Tuesday 3 July 2018

Down Your Local - BBC Radio Durham

The eighth of the BBC's experimental local stations opened in Durham fifty years ago today. It enjoyed just a tad over four years on air, its final fate sealed by the introduction of two neighbouring stations based in Middlesbrough and Newcastle.

In January 1962 Durham had hosted one of the closed circuit experiments that Frank Gillard instigated to convince the government and the BBC of the need for local hometown radio. Six years later when the Corporation was still trying to get political, and financial, buy-in from local authorities   for a full broadcast service it was a toss-up between Lincoln and Durham. In the event Lincoln had to wait until 1980 for its station and another large potential player, Manchester, dropped out of the running so resources that had been earmarked for the city were shifted up to Durham.        

Radio Durham launched on 3 July 1968 on 96.8MHz (it later shifted to 94.5MHz) from studios based in Merryoaks on the southern edge of the city in an old country house called Park House (pictured above). At the time the property belonged to the National Coal Board and nowadays houses the St Cuthbert's Hospice. 

The station was officially launched by Edward Short, the former Postmaster General who'd just taken up the post of Education Secretary and was a former Durham University student. The station used the theme The Lambton Worm, a tune based on the Durham folklore story of John Lambton. The first station manger was Kenneth Brown who was succeeded by Tim Pitt who later was Radio Carlisle's first station's manager before moving on to manage Radio Sheffield.     

Tony Baynes at the controls
Typical of the early local stations Radio Durham offered a variety of short programmes totalling about six or seven hours each day but in between times dipping in and out of the national programmes on Radio 2 and Radio 4 . It's breakfast opt-out from Today was The Daily Durham and the teatime news round-up Durham Tonight. There were the usual smattering of record request shows, coverage of local events, consumer news, children's programmes, sports news and its own version of Women's Hour called Bird's Eye View. Reflecting the areas' industrial cultural heritage meant the station gave prominence to farming , with regular livestock prices and a weekly review in  The Durham Farmer, and mining with coverage of the Durham Miners' Gala and performances from colliery and other brass bands in The Town, The Place and The Music (and later in Brasstime). Being just a stone's throw away from the university it also offered budding student broadcasters airtime on University Term Time - future BBC news correspondent  Gavin Hewitt was one such student.      

Here's an early Radio Times schedule for the week commencing 5 October 1968.    

Best known of the Radio Durham alumni was Kate Adie (pictured below) who spent a couple of years at the station before moving on to Radio Bristol. Her initial broadcast was supposedly reporting on a pigeon race. "My own minor part in this was to be stuffed into a pigeon loft on the outskirts of Ferryhill with the birds' owner."

Other broadcasters heard on the station include:
  • Mike Hollingsworth - had worked as a newspaper journalist and for BBC TV in Newcastle and Anglia TV before joining Radio Leicester in late 1967. At BBC Radio Durham he presented the opening programme.  Moved down 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. 
  • Eileen McCabe - a former Northern Echo journalist who joined Radio Durham and moved on to Radio Newcastle. At Tyne-Tees Television she was a presenter and producer went on to be one of the anchors of Northern Life. Died in 2015.
  • Barbara Bailey - presenter of the station's answer to Down Your Way called Barbara's Travels.
  • Nigel Holmes - went to work at Radio Carlisle (later Radio Cumbria). Becoming a lay minister from 1985 to 2010 he worked for the Diocese of Carlisle.
  • John Forrest - moved to Radio Manchester in 1970 then LBC, Thames TV and BBC Network radio mainly producing religious programmes. Was a director on Songs of Praise.  
  • John Jefferson - moved over to Radio Carlisle, became Programme Organiser at Radio Humberside and then station manager at York and Leeds.
  • Geoffrey Lally - the programme organiser
  • Laurie Giles - a former teacher he was a music presenter with Radio Durham with a particular interest in classical music. Later appeared on Metro Radio and GNR.
  • Ken Franks - transferred over to Radio Carlisle/Cumbria later at Radio Guernsey and finally BBC Wiltshire Sound.
  • Tony Baynes - later had a long association with Radio Teesside (Cleveland)
  • David Self - listed as presenting Write About in the 1970 schedule below. A teacher and then lecturer he began to work freelance for the BBC mainly as a drama writer and feature maker for BBC Schools.
  • Keith Proud - later on Radio Teesside (Cleveland)
  • Geoff Coates - moved to Radio Carlisle and was Metro Radio's first Programme Controller.
  • John Stoker - later on Metro Radio.
  • John Pickles - moved into management firstly as head of radio at BBC Scotland, then station manager at Radio Birmingham (later WM) and Radio Hereford and Worcester
  • Chris Lewis - moved to Radio Carlisle (Cumbria)
  • Anna Duffy - the programme assistant for education
  • Ernie Brown, a news reporter who went on to work for Radio Teesside
  • David Broomfield - former Home Service and Radio newsreader who joined the station in 1972 and then moved over to Radio Carlisle. 
  • Philip Penfold
  • David Ward
  • John Reynolds
  • Peter Hawkins
This schedule from 30 May 1970 shows in some detail how the station weaved its service in between Radios 1, 2 and 4.

This documentary charts the history of Radio Durham. It appears to date from 1971 but I have no idea of the exact date but the narrator is Chris Lewis. (Thanks to Ken Franks for identifying him).

This schedule dates from 20 February 1971.

Following the opening on Radio Teesside on 31 December 1970 and Radio Newcastle on 2 January 1971 Radio Durham was effectively squeezed out and closed on Friday 25 August 1972. The Government had capped the number of BBC local stations at twenty and it was felt that the proximity of the neighbouring stations would hinder the expansion of the remaining proposed areas. This is how the  BBC Year Book reported the news: "The BBC took the decision to close down Radio Durham and to replace it with Radio Carlisle. It was felt that although Radio Durham had provided an excellent and worthwhile service since its opening in 1968, the arrival of Radio Newcastle and Radio Teesside had proved that there was no need for three stations in the North east. The whole of Radio Durham's area has now been duplicated by one or other of these stations. Radio Carlisle, however, will from its opening in 1973 fill a broadcasting gap in its locality. "

The station closed with a concert recorded a Durham Cathedral followed by The Programme to End All Programmes, 3 hours of  "nostalgia, reminiscences, humour and entertainment from one thousand five hundred and fifteen days of local broadcasting".

With thanks to David Ballard.

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