Thursday 31 March 2011

Testing...One, Two

In the days before round-the-clock radio if you tuned in before the start of the day's broadcasting you'd have heard lots of beeps and whistles. Not some alien communication from outer space but test tone transmissions. These were designed to "assist in the setting-up and checking of stereo receivers."

Here's what they sounded like (yes I really am posting a few buzzing sounds!):

You could get a BBC Engineering Information sheet to explain exactly what you'd hear:

More BBC Engineering information sheets can be found here.

Sunday 27 March 2011

Retrospectively Speaking

Chances are that if you’re reading this blog you like the odd wallow in a bath of nostalgia. If the music, films, tv, radio and advertising of yesteryear are your thing then head over to Retrospace an excellent site written by fellow blogger Andy Howells.

Today on Retrospace you can read my guest post about 'Gentlemen Broadcasters' inspired by a comment that Steve Wright made during his recent interview with David Jacobs.

If you want to submit your Retrospace Top Ten Sunday list Andy would welcome any contributions.

Thursday 24 March 2011

Keith Fordyce 1928-2011

It has just been announced that the broadcaster Keith Fordyce died last week. Keith will be well known to many for his work on Radio Luxembourg, The Light Programme and Radio 2 as well as his TV work, most notably Ready, Steady, GoI

After leaving the RAF Keith worked for BFBS in Hamburg before joining Radio Luxembourg in 1955, working alongside Barry Alldis, David Gell and Don Moss. He soon became Chief Announcer but returned back to the UK in 1958, though he continued to provide taped shows for the station.

From 1963 to 1965 he co-presented, with Cathy McGowan, ITV’s Friday night live music show Ready, Steady, Go!

On the BBC Light Programme Keith was one of the hosts of  Easy Beat and Pop Inn, later also presenting it on Radio 1. In the late 60s and early 70s he presented Late Night Extra and was quizmaster on Radio 2’s Town and Country Quiz and Support Your Local. This clip of Town and Country Quiz dates from 21 December 1982.

In 1983 Keith became the first presenter of Sounds of the 60s. Here’s one of those early shows broadcast on 5 March 1983 (with apologies for the sound quality):

In the late 80s Keith took over the helm from Don Davis on Radio 2’s telephone music quiz Beat the Record. Here’s the last ever edition from 1 August 1992:

In 1983 Keith briefly returned to Radio Luxembourg and here he is co-presenting the General Election coverage with Rodney Collins. This recording demonstrates the famous ‘208 fade’.

Keith Fordyce (front, second from left) with other BBC Light Programme presenters posing
for the 1965 pantomime. Back row: Simon Dee, David Gell, Alan Dell, David Jacobs.
Front row: Don Moss, Keith, Pete Murray, Bill Crozier and Brian Matthew

Tuesday 22 March 2011

Wavelength Changes 1978 - Part 3

Radio Changes Publicity

In the lead up to the wavelength changes (or frequency changes, take your pick) in November 1978 the BBC publicity machine went into overdrive. In this post you can hear a selection of the musical, comedy and celebrity based promotions.
  • Instant Sunshine
  • Radio 2 changes with Larry Grayson
  • Mari Griffith on Radio 4 in Wales
  • Changing metres not meters - can anyone identify the voices?
  • Radio 2 changes with Johnny Mathis
  • The Jason Explanation of Wavelength Changes with David Jason and Sheila Stefal

Saturday 19 March 2011

The Shipping Forecast

Shipping Forecast Areas in the mid 1970s
It is often said that the reading of the Shipping Forecast is akin to the recital of a poem. There is both something in the pared down coded language “unfolding as it does in a mesmerizing incantation” and the image of “all those vulnerable little boats bobbing about at sea, reinforcing the romantic sense of being as island nation” that invokes this reverie.

The BBC has been providing a shipping forecast since 1925. For years it has been a fixture on the long wave in the Light Programme, Radio 2 and Radio 4. It is, perhaps, only since coming to moor in the Radio 4 berth that the forecast has taken on this wider significance.

With the technology available to those at sea is the forecast still necessary? One suspects that there would be a public outcry and questions in the House if such a move where contemplated. “It’s just become part of the BBC fabric. We get lots of letters about how we read, but these aren’t people from ships, they’re usually people miles even from the coast. But we certainly don’t want it to end…”

Closely associated with the Shipping Forecast is the orchestral piece Sailing By. This has been used by Radio 4 since it started transmitting the forecast in 1978 to help fill the gap between the end of the news and the start of the forecast. Throughout the 60s and 70s the final forecast of the day followed the last news bulletin and 12:02 a.m. or 02:02 a.m. when broadcast hours were extended; in the mid-70s this changed to 12:33 a.m. when the hours were reduced again.

When Radio 4 took over 1500m long wave the midnight news was followed by “an interlude” and then the shipping and inshore forecast at 12:15 a.m. It was Sailing By that filled that interlude. The tune had been used on the radio before in Tony Brandon's midday show on Radio 2 as background music to his daily gardening spot with a character called Ebeneezer Growmore.

The Shipping Forecast doesn’t have quite the same poetry when read by John Prescott as part of this year’s Comic Relief fundraising. This is how John read the 12:48 a.m. forecast earlier today on Radio 4.

Here from 1982 is a shipping forecast, inshore forecast and closedown read by Eugene Fraser. Back then sea area Viking had not been split up to include North and South Utsire and area Fitzroy was still called Finisterre.

Eugene Fraser was born in Fiji and educated in New Zealand where he worked on radio and television. He came to Britain in 1967 and joined the BBC as announcer and newsreader. Initially on Radios 1 and 2 he presented such shows as Night Ride, Friday Night is Music Night and Brass and Strings. In 1975 he moved to Radio Victory in Portsmouth. By 1978 he was back at the BBC, this time as announcer/newsreader on Radio 4. He left the station in the 1990s.

Peter Donaldson, former Chief Announcer at the network, recalls the story of his former announcer colleague Eugene Fraser who enjoyed playing practical jokes especially where the Shipping Forecast was concerned. “He used to come into the studio when you were reading [it] and set fire to the bottom. So you had to speed up to get to it before the fire did. He was the biggest practical joker there was, the most mischievous. But we did have fun in those days.”

For the "rules" of the Shipping Forecast visit the Met Office website. 

Quotes sourced from, in order:
Life On Air:A History of Radio 4 by David Hendy
Zeb Soanes, Radio 4 announcer in Radio Times 11 December 2010
Jane Watson, former Radio 4 announcer as quoted in Attention All Shipping by Charles Connelly
And now on Radio 4 by Simon Elmes

Chris and Dave - Record Breakers

Congratulations to Chris Moyles and Dave Vitty for their record breaking 52-hour show on BBC Radio 1.

The show was hugely entertaining and compulsive listening (and viewing on the Red Button).

Don't forget you can donate to Comic Relief online click here.

Wednesday 16 March 2011

Margaret Howard

I was reminded of Margaret Howard’s contribution to broadcasting whilst researching my World Service post and I came across this interview with Margaret at Media Network: 

Margaret Howard is most closely associated with two long-running series: Letterbox and Pick of the Week and I’m posting examples from both series here.

Margaret Howard’s career started at the BBC when she was 16. She eventually became a studio manager and then presenter and announcer on the General Overseas Service, subsequently renamed the World Service

Between 1971 and 1974 she worked as a reporter on The World at One. Margaret presented the weekly Letterbox on the World Service from 1974 until its demise in 1986.

Her 17-year stint on Pick the Week commenced in 1974 when she took over from John Ellison (John had also been one of the quizmasters on Top of the Form and a presenter of Children’s Favourites). The programme had begun in 1959 when Gale Pedrick selected the items. After Pedrick it was Nancy Wise that made the selections, although John Ellison remained the presenter.

In an interview with Margaret Howard by Valerie Grove in the Sunday Times (17 February 1991) the change of presenter is related as follows:
When Ellison dies and Howard suggested that she should speak her words herself there was consternation. “Could a woman sustain a whole hour’s broadcasting?” asked Anthony Whitby, the then controller. “It was understood that if the public objected I would be straight back to the back room. But of course the public took no notice whatever. The BBC has, as usual, underrated their intelligence.”
In 1975, writing in the Radio Times, Jonathan Raban described how Margaret put the programme together:

It’s like painting the Forth Bridge,’ Miss Howard says. She starts with Radio Times, marking up likely candidates. The BBC then supply her with recordings. Her weekends are spent solidly looking and listening, with TV and radio sets blaring in every room. ‘The programme has a very tight brief, and there isn’t as much room for choice as you might think. News items, for instance, aren’t allowed. Nor are live concerts-the repeat fees are prohibitive. In general, television doesn’t really come down to radio very well. Narrative documentary programmes hardly ever lend themselves to short clips. So I’m falling back on talking heads shows. Actually, there’s an innate poverty of suitable material – I’m afraid it’s not a question of “which gem shall I have?”’ Miss Howard edits each item carefully, often marrying several fragments of one programme to make a single extract. The result is excellent radio, but the job sounds hell. Didn’t she feel overdosed? ‘ Yes. I had a holiday at home recently, and listened to nothing at all for a fortnight, And I like rubbish. Relaxation for me is switching to ITV and watching The Streets of San Francisco.’
In 1984 Margaret won a Sony Award as female personality of the year.

Margaret Howard’s contract was not renewed by the in 1991, no explanation was given. She joined Classic FM at its launch in 1992 and was with the station for seven years.

This edition of Letterbox was first broadcast on the BBC World Service on Friday 20 February 1981. My recording is of the Sunday 22 February repeat at 20.15 GMT.

This is the last edition of Pick of the Week presented by Margaret Howard on 10 May 1991. This recording is of the Sunday repeat.

Sunday 13 March 2011

Made in Dallas

Back in 1992 the BBC Radio 4 show The Radio Programme featured this report on the use of radio jingles in Britain. It includes Steve England working with the Controller of Radio Wave in Blackpool. Steve was, and is, the UK representative for JAM Creative Productions in Dallas.

The Radio Programme is presented by Laurie Taylor and the report is by Mairead Devlin.

Can I also recommend these jingle podcasts from Media Network Archives:
Jingles Special 1983 (click here)
Jingles Special 1994 (click here)

Thursday 10 March 2011

John Peel

I must confess that I was not an avid John Peel listener. When his show was on between 11 p.m. and midnight I’d probably be listening to The Late Show or Round Midnight. But as I flicked around the dial I did hear the show and although the music may not always have been to my taste I recognised and appreciated John’s absolute passion for music, his humour, his warmth, his broadcasting style described by a journalist after his death as a “self deprecating mumble” and, of course, his love of Liverpool FC.

The details of John’s career are a well-worn path so I won’t revisit them here. Consume all you want on the John Peel Wiki site and this excellent blog.

John was more concerned with the music of here and now but as part of Radio 1’s 21st birthday celebrations he looked back at the music scene of 1967.

This short programme was broadcast at 6.45 p.m. on Friday 30 September 1988 and was produced by John Walters. The announcer is that of long-time Radio 1 producer Stuart Grundy. Radio 1’s birthday song was specially produced by JAM Creative Productions. 

By 1993 John was on Radio 1 twice a week – Friday and Saturday nights between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. In that autumn’s schedule changes the Friday night show moved to a 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. slot whilst the Saturday show moved to what the Radio Times called a “new user friendly slot” of 4.30 to 7 p.m. Here’s part of that first Saturday afternoon show complete with a very amusing false start.  

The appendix to John’s autobiography, Margrave of the Marshes, outlines his plans for the volume. He says “there will be yarns about being on Quote Unquote, something called The Law Game…”  

So here from 1982 is an edition of the Radio 2 panel game The Law Game presented by Shaw “Keep ‘Em Peeled” Taylor. On the panel with John are Rob Buckman (doctor turned comedian) and Paddy O’Byrne (Radio 2 announcer/newsreader).

Radio Times 29 September 1975 as
John Peel starts his daily show

Thursday 3 March 2011

David Jacobs

Radio Times 8 January 1985
Hello there! It was listening to the David Jacobs Saturday morning show, initially called Star Sounds, that introduced me to some of the musical legends such as Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, Bobby Darin, Sarah Vaughan and the like.

In the mid-80s he brought what he called “the music of our lifetime” to weekday Radio 2 for a long-running lunchtime show.

As Radio 2 celebrates the broadcasting career of David Jacobs this week and next here’s one of those weekday shows from 1985:

For the record David’s Saturday show started on 11 December 1978. Initially running between 8 and 10 a.m. It was later reduced to an hour when Sounds of the 60s started. It ended on 24 March 1990 when Sounds of the 50s came along. During part of this period David was also presenting Melodies for You on Sunday mornings until December 1984 when Robin Boyle took over.

The weekday show started on 7 January 1985 and ended its run on Friday 20 December 1991.

In 2011 David spoke to Steve Wright about his career.

Wednesday 2 March 2011

Jingle Collecting - Jingle Mad?

I guess I started taping pop music off-air when I was about 13 or 14 years of age. I still have some of those early tapes. About a year later I became fascinated by the bits in between the records – the jingles. I started recording Radio 1 and Radio 2 jingles in 1976 – in the dying days of their use of PAMS jingles - as well as some off Radio Humberside and Radio Tees. Those early recordings were of variable quality, literally a mic stuck in front of a radio. But once I got my radio with built-in cassette I was away. Some of those jingles have appeared on this blog and my small Radio Humberside collection made it on-air last month as part of their 40th birthday celebrations.

Why am I telling you this? Well David Hemsley at The Jingle Network has just published this audio documentary, Jingles: A Collectors Tale,  on jingle collecting.

[Edit: Since this post was written The Jingle Network site has dropped off the net so here is that audio. The full set is also available on Soundcloud]

In the programme you can hear what inspired some British collectors to start their jingle collecting. It all sounds unerringly familiar to me though I was never as serious about it as these guys are.

Here are two of my favourite jingles:

Radio 1's 1971 Traffic News

The Viking Radio Song
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