Sunday, 31 January 2016

Farewell, Terry

How on earth did this lovely, quietly mumbling man attract an audience of millions?  

No teasing.  Little ‘sense of the day’.  No callers.  No stunts.  No giggling sidekick.  Not slick. No crazy competitions.  No showbiz.  Few weather forecasts.  Incestuous talk about his radio team.  Interminable ramblings about the mundane.

But, like most great breakfast shows, he broke the rules and won.  The phrase ‘radio legend’ was made for Terry Wogan. 

Despite his audience of millions, Terry enjoyed true intimacy with the listener.  Every listener felt he knew them  - and that he understood them.  From the shawled-pensioner in an icy semi to the savvy student from a magnolia flat; each listener heard a different show in their own head.  Although he likely earned a touch more than either of them, they felt this seemingly self-effacing man was still ‘one of us’. Like Blackburn, this man grew not to take himself too seriously, with some success.

The Wogan vocabulary was his weapon.  With enviable skill, he carved each sentence; turning a mundane anecdote from a black and white photo to a colour film with a beautiful array of words, delivered with vocal warmth through an increasingly fruity voice.  

Tales founded on fact  would be emebellished with a Wogan flight of fancy.  A few words from a 'listener' on Basildon Bond turned to gold in the hands of the master.

His artful pauses too.  Terry possibly made as much money in his career from saying nothing as saying something.

A little like Bernie Taupin, his rich career began when a chance newspaper recruitment ad rescued him from the banking world.  Presumably charming the interviewers, he was signed up to RTE.  As the early recordings of Moyles suggest too, distinctive  broadcasters do not begin their careers with their trademark styles; but you can hear just a hint of the endearing future Tel on this early clip from the Emerald Isle.

When work began to dry up in Ireland in 1966, Terry rattled out a quick missive on the Remington to the BBC.  Auntie responded with the offer of a few programmes ‘down the line’ for the Light Programme, before a fledgling Radio 1  beckoned.  In the days when programmes had titles, he hosted the wonderful ‘Late Night Extra’.  After some relief presentation and holding the JY fort, afternoons became his home, simulcast by BBC Radio 1 and 2.

Terry ascended the Radio 2 breakfast throne in the Decimal days of 1972, entertaining the Nation with his ramblings, interrupted only by JAM jingles and pan-pipe music.

He signed off from Radio 2 in 1984 to dedicate more time to his TV career, wearing those brown suits we all wore back then.  Whilst he did TV possibly as well as most radio folk, he was still at his best when, as in the Eurovision, we couldn’t see him.  Like many in the radio fraternity, you got the feeling he did his best work when he felt no-one was really watching.


Come January 1993, he returned home.  Terry was one of very few presenters ever to host two long spells on a significant breakfast show on the same station.  By now, he’d become the eponymous hero of ‘Wake Up to Wogan'; and he'd truly found his act.  That's the stage at which a performer truly matures; and the audience give them permission to behave unthinkably on-air.  One got the feeling that detailed show prep was not high on his list of priorities, but it mattered little. A listener's broadcaster, not a radio anorak's.

As a professional, he carried himself through his career with skill.  Being sufficiently true to himself when speaking about the Corporation's idiosyncrasies, but stopping short of going too far.  His humour and stature softening comments on music policy, radio, or BBC antics which might have sounded unwise from others.

His handing the Radio 2 breakfast baton to Chris Evans at the end of 2009 was text book.  One could detect the signs of two performers respecting each other’s very different talents.  I suspect it was well-choreographed too; but one got the distinct feeling that he agreed with this unlikely succession plan.  If he did, he was right.  Here he was, fondly letting his mischievous radio ‘son’ have a play now, probably shaking his head lovingly at the Evans antics like a tolerant father.

If proof were needed of his talents, watch his farewell speech below. Radio is rarely perfect, and that’s why we love it.  But this is.  Truly perfect delivery. As mentioned in my book, the pace was 165 words per minute, a little faster than his normal speed, but slower than most broadcasters. Terry delivered every valedictory word from the heart, as if to a close friend sat together in the living room. In truth, Tel was surrounded by producers and the nosey, gazing at a typed script, and read every word.  Immaculately.  Note how he gazed into the eyes of his listener throughout, never those milling around; possibly the secret of his art in those 28 successful years on earlies. 

Wogan returned for what his to be his final broadcasting home in 2010 for Weekend Wogan on Radio 2. Whilst a live audience situation was arguably not the best home for the Wogan skill, 30,000 people were said to have applied for a seat in the audience, gazing at his mastery.

"I’ve always said that I hope I’ll have enough sense to get off the beach before the tide comes", said Terry.  He did.  We'll miss him and we'll remember him.









Alan Dedicoat and Ken Bruce reflect in 'The World at One' on Radio 4 
Terry's last 2009 breakfast show in full, thank to Andy Walsmley



My book 'How to Make Great Radio' is published by Biteback

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Congratulations, OC!

When Christian O’Connell began on breakfast across the UK, 86% of households didn’t have digital radio; the best-selling phone was a Nokia; and Mike Baldwin died.

Ten years on breakfast is quite a landmark on any radio station, not least one in the aggressive London and UK market.  

Congratulations, Christian. You’ve done a great job, growing from boy to man in the transition from rebellious Xfm to vigorous Virgin and Absolutely beyond.

His arrival in 2006 attracted acres of coverage. Mind you, the mighty One Golden Square press office has an enviable reputation of being able to conjure up coverage for the arrival of a pizza in reception.

Lovely Lynn at the Guardian, who'd presumably woken early to listen, observed:  I don't think he is the new Chris Evans - he is less frantic, less bullying, more likable, with a much drier sense of humour. And he is much less laddishly offensive than most of the other pop DJs.

Christian's time in the London limelight was preceded by an apprenticeship at 2CR in Bournemouth, and an early spell delivering ballads to the dying in the disinfected wards of a Hampshire hospital.

This man, habitually clad in his black leather jacket, is a pro. A single-minded, clever operator. Witnessing his art at the Arqiva awards was always an education. One’s peers are always the toughest audiences. He measured the mood; with the fun poked at the big boys not the little guys. 

On-air and off-air, a sharp performer with the skill to prep well and deliver as if he hadn’t. 
He's serious about being funny; willing to draw on his own life; and watches others with skill to harvest observational riches. He studies his influences with diligence; and, unlike some other great performers, knows just how he does what he does.

Christian pulls off deadpan on radio - alongside sounding as chirpy as one needs breakfast jocks to.  A grown up 'lad' on a male station with easy female likeability. He boasts pure comic timing and - well - the sort of face that does funny well with eyes and mouth telling different stories. 

The broadcaster manages his managers excellently, and is commercially astute, helping the station and himself earn the money they deserve; a skill which likely owes something to a first-hand experience of what hard sales is all about. And good luck to him. 



His efforts have spun off into TV and, on radio, he's heard on 5 Live too. The book he penned, 'The Men Commandments', appears still to be at full price on Amazon, which is always a good sign, and his stand-up tour is very much still standing. His appearance at last year's Radio Festival was a mouth-watering appetiser.

I worked alongside Christian for an all too brief period in 2007-08. He's good to deal with, and able to detach the person from the performance for the sake of programme analysis. Hungry for anything at all which might help tomorrow’s show get better; and pretty impatient if it doesn't.

Congratulations, OC. Have a good show, Sir. Radio is proud of you.





My book 'How to Make Great Radio is out now, proceeds to the Radio Academy

Friday, 8 January 2016

Our Dennis


If you don’t live near Nottinghamshire, you may not have heard too much about him. That’s probably the point.

Dennis McCarthy MBE belonged purely to the city he came to call his own.  That’s why the streets were lined for his funeral route twenty years ago – and why he remains so fondly remembered to this day.

Dennis joined BBC Radio Nottingham shortly after it launched in 1968, persuading his way through the York House door by brandishing some promising material about dogs.

His weekly Sunday show - purring out of large VHF sets on 94.8 or Rediffusion Channel C - was to become compulsive listening; echoing round every terrace in St Ann’s and every boulevard in Bridgford.

Dennis's quiet conversation truly engaged; delivered in a natural voice of real depth, warmth and quality. Although his rich tones did not resemble those of his community, he understood his people perfectly and became a true companion to this proud manufacturing city as it prepared itself for demolition and reinvention.

The weekend show comprised an array of ostensibly dull features, turned into magic in the hands of a master. Every ‘Swap Shop’ caller was played to huge advantage as they offered a storage radiator or some ‘hard core’ to be collected from Sneinton. Dennis’s dead-pan delivery and comic timing was a true art.

‘Wanted Column of the Air’ was another classified feature where Dennis helped listeners' quests and turned them into entertainment.  Never ridiculing, he conducted parallel simultaneous dialogues with listener and caller. 

'Giveaway' became an excuse for an amusing faux-harrumphing exchange about why the listener didn't want the offending item any more. 

When a listener he'd dialled up failed to answer the qualifying question for 'Family Jackpot', he'd still instinctively exploit any latent opportunity: "Are you having mint sauce?".

On one occasion, however, the recipient of such a call explained she'd just been bereaved. In the hands of any lesser broadcaster, the moment would have been far from the compassionate, dramatic radio that ensued.

When the occasion warranted, Dennis could just as easily slip into a quality current affairs or personality interview. On local matters, from the arrival of one-man buses to the closure of Victoria Market's mushy peas stall, he felt the City's heartbeat

The McCarthy contribution was extended to a regular daily show, 'Afternoon Special', in 1974, which was later to be networked across the East Midlands by 1980. This programme featured ‘Where are You Now?’, where listeners tracked down those they cared about so much that they’d lost touch. Dennis used it as a cunning vehicle for local anchoring: "Wasn't that the pub on Derby Road?".


In those contesting days, we’d be treated to prizes such as, and I quote, a “£15 shopping spree on Arnold Market" – or a 45 rpm record. The unwritten rule was that winners of the 45s should generously refuse them and say "give it the ‘Ospital, Dennis". I suspect Nottingham’s QMC was actually built on a foundation of obscure vinyl freebies.

Dennis broke the rules. His programme often included deliberate gaps you could drive an NCT bus through. If a caller said she'd seen an unusual bird at the bottom of her garden, he'd ask her to go to see if it was still there. You'd hear the click of the latch on her door - and await her return. Dennis felt under no obligation to say anything, often for minutes. It was strangely riveting. 

This great communicator is recalled now, not through Tram 214 which bears his name, but for specific memorable moments of radio.

The shows were huge, dominating East Midlands’ listening. In later years, by which time I was working in radio, a plan was half-hatched to persuade Dennis to leave the BBC and launch ‘Radio Dennis’ on Trent’s AM frequency which it was hurriedly re-purposing.

He is still recalled as frequently as he was a decade ago. On Paul Robey's excellent Sunday show, heir to the McCarthy throne, listeners will voluntarily cite Dennis, just as they'd talk about an old friend. He was a listener's presenter, not an anorak's. Humbly little material is to be found on-line about the perfect performance of this gentlemen - who chose to complete his programme, on feeling ill, before passing away at home later the same day, aged 63.

I shall leave others who knew him personally to reflect on the man inside this hugely-gifted, dog-loving, washing machine and tripe salesman who'd been evacuated to Nottingham aged eight; and who'd appeared in a couple of films, including 'One of our Aircraft is Missing' two years before he'd left London. Most inspired broadcasters are complex characters, yet forgiven in equal quantity. I was but a loyal listener in my radio shed at the bottom of the garden.  

I did meet him twice, though – the first time as I claimed my prize in a car-theft jingle contest he'd staged on his programme in conjunction with the Notts’ bobbies.  I was the runner-up, by the way, but bear no malice to the winner. I hope my rival’s been happy in life.

On the second occasion, Dennis turned up in his brown suit to open a British Legion coffee morning. He showed his face at a lot of events – a lesson for anyone seeking to own their market.  On this occasion, he’d been invited by my mother. As the picture suggests, my wonderful 'Hyacinth' mum had no intention of playing second fiddle to the invited star. But, again, he played her like a caller.

Dennis's family became our family, as his children, Tara and 'Digger' 'The World's Youngest DJ', played their part in the show.

His is a rare talent. Dennis was the sort of personality on which BBC local radio was built. Steeped in his area, a broadcaster who understood his audience and spoke to them on a level. 

'Our Dennis' numbers among the greats. Over the years, there have been others of his ilk across the BBC local network, each hugely valued by their audiences. Sometimes more so than by their management. 

Looking through the BBC Yearbooks over the years, his contribution merits a single, lonely mention - in the edition for the year he died. Just maybe the BBC of today should vow to take more care in identifying these great communicators, give them the environment to do their best work - and then celebrate them.

How many of today's broadcasters will be spoken about by their listeners twenty years on?

Dennis McCarthy 1933-1996.  






Thanks to Owen McCarthy (Digger) and former colleagues for their co-operation and contributions.













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Sunday, 3 January 2016

Five years of Capital UK

The Capital network launched five years ago - on 3rd January 2011, bringing together the eponymous London station with a clutch of heritage 'Hit Music' and Galaxy stations across the UK, reaching 7.1m listeners. 

Its UK audience has subsequently stood up well over the period - in what can be a worrying radio demographic. Taking the brand offshoots into account, listenership has grown.

London ad agencies love the network's simplicity and I can only guess at the sudden impact on national Galaxy revenues. Having managed half of that non-London brand for a few years, it was always a frustration when, despite best efforts, its revenue yield failed to live up to its audience stature.

Whilst the previous brand-names are regarded with huge, huge affection by many, including me, the logic for the strategic move was clear. Assembling stations in targeted brand clusters where they could fight powerfully for ad revenue and market themselves effectively against both powerful UK-wide BBC competition and rival media. Without at least some attractive and powerful national brands amongst the industry offering, I would have feared for the long-term future for commercial radio.

Had the commercial radio industry launched in the 70s with some national mainstream brands, and an icing of sustainable locals, life would have been altogether simpler. And if the commercial industry itself had been launched a few decades earlier, that would have been better still. It's true too that some executives in the early commercial radio industry fought persuasively - and perhaps wrongly - for continued local FM expansion rather a national counterpart.

With only one national commercial FM network available, and that devoted to a classical format, there was no other option than to bundle together existing FM frequencies. The re-branding was discharged boldly and efficiently on-air, and accompanied by what is widely recognised as one of the best ever TV ads for radio. In an ever more competitive world, its target audience loves it, just as I loved its predecessors when I was their age.

Enjoy here a medley of the well-co-ordinated opening moments across the UK.


At the end, enjoy Hirsty's Daily Dose, on the huge 1m+ audience station in Yorkshire.

Hirsty closes her opening link with the words 'this, for the very first time, is Capital FM'. Save for the 'FM', she had recreated the first words on London's Capital in 1973. just as Moyles repeated Radio 1's first words when he arrived on the breakfast show at last. I am not a fan of incestuous 'in' talk on-air - but both these two asides are clever enough to be lost on the many and treasured, with a fond smile, by the few.

Thursday, 31 December 2015

Farewell Medium Wave

Farewell, dear friend.

AM has fallen silent across a chunk of Europe as engineers in France, Germany and Luxembourg flicked the switches and turned off their Medium Wave signals at midnight on New Year's Eve. Au revoir.

Amongst others, Deutschlandradio closed down its seven Medium Wave transmitters; and Radio France, France Info, France Blue RCFM and France Blue Elsass all went dark. RTL also finally turned off the famous 1440 (208m) Luxembourg apparatus which had carried our 'Luxy' service until 1991.

In the UK, the BBC has quietly begun to shut down some of its power-hungry BBC local radio AM transmitters, using the cunning plan of turning them off for a ‘trial‘ and seeing if anyone notices. Many though still battle on. Commercial radio’s local AM business is in peril too, with many frequencies kept breathing by leaning on parallel brands and sharing business overheads.  If the little chicks had to feed themselves, most would likely perish.

BBC 5 Live still delivers appreciable audiences on AM as do Talksport and Absolute. The national scale of those stations adds bulk to the UK AM total listening hours figure, but one imagines that the costs of transmission and the Ofcom licence fees mean that the owners, UTV and Bauer, can see the day when they wouldn’t trouble to contest their AM licences. DAB alone would work better for them.

Radio 4 boasts a clutch of Medium Wave transmitters, but its prize possession remains its powerful 198 Long Wave transmitter, beaming out from an antenna slung from the 700' high masts at Droitwich. The closure of that would be for the BBC what the poll tax was for Maggie.  Don’t mess with Middle England. Woman's Hour sounds best with the warm rounded AM sound booming out a Hacker.  It may be apocryphal, but it is suggested that this dusty transmitter relies on valves which can no longer be replaced. Like much of the ageing AM transmission infrastructure, it’s long past its best. Mind you, in the words of Stephen Butt (@KibworthStephen), this transmitter is 'the most resilient part of the BBC's radio system - with copper wire feeds'!

It’s all to be expected. When a superior option exists, the market moves elsewhere. FM easily took the AM territory, although it took a little time, dictated by FM radio set availability. The DAB parallel is clear.

From 1967, the BBC launched local stations solely on FM albeit a little prematurely for the new band's usefulness. They were subsequently afforded Medium Wave back-up to help their audiences thrive.  Without that support, they might have suffered the digital death of One Word or Core.

By the early seventies, it was seen as the other way round for commercial radio, broadcasting proudly in stereo on FM, with Medium Wave as support. Having said that, the audience remained largely AM in those early days owing to set availability – hence the wavelengths forming part of those familiar early stations idents: ‘2-fifty- sevunnn – Swansea Sound’; ‘Capital – 194’; and the luscious ‘Beacon – 303’.

I recall rusty Cortinas only had Medium Wave sets. Actually, our Vauxhall Victor didn’t even have that – we used to bung a red tranny on the parcel shelf at the back when returning from Skegness.

It did have its magic. But – let’s be honest - it's pretty foul to listen to.  AM has had its day. The burring when you switched on your cake mixer; the overseas stations marching to our shores overnight; the Doctor Who noises as you drove under electricity cables; and that curious 'Luxembourg effect' on 208 when it sounded like poor Bob Stewart and his Stuyvesant fags ads were being turned inside out.  

'In every hearse that goes by, there's an AM listener', quotes @_DavidHarber.

So, the end must be nigh for our beloved AM after around a century of use.  It's done us proud.  BBC 5 Live (1994), Atlantic 252 (1989) and Laser 558 (1984) were likely the last UK AM stations  to launch with sufficient scale to disrupt.  Its death, however, is evidently likely to be slower here than other parts of Europe, where 'the old is giving way to the new'. Both DAB and FM sound much better – even though maybe they don’t quite sound like ‘radio’.

And - when it is all over - at least we won't still get those intense letters from Norway proclaiming they have heard our stations and demanding a QSL reception acknowledgement. Yes, it was indeed us. But surely you have your own stations to listen to? Or some gardening or something to do?









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Wednesday, 16 December 2015

In Praise of the Tape Cassette

Kenny was unbelievably excited as a kid when he was given his second tape recorder as a gift.  Radio anoraks will understand how enjoyment was amplified manifold with a second machine. One machine meant you could record and play; two enabled you to copy and mix.

These were simple times. The Radio Times was printed on toilet paper; Morecambe and Wise ruled on the black and white telly; and Ed Stewart broadcast on Christmas mornings on medium wave from a magic carpet.  But most importantly, yes, these were the days of audio tape cassettes.  A devilishly clever transparent plastic box housing a plastic gubbins laced with mucky brown tape.

The sight of an audio cassette excites a generation even now. Would it be a C60, C90 or C120? The latter could accommodate an entire edition of the BBC's Top 20 chart show, but it was frail and could die without warning. Would it be a bargain ASDA version, or a more resilient TDK, Agfa or Philips one. An old colleague reminds me he once interviewed the BASF Chairman, who was a little perturbed to find that his company, the largest chemical producer in the World, seemed best known for its cassettes.

The pause button on the cassette machine was a boon. It allowed we anoraks to record the bits in between records almost seamlessly, so we could assemble hours of 'bits of radio'. A clip here, a favourite presenter there, spiced with a great jingle with the beginning cut off. 

Playing through those cassettes now, it’s annoying to find the promise of a priceless piece of radio begin before it’s chopped off in its prime in favour of a jingle you’d already heard a million times.

Mind you, direct recording with an actual wire lead was a significant advance from the analogue method of simply holding the mic next to the radio speaker. Treasured recordings were accompanied by Mother yelling you down for tea, your brother squealing or the dog barking.

We’d assemble playlists of our favourite songs on cassettes.  Before the days of ‘shuffle’ the song order would be imprinted on our minds. Whenever one familiar melody cropped up on the radio, you’d be inexplicably surprised when a different one followed.

Cassette boxes were an artform.  Some teenagers would neatly design them with Valerie Singleton enthusiasm using a rainbow of felt tip pens.  Others would just label illegibly, next to a second scribbled-out note of the tape's previous contents.

Many cassette machines were battery-powered.  Record something with an ailing battery and it'd play back at double speed when you'd saved up enough pocket money for four new Ever Ready U2s.  I recall one listener once phoning up the music library at Trent asking deliciously tetchy librarian Jane to identify a song he'd recorded thus. Hilarity ensued.

Theoretically, one could splice on a tape cassette, but alas, the survival rate was low. You'd only do it usually if the alternative was cassette-death.  Such an operation was conducted with forensic care, using a special kit from Woolworths comprising an editing block with two metal levers, a razor blade, a baby screwdriver and some magical white sticky tape. Sellotape did work, but the prognosis was diminished further. A pencil was deployed to twiddle round in the hole to rein in escaping tape.

Those treasured old cassettes, secreted in boxes or crinkly old carrier bags, still just about play, provided a cassette player can be found.  As the tape disintegrates, however, much of the oxide is left on the tape heads and our fond childhood recordings sound as if played through a sock. I'm aware that 'the oven trick' can be used to restore reel-to-reel tape, although I fear cassettes may just melt.

With vinyl making a comeback, and even CDs enjoying a resurgence as people crave some physicality and audio 'ownership', maybe it's time to hail the official revival of the C60. May I suggest Adele release her next album on cassette only? And may I have a triple pack of blanks in my stocking?








Radio is not just for Christmas, it's for life.  Please buy my book for a friend this Yule. Proceeds to the Radio Academy

Saturday, 5 December 2015

The 2015 Radiomoments Clips of the Year

No year-end is complete without a gratuitous chart or two. 

My Radiomoments Audioboom channel, now replete with over a thousand choice cuts from 1922 to the present day, and amassing over two thirds of a million listens, has had a decent year. 

But which clips reaped the most plays in 2015 from the UK’s radio lovers? This chart is built on exact AudioBoom stats, although, I confess, not audited to the BBC's exacting compliance standards.


5. At Number Five – an old favourite from 1991.  Johnners gets his leg over with, as the Radio Times might say, hilarious results.  When commentating for BBC Radio 3’s Test Match Special at the Oval, Jonathan Agnew mischievously suggested that Ian Botham had failed to "get his leg over"; and a classic radio corpse ensues.  You know what it's like.  You laugh at the wrong moment. The more you try to stop laughing; the more you laugh. And then just as you recover, your mind drifts back to why you were laughing in the first place; and off you go again. 

This clip proves that laughter is indeed infectious and that radio loves authenticity. Bar Morecambe & Wise, are there many short moments of laugh-out-loud television which endure quite like this?

4. Number Four – means a lot to a generation.  In this labour of love, attracting over 11,000 plays overall, hear the first breaths of the pioneering UK commercial radio stations. Marvel at their early spirit and ambition, the merry launch imaging, and the voices of jolly just-awakened chairmen. Witness the changes in presentation styles, music and talk policy and jingles as the years flow by from 1973 to 1988. I can never quite recall how I had time to edit and mix this.


3. At Number Three, a new entry as Chris Moyles debuts on the new Radio X. The clip, and the station, prove yet again that radio can still make front page news after a hundred years. Arguably, bar Evans, few presenters have managed to take their audiences with them from one station to another, not least after a lull. It’s a puzzle how loyal listeners appear to be to a frequency, even if if its brand, presenters and music policy change.  Time will tell whether Moyles will carry off the feat and climb, in time, to his Radio 1 heights. I reckon X will boast a very respectable performance.

2. Number Two brings another familiar moment. Alice Arnold, accomplished Radio 4  announcer bids farewell. Her listeners grew to know her simply through the sheer presentation quality.  Her valedictory appearance shows a rare moment of emotion as she utters her last careful vowels with typical beauty. There's just a glimpse of pure, raw, honest radio peeking through the professionalism, rendered all the more powerful owing to its rarity.  Listeners and radio anoraks alike loved it.


1. At Number 1, a fitting new entry from an old friend. 2015 saw the death of the the much-loved Peter Donaldson. 'The Voice of Radio 4'.  The final words of this chief announcer were aired on 1st January 2013.  Upon his death, the national press reached out and embedded this clip, taking it soaring to Number One by some margin. His many fans on-air and his many adoring colleagues across the BBC will smile fondly to see Peter here as, deservedly, the most played radio clip across the UK in 2015.




Many thanks to all Radiomoments Twitter followers, and listeners to the weekly RadioToday podcast in which the weekly review is included (also found on my Boom channel).  

Thanks too to the many people who treasure and share audio: from the every helpful and impressive Andy Walmsley to http://aircheckdownloads.com/; from the Campaign for Independent Broadcasting; to lovely Stephanie Hirst, and the expert on chart audio Richard White. Also to the many folk who simply email me random MP3s, post off bundles of cassettes or upload audio to my channel.  All such souvenirs are hugely welcome. If you have some 'tapes upstairs in a box', do let me know. I promise to take them off your hands and save your other half moaning at you.

As stations change ownership, premises and staff, alas too much material is lost. Without your efforts, some of the history of the greatest medium of all might too easily be forgotten. Happy New Year.



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Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Funding Auntie

The British Broadcasting Company began life with a princely £100,000 in capital, about the same sum as half an Alan Yentob.

Six wireless firms chipped in £60k and took up their place round a battered board table at the GEC building at Magnet House. Other manufacturers threw in in the remainder for their smaller shares in this brave venture. 

This was peculiar form of capitalism, with return on capital capped at 7.5%. It was decided not to follow the American example of ‘using the microphone for ads’. Oh no, none of that over here, thank you very much.  That dogged principle was to change the course of British broadcasting as it left port - and consign commercial radio to a fifty year wilderness, from which it has never truly recovered.

Let’s remember too that it was those lofty ideals which meant that the listener would be asked to fund their programmes directly, if ‘interested parties’ were not to be control of the new airwaves. Maybe one of the BBC's PR folk should now invest some time reminding us why we were asked to pay in the first place. It's a decent argument.

Voluntary listener subscriptions were ruled out at the outset, so Alvar Lidell was not instructed to rattle a collecting tin in Savoy Hill reception.  Early revenues flowed in, however, from indirect taxation, thanks to cunning surcharges on the parts sold to the many enthusiasts who built their own sets. Will we see the day when iPhone chargers carry a special Auntie tax?

By the Autumn of 1924, revenues were wholly derived from the licence fee. Not that the Beeb got the whole lot – the Company’s share, however, did rise from 50% to 75%. The grinning Government gleefully took the rest.

By this time, the radio transmissions barely covered half of the country, rising to an impressive 80% in just three years

One licence went a long way
As Big Ben chimed the end of 1926, The British Broadcasting Company was wound up, letterheads were reprinted, and the new DG clutched the Corporation’s first ten year licence in his sweaty mitt. Its duty was to ‘Carry on a broadcasting service’.  Thankfully, John Reith rather than Sid James was in charge.

The Crawford Committee suggested: “The licence fee shall be 10 shillings, which we do not consider excessive. It will be the duty of the Postmaster General to pay to the Commissioners (Governors) from the licence fee an income thoroughly adequate to enable them to ensure the full and efficient maintenance and development of the service…it is expedient that the surplus should be retained by the state".  It’s a way of working I suspect the Minister would rather like to revive.  

Eventually, it was agreed that 12.5% of licence income would be deducted for ‘revenue collection’ and the Corporation would receive 90% of the  first million licence fees - and a declining sliding scale to 60% as sets started to fly off the shelves.  This calculation on the Government’s trig tables meant that after four million licences were stamped at the Post Office, the Government could be taking almost half the income.  Indeed, by 1929, cheery Chancellor Churchill was banking just under a million pounds.

The anti-commercial rhetoric continued apace. In an article called ‘the Art of listening’ in the BBC 1928 year book, Auntie congratulated herself again on avoiding dirty commercialism:

“There was a time when the wild men of newspaper industry had their way the consequences to broadcasting might have been damaging.  The broadcaster must never be tempted to take advantage of his foothold on the listener’s hearthrug”.

As War began, the Corporation stepped up its efforts and found a damn good excuse not to trouble itself with the complications and expense of telly. By 1940, it was broadcasting on radio in 34 languages and creating 787 news bulletins.

10pm news  bulletin audiences from Dec 1939- Sept 1940
In the House of Commons on 20th August 1940, it was proudly announced that 9,132,000 folk had duly forked out for their 10/- for their licence.  

This wobbly graph of audiences for the earnest 10 pm news bulletin through the months of 1940 shows there was a real hunger for what radio could provide in the dark days of War.

By June 46, a combined TV & radio licence appeared, although a sound-only version remained available.  Just 60 years ago, 4.6m of the dual versions were sold, but 9.4m Britons - the vast majority - still found radio alone sufficient for their needs. It was not until 1958 that the dual licence take-up overtook its radio-only bargain brother. 

In 1955, the House of Commons had been stirred to debate the concern that if you sold your Sunbeam Rapier complete with its radio, you could not also transfer its licence to the car's new owner.  The radio licence died in 1971; although the Corporation did float the idea of a £10 car radio licence in 1984.

What of costs? Even by 1960, the £6.5m spent on radio programmes remained perilously close to the 8.2m on TV shows, although the chunky TV engineering costs were certainly higher than radio’s.

The Corporation's original ten shilling licence would cost just under thirty quid nowadays (£27.28), had it simply risen with inflation. It actually costs five times more than that, although even the most miserable of folk would concede we easily get five times more for it.

It’s a timely reminder that funding broadcasting has not always been as simple as relying purely on a licence fee - and that new usages of the medium will call for more inventive ways of charging for it. And that quiet Government /Corporation wrangling on funding is not a new art.

But maybe too a note to commercial radio brethren, pumping out 15 minutes of ads an hour, that the broadcaster must never be tempted "to take advantage of his foothold on the listener’s hearthrug”.



My book 'How to Make Great Radio' is available now. Techniques and tips for today's broadcasters and producers.