Watching the radio: don’t touch that dial…

In this article I’d like to consider how the radio has been shown – re-presented, if you will – on TV. I’ve got a couple of old news reports about stations opening, some comedy about hospital radio, and a children’s animated TV show that I find delightful. First, the launch of Classic FM in 1992. Listen to the superb voice of DJ Nick Bailey.

By the way, Nick Bailey’s autobiography, Across the Waves, is an interesting read. I recommend it. I never knew he started as a newsreader on Radio Caroline.

Techno-nostalgia freaks will spot in the Classic FM studio of 1992 a special version of Denon’s CD players. They were professional machines where the disc was first pre-loaded into a plastic cart. The idea being to protect it from grubby DJ fingers touching the playing surface. This short video explains how it works.

In Leeds, in Yorkshire, Radio Aire’s opening day made the news on the ITV station Yorkshire TV. Graham Thornton is the first DJ in this clip, and there’s Eric Smith later on too. Perhaps ITV Yorkshire covered the station launch because the radio studios were just a few hundred yards up the Kirkstall Road from them. The BBC, for their part, rather tended to ignore the commercial radio opposition at the time.

Geoff Sargieson later went on to run BBC Radio York in the 1990s. Meanwhile, from the West Country here’s some nostalgia about early steps towards automating radio stations. The station is Pirate FM. Actually, a legal station. This 1992 TV report, from the BBC show Tomorrow’s World, used a link back to the offshore pirates to contextualise how the operation at radio stations had changed over the best part of thirty years. Good to see Roger Day working in the studio.

In the 2020s the automation of radio stations is now pretty much taken for granted. Indeed, I’ve previously written about it here. But automation – or indeed, anything technical for that matter – can, and does, sometimes go wrong. Here’s Tom Binns and his alter ego…

Whilst I’m reminiscing, my daily commute used to take me past one of the tallest structures ever built by humans in Europe. It’s the Holme Moss transmitter in West Yorkshire. Here’s a link to a 1951 TV report, now in the BBC archive, about Holme Moss and about how it was built. I love the clipped tones of the voice-over and the engineers. I wonder if 13’39” of national TV airtime (part of a longer, half-hour, prime-time programme about transmitters) would today be devoted to such a thing as a TV and radio mast? How news priorities change over the years.

Into the modern day, and cultural cross-references are in evidence here in a Tweet published by colleagues at BBC Radio Derby who did their own version of the TV crime series Line of Duty during March 2021.

Again, for techno-nerds here’s a special detailed view of a BBC VERV outside broadcast vehicle. It’s a pity there’s no commentary or explanation on this video. Note that the Peugeot vehicle is unbranded in this clip.

And this is what a VERV looks like with its logos on, here from BBC Radio Sussex.

Which is all well and good, but what about the next generation of radio professionals? It’s good to see that the people, er, the squirrels, at Hey Duggee get to receive their radio badge.

Lovely to hear Alexander Armstrong doing the voice work on this series. I have to admit that the attitude of the presenters on Cheese Radio upset me, and their music choice was a bit suspect in my opinion. In all seriousness, Hey Duggee is, I think, a children’s show devised by adults who enjoy squeezing in grown-up jokes every now and then. Certainly the ‘Radio Badge’ episode managed to condense radio history from the 1960s up to the 2000s into a neat seven minutes. If you want to know more, the series has its own fan page.

If you’ve got a favourite video clip of radio in action, or radio inaction (see what I just did there?), then drop me a comment in the box below. Thank you for your support.

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