“Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin …”
My introduction to Radio, like many reading this I’m sure, was the iconic weekday show, ‘Listen With Mother.’ Broadcast immediately prior to ‘Woman’s Hour’ it was simply fifteen minutes of nursery rhymes, songs and short stories. (I don’t think my attention span has developed much in the ensuing years.)
This would be early Sixties, but already my interest in Radio had been piqued. As the years passed, my interests would widen, and with televisions in those days taking so damned long to ‘warm up,’ Radio seemed a natural and convenient alternative.
As I matured (?) from a sweet little four-year-old into a still little and also, no doubt, still sweet eight-year-old, I discovered a new catchphrase – one I could use to great effect in annoying my parents on a weekend morning after they’d enjoyed a night out at some fancy-dan Dinner Dance in the town.
In the same manner a peal of church bells draws many to worship, so this clarion call was the prompt to draw closer by my Dad’s stereogram on a Sunday lunchtime.
It’s perhaps strange to now reflect that a lame TV programme such as The Billy Cotton Band Show is at least in part responsible for my love of Radio to this day. Yet, living in a house where the sound of music consisted mainly of, erm, ‘The Sound of Music,’ ‘South Pacific’ or ‘The King and I,’ this was regarded as quite rebellious.
(See me? Punk as f***! Ten years ahead of Rotten, Vicious et al, I was.)
As the Sixties drew on, it wasn’t just Big Band music that grabbed my attention. There were some classic comedy shows to be had too. The one I remember listening to most was, ‘The Clitheroe Kid.’
This was a show centred around schoolboy Jimmy Clitheroe and his family. Jimmy, a diminutive comedian from the Lancashire town that provided his surname, was actually thirty-five years old when his long running radio show started. However, standing only four feet, two inches tall, he often passed for the eleven-year-old character he portrayed.
Listen to an episode entitled: ‘Thinking About A Holiday’ – courtesy of Radio Echoes. (First aired on 27th June 1971)
It would also be around this time I discovered the delights (and horrors) of Junior Choice.… and of course, another often to be repeated catchphrase:
Would it be deemed ‘sad’ to openly admit I still listen to the show each Christmas morning as I prepare the family meal? Songs like these made such a lasting impression!
Then of course, with football playing such a large part in the life of the young (and old) me, it was a regular Saturday ritual, with my Dad, to gather round the radio at 5pm and ‘conduct’ the orchestra playing this gem of an iconic tune:
Honestly, my stomach knots with excitement, when I hear this, even now. I’m right back to a cozy living room on a dark, dreich, late autumnal evening, next door the kitchen windows all steamed up, and our ‘special’ Saturday night meal of spam and beetroot sandwiches toasting under the grill.
(I also still wave my arms around like a loon in time with the music – as I suspect my sadly indoctrinated sons do too.)
Now, as the decade turned, I discovered to the ‘Happy Sound of Radio1.’ I should say that at the age of twelve, going on thirteen, I was myself, ‘fab’; ‘groovy’; ‘happening.’.
In truth, I probably found this modern pop music by accident, catching the handover from Stewpot’s Junior Choice to follow-on DJ Stuart Henry, who would become my favourite DJ of the time.
The more I became aware of what Radio could offer, the more I searched out new sounds and fresh presentations. My little plastic transistor had a very sensitive wheel dial, but with gentle, precise turns, and holding the radio to my ear as I turned through all points in the compass, I could sometimes pick up ‘pirate’ stations like Radio Luxembourg or Radio Caroline.
I thought at the time they offered a greater selection of music than Radio 1 – but then in the mid-Seventies, I stumbled upon John Peel! He’d actually been at Radio 1 since its inception, one of the original DJs, but his shows must have been after my bedtime!
Anyway, better late than never.
(You know that question about who, alive or dead, you’d invite over for a Dinner Party at your house? Peely would definitely be one of my guests. He introduced me to so much new music; new bands; new genres. His shows were an eclectic mix of styles. If there was one track didn’t take your fancy, chances were the next one would be on your wish-list of next purchases.)
Though my musical journey was by no means complete, having travelled from Billy Cotton to Teenage Jesus and The Jerks within six or seven years, I at least knew in which direction I was headed.
Without the more specialist stations available nowadays, Radio 1 was required to cater for all musical tastes. One of my favourite shows aired on a Saturday evening, at 5:30pm, as I was getting ready to meet up with pals for a night uptown at The White Elephant Disco.
At this time, I’d generally be laid in a bath tentatively scraping bits of red ash out of a knee wound sustained in that afternoon’s football match. If not, then I’d be showering caked mud off my legs – you don’t want to be lying in a bath of manky water after running a cross country race in the rain!
This was the Stuart Coleman hosted, ‘It’s Rock ‘n’ Roll’ show. It ran for three years from 1976 and was just the job for getting me bopping round the bathroom and in the mood for going ‘up the dancing.’
By the late ‘70s though, it wasn’t just music that had me tuning in to Radio. As a keen fan of baseball, I found that the 1945 Ekco A22 radio I’d picked up at a Scout Jumble Sale (still have it – similar model to that at top of this post) could pick up the American Forces Network (AFN). The time difference meant it was more late-night listening, but I was transfixed by the atmosphere and imagery evoked while listening to commentary of game from Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park.
It was Radio that also introduced me to ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy’ in 1978. It aired on Radio 4, so I have no idea how I found it, but that then led me to become a huge fan and reader all of Douglas Adams’ books.
Even today, with the advent of BBC Sounds app, I listen to re-runs of Hancock’s Half Hour (pre-Seventies, I know) and Dad’s Army, of which three series were adapted for radio, and broadcast in 1974 / 75 / 76.
It’s a sad fact and by-product of ‘progress’ that the ‘old’ is usurped by the ‘new’, only to be granted a passing word in history books.
Not Radio, though!
Radio has seen off records; reel-to-reel recordings; cassette tapes; VHS; Betamax; CD; CD-R; MP3. It is now easily holding its own with HD TV; Smart TV; streaming services and podcasts.
Long live Radio, I say!