Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Music Curated for You, Here on Radio 2

I go back far enough to remember when Radio 2 (and Radio 1) closed down at midnight and didn't come back on-air until 6am. There was nothing but dead air, save for the occasional test tone. Insomniacs and night shift workers (always the two 'groups' that are trotted out on these occasions) could only get their overnight radio on Luxembourg, until 3am, the World Service, one of the many foreign stations on medium wave and long wave or one of the few ILR stations that provided a 24-hour service.

All that changed, at least as far as Radio 2 was concerned, when You and the Night and the Music filled the 'gap' from January 1979 and there was a friendly voice, picked from the team of continuity announcers, to either lull you to sleep or keep you awake, depending on whether you were operating heavy machinery or not!

I mention this bit of radio history in light of the announcement from Radio 2 this week that from next month there will be no live overnight programmes on the station between midnight and 5 am. (And indeed from 10pm to 5 am on some nights of the week). All due to budget cuts of course. The fallout from this is the loss of Janice Long and Alex Lester, aka The Dark Lord, both of whom enjoy a loyal following. Those overnight shows apparently pick up an audience of about 900,000. Huey Morgan and Bob Harris's shows at the weekend remain unscathed, and re-scheduled at a more user-friendly hour.  

In their place we are promised the continuation of the repeat of some music shows, e.g. Pick of the Pops, Sounds of the 60s and, rather more curiously, Radio 2 Playlists "which are uniquely curated by our leading music presenters and music team and that our audience can enjoy on the radio or on demand". In other words a 3-hour jukebox service. The fact that it can be enjoyed "on demand" is a little disingenuous; so can the rest of Radio 2's output including the shows that currently get an overnight repeat. And while we're on the subject since when did "curated" replace "selected" or "chosen"?

So far the reaction to this announcement has, understandably, been critical. How can what is claimed to be Europe's top music station not offer live overnight radio?  Why cut the After Midnight shows when other presenters (insert name here) are paid mega-bucks? Given that the big commercial groups offer live radio in the wee small hours why can't the BBC?

By my reckoning this change pushes the total number of pre-recorded shows (or not live) from 19% to 32% of the station's weekly output - the actual figure depending on whether or not Paul O'Grady makes it into the studio and if Dermot O'Leary is on X Factor duty. 

After 38 years of night-time broadcasting it's a pretty sorry state of affairs when a substantial part of the station's listenership are disenfranchised and can no longer enjoy the intimacy and companionship that only live radio can offer.

As for Janice and Alex they will, we are told, continue to broadcast on BBC radio. The reality is, I suspect,  that we'll see them get a regular gig on BBC local radio.

You can hear Alex Lester talking candidly to Stuart Clarkson about Radio 2's decision on this week's Radio Today podcast.

For the record
The current schedule with two hours of overnight repeats started in October 2014 but Radio 2 wasn't averse to putting out repeats before, albeit limited to just an hour. When You and the Night and the Music (1979-84) started it was live music and chat with pre-recorded features. The budget was a pittance and needletime so restricted that it only allowed for two records in a 3 or 4 hour show. An hour's worth of repeats of the like of Two's Best or Folk on 2 started in 1982 but between 1985 and January 1990 it was music all the way with an hour long sequence called A Little Night Music filling the gap.  

Again there were repeats in 1990 and 1991 but the majority of the overnight hours consisted of Night Ride (which incorporated A Little Night Music until July 1992) and an early show kicking off at 4am, both presented by a roster of continuity announcers. Alex Lester started his reign as king of the overnights from September 1993 with a 3am show. The Night Ride title was dropped in 1995 but the presenters remained unchanged with either Steve Madden or Charles Nove taking the lion's share of the midnight to 3am slot. By late 1998 Katrina Leskanich was drafted into the post-midnight show until April 2000 when Janice Long took over. Alex and Janice have remained as the main weekday overnight presenters ever since.  

Monday, 2 January 2017

And now the classified football results

Ahead of this evening's classified football results on Sports Report I'm briefly going back to January 1969 when Liverpool and Leeds topped Division 1.

Sports Report, then running as part of the Sports Service on Radio 3, was beginning its 21st year on air and was still produced by its founding father Angus Mackay. "He is the brains and heart of the show. The man behind the microphone who leads and guides and inspires and cajoles".   

Taking a look behind the scenes of Sports Report in 1969 was Harry Brown writing in the January edition of Football League Review. I'm grateful to John Flitter who kindly scanned these pages for me.

Eagle-eyed readers will spot that the photos on page 17 have been transposed; the set starting with Vincent Duggleby are actually at the bottom of the page and vice-versa.

Read my history of Sports Report on It’s five o’clock. Time for Sports Report

Saturday, 31 December 2016

News Review of 1991

Exactly twenty five years and 1991 draws to a close. Radio 1's Newsbeat team review the year.

The Gulf War comes to an end. (A  long sequence is played over Oleta Adams's Get There: "You can reach me by caravan, cross the desert like an Arab man.") Right Said Fred get too sexy for their shirts. The death of Freddie Mercury. There's a  wind of change blowing through the Soviet Block (cue the Scorpions). Bryan Adams hangs onto the number one spot for an eternity. The grey Prime Minister has his first full year as PM. Terry Waite is released.    

News 91 Review of the Year was broadcast on BBC Radio 1 on 31 December 1991. 

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Girls Just Want to Have Fun

Here's a fascinating piece of analysis that, according to The Guardian, is the "most comprehensive analysis ever carried out of comedy panel shows". Conducted by Stuart Lowe of the Open Data Institute it concludes that "only once in the history of British TV and radio has a programme had an all-female line-up".

Lowe observed that few women appeared on panel games and was determined to undertake a more scientific approach to analysing whether or not this was actually the case. The Guardian report continues: "Of more than 4,700 individual episodes examined ... 1,488 programmes since 1967 have been made up solely of men. But only on one occasion in 49 years has there been a programme in which the presenter and all the panel were women – an episode of BBC Radio 4’s Heresy in January 2012 presented by Victoria Coren-Mitchell".

Whilst Lowe appears to overlook Petticoat Line (1965-74) which arguably became a more comedic show - a sort of all-women Does the Team Think - and was always 100% female then in theory this edition from the eighth series of Heresy is a piece of broadcasting history.

According to Coren-Mitchell “the thing that surprised me is that it turned out to be the silliest episode of the series. My theory is that, because productions usually put one woman on a panel show (or none) and stop there, women get used to having to (at some wearisome level) ‘represent’ female humour when we appear on these shows ... but with four women the pressure was off. It was nobody’s individual responsibility to prove anything. So we all got the chance to just mess about, relax and make free jokes like men do.”

So here is that edition of Heresy from 4 January 2012 (though I think my recording is of a subsequent repeat). With Victoria Coren-Mitchell are Sue Perkins, Cerys Matthews and Maureen Lipman.


Since I first drafted this blog post last week I've been in touch with Stuart about the Petticoat Line and he's now updated his data and created a Wikipedia article on the show. I was pretty sure I had a couple of audio clips but so far I've only tracked this one down from 1969.

Petticoat Line aside Stuart's basic arguments remain that on radio and TV "nearly all these long-running shows under-represent women even if you ignore the regulars. Few shows have equal representation amongst guests."    

You can drill down into Stuart's data here.

Monday, 26 December 2016

Listen Without Prejudice

It was the kind of shock ending to Christmas Day that you'd expect from one of the soaps. But this news was real enough. As I sit drafting this post at 2 am on Boxing Day listening to the hits of George Michael, currently playing back-to-back on Heart, I fear my words cannot do justice to his music and career. But oh, what a voice.

So instead let's hear George talking about himself and performing in concert twenty years ago. The interview, conducted by Chris Evans, was part of the warm-up for a concert recorded in October 1996 in the Radio Theatre at Broadcasting House. He touches on smoking, the Sony lawsuit, sexuality and the reasons he wants to get back on stage.

This programme, An Audience with George Michael, was first heard on BBC Radio 1 on 8 December 1996. My tape started partway through the interview so I've tidied it up a little. And if anyone has the first 30 or so minutes please contact me. 

George Michael 1963-2016

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Frank Muir Goes Into Festivities

This year's pick from the festive comedy selection box is a 1980 edition of Frank Muir Goes Into...

Running over eleven series from 1973 to 1987 this is the Christmas special Frank Muir Goes Into ... Festivities. Joining Frank Muir is, as usual,  Alfred Marks reading the comic quotations with recorded contributions from Bill Cosby, Alan Bennett, John Sergeant, Virginia Stride, Instant Sunshine, Joyce Grenfel, Tom Lehrer and Bob Newhart.

This programme was first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 24 December 1980.

Frank Muir recounts how the series came about: "It all began when BBC Radio 4, seeking to find ways to make use of the mass of recorded material in their archives, asked me to do a Christmas programme for children tracing the development of radio comedy since the war. This went out in 1971 under the title Why Are You Laughing? It was produced by a couple of likely lads named David Hatch and Simon Brett, who spent hours in listening rooms hearing playbacks of the Golden Oldies of radio, and comedy LPs made by the likes of Woody Allen, Michael Bentine and Stanley Baxter. A group of actors played 'live' sketches and told the sort of jokes which needed to be told as illustrations.

It became clear that the formula, the 'mix' of the show, was unusual and had more potential than being merely a way of re-broadcasting archive material. So the BBC decided to have a go at a series. It was called Frank Muir Goes Into... because each week we took a theme, e.g. Home, Sport, Jobs, and took a look at the humour which these subjects attracted.  

We needed a kind of general-purpose joke-teller and actor and Alfred is a little more than these. He happens to know every old joke (old jokes are vitally important) and can tell them as well as anybody but he is also a fine straight actor, a sensitive reader of poetry and is possessed of an unbelievable range of dialects and accents".

From Frank Muir Goes Into... by Frank Muir and Simon Brett (Star Books, 1978) 

Monday, 12 December 2016

The Last Farewell

2016 took its toll on the entertainment world  with the passing of many major actors, singers and comedians. Radio too marked the loss of four DJs each of whose careers had spanned about five decades. All four famously appeared in that group shot to mark the launch of BBC Radio 1. They are, on the back row, Jimmy Young and Dave Cash, in the middle Terry Wogan and seated at the front Ed Stewart.    

I've written about Jim, Dave, Terry and Stewpot during the year. But as 2016 draws to a close here's a further opportunity to enjoy their work.

Ed Stewart
Ed presented a revived version of Junior Choice live every Christmas Day on Radio 2 between 2007 and 2015. The playlist was virtually the same every year - festive pop classics mixed with all the children's favourites and novelty songs - but listeners loved it. Here's the complete programme from Christmas 2009. Reading the news is Fran Godfrey.

Between 1991 and 1999 Ed had a daily afternoon show on Radio 2. His final show was on Friday 2 July before he was moved to a Sunday afternoon slot. Here's the majority of that programme. Yet again the perils of recording on a C90 means that the tape turn falls in the middle of the Accumulator Quiz. Taking part in the final run is quiz junkie Isabelle Heward - she's in the current series of Mastermind and has appeared on The Weakest Link, The Chase, Only Connect, Counterpoint, Countdown and 15-1. Also featured are Barbara Windsor, Hilary Oliver, Radio 2 controller Jim Moir and, for some reason, Victoria Beckham's dad, Tony Adams. With the travel news is Sally Traffic and reading the news Colin Berry.

Terry Wogan
For nine years, 2000 to 2008, it was a Christmas morning tradition for Radio 2 to feature a show with Our Tel. All recorded of course, Terry would no doubt be at home helping "the present Mrs Wogan"  to peel the veg. This is a delightful slice of audio archive from Christmas Day 2007. Assisting Sir Terry are Deadly, Boggy, Lynn and Barrowlands Boyd in a tribute to Mrs Gaskell, Scranford, a panto and a Janet and John story. 

Dave Cash
Dave hosted what would be his final shows, The Dave Cash Countdown as well as Dave Cash Country, on the weekend of 15th and 16th October. Here's the penultimate Saturday evening retro chart show as heard on BBC Radio Kent on the 8th of October playing hits from 1968 and 1978.

I've posted this before but this is Dave's guest appearance on Pirate Johnnie Walker as heard on Radio 2 on 27 December 2009.

Jimmy Young
When Jimmy died last month he hadn't been on air with a regular show for 14 years as he'd been given the boot by Radio 2 in December 2002. My tribute to Jimmy includes his final show and his penultimate one is on MixCloud. But here's 80-odd minutes of the anti-penultimate show from Wednesday 18 December 2002. 

Jimmy did present other shows on Radio 2, he took turns on Radio 2 Top Tunes and Two's Best for instance. But here he is as the compere of a concert that very much features the kind of music he probably would've first introduced on the Light Programme. The Golden Age of Radio was broadcast on 22 February 1992 live from the White Rock Theatre in Hastings. The BBC Concert Orchestra is conducted by Bramwell Tovey and the guest pianist is Alison Procter. I'm grateful to Paul Langford for this recording (which is edited). 
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