Thursday, 31 December 2020

Down Your Local - 50 Years of BBC Radio Solent


Happy 50th birthday to BBC Radio Solent. It launched at 6 pm on New Year's Eve (was anybody listening?) with opening words from Earl Mountbatten, the Bishop of Winchester and station manager Maurice Ennals. The first few hours of broadcasting saw the station undertake a Family Favourites-type link up with Australia and Cyprus and welcomed in 1971 with an ambitious musical journey from across Hampshire, providing a challenge for chief engineer Paul Gouldstone.

Launch audio with introduction by David Challis and then Earl Mountbatten.

Radio Solent was based in South Western House on Canute Road in Southampton. A former railway hotel built in 1865 it was requisitioned by the Navy in 1939 as HMS Shrapnel. Post-war it became the home of Cunard and the BBC when they opened a small TV studio in July 1958. Solent's broadcasts on 96.1 MHz VHF only were from a transmitter at Rowridge on the Isle of Wight. Medium wave broadcasts on 301m and a low-power relay on 188m from Grafton Road in Bournemouth were added in 1973. In November 1990 Radio Solent moved into the new Broadcasting House opposite the Civic Centre in Southampton.

The Solent radio car with engineer Pete Sillett,manager Maurice Ennals
and deputy David Challis

Three members of the Solent team were veterans of the BBC's first local station, Radio Leicester. They were manager Maurice Ennals, who left upon his retirement in 1976, programme organiser David Challis, later manager at Humberside and Ken Warburton. Ken had a three month attachment to the Radio 2 presentation department in the summer of 1970 before moving to Solent. 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.

Thought the station officially launched on 31 December it had been making test broadcasts earlier in the month interspersed with live announcements advising anyone listening of the latest SEB power cuts.

Here's the programme schedule for the second full week of broadcasting in January 1971.

Robin Worman joined from Radio Leeds and worked for the station until the early 90s. He would become one of the regular presenters of Solent Today when that started a year or so later.  

Tony Brode was a former Southern Daily Echo journalist who left Solent to work in the newsroom at Bush House and subsequently was a poet and author.

The sports editor was Lawrie Bloomfield. Lawrie was a very experienced newsman who started off as a cub reporter in the 1950s on the Portsmouth Evening News. He made occasional broadcasts on Radio Newsreel and in the 60s ran a Portsmouth based news agency. At Solent in 1972 he replaced Peter Curwin as the news editor when Peter moved to the central newsroom in London and then was appointed Programme Organiser. Lawrie was Radio Lincolnshire's second station manager from 1982 and a couple of years later transferred to Radio Shropshire as launch manager. Retiring in 1994 he was awarded an MBE and continued to train journalists through the Thomson Foundation as well as working freelance for his old station. He died in 2014.

Bill Lyon was on through to 1981 followed by a short stint on Radio 2 as a newsreader. From about 1988 known as Katherine Alexandra Lyon. 

Jeff Link had joined the BBC in 1965 as a studio manager. After Solent he was a Senior Instructor in the BBC's Training Unit and spent a number of years as a radio producer and media trainer, running Linkmultimedia since 2002. Jeff was a regular contributor to Cardboard Shoes' Skues Me on BBC Radio Norfolk.

Others at the station at that time included Patsy Murrell, who presented Fair Deal the magazine show for women, Jean Thorpe, Keith Jay,  education producer John Saunders and David Freeman (later on Radio Oxford and Jazz FM).

The news team included Tim Hurst (later on South Today and Central News), Brian Collins and Chris Cramer (later in the newsrooms at BBC South and then London).  

Working behind the scenes as Gram Librarian was Seán Street. Seán went on to become a station assistant and then presenter on programmes such as drivetime show Home Straight. He left in 1976 taking up teaching poetry and drama before joining the new ILR station 2CR in Bournemouth when it launched in 1980. From 1987 to 2011 he taught radio production at Bournemouth University and has written extensively about radio and produced a number of poetry volumes, the latest The Sound of a Room published earlier this year. This clip of Seán interviewing Sir Arthur Bliss in 1973 has recently surfaced on YouTube.

The presenter of Link a programme "for, by and about blind people of the Solent area" isn't listed but one of the early presenters was  Peter White, one of the station's longest serving broadcasters. Peter has been reporting for and then presenting Radio 4's In Touch since 1973 and on You and Yours since 1999. He was dropped by Radio Solent in 2006.  

Moving on to the week commencing 8 February 1975 the main change to the schedule is the addition of a new mid-morning show Piper's Tune with John Piper. John left Solent in 1980 as programme controller for 2CR before retiring to Spain about 10 years later.

On Saturday afternoon is the station's long-running gardening programme Topsoil. For many years its presenter was Joe Backhouse but later it was presented by Pippa Greenwood, familiar to TV viewers form Gardener's World and Radio 4 listeners to Gardener's Question Time. Topsoil ended in 2006.

Presenting Beat 'n' Track on Thursday evening was Gethyn Jones. Gethyn was with Solent from February 1972 initially in the record library and stayed for 25 years presenting a number of shows including a rock programme and the weekday afternoon show. Later at Radio Victory and The Quay he's now a web designer. This is a short clip from a 1977 edition. You can hear a couple of 1976 shows on Mixcloud. 

A previous presenter of Beat 'n' Track was Richard Skinner who joined Solent in October 1971 having helped set up Portsmouth Hospital Broadcasting the previous year. Richard went off to Radio 1's Newsbeat in 1973.         

Richard Cartridge (pictured above) is another name long associated with Radio Solent. He first broadcast on the station in the mid-70s and in the early 80s hosted the mid-morning show Happening Now where his on air conversations with Sylv Willoughby were a programme highlight. He had a secondment to Radio 2 in 1981 as a newsreader and announcer but left the BBC in the late 80s to tread that well worn path over to 2CR. Back on Solent in 1991 through to 2006 when he, like Peter White, was also dropped. In February 2011 Richard was again invited back to Solent presenting a Sunday afternoon show until earlier this year. He retired in June and spoke to Alex Dyke about his life and career. He died just 10 weeks later. A Radio Solent Special Our Friend Richard presented by his daughter Lucy was broadcast last Sunday.   

Here's how the programme line-up looked in the winter of 1980 by which time Brian Collins, Pam Gillard (who'd also been on Radio Humberside), Heather Lynn (later a TV announcer for the BBC and TVS), Nick Girdler (34 years on Solent until he left in 2006 and remembered for the kid's show Albert's Gang) and Sandi Jones are listed. 

Sandi Jones started broadcasting with the British Forces Broadcasting Services team in Cologne which is how she ended up being on the German end of Family Favourites in 1970. By 1973 she was the main presenter at the London end, taking over from Michael Aspel. From 1975 she was also heard on the BBC World Service's request show which ran for ten years. She was on Solent from 1978 to 2001.

Sandi Jones is one of the people featured in this BBC South report on the station from January 1996.

In 2010 for the station's 40th anniversary Neil Sackley produced this retrospective:

Also on BBC Radio Solent were:

Julian Clegg: presenter of the breakfast show for 22 years who retired in December 2019. This is his swansong:

Debbie Thrower: newsreader on Meridian Tonight and BBC TV Debbie was on Solent in the early 80s having moved from Radio Leicester. She was Radio 2's afternoon presenter 1995-98 having taken over the show from Gloria Hunniford.

Dennis Skillicorn: a reporter with a special interest in all things nautical and presenter of the Open Waters programme. A tribute to Dennis (who died in 2017) by Neil Sackley is on the Radio Solent website here. 

Lee McKenzie: horse racing commentator (TV , radio and course) he was on Solent from 1980 to the mid-90s and for a few years co-presented Sunday Scene with Sandi Jones.  

Pam Spriggs: on Solent in the late 80s having previously worked for Radio Victory, Radio 210 and Southern Sound. Later on Three Counties Radio, Pirate FM and Radio Cornwall from where she retired in 2018. 

Blair Jacobs: on the early show in the mid-90s before moving to Radio Humberside.

Peter Gore: late 70s to 1981 then helped launch Radio Jersey, later on Radio Derby.

Bill Buckley: one of Esther's boys on That's Life he started regular radio work on Solent 1989-91 before moving onto South Coast Radio, LBC, Radio Oxford and other BBC locals. On Radio Berkshire since 2016. 

Kevin Greening: a station assistant he had a Saturday morning show in 1988. Left in 1989 for bigger things at GLR and then Radio 1.

Ricky Salmon: with the station 1995-99 having previously worked for Southern Radio and LBC. For 15 years a newsreader on Radio 2 and runs the voiceover agency Big Fish Media.

James Lush: mid-90s to 1999 presenter and sports reporter. Left (dismissed) and went on to form media consultancy business Great Beginnings Ltd.

Richard Williams: on the station for 18 years before leaving in 1999 to work for Ocean FM.

Jean-Paul Hansford: on Solent 1995-97 having worked at Radio York, Ocean Sound, Isle of Wight Radio, 2CR and Fox FM. After Solent returned to the Isle of Wight then Connect FM and Mood 92 in Jordan. Founded TIBA Radio in Egypt and Audioforte

Neil Sackley: worked at the BBC since 1997 having previously been on Radio Northampton, Northants Radio, BRMB and Xtra AM.

Jon Cuthill: on the station 1999-10 before presenting BBC South's Inside Out current affairs programme.

Rev Tim Daykin: presented the Sunday breakfast show 2003-2020.

Sally Taylor: had a Saturday show 2007-2011. Long time presenter of South Today.

Katie Martin: working for the BBC since 2006 and on Solent from 2009.

Alex Dyke: known for his Wall of Sound and Bubblegum and Cheese shows Alex has been with Solent since 2010. He's also appeared on Radio Victory, Luxy, Ocean Sound, Northsound, The Quay as well as working in the States. 

Richard Latto: came to Solent in 2006 having been at Radio Devon, Radio Jersey and Plymouth Sound. Presents Stereo Underground and has produced a number of documentaries for the station including the 50th anniversary programme broadcast today. Also runs Trophy Gold Media. 

Sasha Twining: on Solent 2009-19 previously KLFM, LBC, Sky News as well as BBC TV and ITV continuity announcer and Russia Today news anchor. Currently on BBC World Service.

One person who enjoyed two spells at Solent was David Dunning (pictured above at the Southsea Show). He grew up in Southampton and at the age of 8 was a bit obsessed with ITV. One day he said to his mum how nice it would be if there was a Southern TV radio. She told him there was and she believed it was called Solent. It was the obvious place for work experience when he was 16 and he ended up staying there moving from tape reclaimer to station assistant and presenter by the age of 18, leaving in 1987. During that initial spell he was asked to take a turn on Radio 2's weekend early show over four weekends in 1985, probably the network's youngest presenter. After Solent he moved north to Radio York where he presented the breakfast show for seven years. 

David returned to Southampton in 1995 for a couple of years as deputy editor and host of Solent Today. He was responsible for introducing the David Arnold composed LBC jingle package that had run in London in 1986 and was lying on the shelves. It was still in use ten years later. Then it was back to Radio York where he also presented the Late Night North and became news editor. He then worked for the York Press, as news editor at Minster FM and now at York Mix.

Here are some Solent jingles and idents from the 70s and 80s.

Recalling his time at Radio Solent in the 1980s David says: "it was a bit of a broadcasting museum with old Mark 2 desks and bays of telephone exchange plugs. There were many things that needed two people to operate like putting one call on air after another. Although South Western House was steeped in maritime history and had brilliant views of the port, it was not the perfect place for a radio station. However the range of programmes produced from there was incredible. Solent Today, a flagship news programme in the morning and current affairs at lunchtime with Viewpoint stand out in my memory as really ambitious".

"The news output in the 1980s was lead by first Steve Panton  (ex. Radio Nottingham and went on to manage Radio Solent and then GLR) and then Henry Yelf (who was later editor at Radio Berkshire) Solent News broke story after story and its coverage of the Falklands War was a lifeline to the various military families in the south. The BBC’s America Editor Job Sopel started as a Solent producer as did Special Correspondent Alan Little and PM presenter Carolyn Quinn".

"The presentation team were all easily of Radio 4 standard, celebrated blind journalist Peter White, already on that network too, amazing as he felt his way round the controls. A man who taught me so much about talk radio while I fed the calls through to him from the ops room desk. Gethyn Jones had an encyclopaedic knowledge of music and was my radio ‘older brother’ calming me down and helping me develop and understand that “Rome wasn’t built in a day” when it came to radio careers".

"Radio Solent was an interesting mix of Radio 2 and Radio 4 style programming during the day. There were blocks of all talk followed by entertainment shows. As an SA in the afternoon in the 80s you became a continuity announcer in the afternoon introducing diverse shows such as All One Family (religion), the fabulous Film Focus with Phil Molyneux and The 78s Show too, a trip way past the entrance to my memory lane. I also got to do my first news reading too in those days.  Literally ripping it off the printer and reading it. At 18 I sounded a lot older apparently.  My first proper chance to present a programme came when the stand-in presenter on the Heather Lynn show was delayed.  There was nobody else so I went on and bravely worked my way through a menu of items likely to interest the women of the south".

David concludes by saying: "I owe a lot to the team of 1981-87. Without them helping me, trusting me, guiding me and sometimes shouting at me I think my life would have been very different. I’m not sure it’s possible in today’s BBC to work your way up like that. And the support continued during my return as output editor which was stressful and demanding Without the wise words of Sylv Willoughby and Wendy Collins, a 32 year old me would have probably caused even more chaos than I did".

Some other voices on Radio Solent over the years include: Hugh Ashley, Jonathan Copus, Chris McLoughlin, Nikki O'Donnell, Stuart Norval (now at France 24), Kieran McGeary (now CEO at Cork's 96FM & C103), Grant Coleman (sports editor, later deputy Head of Sport for the English Regions), Nikki O'Donnell (now a senior news editor BBC East), Gerry Didymus, Andy Moon, Alun Newman, Lou Hannan, Pat Sissons, Paul Miller, David Allen, Lucy Ambache, Sam Fraser, Steph Newenhouse, Rebecca Parker, Steve Harris.   

To celebrate 50 years on air Radio Solent is broadcasting an audio soundscape at noon today.

With thanks to David Ballard and David Dunning.


Unknown said...

Brilliant. I was trying to remember the old names from my childhood, and you've got them all here. 👌

Andy H said...

Can I echo what David Dunning has written.
I was also on work experience at Radio Solent in 1985, just for a week, but that has lead me to working on the engineering side in broadcasting ever since.
36 years later I still owe a lot to that crumbling old building in Canute Road, and the wonderful team at Solent.

Andy Hame

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