Here’s an interesting piece from reader and friend of the blog Stuart Cowley. Stuart, you’ll recall, has written lots about Chasewater and his childhood there, and also about the history of marching jazz bands in our area. It seems Stuart has hidden depths – he stunned me last week with this epic piece about local radio, and his part in it.
This is a long article, and I make no apologies for not splitting it, it would be wrong to do so as it flows so well. Stuart is clearly knowledgable and passionate about radio, and as someone who spends hours listening (I’m not a great TV watcher), this chimed with me. I spent my teenage years glued to Beacon and miss it’s old, original incarnation terribly. Before the days of playlists and targeted marketing, the station was radical, quirky and had real Black Country personality.
Stuart’s points about the dropping of Carl Chinn from Radio WM are also prescient. I’m sure that station is hell bent on self destruction.
So, I hand you over to Stuart. Thanks for that, old chap – a wonderful piece on something you clearly care passionately about.
Comments and catcalls welcome, as ever. Bottom of the article or BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Cheers.
Soul on the radio, isn’t just about music
It’s funny how things come together at times, this is a subject that has been circulating the grey matter for a while and I didn’t think it would be of interest to many but sometimes there are things that have to be said, so I’ll try and bring it all together as best I can.
I’ve written about other topics on this blog that touched my life as a youngster growing up in the area and things that made an impact, one of the things that I’ve not spoken about before is the part that radio played , I’m currently in my 50’s, possibly of similar age to the people reading this now so cast your minds back to the tumbleweed days of what we had on the radio in about the mid 60s, ‘Sing Something Simple’ on the BBC Light Programme, ‘Junior Choice’ with Ed Stewart, as we grew up we had the delights of Radios 1 & 2 (who can remember the Radio 1 road shows at Burntwood baths?) For those of us looking for something a little different, in the evenings many of us would sneak one of the popular little black leatherette radios and an ear piece to bed to listen to the likes of Radio Luxembourg fading in and out on medium wave, makes you wonder what the children of the digital age would make of all of that now!
The 70s brought us a new phenomenon in the form of Local radio, BBC Radio Birmingham (now WM) and for the first time it was possible to participate in a programme, myself and my school mates dedicating records to one another on the rock programme in the evenings, for the first time you heard local programmes, presenters with local accents as opposed to the usual London based presenters. 1974 saw the first local commercial station in the area with BRMB.
Now this is just my opinion but the summer of 1976 seemed to bring about a bit of a turning point in so far as what we had on offer in the region, in the April of that year a new commercial station came on air that sounded different, Beacon Radio based in Wolverhampton hit us head on, the promotion of it was unprecedented, TV, Cinema, advertising hoardings all selling the station to the public. The content was different to the BBC style, it had the flow like we were used to on stations such as Luxembourg, you couldn’t go to an outside event in the region without bumping in to their road show, yet this time it was local, the presenters came across as approachable and informative, this with more use of the quality FM frequency , the brilliant summer of 76, some of the most memorable music of the decade being played from the US and UK playlists all amounted to something a bit special and I thought to myself at the time, I wouldn’t mind a bit of that!
Beacon Radio is now known as Free Radio , one of the things that prompted me to write this piece is that I recently came across a website dedicated to the memories of Beacon that should satisfy any other like minded anorak like myself.
For the next section of this piece I’m going to briefly mention the involvement that the likes of hospital radio had in the evolution of what you hear on the radio today, a lot of today’s presenters/production staff cut their teeth on such stations and I had the pleasure of being a member of a station at Walsall for most of the 80s. Radio Lions was sponsored by Lions International, had studios at the Manor hospital and also then served the General and Goscote hospitals. At the time that I joined it broadcast for two hours each evening and most of the day during the weekend, the first hour of the evening was speciality programmes and the second was for requests. I’m not sure if the station still exists, when I started they used to have a studio next to a lift shaft in the main building, they later moved to three purpose built studios that were located where the car park is now located at the front of the main entrance to the Manor. A studio tour was filmed some time ago.
My experience is that I came across it by chance, I had always had my heart set on joining the police force but being the shy retiring type I felt the need to do something completely out of character and a bit challenging that may just give me the kick up the backside that I needed in my early 20s! Whilst out shopping in Walsall the one day with my now wife, we came across a stand recruiting volunteers, having an interest in radio I signed up on the spot, got one of my mates, Mick Owen to come along with me, obviously we wanted to be presenters but there was a queue of like minded people at the time so I had the idea of introducing celebrity/local personality type interviews, got a spot as the first presenter on in the week, my mate subsequently went down the route of joining the sports team on a Saturday. With the support of local venues such as ‘The Night Out’, Walsall Town Hall and the folk at Central TV I used to venture out with my recorder under my arm, record the interview for broadcast the following week. Now seems like as good a point as any to introduce you to two photographs that I have, both are copies taken from the Walsall Observer that only came to light after my father passed away and I was doing the usual thing of going through photographs that I’d found in a box, my mother must have got them from the Observer office at the time, apologies for the jumpers.
I had the pleasure of meeting loads of interesting people such as Les Dawson and Ken Dodd but a couple who may have touched the lives of a few of the readers of the blog was a couple by the name of Dick Sheppard and Jacquie De Creed. I came across them at the Walsall show in the Arboretum sometime in the mid eighties. Dick was one of the stunt drivers in the original ‘Italian Job’ film, Jacquie was one of only a few women stunt drivers and at the time was regularly on the Guinness World records programme. They were performing as a stunt team called Stuntarama, gave an interesting interview where they assured me how safe their act was in public, I had hardly got back to our stand when I heard the sound of ambulances heading towards the arena, one of their vehicles had ploughed in to the crowd injuring a few people, fortunately not seriously but those taken to hospital found themselves in the silly position of listening to the interview while recovering in their beds. They were two lovely people and I was sad to hear of her passing in tragic circumstances back in 2011.
I used to pride myself in the fact that whoever I set out to interview I always managed to come back with something, there was however one exception. I had arranged to interview Jon Pertwee at Barons Court Hotel in Walsall Wood who was appearing at a few branches of a well known building society dressed as Worzel Gummidge promoting kiddies accounts. When I arrived I was told to wait in a side room as the society were just about to start a meal and I could interview him later. Two hours later after being fed and provided with copious amounts of bubbly I was presented to Old worzel who wanted me to interview him as Worzel rather than the actor Jon Pertwee, I’m afraid I lost it and gave him some verbal which resulted in him escorting me from the building accompanied by his son and a doorman, I had to phone for the future wife and brother in law to come and collect me and had to lie to Mr Moxham saying that Mr Pertwee had refused to be interviewed. A little irrelevant to this piece but I feel much better now that I’ve confessed. It does make me smile though every time I drive past the hotel now even though it’s 30 years on.
The highlight of it all for me though was being able to present a one off hospital dedication hour programme at Beacon in 1983, seven years after I had thought to myself, ‘I fancy a bit of that’. I finally did it.
So that was my experience, multiply that by all the members of similar hospital stations throughout the area and that gives you some idea of the kind of people that were coming through at the time, people from all walks of life, all backgrounds, some with just an interest in radio, some from journalistic backgrounds but all making up the substance that would possibly lead to careers in radio, two young lads that used to be present In the studio when I did my programme subsequently went to work at the BBC and also Commercial radio and are still there, for myself, working at British Coal we all know what happened there towards the end of the 80s, by the time 1987 came along I was married with our first child on the way and had to concentrate on getting a ‘proper job’ 25 years later of working in financial services (compliance). I’m still looking, despite passing all my exams and despite working as a special constable in between doing my programmes at the hospital for 7 years I never got in to the regular Police force because I wasn’t willing to move areas which was policy with Staffordshire police at the time. C’est La Vie! I managed to keep my interest in radio going by becoming a member of the Independent Broadcasting Authority Advisory Committee for Beacon, WABC and Beacon Shropshire until it disbanded in the early 90s.
So what prompted me to put finger to keyboard?
Given my brief attempts at explaining the evolution of radio, BBC Local Radio in the West Midlands is as good as it gets, you can tell the presenters and production staff are proud to serve their station and community, give 100% on every programme and the content is supportive of its community, entertaining and relevant, listener participation is always encouraged, an oasis in a desert of media dross totally overwhelmed by reality TV, I’d gladly pay my licence fee just for the privilege of listening to these programmes regardless of anything else the BBC has to offer, so to sum up, I feel that what we have now with our local service is irreplaceable, it works and shouldn’t be tampered with , it has evolved, reducing the service in any way is the equivalent of us going back to living in caves, a step backwards. So to hear the news that they are axing the Carl Chinn show from its weekend slot is absolute madness and a kick in the teeth to the community that the station is supposed to serve, whoever is responsible for making such a decision either individually or collectively as a team should hang their heads in shame in all honesty, probably the same team that puts the likes of Keith Middleton on of a weekend between 10 and 1am in the morning, a good entertaining programme of interviews and music, I once heard an interview that he did on the troubles in Northern Ireland and the massacre of a group of musicians known as the Miami Showband, it was one of the most poignant pieces of radio that I’ve ever listened to in my life, well worthy of a Sony Radio award in its own right, I doubt the people who make the decisions even heard it!
We are a region supposedly coming out of recession, moving forward but like Carl himself has often said, to know where we are going we need to understand where we have come from, so if we take Carl off air who else have we got capable of conveying the message? The likes of Carl are what make up the soul of a station, we don’t want to be listening to networked ‘shock jocks’ with programmes aimed exclusively at the 20-40 age group, there are other age groups who need a voice and the presenters as a rule provide that.
So to close, if anybody else feels the same way, lobby the BBC and make your feelings known, maybe someone will take note. To those responsible for such decisions ,if it’s just about money sack the people responsible for the recent failed digital media initiative that was on the news recently but don’t keep chipping away at the people that make what you do stand out from the rest, they are your foundation and we all know what happens when you do that, eventually it all comes crashing down!