Friday, 18 December 2020

Down Your Local - 50 Years of BBC Radio Kent


Happy 50th birthday today to BBC Radio Kent.

The station started life as Radio Medway broadcasting on 97.0 MHz VHF (and on Rediffusion Channel B in Maidstone) from studios on Chatham's High Street. Test transmissions could be heard earlier in December 1970 broadcasting Radio 1's programmes interspersed with local news bulletins and the occasional music show. Recordings of some of these tests have survived hidden amongst the Radio 1 archive material that was taped at the time.

Most of the BBC local stations opened with a word from the manager or some local dignitary but not Radio Medway. It went to town with a gala night introduced by Henry Hall (he of Here's to the Next Time with the BBC Dance Orchestra fame), a soundscape of the Medway, a community sing-a-long, a classical concert and a link-up with Radio 2.

Station manager Harold Rogers - a producer with 30 years experience on both the Home Service and Light Programme - obviously called in a few favours to pull together the opening Gala 97. Alongside Henry Hall there was Peter Brough and Archie Andrews, Frank Chacksfield, Georgie Fame, Bruce Forsyth, David Kossoff, Vera Lynn, Tessie O'Shea, Dorothy Squires and Wout Steenhuis. A number of national BBC staff appeared too: Frank Gillard, Tony Blackburn, Alan Dell, Franklin Engelmann, Roger Moffat, Ray Moore, Keith Skues and Bruce Wyndham. The station's programme organiser was Denis Lewell, also a former Light Programme/Radio 2 producer, who had at one time worked with both Henry Hall and Peter Brough

The Medway - a picture in words and sound of our river, the port and the townships along its banks - was presented by Trevor Taylor, one of the station's news team. Trevor would go on to be a network radio producer and for many years produced Gardeners' Question Time.    

Sing Along With Us featured Reg Simpson at the organ and was produced by Geoff Leonard. Geoff's radio experience was all behind the scenes. He'd joined the BBC as a junior engineer in 1941 in the Birmingham control room, later at 200 Oxford Street, a Studio Manager for the Features department and attachments to TV presentation, TV news and the BFN as a producer before the move to Radio Leeds as a production assistant and then engineer. Geoff was at Medway from 1970 until his retirement in 1980. He died in 2004.

Medway's star name and host of the breakfast show was Jimmy Mack. Greenock-born Mack worked as a sales rep for an insurance company whilst helping out at the Edinburgh Hospital Radio Service which led to him joining the team on the LV Comet disc jockeying on the pirate Radio Scotland. Following the closure of most of the offshore stations he worked for the BBC in Glasgow as well as making occasional appearances on Radio 1 Club and welcoming Radio 1 and Radio 2 listeners into 1970 on Night Ride (co-produced by Harold Rogers). He moved down to Kent in 1970 for the launch of Radio Medway where he was the breakfast guy for six years and then on the mid-morning show for another two. He headed back north in 1979 to join BBC Radio Scotland, taking over the mid-morning show from Tom Ferrie. Jimmy also appeared on Radio 2 introducing shows with the Scottish Radio Orchestra and on BBC TV, STV and Grampian. Joining the newly launched Clyde 2 in 1990 he remained with the station for the next fourteen years, initially at breakfast (for 8 years) and then early evenings, weekend breakfast and lastly a Saturday night show. Jimmy died in 2004.

The first post-launch Radio Times schedule I've got dates from the week commencing 11 May 1974.   

No Jimmy Mack this week, presumably taking a week off. Looking after things at breakfast was Michael Lucas (is this the same Michael Lucas who would eventually head up Channel Television?). Michael also presented Playback on Saturday afternoons which reviewed the new releases on that cutting edge of technology, audio cassettes and cartridges. 

On weekdays we have an hour of melodic music - later that year the station would join Radio 2 at this time - and Playride, their version of Listen with Mother. The magazine show Talk of Many Things presumably didn't talk about that many things as it lasted just 15 minutes. The presenter, Coral Haddon, was a one-time regular contributor to Radio 4's Home This Afternoon.   

The programme at 11.05 on Monday's is fascinating as its presented by Ted Allbeury. If you know your offshore radio history you'll know Ted's name. He was the former British intelligence officer who set up an advertising agency and then got involved in running the sweet music station Radio 390 from the Red Sands Fort. His company, Estuary Radio Ltd, was successfully prosecuted under the 1949 Wireless Telegraphy Act. Allbeury went on to manage Britain Radio, renaming it Radio 355 until the Marine Offences Act came into force in the summer of 1967. By the time he was on Radio Medway he'd already written his first novel and went on to write over 40 spy stories and thrillers until his death in 2005. In 1979 Allbeury appeared on Desert Island Discs.  

The station's lunchtime bulletins, Midway, and teatime bulletins, Newstide, were under the editorship of Langley Brown. Brown had long been a print journalist, starting off in his native Yorkshire on the Halifax Daily Courier. In the 1960s he moved abroad to join the Rhodesia Herald in Salisbury, then later the Central Africa Post and Times of Zambia. He gained some radio experience with the Rhodesian Federal Broadcasting Corporation and Zambia Broadcasting Corporation. Brown became the news editor at Medway when it started. One of his programme ideas was the monthly M2KA, devised for and presented by Kent County Constabulary. This recording dates from December 1976.    

Notoriously Langley Brown was briefly suspended from his job following a complaint to the DG that he'd referred on air to PM Margaret Thatcher as an Ice Matron and mentioned that yet again she'd refused to do an interview with the BBC despite it having been cleared locally with her campaign team. He retired from BBC Radio Kent in 1986 and died in 2018.

Extract from 1977 BBC booklet Serving Neighbourhood and Nation

At 4pm on weekdays it was David Cornet who was on the station for nearly 20 years, in later years on at weekend with David Cornet's Weekend and Home in Kent. He joined Radio 3 in 1990 as a presenter and announcer and was still reading the news on the station until about 3 years ago.  

Brian Faulkner, listed here for Sunday Special, stayed with Radio Kent until the late 80s. He joined the BBC after founding Hospital Radio Medway in 1970.

Presenting what was possibly radio's only answer to The Sky at Night called Observatory was Peter Shoesmith. Quite how local astronomers looked at the night sky in sound only is unclear. Peter was a former tv announcer (both BBC and ITV) who would be a familiar voice on the BBC World Service throughout the 1970s as a newsreader and announcer. Fellow World Service announcer George Eason also appeared on Radio Medway.  

Medway's sports coverage, such as Weekend Special and Out and About, was under the control of sports editor George Pixley who was with the station for about a decade. Co-presenting Sportsround with George on Sunday morning was Dudley Moore, not to be confused with one half of Pete 'n' Dud.  

You'll spot the name of Colin Slade on a couple of programmes: Poster's Pick and the rock show Overdrive. Young Colin had got the job after initially hanging round the station making tea and doing tape reclamation. He'd studied at the Medway and Maidstone College of Technology and helped out at the local hospital radio. "My first broadcast came about because of a duff transmitter valve which put Radio Medway off the air, resulting in an hour's precious needletime in hand. I asked to do a one-off rock show to use up the needletime. That one show became a series that ran for over three year  and was really responsible for my broadcasting career". Colin joined Radio Hallam in 1974 in time becoming the Presentation Controller. He was then at Classic Gold, Planet Rock and Exeter FM until (albeit temporarily) leaving broadcasting in 2010. He's now a Devon County Councillor and Mayor of Tiverton. Unable to keep away from radio Colin now has a Sunday afternoon show on Radio Exe.   

There were a few Medway broadcasters who made it onto national radio. Colin Berry was with the station in the early 70s before joining the promotions  team at Radio 1 and then in September 1973 the presentation team at Radio 2.

Barbara Sturgeon joined in 1983 after winning a DJ competition on the station the previous year. She remained with Kent until 2004 except for the period from January 1992 to December 1993 when she hosted Radio 2's weekend breakfast shows. 

Sports commentator Bob Ballard joined the station in 1983 presenting the Saturday afternoon sports coverage Out and About as well as the weekday drivetime show. From Kent he moved on to Radio York, GLR, Sheffield and the local radio sports unit in London. From 1997 to 2012 Bob worked a sports reporter and commentator for Radio 5 live, since then he's worked freelance as RHB Productions Ltd and for talkSport.

Mohit Dutta, better known as Mo Dutta, joined Radio Kent in 1991 before Radio 2 beckoned in 1995 and where, for the next 14 years he presented the weekend early show.

Jazz broadcaster Helen Mayhew had worked at Radio Devon before shifting over to Kent in the late 80s. Helen joined Jazz FM when it started in 1990 and took over from Sheila Tracy on Radio 2's Big Band Special as well as presenting Radio 3's Jazz Line-Up (both 2004 and 2006). Currently Helen can be heard on Jazz FM's Late Night Jazz.    

Making the move from Radio 2 to Radio Kent was Don Durbridge. A Radio 2 announcer and presenter from 1974 Don had a couple of spells in Kent in the early 80s and again 1988-92. Read more about Don in my 2012 blog post. 

Nick Page, shown above in 1974 schedules as a co-presenter of the programme for "young people of Kent" Look Out would move to LBC, Radio Wales and then Radio 2 from 1979 to 1992.

Pat Marsh (Photo credit Alison Morton)

Radio Kent's longest-serving presenter is Pat Marsh who joined the station in 1984. Pat's interest in radio started in hospital radio in Dulwich then working providing shows for stores in central London and as a DJ on a cruise ship. Sending an audition tape to Radio Kent's manager Clive Lawrence he got some holiday cover for John Thurston and in time was given a Saturday morning show. That show continued until 1992 but by 1986 he was also on weekday mid-mornings and has continued to present a daily show ever since. More on Pat's website here.

Here's another 1974 schedule this time for the week commencing 2 November. There are some small schedule changes that mainly include the reliance on BBC Radio London to act as a sustaining service. So we get Richard Vaughan in the afternoons, Robbie Vincent in the evening and some of their specialist music shows such as Breakthrough and All that Jazz.  

On Saturday mornings Teen Scene the producer is credited as Rodney Lucas. Rod was with the station for about 15 years and in July 1983 had the distinction of being the last voice on Radio Medway and the first on Radio Kent. He's worked for numerous radio stations, BBC and commercial and his Best Smooth Jazz shows are syndicated worldwide. He founded The Radio School and the news agency Broadcast News.  

Other broadcasters who have appeared on BBC Radios Medway and Kent over the years include (and this list is by no means exhaustive so additions are welcome):

Peter Glanville: an education producer later on Radio Norfolk

John Thurston: with the station mid-70s to mid-80s before moving to Radio Norfolk. 

Howard Leader: actor and broadcaster on Essex Radio from 1983 and then Invicta, Radio Kent and Radio Lincolnshire from 2000.

Clare McDonnell: co-presented the breakfast show with John Warnett 2010-2014. Previously on GLR, 6 Music and currently on 5 live.  

John Warnett: on the station for 31 years, 23 of those on weekday breakfast, before retiring in October. Here's the last hour of his show on 24 October.

Dave Brown: on Medway/Kent 1980-87 presenting a number of programmes but best known for a night time soul show which had grown out of the earlier The Disco Scene. Also on Orwell, Saxon, Invicta and Vibe FM. Latterly on Solar Radio.  Part of one of Dave's show from 1982 is here on Soundcloud.

Kevin Steele: with the station throughout the 1980s with a long run on the weekday breakfast show.

Ian McGregor: with Kent 1988-97. Also on Channel Travel Radio and since 2000 the MD of Just Talking Communications marketing and PR agency.

Andy Garland (pictured above): joined as a broadcast assistant in 1994. Presented the Sunday night youth show The Alternative but is best known for Sunday Gardening in the late 90s and again from 2007.   

Dominic King: born in Kent he worked for a number of commercial stations in the south east before joining the station as a newsreader in 2001.

Erika North: with Radio Kent since 2014 having previously appeared on Heart (1995-2014) and winning a Sony Award for her breakfast show. Also on Classic Gold breakfast with Tony Blackburn.

Dave Cash: broadcasting legend Dave (pirate Radio London, Radio 1, Capital, Radio West, Invicta, Capital Gold etc) joined in 1999 presenting Dave Cash Country and The Dave Cash Countdown until his sudden death in 2016.

Roger Day: another ex-pirate DJ (also UBN, Piccadilly, Invicta etc) who was on Radio Kent from 2007 with his evening shows networked across the south east. Programmes dropped as part of the schedule shake-up earlier this year. Currently broadcasts from his studio in Spain on Caroline Flashback and Delux Radio.     

Daryl Denham: first on Radio Kent 1994-95 before moving to Hallam. Later on Heart, Virgin, Century, Real Radio, Smooth before coming back to Kent in 2015.

Julia George: mid-morning show presenter since 2010.

Matt Davison: sports presenter on Saturday afternoon coverage The Sports Hub 1995-2013.

Sean Rowley: Guilty Pleasures founder formerly on BBC Radio London before starting Saturday night The Joy of Music shows in 2009 which ended earlier this year.  

Some other voices heard on Radio Kent include Dave Austin, Graham Cooke, Julie First, Bill Dod and Jonathan Witchell. 

With thanks to David Ballard

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thanks Andy - an excellent write up , and bringing back some great memories of my early days in radio. As one who was there on 18th December 1970 - many congratulations to all at BBC Radio Kent (it will always be Medway to me). I stayed until summer 1974 before defecting to commercial radio and Radio Hallam (Sheffield).

Colin Slade

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