Tuesday, 26 January 2021

Down Your Local - 50 Years of BBC Radio Lancashire

It's a happy 50th birthday today to BBC Radio Lancashire. The station opened as BBC Radio Blackburn from studios in a converted motorcycle showroom on King Street in Blackburn. The signal was beamed out on 96.4MHz from a VHF transmitter at Hameldon Hill near Accrington covering Clitheroe, Colne, Nelson, Burnley, Rawtenstall, Bacup and Darwen as well as Blackburn and Accrington.  A medium wave service on 351m was added in 1972 and the station expanded to cover the whole of Lancashire - hence its name change - in 1981. By 1988 the station had moved into custom built studios on Darwen Street in addition to the ancillary studio in Preston that had opened in 1980.

Like many of the local stations that opened in late 1970/early 1971 they made some unplanned pre-launch broadcasts. Long-time Radio Lancashire broadcaster Gerald Jackson remembers: "it was the bleak winter of 1970, with all the power cuts going on. We came on before Christmas with no furniture and no electricity, to give people the emergency power bulletins - news of when the power cuts were going to hit certain areas. We were running on batteries and standing in front of the microphones with clipboards and candles. But those bulletins were invaluable to listeners."

The original team were brought together under the management of John Musgrave and his deputy, programme organiser, Jack Thompson. Radio Blackburn went on air at midday on Tuesday 26 February 1970 with an opening announcement from the familiar voice of North Home Service announcer Tom Naisby. Naisby was Blackburn born and bred and joined the BBC in 1946 as a Manchester-based announcer and then head of presentation, retiring in December 1969. Tom died in September 1972.    

As usual the resources of the Radiophonic Workshop were called upon to provide a station theme. Radio Blackburn's was composed by Elizabeth Parker.

The first programme was the news magazine First Edition presented by Sue Cox. The first record played Ashton, Gardner and Dyke's The Resurrection Shuffle. On a normal weekday the station offered something different to the other BBC local stations with a what we now term sequence programming and at the time Musgrave called "one long programme" with a selection of different presenters. This was a radical shift away from the then accepted practice of more built programmes and there is the suggestion that the open plan office space created in the old showroom encouraged a greater exchange and pooling of ideas and production techniques.    

The tentpoles of the schedule were the breakfast programme First Edition, the lunchtime version Second Edition and at teatime, yes you've guessed it, Third Edition. In between these was Morning Mixture (9.30 am to midday), This Afternoon (2 to 4 pm). The early evening programmes were a phone-in Phone Forum and specialist music shows before joining Radio 2. First Edition remained as the morning show title into the 1980s, later becoming First Thing and then Lancashire Today. By the mid-70s the midday sequence was replaced by Grapevine and Newstime and the drivetime edition by Roundabout and a news round-up called Spotlight.   

Presenters listed in that first week included Stuart Whaley, education producer Dave Clegg, Ruth Prince, Keith Daniels, Judith Bunker, John Mills and Gerald Jackson. The news team consisted of the  editor Mike Hoskin (later manager of Radio Cornwall), Steve Ireland (now a partner in The Geeky Group), Allan Muirhead, Chris Bates and John Knight.

John Mills began his radio career as a volunteer on the Gilbert and Ellis Islands in the Pacific. On his return to the UK he joined Radio Blackburn in 1970. In 1976 he moved to East Anglia to produce and report on the VHF opt-out show Roundabout East Anglia. When Radio Norfolk started in 1980 he presented and produced a number of programmes as well as working for Radio 4's disability programme Does He Take Sugar? and for the World Service. John died in 2006.

Gerald Jackson has been with the station man and boy. He did a short spell over at Radio Leeds before joining the Blackburn team in late 1970 and has been there ever since. More recently he has taken on wider responsibilities as the Station Sound Manager for the BBC local stations and his weekly Unforgettable show with music from the pre-rock 'n' roll era ran for over thirteen years with his last show, before going into semi-retirement, airing in December. This is how Gerald's final Unforgettable sounded, though the show has continued with John Gilmore.   

Moving on a couple of years here's the schedule for the week commencing 6 January 1973.

One of the presenters of First Edition and Second Edition is David Broomfield. He was a former Home Service and Radio 4 newsreader/announcer who was then on Radio Durham before moving across to Blackburn and then up to Radio Carlisle.  

Another presenter listed here is Max Easterman who went on to work for the BBC in Manchester as a producer on the influential current affairs show File on 4 then later presenting Radio 4's Europhile and The World Tonight. He's now a media trainer and continues to write about and play jazz.

Other broadcasters here include the late Fletcher Richardson, who, despite his Geordie origins, became known as Mr Radio Lancashire and appeared on the station from 1972 to 1985. With the sports coverage is journalist Keith McNee who also wrote for the Burnley Express, Lancashire Evening Telegraph and the Burnley Evening Star.

On Friday night is the programme aimed at Blackburn's significant Asian population Mehfil (meaning 'get together'). It was one of British radio's first programmes in Urdu and Gujerati and for many years was presented by Nasim Bajwa and Siraj Patel. It ran for about 30 years.  

Extract from 1977 BBC booklet Serving Neighbourhood and Nation

Other voices you'll have heard on Radio Blackburn in the 1970s included Pat Gibson (also on Red Rose Radio and Bay FM), Wendy Howard, Mike Smith, Graham Harwood, Trevor Hall, Ralph Elphinstone, Nigel Sharples, Steve Gordon (later on Voice of Peace, Caroline, Sunshine Radio and Radio Nova), David Turpin, John Knight, Anthea Boulton (ex Granada TV), Judith Roberts, Phil Smith, Phil Scott, Garry Selfridge, Brian Dean, Ian Cook, Nigel Abbott, Phil Ashworth, Pat Horton, Mike Marsh, Geoff Barratt (later at Humberside and Severn Sound) and country music presenter Bob Roberts.

Also passing through the station between 1976 and 1982 was local lad Nigel Dyson. As a student at Hull University he got his break into radio on Radio Humberside in 1974. After Blackburn he was later a producer at Radio Northampton (82-85) and Radio Cumbria (85-88). It was  back to Northampton as Programme Assistant and Assistant Editor (88-94) then up the management scale at Three Counties Radio (94-95), Radio Cambridgeshire(95-98) and finally editor at Radio Cumbria 1998-2012). Though he retired in early 2012 Nigel has continued to make occasional broadcasts on Radio Lancashire and Radio Cumbria.

At 8 am on 4 July 1981 Radio Blackburn changed its name to Radio Lancashire.

Here's programme schedule for the week commencing 8 February 1992.

On Sunday afternoon's at this point is the station's long-running music show On the Wire. This had started in October 1984 and Steve Barker presented it for the entirety of its 36-year run. The show featured long sequences of music that in recent years has been described as "the latest leftfield releases in electronica, ambient and dub/reggae" but could just as easily play soul, jazz, classical and country tracks. For many years the opening theme was Ravi Shankar Part 1 by Dub Syndicate as remixed by Adrian Sherwood. On the Wire was taken off ('rested' in BBC-speak) in March last year as part of the paring down of schedules for the coronavirus pandemic but seems unlikely to return. Steve continues to put together music on Mixcloud and playlists, archives and recent online shows can be accessed on the On the Wire blog.

Here's how BBC North West reported on  the station's 40th birthday in 2011.

Other voices you'll have heard on Radio Lancashire include Jacquie Jones (1992-2021), Russel Hayes, Paul O'Gorman, Sally Moon, Pete Edmondson, Jenny Billingsley, Ann O'Brien, Nick Miller, James West, Neil Pringle (later at BBC Sussex), Rob Norris, Simon Johnson, Julie Webster, Clare Bowles, David Jones, the late Norman Thomas, Steve Becker, Dave Sanders (also on Radio Humberside), Bernard Wrigley, Michelle Stocker, Sameena Ali-Khan, Sanjiv Buttoo, Andy Peebles, Richard Hammond, comedians Jim Bowen and  Ted Robbins, Tony Livesey (now on 5 live), Mike West, Alec Makinson, Sally Naden, Carole Turner, John Gillmore, Brett Davison, John Barnes, Alex Worsick, Steve Royle, Stephen Lowe, Northern Soul champion Russ Winstanley, Dave Swanton, Joe Wilson, Phil Trow (now on Radio Manchester), Sally Bankes, Alex Entwistle, singer Jon Christos, Keith Fletcher, Graham Liver (the current breakfast host and previously on Radio Cumbria and Radio Leeds), Leanne Bayes, Mike Stevens, Gordon Burns, Des Desai, Hussnain Hanif, Alison Butterworth, John Clayton, Sean McGinty, Maria Felix Vas, Nick Dow, Gary Hickson, Nishma Hindocha, Glen Hunt, Simon Brierley, Andy Bayes, Sushil Chudasama, Lydia Flavell, Dan Jewell, Shigufta Khan, Hayley Kay, Scott Read, Sharon Hartley, Gemma Ray, Nicola Adam and Emma Sweeney.

Radio Lancashire will marks its 50th during the day and on Sunday they broadcast a special programme with Graham Liver and Gerald Jackson. BBC Radio Lancashire at 50 is available to listen to again on BBC Sounds.

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