Happy Birthday to BBC Radio, which celebrated its 90th birthday today - at 5.33pm to be precise (and when this was actually posted).
Radio has always played a part in my life, from my very early childhood right through to the present day; it's also been my career for the past 38-or-so years.
That's why today I thought I would share some of those early radio memories...
It was at about the age of 10 months when, according to my mother’s Baby Book, I was “…recognising tunes on the radio…”. In 1954 it would have been one of those large, furniture-like, wooden radio sets with a tuning dial and a warm glow from the valves inside.
I must have found this “magic box”, which seemed to conjure music and voices out of thin air, intriguing.
As well as the BBC Light Programme’s standard fare of Music While You Work, Workers’ Playtime and Mrs Dale’s Diary, there would also have been Children’s Favourites with Derek “Uncle Mac” McCullogh, Listen With Mother and Tales Of Toytown to provide my early listening.
Following my parents’ divorce in the early-60s I remember my younger sister and I regularly spending Sundays with our father at his new home in Ealing. The radio was a constant background companion with the Light Programme’s staple Sunday diet of the Billy Cotton Band Show, Semprini Serenade and comedies such as Round The Horne, The Clitheroe Kid, Hancock’s Half Hour and The Navy Lark during our visits.
On the journey back home we would listen in the car to Pick Of The Pops with Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman. As I was starting to discover pop music, especially The Beatles, I loved POTP because it sounded bright, slick and had an air of excitement as Fluff became my guide to the latest chart hits.
I would never have imagined back then that I would have the privilege of working with him as his producer thirty years later.
I can also remember buying my first record, I Want To Hold Your Hand by The Beatles, in December 1963 using a record token I had been given for Christmas. I bought it from a shop in Ruislip High Street that, as well as records, also sold TVs, washing machines and other household applicances. I still have that record; it's now a bit worn (but still in quite playable condition) and the original paper sleeve has become a bit tatty over the past 45 years, but that record represents a major point in my life.
Around the same time I had discovered Radio Luxembourg and, in time-honoured fashion, would listen under the bedclothes at night thanks to a new, small, Japanese transistor radio, which had been a Christmas present. As a result I know how to spell K-E-Y-N-S-H-A-M and (even sadder confession) I can even remember the words to the first verse of the ‘Radio Bingo’ theme song (which was written and performed by Dave Carey).
Bingo! Bingo! I'm in love
Kelly's eye, I'm the guy and she's my number one
Number three, up a tree, she's got me on the run
Number five, man alive, by all the stars above
Bingo! Bingo! I'm in love
Broadcasting from the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, the station’s shows were directly sponsored by the major record companies, such as Decca (“D-E-C-C-A - Decca Decca Decca”), EMI and Pye, who would use their 15/30-minute sponsored slots to cram in as many of their latest releases as they could by only playing the first minute or so of each record. At the time I didn’t realise why they did that but used to find it annoying when a favourite record was faded-out to make way for another one.
It is probably difficult for those used to today’s burgeoning choice of media to understand just how little choice there was on the radio in those days; especially if you wanted to hear pop music. Apart from a few shows, such as Pick Of The Pops and Saturday Club, on the BBC Light Programme, as well as Radio Luxembourg in the evening, there was little else to listen to.
The public’s appetite for all-day pop music was eventually satisfied by the arrival of the offshore pirate radio stations in 1964; especially Radio Caroline and Radio London (‘Big L’). I was quite sad when they were outlawed in 1967, and all but Caroline closed down, but also remember listening excitedly to the launch of Radio One on Saturday 30th September 1967 and Tony Blackburn’s first Breakfast Show. Although they had hired many of the former offshore presenters I felt the BBC’s new station never really had that same air of excitement.
In 1970 while on a family motoring holiday we stopped overnight in Luxembourg, where I was able to find the station’s home in the Villa Louvigny in the city centre and get to visit the studio. Among the DJs on-air that evening were Tony Prince and Bob Stewart both of whom would turn out to be future colleagues.
It was also that year I spotted a story in one of the local papers about the internal radio station at Harrow Hospital, close to where I was at school. They were recruiting new volunteers so I went along to an introductory meeting and decided to become involved.
My ‘Adventures In Radioland’ were about to begin…
Adapted from the forthcoming book Adventures In Radioland by Paul Easton - Pub. 2013