mullane, Sam Walker and Mike Sweeney.  

And finally, because you can't beat a bit of Kenny Everett, here he is in 1973 talking to Pete Sharratt on The Week Ahead. Pete would go on to co-present Saturday Rocks with John Woodruff. 

With thanks to Ken Clark and David Ballard for their help in locating Radio Times back issues.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Does anyone have any more information about the Baron from the BBC. I have recordings of his evening shows from 1975; great programme. What happened to him after 1976? Great DJ, but seems to have vanished.

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