Radio jingles redux (All Along the Watchtower), life imitates art, and how much energy does it take to listen to the radio?

Radio jingles are a popular subject on this website. You can read more about them here, and that article includes clips of some early BBC Radio 1 jingles, a look behind the scenes of the recording of the station sound for the Lincs FM group, and bits and bobs about Radio York’s various jingle packages. Let me know your favourite jingle – from the past or from the present. Drop me a line in the comment box at the bottom of this page.

Jingles are the bits the DJs play when they want to gather their thoughts, take a breath, and work out what they’re going to say next.

They’re also a handy way to relieve the repetition of the DJ (that’s actually a commercial radio job title; in the BBC they’re known as Presenters). And a jingle avoids them constantly saying “You’re listening to Radio Thingy on FM 109.7 Playing the Hits you’d Forgotten, and that You’d Not Known you’d Forgotten.” Or something of that nature. Instead, why not let a small choir say it for you, or a stern/friendly/comforting voice tell you, all to the musical accompaniment of your Station Sound.

Radio 1… / You’re the only one… / For me!

Just turn that dial… / Make the music worthwhile…

Radio 1… / You stole my gal… / But I love ya just the same!…

Jimi Hendrix

Here’s an example of what happened when Jimi Hendrix was mucking about in the BBC’s Maida Vale studios between takes for a Radio 1 session in 1967. Not perhaps award-winning promotional material from Jimi, but it’s a gem from the archives none the less.

I’m pretty sure that one of the BBC sound engineers involved in that session was Pete Ritzema. Take a look at the list of artistes he produced in session at the Beeb during his long career behind the mixing desk.

This external link (published by the Radio Times on its website in 2012, for which I have no responsibility or editorial control) has some more examples. For copyright reasons you may find some of the videos blocked. And here’s another example – including Hendrix (again) as well as Madness and a great jingle by the Who.

So much for the Corporation during the late 1960s and early 70s. One thing that has always been impressive is the Beeb’s ability to laugh at itself. It’s a major cultural institution and has grown quickly in the space of 100 years to be part of all our lives in Britain. Let me share one anecdote that shows how, sometimes, life can imitate art.
Between 2014 and 2017 a mockumentary series called W1A was broadcast. It starred Hugh Bonneville (he of Downton Abbey’s lordship) as a somewhat befuddled senior executive based at Broadcasting House in London. The comedy works because of the nonsense that the characters spout during their work meetings. You can watch some clips here.
And in May 2020, during lockdown, they got together with BBC Radio 2’s Ken Bruce and the BBC Concert Orchestra to make this:

The fictional series was an invented recreation of BBC bureaucracy. At least that’s what I thought until I read a book by the anthropologist Georgina Born. She spent time in the late 1990s watching, listening, and observing top level BBC meetings.

At one point she shared her diary note about the morning when she attended a Drama Editorial Board, sometime in 1996, as the executives checked through a final draft of the department’s Annual Performance Review for that year. The conversation turned to the little pictures of faces that had been drawn all over the official documentation.

Another Drama head points wildly to the smiley faces covering the pages of assessment: “Who did this? The whole of BBC management is now assessed by smiley faces!” And the room collapses in powerless mirth.

Georgina Born

The quote is from page 241 of her book, Uncertain Vision: Birt, Dyke and the reinvention of the BBC, published by Secker & Warburg: London, in 2004.
So, management by smiley face. I can hear the character Ian Fletcher (Hugh Bonneville) as Head of Values in there somewhere. It’s a mark of the BBC’s own maturity that it can allow an anthropologist like Georgina Born to watch it in action, as well as let John Morton write the W1A comedy series.
Just remember “management by smiley face” next time you’re stuck in a Zoom meeting discussing leadership objectives… going forwards.

And finally, if that all sounds like hot air then think about this question: How much energy is used to deliver and listen to radio?
It’s an intriguing problem to work out the maths for, and BBC researchers have done their best to think of everything. Read this article here by Chloe Fletcher, who is a data scientist with the Research and Development section of the BBC. Proof, if need be, that the Beeb is so much more than the programmes it makes. From the studio to the transmitter, to the electricity used for your receiver.

We found consumption had a much bigger footprint than preparation and distribution: almost threefold. Consumer devices used around 73% of the total energy in 2018 compared to 27% for distribution, with preparation using less than 0.1% overall.

Chloe Fletcher

So, my time in the studio uses only a small proportion of the total energy, whilst my listening takes up loads. That’s interesting to know, and perhaps a wind-up radio is the way forward. (This link is an American blog that earns money by clicks through to in the USA.)
However, if you put the term “wind-up radio” into your search engine – as I’ve just done – you could end up down the rabbit hole (quite literally) of doomsday preppers rather than environmentalists.

However, the BBC R&D report also points out that we waste a lot of energy by leaving our radios on standby. So, follow my lead, and switch everything off at the mains at night when you’ve finished listening, watching and surfing. It states quite clearly that I could save up to 38% of my energy that way. Save the planet and cut down your electiricty bills at the same time.

But going back to the radio station itself for a moment, the power used to keep the studios working is an import thing to remember – even if it’s a really small part of the total. I recall a time in the 1990s when we had a harsh winter. There was a power cut, and that was when our station engineers realised the generator was a bit out of date.

It’d been installed at the back of the radio station garage in the 1980s – before computers were widely used in broadcast – and largely forgotten about. Until the power cut that is. Well before that, in the pre-PC days, making radio shows was a physical thing. Audio tape was used to record interviews and was edited with a chinagraph pencil and razor blade and then played out on a huge floor-mounted Revox machine. Here’s a video of the table-top B77, which in studios and newsrooms was usually mounted on a tubular metal frame with castors so it could be wheeled about. If you really wanted to, that is.

So, there we were. The power had gone off, and the back-up generator didn’t have the capability to run a fully computerised radio station. Between 1984 and the mid-1990s the industry had gone through BASYS and was embarking on ENPS. You can read about those changes here.
Almost every desk on the radio station now had a PC running Windows. So, when the power went down the old generator wasn’t able to deliver. The engineers found the solution: we switched almost everything off. We went down to one studio, with one gram-deck, one cart machine, one tape machine and one lightbulb in the studio ceiling (they’d simply removed the rest. Genius). Upstairs in the newsroom the manual typewriters were put back and a hunt was on for carbon paper.

By the way, the packet says it’s “smudge resistant”. It’s not. It still smudges: I’ve got some on my fingers after taking it out of the packet to snap this picture… I recall it was one of the many occupational hazards, what with carbon paper, razor blades, and tape machines rewinding at high speed that you could catch your fingers on…
Anyway, on that cold, foggy day we survived. I don’t think the listener noticed as we didn’t say anything about the problem on air. A bit like a swan on a lake I suppose.

The other time when I’ve been at a radio station and there was a power cut was in the winter of (I think) 1981 at a station in the home counties west of London. It was in a lovely open-plan barn conversion a couple of miles outside the town. When the power went in the middle of that icy morning the engineer tried – in vain – to get the generator started. Sadly, it was so cold, and because the generator had been left outside, the diesel had frozen. A quick-thinking DJ (it was commercial radio, remember) got a battery-powered cassette player, stuck one of his old shows in, and plugged it into the rack-bay in the tech room. His time checks were obviously all wrong, and on the cassette recording he kept mentioning the date – which was sometime the previous month. Still, at least we were sending something to the transmitter.
One of the news team remarked that no one was phoning in to say that the DJ was giving the wrong time and date. But then it was pointed out that the switchboard, of course, was down because of the power cut. Or maybe no one was listening. We never found out.

And finally, reasons to be a couch potato and waste your time with online gaming in these lockdown days. This advert from the German Federal Government mixes humour with a serious message for our times. In my opinion, it works. Now is the time to be lazy…

Let me know what you’ve been listening to and watching in these days. Leave a comment in the box below. I look forward to hearing from you. In the meantime, stay safe and do what the health experts and your local authorities tell you.

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