Monday, 29 January 2018

Down Your Local - BBC Radio Nottingham

Following the launch of the first three home radio stations in November 1967 - Leicester, Sheffield and Merseyside - the rollout of the experimental BBC local radio stations resumed on 31 January 1968 in Nottingham.

The BBC previously had a presence in the city in the early 1920s when relay station 5NG based in Bridlesmith Gate had contributed a small number of programmes to supplement the service from 2LO. The post-war Home Service also had an East Midlands Representative housed in the Bentinck Buildings in Wheeler Gate, later Wilson House on Derby Road, who was expected to contribute reports and programmes for the Midlands Region. Throughout the 50s and 60s that representative was Gerald Nethercot, and so he was ideally placed to be appointed as the first Station Manager for Radio Nottingham.

The new station was housed in studios at the back of York House on Mansfield Road transmitting  a VHF only service on 94.8Mhz. Gerald Nethercot had gathered together a dozen staff to run the station and after some test transmission it was formally opened on the evening, at 6.00 pm, rather an odd time for a station launch. Programme organiser Robert McLeish introduced the chimes of Little John from the Council House, Nethercot outlined the plans for the new station and there were short speeches from the Lord Mayor and the Postmaster General Edward Short.  That evening's entertainment consisted of Wednesday Club, which was an early fixture in the schedules billed as "of special interest to the blind" and presented by George Miller. This was followed by the documentary, Snot's Estate, a light-hearted look at the history of the city written by Emrys Bryson of the Evening Post and produced by Tony Church.   

Here's how the Radio Nottingham schedules looked (above) after nearly a year of operation, with the Radio Times listings for the week commencing 11 January 1969. Typically of the early local stations though they broadcast throughout the day, from just before 7.00 am to around 8.00 pm the actual number of hours on air totalled about seven, with various gaps during the day given over to network programmes which, according to the blurb at the top of the page, were taken from Radios 1, 2, 3 and 4. So in between the local programmes you'd have a burst of the JY Prog and The World at One, though I'm not aware they ever switched over to Radio 3.  

This is how BBC Radio Nottingham sounded in its early days together with some later clips from the early 70s:  

There was no breakfast show as such and the early morning schedule had the look of the old Home Service about it with short programmes billed as Town Crier and Morning Town Ride interspersed with the national news, presumably Radio 4's 10-minute bulletins. No presenters are listed but they will have been drawn from the team of presenter/producers who, when the station launched, were Tony Church, Tony Cook (ex. Anglia TV and not to be confused with the Radio Trent/Centre Radio news presenter namesake), Keith Salmon, Colin Walters and Bob Brookes.

The staffing structure in 1968. From The First Ten Years by Trevor Dann
With the introduction of the BBC local stations listeners were finally given the public forum to question those in power, often this was their local councillors, and to seek consumer advice. Two such Nottingham programmes were What Are They Up to Now? and You and the Law. Tony Church presented the first of these programmes and its generally acknowledged that this was the earliest example of a radio phone-in on UK radio.  

London-born Tony Church had ambitions to work in the film industry and had studied at the National Film School and freelanced in sound and lighting jobs before he was called up for his National Service. Moving to Nottingham in 1950 he worked at the Playhouse for 13 years, leaving following  an artistic disagreement with director Tyrone Guthrie. Moving over to the BBC Midlands Region as a producer he joined Radio Nottingham from the start and stayed with the station for 20 years. Tony died in 2006 aged 75.

Page from the 1978 BBC booklet Serving Neighbourhood and Nation
For many years Keith Salmon was the managing editor at BBC Radio Norfolk until his retirement in 1995. He'd joined the BBC in 1961 as a studio manager and in the mid-60s was briefly attached the Radiophonic Workshop (later Radio Nottingham would use Radiophonic-produced themes and jingles including a main logo composed by John Baker). Keith was at Nottingham for a couple of years before moving to Radio Oxford to help launch that station. In 1982 he became the manager at Radio Norfolk.

Colin Walters, listed here as presenting Trademark Nottingham and Sports Preview, is best known as the MD at Manchester's Piccadilly Radio from 1974 to 1991. He'd studied at Nottingham University in the early 60s before a brief spell as a news reporter on the Loughborough Monitor and as Deputy Editor at the Fleet Street Letter. At Radio Nottingham Colin progressed from presenter/producer to deputy manager in 1970 and then manager by 1972. With the arrival of commercial radio he successfully applied for the role of programme controller at Piccadilly. After leaving Manchester he was a consultant and advised on several commercial radio bids. Now retired and living in France.  

Radio Nottingham's answer to Gus Honeybun was Squeg, a squirrel who supposedly lived on 
top of the transmitter at Colwick. Invented by Tony Church, here he's pictured with Gina Madgett.  
Presenting Memories are Made of This and All People was programme organiser Robert McLeish. He'd joined the BBC in 1956 working in the Control Room at 200 Oxford Street. He became a studio manager at Bush House, was attached to Bristol and then worked on music shows on the Light Programme. He took a two-year secondment to the Solomon Islands to run the broadcasting service there. Back in the UK he joined Radio Nottingham and then became head of the local radio Training Unit at the Langham. His final job was as Head of Corporate Management Training before he retired in 1989. He is the author of the book Radio Production, now in its sixth edition.    

At this time the station didn't have its own newsroom and, in common with the other fledging BBC local stations, news bulletins were supplied by local news agency. One of those writing the bulletins was John Hobson (pictured above) over at Bradshaw's News Agency. "Our office was across the city, and the one who drew the short straw had a fifteen-minute walk to the studio carrying the bulletin in a big brown envelope". John had started his journalistic career at Ilkeston Advertiser and then the Ilkeston Pioneer, Wolverhampton Star, Nottingham Evening News and then the Nottingham Post. In 1970 he was asked to form the first BBC local radio station newsroom at Nottingham where he became the news editor. John left the BBC in 1986 to take over the Leicester News Service and later worked as a freelance reporter and media trainer. He died in 2014 aged 76.   

Other names listed in the 1968 schedule include Bob Brookes who'd joined from the Nottingham University's Adult Education Department and would be the main producer in charge of the station's education output and Kit Poxon, previously at Nottingham County Council and who'd later work at Radio Derby.

Providing the Saturday afternoon sports reporting, though not listed here, is likely to have been Colin Slater. A local newspaper journalist he'd joined the station in the summer of 1968 and continued as a match commentator until the end of the 2016/17 season.  

One name I can't overlook is the man would come to define the station during his 28 years at Radio Nottingham. Dennis McCarthy came from an acting family and had ended up in Nottingham when he was evacuated during World War Two. He was a movie collector and a dog breeder of some renown, and it was because of this that he got the chance to make his first broadcast with a report about Crufts within a few days of the station going on air. On the back of his performance he was offered some other freelance report work and eventually some programmes, one of the earliest I can trace is a 15-minute Mapperley Hospital Show. By 1969 he'd got his own show of music and interviews, Date with Dennis which ran for a number of years and he also presented  Take the Lead billed as 'local dog news and the breed of the week'. A regular Sunday show followed - in which he managed to rope in his own family, son Owen (aka Digger) and daughter Tara - and by 1974 he'd gained what would be his regular weekday slot, Afternoon Special, which ran until his untimely death in 1996.  

You can read and hear more about Dennis McCarthy on David Lloyd's Radio Moments blog.  

The Radio Nottingham team will be celebrating 50 years on air this Wednesday and Trevor Dann has compiled a retrospective of the station's history called On the Street Where You Live  Presented by Simon Mayo it was broadcast yesterday and will be availlable to listen again for 29 days.  

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Ed Doolan

For four decades Ed Doolan was one of the broadcasters that defined radio for the listening folk of the West Midlands. An intelligent interviewer, a champion of consumer affairs and with one of the biggest contact books in the business Aussie-born Ed became an honorary Brummie on BRMB and BBC WM. His death was announced today.

Born in 1941 in Sydney, Australia Ed had always wanted to be a broadcaster but his parents had other ideas and were keen for him to have a career in teaching.  But that didn't stop him hanging around the Macquarie Broadcasting audience shows in the 50s and 60s to get his radio fix.

Like many fellow young Australians he chose to pursue his career in the UK and in 1966 he became a teacher in Edinburgh and then London. By 1970 he'd moved across to West Germany as part of an exchange programme and dipped his toe into radio at Deutsche Welle. "Some friends who had contacts in Cologne told me they needed an English voice on German Overseas Radio. Mine was near enough".  His first broadcast was in September of that year on a 15-minute documentary called Hitch-Hikers in Germany. He also presented Afrika-Englisch Current Affairs for Deutsche Welle, Deutschlandfunk English transmissions to Britain and Top Marks School Quiz for the BFBS.     

Ed moved back to the UK and joined the newly launched BRMB station in Birmingham. Initially presenting the weekday afternoon show he later moved into mid-mornings, a timeslot that later would become his natural home for many years. He was keen to hone his craft and took to recording his own shows. "Every night when I go home I listen to every link," he said in 1975. If  something had gone wrong "I will sit and listen to it two or three times until I have put my finger on where it went wrong". Incidentally Ed was a keen home taper and his archive of TV and radio shows have since helped fill some of the gaps left after broadcasters junked their tapes.   

In September 1982 he jumped over to the opposition at BBC WM presenting a show between 12 noon and 1 pm, later on the breakfast show and then a mid-morning show. As well as covering the news stories of the day he would interview many politicians and celebrities - some of those celebrity set piece interviews have enjoyed repeats on Radio 7/4 Extra. By 1988 his programme started to champion the cause of his listeners and he was adept at challenging local government and companies to sort out injustices and shoddy service.  His broadcasting style was, albeit briefly, recognised by network radio when he sat in for Jimmy Young on Radio 2 in 1995 and 1996 but he remained loyal to his West Midlands audience.  He was awarded an MBE for his services to broadcasting and charity, won a Gillard Award and was inducted into the Radio Academy Hall of Fame.

In 2011 he stepped down from his daily show, Lunch with Ed Doolan - at the time he was also presenting a Sunday afternoon show, Ed Doolan: Other Side of - and just retained the Friday show and a new 3-hour Sunday morning show.  In 2015 he announced that he been coping with dementia for a couple of years but he continued to record introductions for a one-hour Sunday show featuring highlights from his big name interviews and radio archive, with the most recent show going out just a few days ago.

This tribute programme aired in 2015 and is presented by Jasper Carrott.

Ed Doolan (E double D double O LAN) 1941-2018

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Can I Take That Again? - Part 4

This post should be subtitled The Sound of Silence. When this week's Jamie Cullum's Radio 2 show was unexpectedly truncated - a beginning and an end but seemingly the middle section had dropped down a digital black hole - and the 'emergency tape' kicked in it didn't go unnoticed; social media and the fact that it's the biggest station in the UK saw to that. [The full pre-recorded version of Jamie's show is no online]  

The use of playout automation and voice-tracking have long been a feature of radio station output and, for the most part, work seamlessly so listeners shouldn't be able to spot the difference. But when Radio 2 adopted the VCS Autoplayer in September 2012 for a while it was a case of 'mind the gap'.

Radio 2 was aiming to make efficiencies and the use of automation was noticeable in the evening and weekend programming when, one assumes, technical staff were thin on the ground. Most of the early teething problems involved the junctions out of news bulletins with the next programmes fired off at exactly three minutes past the hour cutting off newsreaders in their prime. 

The network's problems were compounded when in January 2013 two programmes played out at the same time with Michael Ball and Russell Davies's show both simultaneously competing for about 15 minutes of airtime. Later that year, in October, we got two Bob Harris's for the price of one when the end of BST seemed to send the system haywire.

Here are a few example I collected at the time.

Note the jokey but rather pointed comment from Richard Allinson "normal service ... well that went out the window ages ago" was made around the time in 2012 when the old team of newsreaders was phased out and the automation came in.

The news at 1:10 is very odd. This is Susan Rae, on 23 September 2012, presumably reading the 2-minute 11.00 pm Radio 4 bulletin but on Radio 2! Hence we get a full minute of silence before the trailer kicks in.     

At 6:19 we get part of the infamous Bob Harris show from 27 October 2013 with two parts being played out at once.

At 8:24 it's the Ball/Davies cock-up.

And finally at 12:49 from 22 June 2015 Jeremy Vine signing off and Steve Wright loving a technical fault.

Needless to say Feedback picked up on all the drop -outs. On 28 September 2012 they dealt with one minute silence the previous Sunday night which was blamed on an "internal broadcast circuit" plus other losses of lines on Any Questions? and Today.  The 1 February 2013 edition called Radio 2 controller Bob Shennan to account who puts it down to 'human error'.  

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Sports Report Turns 70

In January 2013 I wrote about Sports Report and Saturday afternoon sports coverage. This month we've now hit the 70th anniversary of that venerable radio institution which has prompted me to have a dig around in my archive and uncover past anniversary editions.

I've previously posted the 40th anniversary edition of Sport on 2 with Peter Jones but this is now uploaded to YouTube.  

For the 50th anniversary there was a special edition of Sport on Five with Ian Payne. It seems I only kept the Sports Report sequence which was pretty much business as usual though there are some reminiscences from Cliff Morgan towards the end.   

On 3 January 2008 Mark Saggers presented a special edition of 5 live Sport to mark the 60th. With Mark thoughout the programme are Des Lynam and the late James Alexander Gordon. You'll also hear Mark Pougatch, Mark Clemmit, the Grimethorpe Colliery Band, Jenny Pitman, Ian Payne, Cornelious Lysaght, Sir Henry Cooper, Sheena Mackay, Pat Nevin, Pat Murphy, Stuart Hall, Tony Adamson, Eleanor Oldroyd, Stuart Jones, Jimmy Armfield and Mike Ingham.  

As for the 70th anniversary last Friday (5th) on 5 live Daily Chris Warburton gathered together some familiar voices, speaking to Mark Pougatch, John Murray, Jim Rosenthal, and producer Mark Williams.

The recording then shifts to Saturday (6th) with the start of 5 live Sport on FA Cup Third Round day presented by Mark Chapman and then Sports Report, just a 30-minute edition to allow for commentary on the evening match between Norwich City and Chelsea. 

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