Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Down Your Local - BBC Radio Leicester

Launch date: 8 November 1967

After much deliberation and negotiation it was Leicester that won the race to launch the first of the first "home town radio" stations in late 1967, just weeks after the national radio shake-up.

This is how the Leicester schedule looked nearly one year in taken from the Radio Times of 19 October 1968. (Image from a scanned PDF copy of the magazine so apologies for the quality). At the time the station could only be heard on 95.05 VHF and broadcast from studios at Epic House on Charles Street. 

This film from ATV's MidlandsNews has some establishing shots of the Radio Leicester studios and then an interview with station manager Maurice Ennals.

This was the era when every programme had a title so it's not always possible to tell who presented what. Some titles such as Leicester, Ten Ten Sunday with Ken Warburton seen unduly specific - you won't be surprised to know it went out at 10.10 am on Sunday!

The early stations were run on shoestring budgets and staff were expected to multi-task working as presenters, producers, commentators and newsreaders. On-air at this time were David Challis, Michael Murray (a former Home Service announcer), Roger Matthews and Ken Warburton. Others heard were Wendy Blair, Mike Hollingsworth, Hal Bethel (who went on the become local radio's Education Organiser), Terry Harris, Richard Thompson and the guys from Leicester News Service headed by Roland Orton. I'm also told that Dave Kirkwood and Eddie Vickers (later a presenter and programme controller at Severn Sound) may have also been on board by this date. Station boss Maurice Ennals could also be heard providing football commentaries.     

Amongst the general music and news shows were more targeted programmes for over-60s, the young with The Grain presented by Bert Patrick, the blind, gardeners, those wishing to keep fit, a Christian magazine and short reports on problem pets. There's no evidence yet of any programmes aimed at the city's large Asian population - that would follow with Programme for Immigrants, Milan and, from the mid-70s the influential Six O'Clock Show - though intriguingly there are short courses on speaking French, Spanish and German.

Rex Conway, here shown as presenting Who Cares?, was a Radio Leicester listener turned broadcaster. A probation officer from Ashby de la Zouch he'd been on the station talking about his tape recording club. He impressed producer David Challis and he that he was invited back to present a regular hobbies show.  

Dave Challis and Michael Murray
The station's resident gardening expert was Geoff Amos. Geoff was a professional gardener of many years standing and had been writing for Garden News since the early 1960s. He would later be one of the presenters of Central TV's Gardening Time. Leicester's gardening programme Down to Earth continues to this day on Sunday lunchtimes, making it local radio's longest-running programme. 

When the second phase of local stations started in 1970 Maurice Ennals - generally credited along with Frank Gillard as one of the founding fathers of BBC local radio -moved to become the station manager at Radio Solent, taking with him David Challis and Ken Warburton. Between station moves Ken was attached to the national radio presentation team at Broadcasting House for continuity and newsreading duties on Radio 2. He would later work at BBC Radio Nottingham, back in Leicester as MD at the ill-fated Centre Radio, programme controller at Radio 106 and one of the founding directors of Broadcast Media Services Ltd. 

Extract from 1977 BBC booklet Serving Neighbourhood and Nation
David Challis would also move into management and from 1977 was station manager at Radio Humberside.

Mike Hollingsworth had worked as a newspaper journalist and for BBC TV in Newcastle and Anglia TV before joining Radio Leicester. He then worked for BBC Radio Durham before a move to London to help set up the General News Service, working as an assistant editor on Today and then running BBC TV's Breakfast Time, TV-AM and BBC1's daytime output. 

You can read about Dave Kirkwood on this Pebble Mill site.

Former Radio Leicester broadcaster and producer, and now local historian, Stephen Butt has set up the BBCRL50 blog to mark the station's 50th anniversary. 

Listen out for a special programme on BBC Radio Leicester today at 12.45pm during Jonathan Lampon's show.

With thanks to Ken Warburton.

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