Thursday 31 October 2013

Fun at One – Radio in a Blender

By a strange coincidence ‘Iannucci old’ and ‘Iannucci new’ are on offer this week. Sky Atlantic have series two of HBO’s Veep whilst BBC Radio 4 Extra start re-runs (from tonight) of Armando Iannucci’s eponymously titled second comedy series for Radio 1. 

By 1994 Armando had already worked on Week Ending, On the Hour and Knowing Me, Knowing You and appeared in front of the microphone in the 5-part series for Radio 4, Down Your Ear. He was given a try out on Radio 1 with a couple of 30-minute shows in 1993. These shows demonstrated his witty and knowing style. It was the comedy of parody and the piss-take, poking fun at the grammar of radio with the irony meter set to red. It was radio “put through the blender and re-stitched together the wrong way round.”
The 1993 series has also just had a repeat outing on Radio 4 Extra. If you missed them, here’s some of what you could have heard.

In fact both programmes, plus series two, can be found on the Fist of Fun website, just look under Downloads.  

Tuesday 29 October 2013

Radio Lives – Tom Vernon

There are two indisputable facts about Tom Vernon. One, he was a fat man. Two, he rode a bicycle. That combination gave Tom a number of hugely popular series on radio and on television as he explored the highways and byways across France and around the world.

It all started with the Radio 4 series that first aired in late 1979, Fat Man on a Bicycle, billed as “Being the ponderous peddling of Tom Vernon from Muswell Hill to the Mediterranean and what befell him in the land of the French” His broadcasting style was, according to radio historian David Hendy, “humorous, gentle and idiosyncratic in a way that seemed perfectly natural to most Radio Four listeners”.

Fat Man on a Bicycle, Radio Times 13 December 1979

Tom Vernon was born in London in 1939 and would go first into teaching and then PR. At the same time he was performing, apparently “moonlighting as a period-costumed minstrel” and writing music.  The song-writing somehow led to occasional appearances on the Today programme where overnight he’d write a song about a current news story for broadcast the next day.

He was the first presenter on BBC Radio London’s breakfast show Rush Hour when the station launched in 1970. Indeed he was inadvertently the first voice on air when the engineers accidently put out his rehearsals during test transmissions.  As you’ll hear in the audio clips below Tom also found time to write the Radio London Song. He also presented In Concert alongside Michael Oliver in a programme that offered classical music, comment and criticism and a look at London life in A Better Place to Live.

At Radio London he would also read entire Victorian novels on the air, presumably they had plenty of time to fill. This included the whole of Pickwick Papers which he delivered in 50 episodes and acting 150 different voices, mixing in his own music and sound effects. “I was a one-man epic,” he recalled. That same rich voice would later go on to record Dial-a-Santa for the GPO.

The first edition of Feedback 1 April 1979.
Regular hosts after Tom have been Colin Semper,
Chris Dunkley and Roger Bolton
Joining Radio 4 he was a producer and presenter for the nightly arts strand Kaleidoscope and a contributor to the review of weekly magazines programme News Stand. From April 1979 he became the first presenter of Feedback, the “bouquets and brickbats” programme that took over from the short-lived Disgusted, Tunbridge Wells.  Tom remained with Feedback for four years.

Here’s Tom Vernon with an edition of Feedback from 10 April 1981 where the burning topic is local and regional radio.

The idea for a cycle journey across France had its genesis many months before when he’d bought a second-hand bike at his local Oxfam shop for a fiver. Nicknamed The Black Pudding – “it was exceedingly heavy and acted as a vehicle for a great deal of fat” – it remained little used until one day when he was carless he hopped on it to go shopping, pretty soon he was cycling into the BBC and back.

It was in July 1979, now on a slimline Evans bicycle, that he set out set off from London across the Channel and down to La Grande Motte.“Le gros type à vélo”, his T-shirt proclaimed. Amongst his possession was a mini-Nagra tape recorder whilst his producer Joy Hatwood followed by car with a large stereo tape machine to help create their radio verité.  Explaining the impetus for the series Tom wrote: “A radio broadcaster is among the most detached of all. He lives under fluorescent tubes in a windowless studio, and handles words and ideas on little pieces of magnetic tape.  The temptation is strong to become more and more a processor of substitute reality, and not very different from a transistor in his tape machine. I wondered: Is there still a world out there you can touch?”

Fat Man in Italy, Radio Times 1980

The first series proved very popular and led to a further four on radio and eight TV series for the BBC, ITV and Channel 4.

In the 1990s Tom and his second wife retired to rural France, in the Cévennes. He died last month of a heart attack, aged 74.

In this audio sequence you’ll hear Tom singing his Radio London song and talking about the early days of the station. There are clips from Fat Man on a Bicycle and reminiscences from radio producer Jenny de Yong, who worked on some of the later series. Sadly I have no copies of Tom’s radio series in my archive but surely they should be accorded a repeat on Radio 4 or Radio 4 Extra.

Tom Vernon 1939-2013

Guide to the Fat Man radio series
Fat Man on a Bicycle
6 part series from 13 December 1979
Fat Man in Italy
6 part series from 8 December 1980
Fat Man Out
4 part series from 24 June 1981 visiting Helston, Rochester, Appleby, Grantham
Fat Man at Work
6 part series from 26 May 1983
Fat Man on a Roman Road
8 part series from 21 August 1983 – a trip from Exeter to Edinburgh

Audio comes from Mike Brown’s Transdiffusion article on station launches and Radio 4’s Last Word broadcast on 20 September 2013.

Monday 28 October 2013

Two for the Price of One

It was a case of too much Bob Harris on Saturday night/Sunday morning with a playout error giving us two sections of Bob’s show at once.

Of course mistakes do happen, that’s part of the joy of live broadcasting, or indeed when playing out pre-recorded shows for that matter! But “glitches” on Radio 2 do get noticed. And since the new computerised system came in just over a year ago that emergency tape has kicked in and there have been unexplained silences on a number of occasions. Most have been at the weekend. Is there anybody at BH monitoring the output on Saturday and Sunday? One for Feedback no doubt.
For the curious here’s what happened in the early hours of Sunday, edited of course. The voice of Alan Dedicoat came in at 01.21 and Bob was back at 01.45.

There was another glitch at the start of Clare Teal’s show last night too. Let’s just put it down to the approaching storm perhaps.

Friday 25 October 2013

Rock On Tommy

On BBC Four tonight there’s a showing of the rock opera Tommy. 

As usual the authors of the weekly Creamguide, from those lovely people at TV Cream, have long memories and recalled that “when this film was first shown on the telly in the eighties it was the subject of a simulcast on Radio 1”.

Spot on! It was shown on BBC2 and heard on Radio 1 (straight after Peter Clayton’s Sounds of Jazz) on Sunday 29 August 1982 as part of Rock Week. In those pre-stereo TV days there were plenty of opportunities to experiment with simultaneous broadcasts and that year the little SB logo appeared in the listings for some of the Proms concerts and Wagner’s Ring Cycle.

In the kind of season that BBC2 sadly no longer does Rock Week also offered us GI Blues, Jimi Hendrix, That’ll Be The Day, Maze, Joan Armatrading, Squeeze, The Jam, The Last Waltz, The Doors, BA Robertson’s Jock and Roll, Stardust, The Police and Yellow Submarine. There was also a three-hour Bank Holiday Rock special fronted by David Hepworth and Mark Ellen. 

It was a packed week on the telly as we also got the start of the Beeb’s 60 Years celebrations with plenty for nostalgia lovers with repeats of Dixon of Dock Green, Maigret, Stocker’s Copper, The World of Wooster and that creeky old film Death at Broadcasting House.

Wednesday 23 October 2013

The Charts They Are a-Changin’

For chart enthusiasts it was all change on Tuesdays from October 1987. Tuning into Radio 1 at lunchtime – listening to Johnnie Walker, Paul Burnett, DLT or Gary Davies depending on your era – and noting down the chart positions ready for Sunday. Come Sunday you’d be there, finger poised over the pause button, waiting to record the latest chart entries. Admit it, we all did it!

“This show is going to kick everything else into touch,” boasted Bruno Brookes, bagging himself a Radio Times cover to boot. From now on chart release day was shifted from Tuesday to Sunday, requiring even more of a trigger finger for home tapers.

Broadcast the chart on the same day it’s compiled? Surely not!  When we now have chart shows that are updated to reflect sales and downloads during the programme it all sounds very quaint. Back in 1987 the chart manager at Gallup, Godfrey Rust, explained all to the Radio Times.

Of the 4,300 record shops Gallup selected a representative panel based on size of outlet, type of shop (chains like HMV, multiples like Boots or independents) and region. For the new chart this panel was upped from 250 to 500 shops.

Each of the panel shops has a little Epson data-gatherer and sales assistants key in each record’s catalogue number at the time of sale. The machine is connected to a telephone line and four times a week Gallup’s computer downloads the data. After the last update in the early hours of Sunday the chart is compiled.

The computer is able to compensate for incorrectly punched catalogue numbers, typically the first letter is missed. About 10 to 20 per cent of the information is rejected as “incomplete or unrepresentative.” For security a back-up system was maintained at Thame in Oxfordshire.

Anticipating the new chart and new show on Sunday 4 October 1987 Bruno said: “The Top 40 is already Europe’s most listened-to radio show. Now all of the music industry as well will have to be listening to find out where their records are. I can imagine executives and promoters jumping about making urgent telephone calls as I read out the positions, I like anything with a sense of excitement and this show tops the lot.”

And this is how it all sounded.

Here’s Paul Burnett with a Tuesday lunchtime chart rundown from September 1978. I can’t claim to have recorded this one; it comes from the pages of Radio Rewind.

From my own collection is this clip of Gary Davies, with his “Bit in the Middle”, and a chart from July 1984.

Monday 21 October 2013

I’m Free!

It always used to be “another chance to see” but now Afternoon Classics is the umbrella title for BBC2’s afternoon of repeats of 30 and 40-year old programmes.  Mind you the best bit is probably the old BBC2 idents coming out of retirement.

Anyway showings of Are You Being Served? set me thinking about any radio connections for the stars of that sitcom.  Mollie Sugden I remember from her appearances in The Clitheroe Kid. I hadn’t realised that she’d previously appeared as Jimmy mother in the ITV series Just Jimmy, even though she was younger than the pint-sized star. There was also a 1982 series with Mollie called Oh Mother!

Frank Thornton co-starred with Derek Francis in The Navy Lark spin-off The Embassy Lark and with Jimmy Edwards in The Big Business Lark. He was in the equally short-lived Mind Your Own Business alongside Bernard Cribbins and Annette Crosbie and co-starred with June Whitfield in Men of Property.

Long-term Just a Minute listeners will recall Wendy Richard sparring with the team regulars. Larry Martyn stepped into the role of Private Walker in the last few radio adaptations of Dad’s Army whilst Arthur English was a radio star back in the days of Variety Bandbox.  

As for John Inman he starred in three series of Inman and Friends on BBC Radio 2 between 1986 and 1989. Speaking to the Radio Times in 1986 he described the show as follows:

“It’s definitely not alternative humour”, says Inman with satisfaction. “You could call it old-fashioned”. By this he means lots of Goonish sound effects, and echoes of Round the Horne.

“Each programme starts with me saying ‘Hasn’t it been a funny sort of day?’, and going on about it. Then I introduce my guests … they really are friends.” This includes the various members of the Grace Brothers gang, and the likes of Ernie Wise, Ruth Madoc and Peggy Mount. “We chat, do gags, sketches, I sing in a strangled tenor…”

This is the first show from series one that aired on 30 September 1986. Alongside John are regulars Jeffrey Holland and Sherrie Hewson and the special guest is Ernie Wise. The comedy is broad (read ‘not very funny’) and with a tribute to Billy Bennett it was certainly “old-fashioned”.

My recording only runs at 18 minutes as it was tagged onto a C90 cassette after an edition of I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue. Obviously it make much of an impression on me, I didn’t record another.

The script was by Tony Hare, Peter Hickey, Stuart Silver, Alan Whiting and Malcolm Williamson. Music is by the Max Harris Trio and the producer is long-time LE producer Richard Willcox.

Friday 18 October 2013

Promises Promises

In October 1973 The Observer’s radio critic Paul Ferris wondered what the fledging ILR stations would serve up:

LBC’s original application to the Independent Broadcasting Authority for its franchise talked about a daily breakfast-time programme that would “transmit our own editorial conferences ‘live’ so that listeners can be involved in our news-gathering … with no attempts to conceal our own mistakes”. This has been quietly dropped. Says Mr Cudlipp (Michael Cudlipp, chief editor): “I’ve never been at an editorial conference where journalists do anything other than mutter or swear.”

The programme director of Capital Radio, in which the Observer has an 11½% interest, is a former BBC television producer Micahel Bukht, who says they will be an “adult pop music station in the daytime”.  Between the music will be the usual interviews and news.

Drama will be represented by several soap operas. The Mistresses will be a bit of romance about King Charles II and his girls (Mr Bukht describes it as “thigh-squeezing time”), Bed Sit will be about a London boarding house, and Me and ‘Er will be a topical five-minuter. “If it’s raining outside,” says Mr Bukht, “we can have it raining in the script.”

Wednesday 16 October 2013

Your Capital Choice

Rewind back to April 1976 for this Capital Radio programme schedule published in the pages of New Musical Express.

It’s Easter time and over the weekend there’s the second Help a London Child charity auction. Helping out with proceedings on Saturday from 9 a.m. are some very familiar names, whether or not you lived in the London area: Roger Scott, Dave Cash, Kenny Everett, Joan Shenton, Tommy Vance (with that moustache looking for all the world like some South American bandit!), Ian Davidson and Adrian Love.

Apparently Kenny initially saw the campaign as “an unwelcome diversion”, according to the recent biography Hello Darlings! “It wasn’t that Kenny was uncharitable, he simply didn’t appreciate how much of an impact radio could have in raising funds and awareness. He assumed it was just tokenism. Once converted, he went on to become one of Help a London Child’s most fervent campaigners, and would spend days preparing special episodes of Captain Kremmen”.   

Looking after Easter Sunday were Graham Dene, Tony Myatt, those two smoothies Michael Aspel and Gerald Harper and rounding off with Ev and Nicky Horne

Friday 11 October 2013

With an Independent Air

It’s no accident that commercial radio, which is forty years old this week, was referred to as independent local radio. “Commercial” was a dirty word. Excessive profits were frowned on. The White Paper that paved the way for ILR spoke of “public service” and stations being “firmly rooted in their locality”.  

LBC was mainly staffed with ex-newspaper men and women. And well-staffed, indeed over-staffed, too: at the start there were about 150 on the payroll. Its headquarters at Communications House in Gough Square were just off Fleet Street. In the early days it struggled; it was under-capitalised, there were various run-ins with the NUJ and, though it had plenty of newspaper experience, there was little in the way of radio skills, and most of that came from “Antipodean freelancers”.

Capital too had some early issues. The initial music policy with its slant to the more “hippier” stuff was not a success, there were spats with its London neighbour about just how much news coverage it should take and in early 1974 the three-day week hit advertising revenue.

Despite this the stations were a hit with listeners: early audience figures showed LBC had one million and Capital one and a half million. Though the Government’s plans had been to introduce sixty stations they restricted this to just nineteen, at least during the 1970s, with Beacon Radio the last the go on-air on 12 April 1976.

It’s against this background that Ann Leslie wrote this piece, With an Independent Air, for Punch magazine published on 28 April 1976. It offers a somewhat metro-centric view of commercial radio; one suspects she’d not heard anything of the other seventeen stations.  

Elsie of Westminster and I are getting a bit stroppy with each other over the airwaves of LBC’s Nightline phone-in programme, and she’s shouting into my earphones that them coloureds are VICIOUS! VICIOUS” not like us native British what are more placid, not that she’s got anything against black people mind you, there’s good and bad in all of us, granted – but Ann, any spot of bother’ll set the coloureds off fighting an’ that…

And in between shouting back “But Elsie!” I’m coughing and blinking and waving my arms about because I happen to have set the studio on fire.

Behind the glass sits studio engineer Dave, a pleasant, professional lad who nevertheless looks about fifteen and has the somewhat nibbled-looking hair of a typical Bay City Rollers fan. Ciggie stapled to his lip, he gazes on, unmoved, as I flap the air like a fire-dancer with flaming sheets of paper plucked from the melting waster bin.

Had I burnt the Nightline studio down, I’d have cut LBC’s studio-count by half, but oh well, that kind of disaster is just about par for the course for this, the first and most accident-prone of Britain’s nineteen commercial radio stations.

Incidentally, there isn’t an Ann Leslie spot on Nightline. I’d merely wandered down with my notebook that evening into the pokey basement huddled beneath the eighteenth-century elegance of Dr Johnson’s Gough Square and found myself instantly lassooed into ‘guesting’ on the show. Had I been a passing mouse, they’d have doubtless grabbed my tail, shoved a mike in my whiskers and pushed me squeaking onto the air: LBC’s in need of endless free squeaks to fill up the spaces between Alka Seltzer ads. Thanks to phone-freaks like Westminster Elsie, they rarely run short.

Nightline’s host is a nice worthy bearded chap called Nick Page (“yes I’m a practising Christian”) who, every weekday night, dispenses four hours of spiritual Ovaltine in his gentle foody voice to the lonely souls in London’s bedsitter land. (Nightline, he believes, is partly responsible for a decline in suicides in those trackless wastes).

So while I’m beating out the flames, he’s fiddling with his blue cardie and soothing Elsie down with “well, as you say Elsie I think there’s good and bad in everyone and we’ll have to agree to differ on the other pints you’ve made, and now we’ll go down to Putney and say hello to Ray. Roy? Hello Roy? Are you there? Roy? … Well, we’ll come back to Roy in a minute. Over now to Marie in Battersea, hello Marie! Marie? …”

And he and I soldier on into the night with Maggie if Muswell Hill who’s against bingo halls; and Ted of Shoreditch who says Lenin and Jewish bankers are responsible for our “inflammatory money” and the decline-and-fall-of-this-once-great-nation-of-ours; and Charles of St John’s Wood who says there’s too many black faces around and Ann, are you as beautiful as you sound on the phone because if you are, tell Nick to push off as I’m going to put on my pyjamas and come right over…

London has two commercial radio stations – dear, worthy news-and-views LBC and the all-music-all-fun Capital. “Capit-a-al! Capit-a-al” Capit-a-al Radio-o-o!” sings the persistent radio jingle.

Capital has pzazz! Capital has sex-appeal! Capital has MONEY! No apologetic lurking in the basements for them: Capital prances manically about in the glossy splendour of the Euston Tower and Capital has thick carpeting and digital clocks and DJs like Dave Cash-by-name, Cash-by-nature and Capit-a-al! Capit-a-al! is wow! zowie! b-boom!

Easter Saturday morning and Capital is running its marathon radio auction to raise money to “help a London Child” and its huge foyer is full of adenoidal Capital fans gawping at leaping DJs and being frisked by security men and, up in her office, lovely press-lady Sian is being photographed with Cliff Richard’s belt and a Womble blanket and wow! even a Led Zeppelin tee-shirt donated by the luminaries themselves!

And in the studio, Kenny Everett and Roger Scott are howling and shrieking and jamming on records and singing Hello Dolly for a bet and it’s Capit-a-al! Capit-a-al! and thirteen phone lines are blinking and in yet another studio Dave Cash is yelling “Great news! A Mr Crown has just bid £51 for the Garrard record-deck – any more offers on that? – and there’s plenty more wunnerful things coming up for grabs now! A snare-drum from the PINK FLOTD! Twenty tickets to see Emmanuelle! A personal horoscope from Terri King!  And, wait for it, a complete hair-transplant!” Capit-a-al! Capit-a-al! And oops, here come the ads “Try the Big Fresh Flavour of Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum!” and oh, wow! I haven’t the faintest idea what it’s all about, it’s just Capit-a-al! Capit-a-al! Capit-a-al! Radi-o-o!

Commercial radio was born at 6 a.m. on the morning of October 8th 1973 with the launch of LBC; Capital took to the air a week later. Originally sixty such stations were planned: the Government has now decided nineteen are enough. Most of the others which have emerged so far have settled for varying combinations of the LBC and Capital styles.

So how do we assess the results of the last thirty months? Professional radio critics, of course, instantly assume the facial expressions of men with knitting needles stuck up their noses when asked to evaluate the wild pot-pourri of Gary Glitter, fish-fingers, crossed-lines, Fred Kites, National Fronters, Zionists, jew-baiters, corner-shop fascists, loonies who’ve lost their parrots and pensioners who’ve lost their teeth, who’ve all come tumbling and gibbering down out of the ether onto this green and garrulous land.

It’s “boring old do-it-yourself radio”, jumble-sale-radio”, radio-wot-fell-off-the-back-of-a-lorry”, and not what we were promised at all! What were we promised? Well, what we were promised makes for merry reading. What’s quite clear in retrospect – and should have been at the time – was that British commercial radio was sired by a typically British marriage of amateurism and hypocrisy.

Amateurism decreed that those with the least experience in running a radio station should, almost on those grounds alone, be selected for the job. Poor little LBC – dubbed Radio Toytown – was expected to outdo the mighty Beeb in world news coverage; soon virtually hysterical staff were collapsing like exhausted flies. The Gough Square basement became radio’s Ekaterinburg, with the mass slaughter of decent misguided programmes, followed by endless Stalinist purges of idealistic Old Bolsheviks who’d taken their brief seriously and died under machine-gun volleys from cadres of ruthless accountants.

Hypocrisy? Well, God knows there was enough of that. Since admitting that you want to sell anything and actually make money is a fearful social gaffe in this country, the commercial radio lobby had to pretend that the last thing they wanted to do was get rich from selling fish-finger eaters to fish-finger makers. Dear me, what a vulgar, gutter-press interpretation of these noble gentlemen’s aims!

For a start, they did wish people wouldn’t talk about “commercial” radio – it was “independent” radio. Independent of what? Of the pointy-headed mandarins of the Establishment Beeb, of course. Commercial – oops, sorry, independent- radio was to be a collection of brave little Davids slinging pebbles on behalf of the wonderful-little-people-of-our-great-democracy against the Goliath of the Corporation.

Since money-making was, like Queen Anne’s legs, not considered a fit subject for polite conversation, the motives of the commercial radio lobby were draped in yards of swishing verbiage about “community needs”, grass-roots feeling”, “ access”, “participation”, “the British People”.

Christopher Chataway, the Tory Minister who legalised commercial radio, assured the Doubting Thomases that “independent” radio was going to spurn the “pop and prattle” of the BBC’s Radio One, and instead provide “a worthwhile service to the community”. And Brian Young, Director-General of the IBA, movingly pledged his belief that it would not all turn out to be “just the round of pop music and plugs which disdainful critics have predicted”.

The IBA issued “guidelines” to hopeful consortia scrambling for contracts. Like a rich but bashful spinster letting on that she’s partial to chocolate fudge, Auntie IBA then lay back and awaited her seducers.

The seducers, having duly studied her tastes, told her what she wanted to hear and then, the minute they’d bedded the contracts, told her to forget the chocolate fudge promises on account of this is a hard world and such romantic twaddle costs too much.

(Take Capital, for example, which promised sweet music, serials, quizzes – all nice, clean, short-back-and sides stuff. Auntie IBA might have liked it but hip young Londoners didn’t, so it went out the window.)

So where are all the shock horror probes into corruption in the local Parks and Cemeteries Committees? And where the searing exposes of small-town sewerage politics? They’re still there – but tucked away in the stations’ “social conscience” slots at dead, unprofitable areas of the day or night when people are either watching telly or are asleep.

As Tommy Vance, a Capital DJ, told me, “Yeah, well, the, ah, incidence of Social Idealism has to be strictly limited in commercial radio: you gotta make a living right? Right!”

But this large gap between stated aims and actual performance is not perhaps the only reason for much of the critical response to commercial radio. Many genuinely believed in such concepts as “grass-roots participation” and “media access” so long as they remained concepts. I suspect that reality has dealt roughly with much woolly-minded Fabian-bookshop sentimentality about The Grass-Roots and The People. To these romantics, The People were symbolised by a kind of myths, cloud-capped Noble Prole, like one of those chunks of socialist statuary celebrating some Soviet Hero of the Best-harvest Norm.

It was assured that once this Noble Prole was allowed “access”, his stout-hearted, rough-hewn common sense and his natural feeling for fair play would emerge and astonish us all.

Did it heck. What happened when this Noble Prole seized hold of the air-waves was that he gabbed on about deporting blacks in banana boats, sending squatters to labour camps and shooting the Arts Council – in short, he turned out to be no more noble or fair-minded than anybody else.

What’s more he actually liked the “trivia and pap” he was expected to scorn. He produced most of it himself: he wanted to know what blighter in Tulse Hill had nicked his Cortina, and whether fin-rot would kill his guppy-fish, and if any OAP in Willesden wanted an old piano, and if Dave or Kenny or Mike would play Diana Ross’s latest waxing for Tracy, the best wife in the world…

Now while I’m a loyal listener, and indeed contributor to, Radio Four, I’m delighted by the sheer serendipity offered by commercial radio. I love the chaos, the mess, the rudeness, the prejudices, the unstructured, unsanitised anarchy.

It’s occasionally very moving: how else can you describe the sudden upsurges of kindness from listeners who, the night I was on LBC for example, rang in desperate to ease the grief of poor Marlees of Lea Green who’d told us of the cot-death of her baby son?

It even produces bizarre flashes of surreal horror: as when a woman rang George Gale on LBC to say she was worried about her nephew who celebrated May 10th every year by buying a couple of parrots, stuffing them down his wellies, and plodging around on them till they’re dead.  And since it clearly hadn’t occurred to her, George’s advice to send the parrot-plodger to a doctor does strike me as a “worthwhile service to the community”, if only to the community’s parrots.

But the basic joy of commercial radio is that it provides a series of scruffy old pubs-of-the-air where all classes unselfconsciously get together to share gossip, misinformation, tell terrible jokes and say they know for a fact that… It’s no more, nor no less, valuable a community service than that.

In the London area, the various mine-hosts include grumpy old buzz-saw Gale, loony little Kenny, sweet ‘n mimsy Joan Shenton, quirky Adrian Love, my very favourite (passed your driving test yet, Adrian?) and that pompous old wind-bag David Bassett.

Which reminds me, David. I’m Ann of Kentish Town and I’m a cat-lover and I’m furious at what you said to that lady on Easter Sunday who wanted to know if her neighbour was allowed to shoot her Siamese cat for trespassing… What? Hello? Are you there, David? Can you hear me? Hello? I’m Ann of Kentish Town and I’m…

Punch finally closed in 2002 with the archives being acquired by the British Library some two years later. Back issues can, no doubt, still be found in dentist’s waiting rooms. All copyrights acknowledged. Cartoons by Mac and Honeysett.

Tuesday 8 October 2013

40 Years of Commercial Radio

It was 40 years ago today that Independent Local Radio was launched in the UK. First out of the traps was LBC, followed a week later by Capital Radio.

DJs still get all misty-eyed when they recall those heady pioneering days in the 1970s. But what did those stations sound like? Sadly there’s no central online archive. Each station was a separate business; they were under no compulsion to keep copies of their output, other than the logging tapes kept for a month or so for regulatory purposes and then wiped. Anyway tapes cost money and took up space in the basement.

So any chance of hearing the early days of ILR must rely on amateur off-air recordings, the recordings we weren’t really supposed to make. What’s available on the net is a bit sketchy. If you were in the Midlands, the North East or Liverpool you’re well catered for. Looking for Swansea Sound, Plymouth South or, surprisingly, Radio Clyde then you’ll be disappointed (launch day audio aside). 

Anyway I’ve been looking through my Favourites list and trawling the web to bring you this list of sites that celebrate all things radio and where you’ll find programme clips, jingles, photos, schedules, publicity material and car stickers that cover many of the early ILR stations that launched in the 1970s and 1980s. Happy browsing.

Needless to say I may have missed something, so send me your additions. I know there’s even more material to be found on YouTube, Soundcloud or Audioboo. Of course if you have any old cassettes tucked away at the back of a cupboard that have recordings of your favourite ILR DJ I’d love to hear them.

By the way, if you can listen in to LBC this evening there's a documentary, LBC at 40, going out at 21.00 BST.

This is ILR
One of the oldest sites to cover the ILR stations written by Sean Saunders though it hasn’t been updated for a while. Concentrating on stations in the south there are plenty of DJ profiles, programme schedules and airchecks for LBC, Capital Radio, Radio Victory, Radio 210, Essex Radio, County Sound, Southern Sound, Invicta, Radio Broadland, Southern Sound and Ocean Sound.

An excellent site written by Mike Smith. It has great sections on the history of radio in the UK and looks at some depth into the transmitting and engineering side. Loads of great coverage of local radio in the Midlands covering BRMB, Xtra AM, Mercia Sound, Fox FM, Buss FM with photos, publicity, sound clips and jingles. Plus there are pages on Forth Radio, County Sound, Wiltshire Radio and Radio 210. Set aside a few days to look round this site!

Aircheck Downloads
With over 2,000 scoped airchecks from the 1980s onwards. For its sheer range this perhaps the best audio source on the web.

Radio Moments
Radio professional and fully  signed-up radio anorak David Lloyd has a vast collection of radio airchecks covering both commercial and BBC radio. He’s made a point of collecting station launches and you’ll find all the original 19 ILR stations on his Audioboo channel.

LBC News Radio
Loaded with audio from the first ILR station all recorded and uploaded by Geoff Lumley. If you remember the days of AM with Douglas Cameron and Bob Holness this site is for you.

Beacon Radio Memories
Thoroughly researched site about the last of the original 19 stations

Radio Aire Archive
Stacks of DJ profiles, with photos some DJs would probably rather forget, and audio for the Leeds-based station.  An associated page covers Magic 828.

Radio Hallam
Dozens of clips from the first four years (1974-78) of Radio Hallam with Messrs Skues and co.

Radio Tees 257
One of two sites dedicated to this fine station with plenty of audio to keep you listening for a few hours.

Metro Radio
Linked to the above Tees site you’ll find stacks of info and programme clips for Metro Radio.

Radio Tees Tribute Site
This site benefits from having plenty of audio that is easily playable online. You’ll have fun with dozens of jingles dating from 1975 to 1987.

Radio City – Brian Jones Tribute Website One of two sites about Radio City. This one compiled by Brian Jones has loads of promotional material and interviews with former staff.

194 Radio City
The second site dedicated to the Liverpool station. Slightly less on offer here but check out the jingles page, just how many stations did Kenny Everett make jingles for I wonder?

The “heart and soul of Devon” is recalled on this Devonair tribute site. Most of the audio clips on offer are jingles but you can hear part of the final day from 1994.

North West Radio Memories
A collection of photos for Piccadilly, City, Signal, Red Rose and others.

Remembering Radio Orwell
A page compiled by Phil Archer with links to a number of Soundcloud clips.

Site run by Keith Sykes that features Mercia Sound, the ill-fated Centre Radio plus Viking Radio

Essex Radio
A page on the history of Essex Radio on the Radio and Telly website

A page on the Radio Trent group oldies station GEM-AM

Swedish Radio Archive
Swedish radio enthusiast Ingemar Lindqvist has amassed hours of recordings including Capital Radio, mainly Kenny Everett, and Radio Victory.

History of Commercial Radio
David Harber is writing a history of commercial radio in the UK which should be published soon.

And finally if you want to hear more from the early days of Viking Radio then I can, in all modesty, suggest looking through the posts on this very blog.

Fancy a canter through 40 years of ILR? Turn up the volume and wallow in this audio montage from David Lloyd.

listen to ‘ILR - The story ’ on Audioboo

The Honeysett cartoon comes from the 28 April 1976 edition of Punch.

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