Saturday, October 17, 2015

Radio 2 'Comedy' ? Pull the other one!

I was gob-smacked to read this story (link below) on Radio Today, not the least because it's an amazing waste of the BBC licence fee on content just to keep unnecessary managers busy at the same time as important shows are given to outside companies!

It helps explain why BBC Radio 2 costs FIFTY MILLION POUNDS a year

I agree with the comments made by Bertha - it spends money on 'comedy' but does not do over nights LIVE,  ignoring the needs of a huge number of overnight workers who also deserve good MUSIC radio that RELATES to them by reacting with them.

I also pick up on Lewis Carnies comment "seeing the sitcom Miranda Hart’s Joke Shop go on to become the highly acclaimed Miranda series on BBC One". 

Does ANYONE know someone who actually think Miranda was EVER funny? All she did was keep falling over (try that on radio) At best it was embarrassing! 

The fact is if the BBC made redundant Julia McKenzie "Acting Head of BBC Radio Comedy" and Lewis Carnie "Head of Programmes for BBC Radio 2" absolutely no one would NOTICE any change on air - and they would save 100s of thousands.

These people are completely unnecessary on what is MEANT to be a MUSIC station serving people 40+. 

Meanwhile the shows that MATTER, and are meant to serve the MASS market, are farmed-out to outside production companies - Chris Evans - at HUGE expense. 

Worse still 'gender balance' broadcasters such as Sara Cox and Vanessa Feltz occupy slots (or cover breakfast) that far exceed their broadcasting skills or public popularity. 

I find it amazing that Cox who lost a million listeners when she had the Radio 1 breakfast show is now put on Radio 2 breakfast relief .... 

......that is DEFINITELY not funny.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

27 years on, are we the ONLY proper UK 'Oldies' station?

OR (alternate title !) 

"WHY does BBC Radio 2 cost 50 million a year but Solid Gold GEM AM only £4500?"

Twenty seven years ago on the 4th October 1988 the original GEM-AM launched, covering Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire on 3 crackly (but thumping) medium wave transmitters. Indeed, the 945khz was so strong it reached a great deal further, even Liverpool and north London! That was one reason that the station soon achieved a somewhat legendary status in 'radio circles' and in our area a listener response today's 'oldies' stations can now only dream of - 23% and 24% in Notts and Derby. The success was also because it was the first 24 hour 'gold' service in the UK, and was staffed with 'real' dj's who had been inspired by 'pirate radio' and the legendary 'UBN' radio.

I was in a privileged position in that I'd been Head of Programmes and Music for Trent FM for 9 years by 1988 and MD Ron Coles and Programme Controller Chris Hughes were both ex-BBC so decided to 'leave me to it'. I ended up with a VERY 'fun' job many others would have loved. Picking the team was easy - John Peters got the breakfast show as he'd been THE voice of Radio Trent since 1975 having done breakfast more than anyone else for the station.  Other Trent stalwarts Tony Lyman, Andy Marriott and Brian Tansley moved from FM to glorious AM, we had 'Radio 2 style' team members Colin Bower and Viv Evans at night, plus the distinctive tones of Anne Marie Minhall, Tim Rogers was our 'country man', and later Paul Robey, Graham Wright, Craig Strong, and others too numerous to mention.

For the first time I found myself running a station I did not broadcast on, and sat in my office with my Amstrad 'personal computer' (I had bought for myself!) I was somewhat envious of those using what was called 'Master Control' with its view into Trent's famous Studio 'A'. A competitive teamwork developed studio-to-studio - the legendary John Peters on AM with (the eventually legendary) Gary Burton on FM.

Ironically GEM, a station full of Oldies, was launched at the same time as Denon CD players appeared, usurping scratchy 45s so the quality was great and the music was rotated by the (then) new Selector system, which produced daily printed logs. So rather than rehearsing for a show on the new station I had caught the (vastly over-priced) train to London to be taught Selector by the indomitable Angela bond, who had been Kenny Everitt's producer at BBC Radio 1.   I recall it took 8 HOURS to download the 'information' files on to our system - not sound files, just INFO - gosh computers were tiny back then!

Me with Dallas singers in '88. Jackie Dickson (left) was
PAMS and JAM lead singer for much of the 60s and 70s 
One key thing happened in 1988. After years of the Musician's Union blocking the use of American jingles, negotiations by Alfasound's Steve England and others meant I was able to 'jet' to Dallas where I was 'happy' to watch classic 60s PAMS jingles from 'Jet Set' and 'Happiness is' sung by a team of 100% professional jingle singers, 4 of whom had sung on the original jingles. Both the pirate 'Big L' and Radio's 1 and 2 had used PAMS and I'd used edited versions of their jingles on University radio in the 60s so I was in 'radio heaven' - the fact I did not have a show on the station was made up for by the 'Dallas experience'.

We launched on 4 October 1988 with an Olympic stunt of a runner making the journey between our 3 areas and arriving in Nottingham as firework sound effects were played. David Lloyd (already the boss of Leicester Sound by 1988) screamed himself hoarse introducing the first show with John Peters. Luckily, it was not long before someone needed their show covering and I headed down to the re-furbished studio and had GREAT fun being a deejay, knowing that afterwards I could retreat to the security of my staff 'job' in my third floor office with its coffee machine, plants, walls full of pictures of 'old' Trent and second-hand seating from the original station reception! (I had no idea at that stage that within 10 years the 'suits', money men, and consultants of commercial radio would start to get rid of the contracted talent that gave each station a unique sound and made the 'magic' happen...)

And so the 'golden years' of GEM-AM began. Our music library grew to over 4000 songs (yes 4000 'Gold'!), and Paul Robey became 'Robin to my Batman' spending hours coding and polishing the library so we had music flow and variety. New voices appeared on GEM including the wonderful Irish brogue of Krissi Carpenter, Paul Burbank, Steve Voce and others who will forgive me for not turning this into a long list!?

Every year until 1993 we had yet more jingles and I was delighted that we were able to now buy JAM Creative Productions jingles. As I wrote the lyrics I was fortunate to be the one who flew to Dallas every year to supervise, though in truth I mainly sat in awe in the booth as the amazing team and singers made lightning strike with every cut! 

There was a string of great events in the years 1988 to 1993: full OB's from local towns and the East coast, GEM-AM dances in the area, sticker-drives supervised by the amazing Penny from promotions. We even persuaded Jon Wolfert the head of our jingle company to 'jet-in' for an interview and to do an hours show playing oldies and the jingles he wrote and produced! 

Krissi Carpenter quickly became one of the team the audience related to and I recruited Jenni Costello for Trent FM so we pioneered what is today called 'gender balance' by the BBC. But operating the complex panel and split commercial CARTS was 100% manual work and I'd be interested to see the likes of today's female radio 'stars' (who get in to radio from television work) attempt it! Of course in later years the digital DAMS (well named!) advert playout system appeared and made it easier to 'split' adverts.  

By 1991 we had 'lost' the weakest of our 3 areas, Leicester, as it only had 19% (!!) 'reach' - it became an Asian music station.

The Golden years of GEM-AM started to fade when the station (and Trent) were bought by Capital Radio in 1993 (no changes to be made for a year/
zero jingle budget) only for us to find at the (nail-biting) end of the year that we had been sold to the 'Wiltshire/Bristol folk' of GWR. Anyone interested will know that was the start of a decline that has never ended. Some members of  the team attempted to 'keep the magic' going, but I exited before the Australian consultants moved-in and I started a new life as a writer on Art Deco ceramics. But GEM's loyal listeners noticed the inevitable changes, all in the name of 'profit margins' not quality of output - something I'd never have wanted to oversee, and the local newspapers picked up on the story. 

Some of the team on both AM and FM left for other stations and GEM had several name changes, was merged into 'Classic Gold' then 'Gold'. By the turn of the century it was down to 7% reach, which was poor compared to the original GEM-AM 23/24% reach. Now, with automation, it has just one show with a dj each day  and the rest is continuous music, so it struggles to get above 2%.....

But there was to a 'golden' light at the end of the (time) tunnel, as some unrelated events in 2012 brought together people who wanted to re-create the original GEM-AM, and with modern technology 'honed' by 2 of our team (thanks Marrow and Sid) we realised we COULD run a station reliably on a very small budget!  I played an easier part as I just had to learn how to use it all + re-licence the original jingles plus order more classic re-sings for our 'Radio Like It Used To Be' strapline. By this time even 
David Lloyd (who did the GEM launch OB) managed Orion's "GEM106" (amongst others) and they kindly played a part in 'massaging' the station into 'life'.

The impetus the station had, from its roots in the original GEM made it a reality, and we are now able to celebrate our third anniversary just a month after the 27th anniversary of the launch of the original station. 

Fortunately a LOT of people who just LOVE radio (and 'Love the Oldies') give their services for free, and Jon at JAM is still doing what he's always done brilliantly, making our station jingles. 

JAM Creative Productions supremeo Jon Wolfert in the GEM studio in 1992

So with 8000 songs (FOUR THOUSAND more than the original station) and 18 deejays, we are here to stay.   The only thing missing..... is the ADVERTS (thank goodness)  as we are commercial-free thank to our team and kind donors.

And our team? Well, we have from the original GEM, Andy Marriott, Krissi Carpenter, Paul Burbank, Jenni Costello, Tim Rogers, Graham Wright, but sadly we lost the late Brian Tansley who was with us in 2012. Then there are other talented broadcasters from the ILR/BBC years: Andy Siddell, Jeff Owen, Allen Fleckney, Geoff Dorset, Ron Brown, Brian Savin, and Brian Cullen who worked on a long list of stations including BBC Radio 2, Country Sound Gold, Radio Aire, BBC Radio Nottingham, Radio Merseyside, Pirate FM, Saga Radio, BRMB, BBC World Service, Beacon Radio... and yet more more talented new deejays who are learning their craft with us for the first time.

So as we approach our third anniversary, what of the future? Well with the British Radio system being in disarray, and so-called 'local'  stations taking 90% of their output from London, I do believe Internet Radio is KEY to radio's future.

We will never get those audiences of the 1980s and early 90s again, but our pleasure is in being part of a station that provides a service for over 50s of music from 1958 to 1982 that NO other UK station caters for. 

But I'm not writing just to celebrate the original GEM. I have to ask, "why is it that 27 years later we are the ONLY proper UK 'oldies' station"? Despite its annual cost of FIFTY MILLION pounds BBC Radio 2 only caters for under 45s in daytime output and for much of the day play less than 8 songs an hour. As for commercial radio just TWO large groups control 75% of what what is offered to the UK! Even though there are now several stations in every area of the county they have extremely limited playlists of music. The only one attempting to be an 'oldies' station only covers the country in patches and has just ONE dj on weekdays! 

Surely the UK listeners deserve more variety and choice in their radio, and it should not be left to a service with no real budget to cater for over 50s? We do that as we contribute our time and passion..... 

HOW did the government and the radio regulator Ofcom allow this appalling situation to come come about?

Tony Blackburn proves that the GREAT radio dj's never hang-up their headphones (though many radio 'suits' retire and ignore radio as soon as they have their millions) With 18 dj's on our 'golden team', Solid Gold GEM AM offers a free alternative to monopolistic UK radio. We cost our listeners nothing, and if a few of the newer radio dj's hear our output maybe we'll pass on some humanity and radio 'art' to them. For the sake of UK radio, I sincerely hope so. 

For now let me thank you on behalf of the TEAM at Solid Gold Gem AM. All they ask is that you tell your friends about us. We'll have a celebratory week from 5 November as we enter our fourth year!

Monday, August 10, 2015

I hate financial waste of the (legally enforced) BBC licence fee

A BBC Local Radio journalist accused me of 'hating' the BBC...

I don't...... I just hate financial waste of the (legally enforced) BBC licence fee. 

If you read the stories below, I wonder what word you would use to describe how it makes YOU feel ?!

BBC News Chief gets 

£24,000 pay rise

 (as hundreds of staffers

 are laid-off)

So she now earns £215,000 a year.....  This is a great deal more than she would earn in (self-funded) commercial tv and radio, which operate on much smaller budgets than the BBC's! 

WHY does the BBC pay so much?

Of course all this is comparatively unimportant compared to the crazy, awful PR disaster the BBC has had over *Alan Yentob's interview.  He is chairman of Batmanghelidj's organisation. 

The interview was about this kid's 'self-referral' organisation (let's face it, how may PARENTS would trust giving their kids money not knowing how they might spend it - so HOW could this organisation think that acceptable?) 

Watch the interview where Channel 4 lifted the lid on it:

Notice how he keeps telling the interviewer to 'wait a minute' ?

In The Telegraph on 8 August Patrick Sawer reported :

Paul Marshall, chairman of ARK Schools – a leading provider of academies – said the trustees appear to have failed in their duties. 
“The role of the trustees was obviously to make sure they had in place alongside Camila those types of management and that’s what central government was asking for. That was a fundamental failing of the trustees.”

"The trustee coming under particular pressure to explain what he did to ensure good governance at the charity is Alan Yentob. 

The BBC executive – who has been chair of trustees at Kids Company for 18 years – has been critical of his own organisation’s (BBC) handling of the story – even buttonholing BBC reporter Lucy Manning to criticise her coverage."
(my underlining)

Yentob earns £330,000 a year for his part-time role as 'Creative Director' at the BBC !

The BBC pay far too much to a few privileged
'luvvies' suits and journalists.
They could lose these staff
and keep the ones who do the work
and save a LOT!

How much longer are the Government going to tolerate these crazy high wages, and WASTE of a licence fee the public are forced to pay!?

If you agree, one way you can make YOUR opinion known is here:

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

It's time for David Holdsworth to resign

With the news that...

"David Holdsworth has announced a new direction for BBC local radio stations, with a focus on personalities and production" *

...a lot of questions need to be answered, and someone held to account for what is a failing/mainly dismal service, that lost its way in a mire of journalists, editors and manic, hasty, 'gender-balancing', under Holdsworth's 'watch'.

Why did it take this man so many YEARS to understand what everyone else in the business KNEW needed to be done!?

The speech breakfast shows should have been replaced with 'music and speech' ones years ago, and most of the 'editors' pensioned off. Having hastily trained  25 year olds doing a breakfast show aimed at 50-70 year olds is ridiculous.

As regards "We will be offering training with more emphasis on production and presentation skills"  that has never been in doubt. With public money the BBC over-trained, over-researched, and over 'gender-balanced'.  

But given that there is a huge staff mis-balance of non-musical/ personality-less  journalists on these failing stations HOW do they propose to give the 'personality' training and WHO with!? 

They don't have those skills.... and have no BUDGET to employ yet more people...

Will they get rid of the hastily-trained female breakfast 'presenters' only taken on last year (at Lord Tony's behest) to 'gender balance' the stations?

Will they get rid of the truly awful, lethargic, personality-less 'voice idents' made by McCasso?

Surely, having to make these changes goes against everything Holdsworth perpetrated

He oversaw  a failing, journalist-heavy regime. 

It's time for David Holdsworth to resign.


Update: a quote from my August 2013 blog:

To Tony Hall: 

I'd love to charge a large consultancy fee, but here is some free advice: the PROBLEM with BBC Local Radio breakfast shows is that :

  • They are run by NEWS side of the BBC
  • The presenters are often ex-University students
  • The presenters are too young to relate to the audience
  • The shows sound like a radio version of Blue Peter

Your solution is to employ former ILR presenters from each area, have a 80/20% mix of music/news, and pay for them by getting rid of a whole tier of Local Radio management, as 'guru' John Myers suggested in a report the BBC seem to have lost.

Look in your filing cabinets Tony!


Friday, December 12, 2014

"Carry On Radio 2..."

Finding myself with no radio station for a few weeks as Solid Gold GEM AM 'closed' I ventured onto my Roberts WiFi to seek both musical enjoyment and perhaps hear a few neat 'radio tricks' I could 'borrow' if I did get a new show.

Being a 'jingle anorak' of 50 years standing, naturally I 'tuned' to BBC Radio 2 with its 'award winning' jingles and 'amazing music' played by an 'amazing line-up'. The Welsh woman I heard last time I tuned in (who wanted to know if I was "enjoyin' lisnin'....'') was thankfully gone... But what I heard was not agreeable.....

  • a 10 minute sequence on breakfast with EIGHT over-lapping (yappy) voices, and just half of an 'amazing' song
  • a succession of 'modern' songs that were not 'amazing' but sounded like 1970s singles by Stealer's Wheel or Billy Ocean
  • some sort of hospital radio style request show presented by a less than  'amazing' woman who sounded like a jaded nurse
  • Radio One interrupted transmission several times; the ever-young (excellent) Jo Whiley kept appearing on promos or a whole show
  • a crossed landline with BBC Radio Blackburn meant for one breakfast show it REALLY needed sub-titles as a woman mumbled her way through
  • I can only presume a complete digital failure on the Ken Bruce show meant the system switched to auto and played a track by AC- DC
And those 'award winning' jingles? I only ever heard two in any 45 minutes. And a heavily produced traffic jingle which is always spoken all over except for the vocal.An acapella would have done and saved the licence payer £3000. And there is a thumpy news jingle + forgettable 'Steeler's Wheel' type dj namechecks. 

The legendary (truly 'amazing') Tony Blackburn, and Steve Wright, two of the few ACTUAL dj's on the station, have forsaken the 'award winning' jingles and gone to jingle companies in Dallas and New York - I wonder why?

Now, I can hear the 'usual (troll) suspects' typing away on Digital Spy instantly about how successful Radio 2 is. 

But why IS it?

With 85% of the UK's commercial stations only geared to cater for under 40s there are not many other places for 40+ to go. So BBC Radio 2 is actually the only horse in the now lame (radio) race.... 

BBC Local radio does speech breakfast, with some (hurriedly trained) young women, and rather older men holding it together. And with NO music on Beeb local breakfast, the Bauer and Global stations can breathe a sigh of relief that 'Chantelle and Dwayne at breakfast' will get a passable audience - but if they don't the afternoon team 'Angelina and Riley'  can be swiftly moved to breakfast as 'Chantelle and Dwayne' are despatched to the dole office without murmuring a word...

With no choice other than to revert to Radio 2, it's carrying BBC Radio Walford with Peggy Mitchell's 'Golden Hour', what sounds like an old aircheck of Terry Wogan from 1984 - but minus the great JAM jingles, and BBC Radio Blackburn firmly control late Saturday nights.

Bob Shennan seems to have forgotten that radio is a one-to-one medium, and non-radio people shouting or mumbling over each other (in less than 'radio voices' or thick accents) does not make an 'amazing line-up'. Playing music by 'undiscovered' and 'un-signed' bands often leads to unlistenable music. And a string quartet led, re-work of 'Pictures of matchstick men' I heard FIVE times in 3 days is nothing like 'amazing music'.

Of course listening to Radio 2 I also could not avoid the 'first ever BBC Music Awards'. 

In an industry that already has far too many awards and not enough new talent to award them to, this really is superfluous. As if to prove my point the grossly over-glossy event actually gives just THREE awards! Its core aim seems to be to have the giant Radio 2 support its ailing 'cousin station' Radio 1. Forget choice - the event was carried on both stations simultaneously - a note from Global's (very small) book of 'how to do radio' perhaps? 

The BBC Music Awards was a tv/radio concoction that cost a fortune at a time the BBC has been asked repeatedly to use its (publicly funded) budget more wisely.

It consisted of over-played, worn-out songs by artists who either spent too much (or for one too little) time at their hair stylists, and endless cliches from the 'stars' and uneasy mix of presenters, a middle-aged man, and a woman wearing a dress that frankly looked rude - not quite the Radio 2 audience.

All the BBC Music Awards told us about today's radio and music business is that there is very little 'amazing music' and it's heavily over-played. The fact Radio's 2 and 1 were linked for this suggests we really do not need Radio 1 any more, as Radio 2 and the other higher-numbered BBC music stations, have stolen much of its ground.

I caught some of the Radio 2 breakfast today and yes it played the same number of songs in half an hour as the number of awards at the event last night - THREE. 

I think it's time for the BBC Speech Awards.  Radio 2 breakfast and all those local speech breakfast shows could hold an 'amazin' glossy night, and simulcast it on tv... blow the expense!


Postscript: *  The Guardian's report showed it was not well-received by the audience

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A Tale Of Suits, Consultants and Dinosaurs ~ Metro Radio 'seeds' 40 years later...

Lightning knocked out my computer for 6 days last week.... so having caught up with an email back-log.. here I am 9 minutes before July 15 starts.... and I have not written my "I was on Metro Radio on its launch day 40 years ago" blog.

Of course, it seems impossible that it was 40 years ago... and at the time I was the most surprised one, as any show on 'Metropolitan' would have been superb. But Peter Lewis (famous in London in the 70s as an LWT continuity announcer) had faith in me. He gave me THE spot I wanted - the morning show - 9-11am. Even more amazingly my (radio) name 'Len Groat' proved invaluable as in the centre of Newcastle is THE 'Groat Market' so it was easy to choose the show's title.

A few years ago a radio 'futurologist' called me a 'dinosaur'; a comment I now take as a compliment. Because the fact was that at Metro having been given our shows we were trusted to do what we felt right. So every show had a theme tune - ALL the music was chosen the dj team - free choice - we created our own features - and my only 'guidance' was to 'sound like Pete Murray'! 

Even before I went up to Newcastle I'd had an embryonic jingle company in Poynton record me some 'Groat Market' jingles, and by launch day my rack of jingles, 'stabs' pads and promos numbered over 60. All clues to the fact that I was actually going to sound (a little) like Alan Freeman rather than Pete Murray!

But the early days on 'the North East sound' were not halycon. The original breakfast dj was replaced within a few months, and my show extended to 9-12. The 15 minute serials, and assorted quizzes were dropped as were some of the team of producers employed to do these, and a new Programme Controller brought in. A three-strong night time team (for a 2 hour show) was cut to one, but a very special 'one' - James Whale - an amazing communicator, thoroughly nice guy and now a (radio) lifetime mate. 

When I was on university radio in Swansea from 1968 to 1974 I had made myself 'Programme Controller', and amazingly in September 1974 I was asked by one of the former quiz producers to work on a new jingle package - (he had worked on Andy Pandy for BBC tv for decades). Having collected PAMS jingles since the 1960s I was delighted that Emison quoted an 8 week delivery period but PAMS said 3-4 ... the rest became early ILR history as we were the first ILR station to air Dallas jingles. 

I don't need to insert a link to the package as anyone who is interested either has it or knows it very well. My re-lyric of a song first done for 13KOL Seattle was  "Driving down the A1 on a weekend trip to Whitley Bayyy" ~ sung in a Dallas accent of course! These dynamic jingles stunned the local people, got us noticed and the mentions of 'Metropolitan' or 'MBC' went to be replaced with just METRO RADIO.

I was also asked to help find and train some dj's to replace the BBC types who left, so just 3 months into my radio career, I was focussing less and less on my morning show. But I loved it! It was not long before the second person to do breakfast was replaced (sensibly) by someone who was 'local' and knew the area from long-term experience. Bill Steele was continuity at Tyne Tee TV and his cheeky warm personality wrapped in a great radio voice meant that  by the middle of 1975 we were 'on a roll', and my show was again extended to run 9am to 1pm.

What could go wrong? Well nothing really? But firstly I came back from a short holiday  in 1976 to be told by another of the former 'quiz producers' (who always ran around carrying a clipboard to make himself look essential)  that he had removed some of my jingle carts as they were unsuitable. He was ex-BBC and had never even been a dj. 

I realise 40 years later this man was the very first 'suit' I ever encountered.

Then in Spring 1976 a Canadian consultant was brought-in. It was clear things were to change - and this man had NO idea about either the area or how to relate a station to a British audience. He presented an hour of my show to demonstrate to everyone 'how to do it'. Unfortunately he forgot to fade up his mic for his first link...

I realise 40 years later this man was the very first 'consultant' I ever encountered.

Impetuously/intuitively I knew the time was right to move on as radio HAD to be better....  I LOVED my show but my passion for American style radio (and desire to live somewhere less windy and rainy) meant I resigned at the end of a week, But the pc (who was previously a history teacher) asked me to do a final show that Sunday. How things have changed when dj's leave! Of course as ILR was new and 'trendy' in 1976 my leaving was covered on the front page of the Chronicle.

I always felt I was a reasonable dj but would be better suited to running a station (+ although I'd been voted No.1 dj on Metro I knew James Whale would soon assume that title!) 

The rest is history - after joining Piccadilly briefly in 1977 I joined Radio Trent in Nottingham as it 'cleared out' many of the original team. By 1978 I was fortunate to have the 'dream career' - the 9-12 morning show, and 18 months later the hands-on creative responsibility for station sound, dj recruitment and training. And yes the jingles! I already hear shouts of 'anorak' and 'dinosaur'. 

By 1982 I took myself off a regular show and had a GREAT team to run. Despite having to run 9 minutes of commercials an hour, limited 'needle-time' and IBA 'meaningful speech' rules in the early years our team included natural talent so we shone! Talent such as John Peters, Dale Winton, Peter Tait, Pete Wagstaff, Tony Lyman. Guy Morris, Steve Merike, was joined by locally 'discovered' talent such as David Lloyd, Anne Marie Minhall, Andy Marriott, Paul Robey, Rob Wagstaff, Andy Miller, Gary Burton, Erica Hughes, Craig Strong, Jenni Costello, Paul Burbank, Krissi Carpenter..... and later over 17 years too many others to mention. It meant we had a winning sound. And it continued unabated as I later looked after 25 dj's working on 4 stations (the truly wonderful GEM-AM was 'my baby' from 1988 onwards) . 

In th late 80s I welcomed Selector to rotate our music, but erased the 'research' programme from the computers as I believed in intuition not research or 'training'. Does that make me a Dinosaur? But going back to 15 July 1974 and that first day on Metro, I have to thank the station for my first 'break' that opened the door to 17 most rewarding years with Radio Trent, and then from 1988, GEM-AM. The latter 2 stations will always be closest to my heart, but without the Metro morning show, they would never have happened. 

Sadly, radio today is a reflection of how the UK radio industry is littered with 'suits' and research but NOT 'policed' properly by Ofcom. A German company now owns Metro Radio and they send the same shows to Teeside on what was one of our competitors transmitters from 1975 - Radio Tees - an area that is distinctly different and desperately needs a 'heritage' style station.

So, forty years on - although I say "thank you Metro", that goes to people, a riverside building ,and a station that has long since disappeared.  

But all was not in vain. 

What I learned from those early years now serves me well on where I present the '1960s Cafe' each day at noon. Amazingly, we are 'trusted to do what we feel right'! and 'ALL the music is chosen the dj team - and we have PAMS (and JAM) jingles. And, this is the best bit...

....not a research person or 'suit' to be seen!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The oldest 'jingle rack' in the world?

"43 years later the jingle cassettes with overly-neat, multi-colour Dymo labels with enticing names, still hold their audio secrets" (The minutiae of a dj's life). 

Like most of us (in the older generations) my earliest memories of jingles are the "organ and sassy female" vocals on "Sounds Fine it's CAROLINE"... which were quickly out-classed when Jean Oliver (and the PAMS gang) sang "It's Smooth Sailing" and "Wonderful, Radio, London!" 

As a quiet, introverted 14 year old in 'posh' Twickenham (Dickie Valentine lived on our road) I was already determined to escape London at the earliest opportunity - I never liked big cities. My only solace was that I could actually get Radio London loud and clear all day every day. But unusually (for 1964) it was the sung jingles that got my primary attention. 

Like "a Bee to a flower" I was drawn into a new world, so whilst other 'teenagers' bought football boots and balls, I had a Philips 'magic eye' reel-to-reel tape recorder and spent my pocket money buying he latest American singles, and magnetic tape to record the radio. Soon I discovered a man in East Anglia who HAD some of the PAMS jingles I'd heard about for sale!


Now I need to jump to 1971 (no room to get nostalgic about my 'bedroom' station Radio Sceptre on 221) By '71 I did mornings on Action Radio at Swansea University (Britain's second uni-radio service that I started in '68), and afternoons at Radio City. I still remember "serving Hill House, Mount Pleasant, Cefn Coed and Singleton Hospitals, this is the Swansea Hospital's radio service Radio City...." And at night... discos. I had to (as it's fashionable to say now) 'step-aside' from my academic studies as I failed to dissect frogs or understand the finer points of George Elliott's novels  - I learnt later he was a 'she'!

So by 1971 to pay my £3.50 a week rent on my 'flat', I HAD to WORK - sheer shock. As much as I disliked it, the only way to be paid to dj was discos. I certainly was not the only introverted disco deejay in South Wales (or the world) who did it to kill time until they could get into radio. And it paid well; for 3 or 4 night's work you could live like a Welsh king and eat at the White Elephant Curry House 7 nights a week!  Some days were spent at Swansea library getting addresses for broadcasting organisations in Australia and New Zealand (after I visited Manx Radio in 1971 I realised I'd never get a job there) but a move of 12,000 miles defeated even my enthusiasm for radio.

All this leads me to announce that I think I have the oldest 'jingle rack' in the world!

'The Len Groat Get Together' jingles were needed for all the radio shows and the discos. I was the 'star turn' (after the bingo) at the Aberaman Working Men's Club, and even had one night in Swansea (oooh) at 'Pandoras' where 'disco go-go girls' danced reluctantly to the Ronettes 'Baby I love you' (my choice..) 

Between nearly EVERY disc ............ I played a jingle! 

And they were 'cut and splice' versions of those great PAMS jingles from 'Big L' Radio London, and many others "Happiness Is...." "GoGoGoGoGoooooooo" and even some from a company called Pepper Tanner "The Station That's ALL Heart.." And in the early 70s, with no ILR, the record companies threw endless singles at those of us on their mailing lists (good old Probe with Steely Dan and the 4 Tops). 

For three years this was the crazy world I lived in, a radio-loving dj forced after a day 'on the wireless' into the dark realm of night-time discos... until Independent Local Radio was (finally) announced! 

Despite my determination I was still surprised when I was asked for interviews at Capital (Michael Bukht & Aidan Day) and Piccadilly (Colin Walters) But when I was offered a JOB by Peter Lewis of Metro Radio (Metropolitan Broadcasting) I was so flabbergasted I had to ring him to ask again..

'Are you SURE I've got the MORNING show?"

I had..... 

And so the cardboard box (it was for a Shure mic) that held my jingle cassettes was put away but (sub-consciously?) never thrown away. Now 43 years later the jingle cassettes with overly-neat, multi-colour Dymo labels with enticing names, still hold their audio secrets... as I have no cassette player.

Lastly, for those who can only go back as far as Plessey CT80 or ITC 3 stack cart machines, a secret - I spent hours opening up the cassettes, removing the 'leader' and all but 60 seconds of the (fragile) tape - so to re-cue.... all I had to do was 'hit' re-wind.

The rack was only used for 3 years - but the 'art' of Dymo labelling served me well - I both carted and labelled the on-air jingles at Metro for nearly 2 years.

On July 15 this year it will be forty years since I did my first morning show on Metro's launch day. I've learned a lot about radio since that day, but as the 'oldest jingle rack in the world' shows, my foundations go back to those crazy wonderful days in Swansea....