Thursday, 29 October 2020

Down Your Local - 50 Years of BBC Radio Oxford


Radio arrived in Oxford on Thursday 29 October 1970 with the opening of the BBC's latest local station. It served an area of about a 20 radius of  Oxford, transmitting on 95.0 MHz from the site east of the city at Beckley that had originally been built in 1963 to carry national VHF radio and a VHF television relay.     

The studios were at Barclay House on Banbury Road in Summertown. The medium wave service on 202m was added in late 1972. By the spring of 1989 the station had moved five minutes up the road to new premises at 269 Banbury Road. Between April 1996 and February 2000 it merged with Radio Berkshire to become BBC Thames Valley FM.    

The first station manager was Donald Norbrook, who'd moved down from Radio Merseyside where he was the programme organiser. He promised the usual mix of specialist shows that the early stations all tried to fulfil and, bearing in mind it was a major centre for learning, said that they would involve both university students and staff. "The students have taken a very responsible interest in local radio. They have visited the studios; they're anxious to play their part".

As to broadcasting hours Norbrook confirmed that there'd be an early 6 am start. "Oxford is an early rising city; the workers keep agricultural hours, so I suppose you could say our three programmes are: one for the workers, one for the clerkers and one for the shirkers." These were three hourly editions of Oxford AM at 6, 7 and 8 o'clock taking national news, rather unusually, from Radio 3. The title Oxford AM was used until the mid 90s.


The first edition of Oxford AM was heard on day two as the station went on air at 5 pm with a typical  civic welcome from the local mayor. One of the teatime shows was Oxford Circus (a title that was eventually dropped in the mid-80s) with Keith Salmon. Keith had joined the BBC in 1961 as a studio manager and was at BBC Radio Nottingham as a producer and presenter when it launched in 1968. In 1982 he became the manager at BBC Radio Norfolk staying at the station until his retirement in 1995.   

Following Oxford Circus (running at just half-an-hour) was another half-hour show of record requests called Home Choice. Presenters included David Bobin and Thomas Prag. David was a newspaper journalist when he joined Radio Oxford. He left the station in 1975 to work at Southern TV and later TVS as a news and sports reporter. Increasingly specialising in sports reporting and presenting he moved to Sky Sports in 1993. He died in 2017. Thomas Prag had a distinguished radio career having started at the BBC as a studio manager for the World Service and the domestic services before becoming a station assistant (later producer/presenter) at Radio Oxford. He moved to Scotland in 1976 to help launch the Radio Highland opt-out before being offered the role of MD at Moray Firth Radio when it launched in 1982. He left that role in 2000 and subsequently worked for the Radio Authority and OFCOM and is a co-director at iMedia Associates.    

The opening evening included a specially-written drama production The Balloon Goes Up telling the story of James Sadler, the Oxford-born pioneering balloonist, amateur chemist and pastry chef. This was produced by Humphrey Carpenter who'd joined the BBC in 1968 as a General Trainee. He went freelance in 1975 and wrote a number of biographies (including Tolkien, Auden and Britten), broadcast on Radio 4's Kaleidoscope and Radio 3's Night Waves and In Tune. Carpenter's The Envy of the World remains the definitive history of the Third Programme and Radio 3. He married fellow Radio Oxford presenter Mari Pritchard in 1973. He died in 2005 aged just 58.

Now best known for his stints on LBC, Talk Radio and talkSPORT it's Mike Dickin who got to try out the station's radio car in Parking Disc. "Mike Dickin parks the car, you choose the disc."


The longest-serving presenter on the station is Bill Rennells who was heard reading the news on day one. A newspaper journalist he'd joined the station from the Oxford Mail. He'd actually made his first broadcast a couple of months before this on attachment to Radio Nottingham but at Oxford he soon started to present general and music programmes. Bill became a staff announcer on Radio 2 in 1978 where he also presented You and the Night and the Music, Nightride, Easy Does It and String Sound. He continued to appear on Radio Oxford (Saturday Sounds) and also presented Test Match Special on Radio 3. He returned to Oxford in 1991, appeared on Saga Radio in 2004/5 and for the last 20 years has been presenting the Sunday night show Harmony Nights.     


Introducing Musicmakers is Michael Henderson. Michael had been working for the BBC immediately after the war as a studio manager for the BBC's Overseas Services before transferring to the television OB unit at Ally Pally. He left broadcasting in the 1960s to become a childcare officer in Oxfordshire but returned in 1970 for the launch of Radio Oxford. He retired after six years and went on to manage the sport and arts centre in Abingdon. He was also instrumental is forming the Alexandra Palace Television Society. He died in 2001.

Oxfordshire's kids could join in the fun on Saturday morning's The VHF Set with Johnnie Chuckles, the stage name of children's entertainer John Davis. Other presenters there at the start included Gordon Kitchen, Andy Wright and John Simpson (not to be confused with the BBC's news correspondent).  


Throughout the 1980s one of Oxford's best-known voices was that of Mark Kasprowicz. A former BBC assistant film sound engineer he switched to Radio Oxford from 1975 where he hosted Oxford AM and the mid-morning phone-in Open Air. He left in 1991 and is now MD of Arcwind Ltd. 

Libby Purves had been studying English at Oxford university when she started to volunteer at the station on About the University and later a 5-minute local guide called Tourist Trap before taking up a staff post. She joined Radio 4's Today programme in 1976 as a reporter and became a presenter alongside John Timpson and Brian Redhead between 1978 and 1981. Libby appeared on Midweek with Henry Kelly in 1983 and was the main presenter of the programme from 1984 to 2017.  

Programme Organiser Owen Bentley looks ahead to some programmes
when the station launched in October 1970. (For some reason the Radio Times
calls him Owen Beatty)

Tony Adamson had got the broadcasting bug as far back as 1960 when, as part of his national service, he volunteered for the British Forces Network in Libya. At Radio Oxford he presented the sports coverage as well as taking his turn on Oxford AM. He left for the Sports and OB department in London in 1977 to work on Sport on 2 eventually becoming the radio tennis correspondent and then golf correspondent on Radio 5 and Radio 5 live.

Fellow sports broadcaster Garry Richardson's first BBC job was actually as a clerk at the Written Archives at Caversham. He started to help out at Radio Oxford before becoming a full-time station assistant in 1978. He moved to London, initially on an attachment, in late 1980. By the mid-80s he was one of the sports correspondents taking turns on the Today sports desk, a gig he still retains to this day. Between October 1999 and September 2019 he presented Sports Week on 5 live.  

Mary Small was on Radio Oxford in the first half of the 90s, at one point presenting the drivetime show. She was also continuity announcer on BBCTV and, in 1995, on Radio 4. For many years a World Service presenter and newsreader.

Phil Rapps was at Oxford from the late 70s to mid 90s and for a while in 1982 worked as a continuity announcer on Radio 2. 


Jazz FM's David Freeman was on Radio Oxford between 1978 and 1991, from the mid-80s hosting the lunchtime show. His broadcasting career began in 1969 for BBC schools, later presenting Pebble Mill at One. Programme controller for Jazz FM 1996-98 and he rejoined the station in 2008. 


Timmy Mallett's radio career started at the student-run station University Radio Warwick (now named RAW 1251AM it also celebrates its 50th anniversary this year). Leaving uni he joined Radio Oxford in late 1978 immediately developing a devoted audience for his lively weekday afternoon show which became the Timmy on the Tranny Club billed as "the programme for cosmic zapheads, loony lurkers; the show that does for homework what squeezing does to spots." Timmy left the station in 1981 to work on the short-lived Centre Radio and then onto Piccadilly with a weekday evening reincarnation of Timmy on the Tranny where one of his on-air assistants was Chris Evans. A tv career that included Wacaday followed.  

Voice of Siri and The Weakest Link Jon Briggs had two spells at the station. Initially from 1984 and 1989 on the Saturday morning show Ten to One On and then Oxford AM and Saturday AM. He was the Radio 5 co-host of Morning Edition (1990-92), Radio 4 announcer (1992-93) and Radio 2 announcer (1992-97). Later on LBC and Radio 5 Live. Announcer on Channel 4, Sky Movies. Back on Radio Oxford throughout 2012 with the Saturday breakfast show.

Radio Oxford schedule for w/c 12 April 1986

Andrew Peach was another Oxford student turned broadcaster, at first reading out the travel bulletins. On Radio Oxford from 1994 to 2004 with shows such as Peach for Lunch and a regular Saturday mid-morning programme. Also worked for Radio Solent, Radio WM and newsreader on Radio 2 (1998-2015). Currently heard on Radio Berkshire's breakfast show, announcing and newsreading on Radio 4 and on the World Service's Newshour.     

Jean Judge was a production secretary and then researcher at BBC Scotland where she worked on the daily radio soap Kilbreck. Moving to Oxford in 1982 she presented The New Sunday Supplement, Where There's Folk and later had a daily mid-afternoon show. Left to go the States in 1989. 

Mike Carson had two spells at Radio Oxford, in the early 70s after some initial experience on hospital radio and again in the mid-90s (including a turn on Oxford AM). Heard on LBC 1973-91 and later Melody Radio, continuity announcer on LWT and BFBS TV and he's the voice of JML on those in-store promotions.

Stewart Cameron got his radio break when, as a young athlete, he was interviewed by Bill Rennells who then encouraged him to make reports for the Saturday afternoon sports coverage. In time he would regularly report on football and rugby. By 1981 he was presenting 202 Country. He left for Fox FM in 1989 where he presented both country music shows and sports programmes. Later on QCMR (CMR Nashville), Radio Scotland, Radio Borders and talkSPORT.

Author Jonathan Hancock also studied English at Oxford before joining the station. First on air in  1994 presenting Sunday Requests and Saturday Morning Fever and from 2000 to 2004 the weekday and Saturday breakfast shows. Has since written a number of books on memory and learning.   

US-born broadcaster Bill Heine was a much-loved broadcaster on the station between 1983 and 2016. Famous for his shark house Bill presented the weekday mid-morning show for many years and had a Sunday talk show until his departure in 2016. He died in 2019.

Extract from 1977 BBC booklet Serving Neighbourhood and Nation

Others who have appeared on BBC Radio Oxford include:

Bob Harris: presented the afternoon show 1981-84

Phil Mercer-Kelly: on since 2004. Previously at AA Roadwatch and Premier Radio.   

Danny Cox: at  Oxford (2004-09) having worked at Radio Leicester, Trent FM, SGR Colchester and Fox FM. Moved to Mix96 as programme controller (2009-11) and for the last 8 years works for the BBC World Service as a studio manager and presenter of The Newsroom. Back on Radio Oxford since 2015.  

Martin Stanford on the station c. 1979-81 then Radio Northampton, Radio Cambridgeshire, BBC South (Radio Solent and South Today), BSB News, Sky News (1999-2016) and currently on LBC News. 

Jonathan Staples: at Oxford 1985-87 then Radio Cambridgeshire, 6-month stint at Radio 4 in 1988/89 as an announcer followed by BFBS Radio, LBC, News Direct 97.3 and Radio Northampton. Now runs a video production company.

David Clargo: on air in 1993-97. First radio job at GWR in Bristol. Later assistant editor at Radio Oxford, acting manager at Radio Leicester, manager at Radio Northampton and BBC Coventry & Warwickshire. Now a trainer for the BBC Academy.  

Peter York: a former pirate radio jock (Radio City) and club DJ who also worked at BBC Radio Birmingham.

Allan Roberts: on-air 1977-79. Previously at Voice of Peace. After Oxford onto Swansea Sound, Severn Sound, GWR then producer at Radio 2 and World Service.

Jill Egglesbury: on the station in the late 70s, previously at Radio Stoke.

Sally Bourdillon: mainly weekend presenter in the early 80s.

Rev Michael Doe: presented Sounds for Sunday then Spirit Level during the 1980s.

Rev Hedley Feast: presented the Sunday morning religious slot throughout the 90s when it was originally called Spirit Level.

Fiona Foster: one-time ITV newscaster was on the station in 1985-86. 

Jeremy Dry: at Oxford 1998-2004. Previously at Radio Lancashire, BBC H&W and LBC.

Jan Edwards: on the station 1999-2004. Previously at Fox FM. Moved to live in Mallorca and has broadcast on Mallorca Sunshine Radio.

Jo Theones: on-air 2007-2012. Previously at Capital FM in Nairobi and Fox FM in Oxfordshire. Now on BFBS at Brize Norton.

Phil Kennedy: at Oxford 2006-12. Previous stations include Radio Jackie, Top Shop, Radio 1, Key 103, The Superstation, GLR, Virgin and Heart. Currently on Radio Berkshire.

Phil Gayle: at Oxford 2011-15. Previous stations included BRMB, Signal, Rock FM, LBC, Radio Newcastle and Radio Berkshire. Currently presents the international news for Deutsche Welle.

Anne Diamond: hosted the breakfast show 2004-06.

Charles Nove: weekend breakfast and then weekday breakfast shows 2011-18

Will Gompertz: the BBC's arts editor was on the station 2014-17

David Prever: on Radio Oxford since April 2013. 

Further listening:

Archive Clips from the 1970s to the 2010s

Radio Conversations: Libby Purves

Radio Conversations: Thomas Prag

Timmy on the Tranny (1981)

Tribute to Bill Heine

With thanks to David Ballard.

1 comment:

Steve Morton said...

All the best people leave Ofcom! In my case with a nice big redundancy settlement!

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