Friday, 29 April 2016

As heard on radio

This year the Grim Reaper is, it seems, intent on populating his own light entertainment cast. Only last week we lost the supreme writer and comedienne Victoria Wood. Best known, of course, for her TV work I've had a  look at her radio appearances on the BBCGenome website.

Victoria never did have her own radio series and most of her broadcasts are guest appearances  often  singing her comic songs. Her first broadcast, at least on national radio, was a 1977 edition of Comedy Parade featuring Rob Buckman (at the time best known for YTV's Don't Ask Me working alongside Dr Magnus Pyke) and Chris Beetles. She appeared again with Rob Buckman five years later in Get the Most Out of Your Body. She popped up on Start the Week and Midweek and as a panellist on Just a MInute. Her only other panel game was I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue in 2009.

In the mid to late 1980s Victoria was heard reading stories for children on Listening Corner and Cat's Whiskers. She was a castaway on Desert Island Discs in 1987 and again in 2007 and guested on Woman's Hour and Kaleidoscope.  In 2005 she wrote a spoof version of The Archers for Comic Relief.

But the piece of archive I've dug out is one of her appearances on the Radio 2 comedy The Little and Large Party. As far as I know this show hasn't had a repeat since its first broadcast in 1981 so it's a bit of a rarity. It was Little and Large's only radio series and for each of the eight shows Victoria provided a comic song. In this, the first episode of the series, she recalls her school days with the wireless on.

Victoria Wood 1953-2016

Thursday, 28 April 2016

I once made a programme about that for Radio 4

BBC Radio Norfolk boss and regular presenter of Treasure Quest - a mad dash around the county by car in search of clues but without the Anneka Rice jumpsuit - has retired after 35 years at the station. 

David Clayton stood down as Editor last month and presented his final Treasure Quest last Sunday. Whilst not part of the Radio Norfolk launch team in September 1980 he started to guest as a showbiz expert and appeared on Juke Box Jury before being offered a Sunday breakfast slot in 1981. In 1983 he moved to a weekday mid-morning show, The Norfolk Airline, co-presenting with Neil Walker. They won a Sony in 1986 for Best Magazine Programme before graduating to national radio on Radio 4's The Local Network (1987-91).

In The Local Network David and Neil  linked up with "BBC Local Radio stations to investigate issues of common concern around the country" covering everything from tourism and bridge tolls  to puddings and pools winners. Years later there was a long-standing joke at Radio Norfolk that David would often claim "I once made a programme about that for Radio 4", much the way that Uncle Albert would preface his "during the war" anecdotes. 

A Radio Times article introducing the new 1987 series of The Local Network described the duo as the 'Timpson and Redhead' of Radio Norfolk. "Some people define it as chemistry and that's the basis of all good double acts", said David. "But it may have something to do with the fact that we have very little in common and rarely meet off the air."      

Also broadcasting from Norwich David briefly appeared as an in-vision announcer on Anglia TV and read the news on Look East for several years in the mid-80s. He also co-presented, again with Neil Walker, two short series for Radio 4 called Today's the Day (1990-92) that sought to "explore extraordinary days in people's lives".

Returning to Radio Norfolk in 1991 he was first Programme Organiser (what would now be called an Assistant Editor) and then Managing Editor in 1998. Although now management he still couldn't be prised away from the studio and continued to appear on air, usually on Sundays. When Treasure Quest started in 2008 David took over the 'Kenneth Kendall' style role

David had a big on-air send-off last Sunday in Goodbye to all that. The previous week one of those The Local Network shows got an airing. Last heard on Radio 4 in February 1988 it investigated regional differences in comedy. It's still online here.

You can hear another edition of The Local Network that I posted in 2012 here.

My thanks to Paul Hayes, aka The Questmaster, at BBC Radio Norfolk for his help with this post. 

Monday, 11 April 2016

Still Whispering at 70

Bob Harris celebrates his 70th birthday today. Music-loving Bob has always carefully crafted his radio shows and championed the cause of many musicians. This was more than evident in this weekend's Radio 2 show - for some mad reason tucked away at 3 a.m. 

Back in October 1972 Bob was interviewed for the new magazine Deejay and Radio Monthly and recalled how he got his break into radio.

He'd been playing records as part of an experimental evening at the Royal College of Art and four months later was interviewing Radio 1 producer Jeff Griffin for Friends magazine. Jeff "remembered this thing at the Royal College, talked to me about it and asked me to do a pilot show for Radio Three".

"I took the list of records and ran with Jeff through the way I'd presented them - so in fact the pilot I did was based on the programme I'd done at the College. We directed it at Radio Three initially because Jeff thought it might be a little heavy going for Radio One - but in fact they were at the time already running a pop music series, and they never run two simultaneously. So Jeff re-directed it to Radio One - not as a programme idea, but as an illustration of what I could do."

The BBC liked what they heard and Bob was offered holiday relief for John Peel in August and September 1970. This is his first Radio Times billing (via BBC Genome). The following month, following the departure of David Symonds, Bob was offered the Monday night edition of Sounds of the 70s.

Bob, now also presenting The Old Grey Whistle Test, left Radio 1 in 1975. Controller Derek Chinnery "didn't much like the kind of music we features on Sounds of the 70s". In fact the station was having to trim back its broadcasting hours as part of a round of yet another financial belt-tightening. After that Bob recorded some shows for Radio Luxembourg but wasn't regualarly back on air until 1978 when he joined Radio 210.

Keen to return to the Corporation Bob accepted a drive time job with Radio Oxford in 1981. By the mid-80s he was also appearing on LBC, Radio West and Radio Broadland, BFBS and The Super Station. In 1989 he was finally back at Radio 1 when executive producer Stuart Grundy invited him to sit in for Richard Skinner; he gained a regular Sunday night show the following January following the death of Roger Scott.  

Later in 1990 Bob's finally secured a daily show kicking off at midnight, following Nicky's Campbell's Into the Night.  Three years later, following a "repositioning" of the network, he was back out the door. Here is a large chunk of that final Radio 1 show from the early hours of Friday 22 October 1993. And if you don't already know Bob's final record you'd never guess it.

Part 1

Part 2

Bob secured more work with BFBS as well as regular shows on GLR. It was Jim Moir who invited Bob back to national radio with a Saturday night show on Radio 2 starting in 1997. He's been there ever since, adding Bob Harris Country in 1999.

Happy Birthday Whispering Bob.

Monday, 4 April 2016

Sound Digital

In March radio station launches were like buses, nothing for months and then a handful came along all at once. These new stations were part of the Sound Digital DAB multiplex, a joint venture company owned by The Wireless Group, Bauer and Arqiva.

The new offerings from Bauer were brand extensions of Magic: Mellow Magic and Magic Chilled. First out of the blocks on 14 March was Mellow Magic, "carefully programmed to provide a relaxed and laid back station" aimed at the 50 to 64 age group. Existing Magic DJs Paul Hayes, Gary Vincent and Martin Collins are joined by the station-hopping Lynn Parsons, Forth 1's Arlene Stuart and actors Patsy Kensit and John Hannah. The station also offers the chance to hear former BBC staffers Fran Godfrey and Alice Arnold. Indeed it was a welcome opportunity to hear Fran, one of Radio 2's best, and much missed, newsreaders reading the news again on the weekday breakfast show - the only live show.   

On the face of it there's little here that listeners can't get from Magic, the City 2 network or Smooth. The licence application suggests that the evening programmes may see a return of Saga Radio-type shows but, based on my admittedly brief review of one night's listening it was more of the same classic pop with a Billie Holiday track thrown in for good measure.

I'm not sure how much Bauer invest in their websites, very little it seems. Essentially both Mellow Magic and Magic Chilled offer one page without a full schedule, what happens overnight remains a mystery. Mellow only highlights nine musical artists: Nina Simone, Frank Sinatra, Dusty, Elton, Billie Holiday, Michael Buble, Simon and Garfunkel, Barbra Streisand and Rod Stewart. Neither website suggests anything they've actually played.

Magic Chilled - one of the stations on DAB+ as well as online - promises "a contemporary music escape with a playlist featuring fresh laidback hits". Although it lists an all female presenter line-up - Jade Ewen, Sarah Champion, Pips Taylor, Eloise Carr and Louise Molony - the links are all pre-recorded and kept to a minimum, every 3 or 4 records. So laid back was Chilled that it didn't really launch on 21 March as such; the test transmissions segued seamlessly into a breakfast sequence and then Jade Ewen's links from 10 am.  

Launched with far more sense of occasion, and offering something new, certainly for commercial radio, were The Wireless Group's talkSPORT2 and talkRADIO. Going to air on 15 March, just in time for the Cheltenham Festival, was talkSPORT's sister station with sports coverage that wasn't just football-focused: racing, cricket (there's been extensive coverage of the World Twenty20), rugby, tennis, golf and athletics, so offering some alternative to 5 Live Extra. In this montage there's actor Lewis MacLeod (Dead Ringers and  Wired News) declaiming "the prodigal son is ready". There's also talkSPORT2's Managing Editor Mike Bovill and the opening introduction from Ian Danter. 

talkSPORT2 benefited from cross-promotion from talkSPORT, the two stations share some programming anyway as there's not quite enough other sports to satisfy a full-time extra station.

The talk radio format very much remains a minority one in the UK so perhaps most keenly anticipated of the new stations was the launch of talkRADIO (I'm carefully typing those lower and upper case characters!). Less news agenda driven than 5 Live or LBC - though this was tested on day two with the bombings in Brussels - it benefits from an experienced and lively line-up: Paul Ross (the only one from the original Talk Radio UK), Julia Hartley-Brewer, Jon Holmes, Sam Delaney, Jonny Gould and Iain Lee on weekdays. talkRADIO posted this video of the station launch.

Unfortunately, at least for those of us listening online, the sound quality on day one was appalling; it had marginally improved the following day.

David Lloyd did a quick editing job to put this montage together.  

Judging by the listener reaction online there was much love in particular, and quite rightly so, for Jon Holmes and Iain Lee. Both started by knocking their former employers and their radio opposition - Holmes had only appeared on Radio X the day before whilst Lee had, of course, been dropped by 3CR last year - but they were asked to rein this in on day two, mind you both mentioned this management talking-too on air.

The only other observation is the lack of callers; the weekday shows, apart from Iain's, appear to be in single figures over a 3 or 4 hour show. Is the 0844 number putting people off (they do call back) or is it a production decision?

There was an exemplary lead-in to the launch (is that re-launch?) of Virgin Radio which went live on 30 March: "a broadcast legend returns". Online they had a fully operational website before the D-Day with presenter Q&As, press releases, schedules and playlists all supported by Twitter and Facebook. They then pushed the boat out, in fact pushed the train out - the Virgin Radio Star travelling from Manchester to London -  as part of a launch day hoopla, all produced by TBI Media. This provided great publicity but I'm not sure it contributes much to the listening experience, "it's moving" we were excitedly told. Let's hope they continue to support new talent such as Gavin James who provided the live opening track, his take on Bowie's Changes.

Here are those opening moments:

Virgin's Programme Director Liam Thompson spoke about the station's audience: "We feel that there is an opportunity amongst those who feel too old for BBC Radio 1, but not old enough for BBC Radio 2. Our audience will be music-lovers who want to hear great new music, as well as the classics".

Whilst there are elements of its previous incarnation in the new station , unlike its Virgin 1215 predecessor - predominantly aimed at the male guitar rock lover - Virgin offers "classic and contemporary pop and rock hits" for a 25-44 year old audience. It remains to be seen how it will fare against the Absolute stations that took over from Virgin in 2008.  

From the evidence of day one Virgin Radio, like its new Wireless Group stable mates, suffered from some technical issues, and that's not just the expected drop-outs during the train journey. It's almost as if they're trying to recreate the same reception conditions of the old AM service. I've read of audio quality complaints about both DAB and online steaming. Hopefully these will be fully addressed quickly before people switch elsewhere. Having said that it seemed fine to me over here in France via Radioplayer.

I should also name check the other new station to launch on D2, Premier Praise, the Christian music station that went to air on Easter Sunday. Unfortunately due to a combination of the shift to summertime and a late night I missed the station switch-on, though I did catch part of Steve Fanstone's show during the day.

And finally the other station launch that was part of the Sound Digital package was British Muslim Radio, now rebranded as Awesome Radio. Whilst an audio stream has been up and running since 29 February the website offers no clues as schedule or presenters and its only tweeted six times and has just 36 Facebook followers. Listeners are invited to submit their CVs to become part of the Awesome team. 
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