- 1 Mr Chris Rogers
- 2 Periods at the BBC
- 3 Clubs
- 4 Links
Mr Chris Rogers
I was born in 1950. I began working at the BBC in 1973, my final year at the BBC was 2008.
Secondary: Salesian College, Cowley Oxford ( 1961-68) Hihger: Hull University (1968-69 )
Lanchester Polytechnic, Coventry ( 1969-1973) ( B.Sc. Hons Electronic Engineering)
How I joined the BBC
Contributor to BBC Radio Oxford as a student. Learned 'on the job' by assisting with recording, editing etc and being given to chance to go on the air, recorded and live.
My first impressions of the BBC
In the pioneering days of Local Radio, constantly discovering and pushing the boundaries of experience and being given the freedom to be creative.
Broad BBC career
Station Assistant and Producer, Local Radio, Carlisle. Continuity Announcer BBC1 & 2, TVC London Evening news presenter, BBC South West, Plymouth and Political Editor BBC SW, Plymouth
My training at the BBC
Six weeks Local Radio Training at Langham, 1973 Video editing course, Wood Norton, 1996 Video journalism camera course, Newcastle
Periods at the BBC
1971 until 1973
I was a Community Contributor on a None. contract.
My introduction to broadcasting, as a student contributor to BBC Radio Oxford. A concentrated period of learning on the job quickly and sometimes at very short notice, with great enthusiasm. It convinced me that I wanted to work in broadcasting, for the BBC.
My main mentors for the period were
Thomas Prag, Andy Wright, Humphrey Carpenter, Mike Dickin, Owen Bentley
1973 until 1979
I was a Station Assistant then Producer on a Staff contract earning 1500.0.
My first staff job with BBC, as a Station Assistant,followed by attachment as a Continuity Announcer and then as Local Radio Producer.
Main memories of the period
BBC RADIO CARLISLE - BIRTH OF A STATION Reminiscences of an earlier life By Chris Rogers Forty years since the start of local radio in Cumbria. Who would have thought it? Forty years counts as a lifetime for many listeners and few could cast their mind back to the days before 1973 and fully remember what the world of the media, as we call it today, was like. It might even be difficult to remember how ordinary daily life was conducted. Long before the internet, the personal computer and the mobile phone, the word ‘digital’ was the preserve of scientists and technicians. Even in the BBC of 1973, ‘digital’ was in its infancy and only just beginning to be used to distribute programmes from London to radio transmitters across the country, thereby finally allowing Radio 2 and Radio 4 to be offered in stereo like Radio 3. As an illustration, go back another forty years before BBC Radio Carlisle opened. The BBC itself was only 11 years old and the Television Service was still in its experimental stage. The world was just beginning the perilous descent into another World War. Looking back forty years, then, means trying to remember or imagine another world. In 1973 there was no home satellite TV and only three TV channels. BBC Local Radio was only six years old and Independent Local Radio had only just started in London with the first two stations, LBC and Capital, beginning transmissions the month before BBC Radio Carlisle. It’s fair to say life was a lot simpler. What’s also true is that without the interconnectivity which nowadays allows the remotest resident of rural Britain the chance to have even a primitive internet connection to the rest of the world, Cumbria and its people felt and indeed were relatively isolated. The M6 had only been completed to Carlisle in 1970, three years before the station opened, and the traffic was so light that north of Manchester the motorway could sometimes be deserted. I remember in the mid 1960s going on a family holiday to Scotland from Oxford in our Morris Minor, joining lorries toiling up Shap on the A6. The whole exercise took two days. So things were changing. The historical physical isolation of Cumberland and Westmorland ( it would not become Cumbria until 1 April 1974) was beginning to be broken down, but attitudes change slowly in this part of the world and the idea of a local radio station coming into their midst must have been a complete mystery to most of the local population. But the BBC was part of the great mechanism of change. While it had been led by the nose by the pirate radio stations of the 1960s to reorganise its radio in 1967 into the four discrete stations of Radios 1, 2, 3 and 4, it began to upset many in its own organisation with the decision to experiment with a chain of localised radio stations based on city-sized communities. BBC Radio Leicester was the first in November 1967 and was soon followed by eight others, including in 1968 BBC Radio Durham. These local radio stations began life at a disadvantage. Because they were experimental the budgets were minuscule. It was a feature of the experiment which was never to be shaken off, even when the success of the nationwide network of stations in later years merited the warmest words of appreciation from inside and outside the BBC. When I was a student contributor to BBC Radio Oxford in the early 1970s I used to receive the occasional cheque for £1.00 for helping with a recording. I wish now I had framed then and put them on the wall, but as a student I needed the money. In the early days of BBC Radio Devon in 1983, my then wife produced a three-hour daily programme whose total budget for the whole week, five programmes, was £5. It sounds unbelievable now, and was hardly credible then, especially when we heard tales of BBC TV’s Grandstand spending thousands on satellite links to record obscure boxing matches from the USA which would never be transmitted, but which fulfilled the purpose of completing the spending of this year’s budget so that next year’s would not be compromised. No, I wasn’t there and didn’t see the accounts, but I knew the person who was, and did. The first local radio stations also began life broadcasting only on VHF-FM. The technical quality was potentially excellent ( though they didn’t transmit in stereo), but at this time AM transistor radios predominated, especially in cars, so the very first local stations had an uphill struggle even to find listeners, let alone persuade them to stay listening, until medium wave slots were eventually allocated. The concept of local radio may seem straightforwardly acceptable to us now, but in 1967 there’s no doubt that many influential BBC managers had a grander idea of the BBC’s place in national life. Previously, local radio had been the preserve of hick American towns with downmarket commercial practices, or it was linked to the often threadbare, good-hearted amateurism of hospital radio. Many managers on intermediate floors of London buildings with solid-gold convictions of the BBC as a national treasure dismissed the local radio experiment as a waste of time and money and wished the project strangled at birth. Early local radio hung on and began to prosper thanks to dedicated pioneers, who ran the experiment in the teeth of the naysayers, and the teams of talented, hard-working staff who saw incredible value in local broadcasting and brought imagination, innovation and often personal sacrifice to bear to push the project forward. Don’t let’s be too blinkered by nostalgia. It also gathered a sprinkling of some older square pegs whose career-end was in sight and who weren’t considered right for the more modern round holes of the changing departments of network radio. But it was no elephants’ graveyard and these experienced imports usually had a lifetime of professionalism and a store of valuable expertise which could be exploited. On the other hand local radio blazed the trail of listener participation, which has become the top priority of almost any media outlet, whether broadcasting or internet. Local radio began the phone-in, where the listeners became the programme material, a revolutionary idea when for years they had been treated as pure consumers on the other end of the transmitter. Most notably, BBC local radio threw open its doors to local people who simply wanted to get involved in broadcasting. Which is where I came in.
Chapter 2 BBC local radio and my younger life enjoyed a happy coincidence of development opportunity. History and other people will decide, if they’re interested, whether local radio was in any way better for my involvement, but I am totally convinced about the value it brought to me. As a boy I had been fascinated by television. Just as other boys would become besotted by steam trains and the like, I went weak at the knees at the sight on TV or in print of a BBC television camera. I can’t explain why, but it did mean I told the school careers teacher that I wanted to be a TV cameraman, only to be informed I should aim for something much better than that. I also travelled to any site around Oxford which had attracted a rare visit from an Outside Broadcast unit, such as county cricket from the Parks, where Oxford University played. All I wanted to do was be there, in the vicinity, and just gaze at the equipment. When the chance came therefore, to get closer to the BBC, it was surprising that it wasn’t through TV but radio, which I had previously never considered. I was an Electrical Engineering student in Coventry when BBC Radio Oxford began test broadcasts in 1970, prior to beginning transmissions proper at the end of October. I found my Grundig portable radio could pick up the VHF transmissions, which was quite unusual as I was more than 50 miles away at the time. I responded to appeals for reception information and then began contacting programmes when they started. As a ‘ far-flung’ listener I started to feature on write-in quizzes and such-like, so that by the end of 1971 when I asked whether I could come and see my radio ‘friends’, I had jumped the first hurdle to getting properly involved. The next 18 months was a blur of activity as a contributor, learning to edit tape, making appearances in the studio, recording interviews on location, helping to engineer programme recordings on location and then even presenting programmes and making documentaries. And getting paid the odd pound or two. It wasn’t surprising that when I had finished my final exams in 1973 I had decided I didn’t want to be an electrical engineer; I wanted to be a broadcaster.
Chapter 3 I had become, certainly in my own mind, so much part of the furniture at Radio Oxford that it would have seemed only natural and right for the BBC to give me a staff job at the station. That was my initial and grandiose assessment anyway. The only drawback was that there were no current vacancies for a Station Assistant, which at that time was the entry level job in Local Radio, and while everyone was very encouraging, they weren’t going to create a job especially for me. Then someone pointed out that a new BBC station was being set up in Carlisle and they were advertising for staff. This was the first I had heard of BBC Radio Carlisle, and in truth it was almost the first I had ever heard of Carlisle, except perhaps for a night-time drive through it on the way to Scotland in the Morris Minor ten years previously, when I was probably asleep anyway. So I applied.
I had two interviews for the job. In the first I had to go to London to talk to the Station Manager, Tim Pitt, who was drawing up a shortlist. There was a speaking audition, involving some news reading and ad-libbing about Frank Sinatra (about whom I knew little and who I managed to confuse with Humphrey Bogart, doing Bogey out of a job by saying that Old Blue Eyes appeared in the film ‘To Have and Have Not’. He didn’t, that was ‘ From Here to Eternity’. ) I then had to interview Tim Pitt on tape about BBC Radio Carlisle. I decided to take the bull by the horns and make a name for myself with a highly provocative question, the substance of which was that as Mr Pitt had been the manager of BBC Radio Durham, which the BBC had closed down to start Radio Carlisle, couldn’t he be seen as a failure? To his credit, Tim took it in good part and managed to give me an answer. I left bemused and wondered whether he left even more so. Not long afterwards I was invited up to Carlisle for a proper interview in front of a board of BBC managers. I remember nothing of it, but soon I was given the news that I had got a job as a Station Assistant, out of more than a hundred applicants. Had I known that last fact earlier I would have been ten times less confident and much more nervous. But it didn’t matter. Now I was a proper member of BBC staff, a local radio professional.
Chapter 4 BBC Radio Durham was the only one of the first tranche of stations which was based on a county rather than a city. Later audience research would suggest that a broad rule of thumb could be applied to local radio, namely that the smaller and more concentrated the listener population, the bigger the audience figures and the appreciation of those listeners. It was all a matter of identification. Everyone would have a small amount of interest in national news, what was happening at Westminster, say. If it was happening to your county council, you would probably have more interest, but if it was happening in your street then absolutely everyone was agog. The BBC had ambitious plans to extend the local radio experiment and had opened three stations in the North East, in Durham, Newcastle and Teesside. However, the government announced it would restrict the overall number to twenty stations, so the BBC decided to reduce the heavy concentration in the North East and move one to serve the far North West. So it was that Radio Durham's working resources were transferred to a new location in Carlisle in 1973 to serve that barren broadcasting desert between Manchester and the Scottish Border. By the time I came on board in the summer of 1973 plans and work were well advanced. Almost the first thing I did was to join all the other members of staff, new and transferred, for a six-week training course in London, based at the old Langham Hotel in Portland Place opposite Broadcasting House.( 1973-Track 01) In later years the idea of a training course in the BBC lasting a whole six weeks would appear luxurious and somewhat extravagant, but in those days it was not only par for the course, it was there for a very good reason. Earlier I mentioned the reservations that existed about local radio, even in the BBC. As the new stations started ploughing a new furrow they often strayed from accepted broadcasting norms. Timings sometimes went awry, technical standards were sometimes compromised, the content of programmes was sometimes under-researched, and the presentation could fall foul of over-confidence and lack of production restraint. In the days before YouTube all these mistakes could be dismissed. They would be heard once and after making a mental note to do things differently next time they could be forgotten. Local radio was taking them in its stride as it stretched out its pioneering hands. In the ivory towers of the BBC, however, the preserve of absolute standards of excellence and propriety, certain mandarins looked down on the local efforts and it wasn’t long before local radio was branded as second-class. When Radio Durham died and the management were given the chance to start again in Carlisle, they decided to take on the ivory tower critics and make sure that BBC Radio Carlisle operated to the highest of BBC standards from the start. They would attempt the tricky balance of sounding local, free and easy and interested, from within a traditional BBC structure of excellence. Timings would be right, the news would be on time, not three minutes late, the voices would be clear and friendly and the research and journalism would be accurate, whatever the lack of resources. That’s why the six-week training course was important, to instil into the staff those absolute BBC standards of programme production which would guide their efforts to reflect their new surroundings. The time was well-spent, and anyway nothing could be done in Carlisle as the fitting out of the new studio headquarters at Hilltop Heights was moving apace. Builders and technicians were jostling each other to make a radio station out of the top floor of a block of offices built on an old rubbish tip, which had once been called Gallows Hill. Even then stories began that the whole edifice was slowly sinking into the ground. Later, as the gramophone library expanded, more stories began of the fear that a few more Engelbert Humperdinck and New Seekers LPs added to the shelves would have the top floor collapsing onto the Inland Revenue offices on the floor below. In the beginning however, we were highly satisfied with brand new offices and the first manifestation of the BBC Mark III broadcasting desk. Whereas earlier local radio stations had made do with a technical production desk that wouldn’t have seemed out of place on ITMA and Educating Archie, we looked like a cross between EMI at Abbey Road and the air traffic control console at Heathrow. How lucky we were, even though it meant much more to learn to master the art of technical perfection. Meanwhile the other part of the management approach to the new station was to fast-track our knowledge of our new area and acclimatise us to the quirks and traditions of local society. We spent a day, as a staff group, on a Lake District farm, on a beautiful day in August, just learning a little about sheep farming traditions and practice. BBC Radio Carlisle was the first radio station to have a Lamb Bank in February 1974, a service that is now an essential part of the season. Beforehand sheep farmers had to work independently. At lambing time a lamb could die leaving a suckling ewe or a ewe could die leaving a lamb to be suckled. It was often difficult to then match up needy cases. Each night, however, Radio Carlisle would broadcast a list of ewes needing lambs and vice-versa so farmers could instantly make contact and improve their productivity.
It was clear that in an area like North Cumbria and the Lakes the weather is of immense importance. It can not only vary east to west, but from ground level to the tops of the fells and mountains. It drives much of human life, whether you’re a farmer or a tourist. So another Radio Carlisle invention was a band of Weather Watchers. Each morning, there wouldn’t just be a centralised weather forecast from the Met Office covering the whole area, there would be willing volunteers who could be rung up and asked to tell everyone how the weather looked outside their front door. Long before webcams could be consulted for the view down a street, Radio Carlisle Weather Watchers were telling the listeners each morning the view from their street. The drive to learn more about the area brought forth the great Radio Carlisle Survey. I may be mistaken in remembering it as the Radio Carlisle Listener Survey, because at that time there were no listeners. Whatever it was called, it was an inspired idea. In teams of two we would be given a pre-determined patch of the area and simply walk round with a clipboard, knocking on doors and asking people whether they had heard of the new station and what their views were. It helped publicise the venture by word of mouth and often gave us an insight into local lives. I can still remember going into one rural cottage where there were no mains facilities and only a peat fire. It was like an old photograph or something out of Orwell’s social writings from between the wars. It was debatable whether the inhabitants would be able to sustain any kind of radio receiver to get our future programmes, they certainly had difficulty grasping the concept of local radio, but we got a valuable insight into the way that so many parts of Cumbria at that time were still catching up with the twentieth century. The remote Lake District village of Wasdale Head had to wait for four years after Radio Carlisle opened to be connected to the National Grid for the first time, almost the last community in Britain to get mains power on tap. To someone brought up and living for his earlier life in the urban Midlands, all of this was a useful and eye-opening exercise.
Chapter 5 Eventually the station complex at Hilltop Heights in Carlisle became habitable and we began preparing for our test broadcasts, six weeks of pre-recorded music tapes played continuously during the day so that everyone with a radio could get used to our place on the dial and ensure they were placed correctly for the great switch on. We, as a group of Station Assistants, were given the job of compiling the tapes and then ensuring their smooth transmission during the test period. Each tape lasted an hour and required human intervention each 60 minutes to start the next one. I was lucky to be the first voice on the test transmissions. From memory those words were “ This is a test transmission from BBC Radio Carlisle, the Sound of Cumbria, on 206 and 397 metres medium wave and 95.6 VHF”. There followed the first music track ever played by the station, ‘There’s a Coach Comin' In’ from the soundtrack of ‘Paint Your Wagon’. For the first few days there was the utmost conscientious effort to ensure a seamless change from one, hour-long tape to the other, every sixty minutes. It must be admitted that as time went on the mind might stray, other priorities might temporarily intrude, leading to an oath-filled dash down the corridor to the temporary transmission suite where one tape machine would be relaxing with its feet up and the other would be all keyed up and ready to go, looking accusingly at the White Rabbit who was dashing in to press the play button. After a couple of weeks a touch of mini-bravado overcame the routine, after we had heard the test tape music coming from a radio in a tyre-fitters in Botchergate in Carlisle. One of us succumbed to the overwhelming temptation, on the tape changeover, to add to the station announcement a small note of recognition and appreciation to the tyre-fitters of Botchergate. In itself it was a small attempt at that all-important personalisation of the output. However it was strictly against the rules of the test transmission to depart from the pre-recorded tapes, a requirement which was diplomatically but insistently pointed out. I was also lucky to be the first voice of official programming, just after 8 o’clock on the morning of Saturday 24th November 1973. I happened to be first on the rota, I think it was as simple as that. There was that soon-to-be-familiar announcement, ‘ This is BBC Radio Carlisle, The Sound of Cumbria, on 206 and 397 metres medium wave and 95.6 VHF’ followed by the station jingle, a new production from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. This was based on a popular local tune from over the border, “ Corn Riggs”, a Scottish-sounding tune which was the regimental march of the Border Regiment. Based in Carlisle we could not and would not ever forget that we would be heard for quite a way north of the Solway and eastwards into the Borders. It was quite a Saturday for me. Not only had I made the first announcement on the new station, at 11 o’clock I became a proper DJ. At that time it was the goal of many fledgling broadcasters to become a radio DJ, following in the star-strewn footsteps of the pirate radio stations and BBC Radio 1. I could not quite believe that I had been given the chance to front a music radio hour on a Saturday morning, as I had not really shared the ambition to become a DJ. It was fun, but if truth were told I was not quite in my comfort zone. So many others were to do it much better than me, and I looked to presenting a more mixed and, to me, more interesting kind of programme. CHAPTER 6 Those first days, weeks, months are now a hazy blur of working all hours, doing all sorts and loving every minute, just as I had done at BBC Radio Oxford. The difference was that now I was in a secure job and was being regularly paid more than a pound for doing it. Not that it was a fortune. I started that first job at £1500 a year, just £125 a month before tax. I considered myself lucky to find a cottage to rent in the middle of nowhere to the east of Brampton which was advertised at £30 a month, though I negotiated a £2 a month reduction because the A69 main road between Carlisle and Newcastle ran six feet away from the front door. Odd incidents survive, looming out of the blurry mist of memory. One of the first big events of BBC Radio Carlisle as the station constructed its grown-up image was a live classical concert from the Carlisle Market Hall. It was very Radio 3, and enhanced by the presence of David Broomfield, an exquisite and meticulous broadcaster who had worked as a Radio 3 announcer, so was well-placed to instil those traditional values, by example, into us young pretenders. The most memorable part of the concert however was the biting cold inside the Market Hall, because the event was staged in the first week of broadcasting, at the end of November and it felt like mid-winter. During rehearsals all available heaters and gas fires were kept on to keep the orchestra and the violin soloist alive and protected from frostbite. Unfortunately the fires were a bit noisy and the engineers insisted they were switched off for transmission, which is why the soloist performed with her fur coat on. That choice of ‘ There’s a Coach Comin' In’ for the opening test transmission was repeated frequently during the first few months. It was joined by numerous other ‘songs from the shows’ or more precisely songs which featured on the soundtrack of musical films. It was all a question of union agreements and what was called ‘ needle time’. The BBC played a lot of music from records, and an agreement was in force with the Musicians Union concerning how much airtime could be spent each year by each station playing commercial gramophone records.( Understandably, the Musicians Union wanted much more live music played, so their members could earn more income)
Sitting outside this agreement, however, and for some reason we never fathomed, were the soundtracks of musical films, even though they were only available on gramophone records. As the BBC had not yet signed the needle time agreement for Radio Carlisle, we weren’t allowed to play commercial records, though the loophole for the musicals allowed a rich diet of songs from the shows. The other dispensation concerned ‘ reviewing’. It was permissible to play a new record if you were reviewing it, outside the needle time agreement. This led to a scramble for new singles and LPs, which were then played with a review along the lines of “ That’s the new one from the New Seekers. Very catchy, I quite like that, it’s bound to be big”, or something similar.
If you exhausted those two categories, you could always play what the BBC called ‘ coded music’. (For a useful history of its use as TV test card music see http://rssconsultancy.co.uk/articleTCM.pdf) This was a vast library of light and classical music, with some jazz, bought in for a flat fee years earlier and attracting no further restriction on playing. Working through this library made unlikely local stars of outfits such as the SudWest Deutsche Rundfunk Orchestra, which sounded comically obscure then, but which was a quality orchestra of the standing of the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra, now the BBC Philharmonic. Few of us, or the listeners, had heard of Peter Appleyard, whose light jazz playing on the vibraphone from fee-free recordings sourced in Canada became a stock feature. Little did we know he’s something of a jazz legend, a featured soloist with greats like Benny Goodman. At least he probably got more airtime on Radio Carlisle than he’s ever had across the rest of the BBC. We took much pleasure in finding suitable signature tunes for programmes. Again we have to transport ourselves back forty years before the days of so-called ‘strip programming’ where different celebrity voices simply take over from each other or, as on Radio 5Live nowadays, there is one station jingle that bridges the changeover of voices and programmes are called after their presenters. Programme titles were carefully considered, with a liking for acronyms. The mid-morning show was called CHAT, an acronym for Cumbria Here And There. Perhaps the most important programme of the day, the weekday breakfast show was titled ‘AM in Cumbria’.
At first glance this simply related to the early hours being ‘am’ rather than ‘pm’. However it also reflected the presenter, Alex Macintosh, a celebrity performer who was part of television history. Not only had he been one of the young BBC TV service’s in-vision continuity announcers in the 1950s, but also had the distinction of voicing the very first advertisement on ITV, for Gibbs SR toothpaste on 22 Sept 1955.
By 1973, although Alex was not yet 50 yrs old, the glory days were fewer and further between and he was hired to present BBC Radio Carlisle’s flagship programme. Although always friendly and professional, Alex was something of a closed book to us, the younger staff. He was not technically inclined and was always ‘driven’ by a station assistant. Nothing wrong there, it was standard BBC network practice and it was part of our job. His great appeal was the career experience which informed and underpinned his professional approach, with a honeyed voice schooled in the BBC tradition of peerless though not over-arching diction, commonly called Received Pronunciation. But it’s probably fair to say that Alex and Cumbria never quite made the perfect pairing. Having had a professional life in showbiz, acting and broadcasting with long years spent in the Home Counties, the move to Cumbria took Alex into a totally different environment where life was slower, more fundamental and, where showbiz glitz was in short supply. He gave the impression of frustration with the simplicity and slowness of daily life and things came to a head with a somewhat barbed on-air remark one morning to the effect that he’d found more life in a village in Romania ( or some such country). It may have been true, of course, but it caused a storm and didn’t help the cause of bringing the BBC off its pedestal to share the daily life experience of the people it was trying to serve. Alex didn’t renew his contract and presentation of AM was devolved onto various staff members, including me, as the years progressed. All of those early years were full of ‘firsts’, as one might expect from a new station featuring elements of local life for the first time.
As well as the first voice on the air, I was also the first contestant in The Biggest Liar in The World competition at the Santon Bridge Inn near Wasdale. It was the idea of the original West Cumberland producer Dennis Coath. A hundred years previously the landlord of the Inn, Will Ritson, became notorious for his tall tales. The most famous concerned local residents hollowing out giant turnips on the fells for their dinner, and then using the shells as sheep shelters. In November 1974 Dennis turned this historical quirk into a modern-day competition for broadcasting on Radio Carlisle, whereby locals would compete to tell the tallest tales. It was set up for one gala night of recording at the Inn. However it was going to be a great unknown, so I was drafted in to be the first ‘contestant’, a kind of guinea pig to hopefully warm up the audience and allow the technical staff to get a measure of the atmosphere. My tale was eminently forgettable, supposedly proving that ‘Cumberland’ was the land of the mythical Cumber creature. As I say, eminently forgettable. It did produce a winner in a local farmer called Tommy Purdham, who became a local legend. The Biggest Liar competition continues to this day. Thanks to the efforts of producer John Jefferson, Radio Carlisle also created a great advance in interactive programming. These days it is common for radio programmes to employ the full gamut of technological advance and social media. Everyone has a Facebook page and a Twitter feed, texting is second nature and mobile phones and mobile internet not only offer voice contributions but can record interviews in ‘quality’ for almost instant broadcasting. Back in the day, the landline telephone was the most technically advanced tool the listener had. We still took record requests and quiz entries on postcards and letters, or encouraged listeners to come to a studio or remote office and hand over their request personally. Early Local Radio had pioneered the phone-in programme for record requests and quiz responses or, like the Radio Oxford programme I worked on, to exchange items in the Swop Shop (later taken to TV with Noel Edmonds). For BBC Radio Carlisle however, the idea was taken a step further, which led to a daily lunchtime show called Access, a mix of consumer journalism and complaints, what’s on, pleas for help ( how do I get red wine stains out of a carpet?, etc), searches for long-lost friends, almost anything was entertained except record requests. We had a small team of John and a secretary/researcher and me. The telephone was our lifeline too and in those pre-pushbutton days of dialling every number I acquired a permanently sore finger and a healthy dislike for telephone dials. But the programme worked and earned a reputation as the listener’s friend. Whatever the problem you could turn to Access and we would not only try to solve it, we’d ask other listeners to help out, which they did.
In 1974 the management caused a bit of internal upset by announcing Women’s Week on Radio Carlisle, when men’s voices would be banished for seven days. It may sound a bit odd today, but forty years ago women’s liberation was one of the burning social issues and it must have seemed a good idea at the time. Being a product of the age, I and some other colleagues didn’t think much of the idea and argued against it, quite unsuccessfully of course. It wasn’t as if women hadn’t been heard on the BBC airwaves. Local radio featured numerous women broadcasters and BBC Radio Bristol nurtured two of the most famous in the land, Jenni Murray and Kate Adie. But it was true that equality was not in place in a fifty-fifty fashion and it was at least a statement of intent. It was also a good stunt which got lots of local publicity and became a talking-point for a while. In 1976 I left for a period on attachment at BBC TV Centre in London as a continuity announcer. I was only half following in Alex Macintosh’s footsteps, because by then BBC announcers were out of vision and there was no requirement to wear a dinner jacket, which was a relief as I didn’t own one. After eighteen months or so I returned to Radio Carlisle and became a producer. After five years of broadcasting the station had found its feet and had achieved not only maturity and acceptance but a measure of high regard in the community, or perhaps I should say the various communities it served. The audience and appreciation figures were high, regularly the highest in the country, perhaps going against that rule of thumb which equated high response with small concentrated areas. From the beginning Radio Carlisle not only served its home city, but the large concentrations of population in Workington and Whitehaven forty miles away on the West Cumberland coast, as well as Penrith to the south and all the villages and hamlets sprinkled in between. It was these which had presented one of our thorniest problems. BBC pronunciation was always considered world-class, from the days of the dinner-suited announcers. Coming to Cumbria was entering a linguistic minefield. The accent had echoes of Lancashire, Yorkshire, Northumberland and Scots and as a fine mix of all of them was highly individualistic. So-called ‘estuary English’ had not overcome the national airwaves and ‘Eastenders’ was years away from the television. Within the county there was little movement of population, so that individual communities would develop long family threads stretching back generations based on the continuities of farming or, in West Cumberland, maybe on mining or steel-making. As a result little mini-accents would grow up, so that the initiated could tell within a sentence or two almost which village you came from. It took me a little longer, but within a few years I could distinguish a Carlisle resident from a Penrith-dweller or one from West Cumberland or Barrow-in-Furness. Not only that, we also had to deal with the Lakeland and Cumbrian dialect which was more than an accent and really a different language.
Coming from a BBC which set such great store by clear, received pronunciation, it required a personal cultural change to appreciate that the way the listeners spoke was the world in which we were now living and not a world which needed changing. It was a difficult balancing act not to sound lofty and condescending in a posh BBC way, but also not to attempt to fit in too quickly by using accent and dialect which was foreign to us and which could sound insincere and maybe even patronising. The only answer, as always, was just to be yourself, the honesty of good intent would eventually lead to acceptance and integration. However the one area where we could school ourselves and avoid embarrassment was the proper pronunciation of place names. At first every other town, village or hamlet offered a language trap of black hole proportions for the unwary presenter to fall into. So a long index of local names and their accepted pronunciation was compiled before the station opened and was acakept close by afterwards. For example, Stanwix in Carlisle is pronounced’ Stannix’, not ‘Stan-wix’ and Gilcrux to the west of Carlisle is not ‘Gil-crux’ but ‘Gill ( hard'G')-cruise’. There are many others but perhaps the most notorious are Torpenhow and Aspatria in the west. The first has been transformed by the years and the dialect into ‘Tre-penna’ while the seemingly simple ‘Ass-pat-ree-ah’ is moulded by a strong dialect speaker into ‘Spee-ur-tree’. We decided on ‘Az-pay-tree-ah’. Every area has its peculiarities, but Cumbria seems to sport more than most and woe betide the BBC voice on the local radio which gets it wrong. 1978 celebrated not only five successful years but brought the biggest outside broadcast to date. In that year HM the Queen presented the Maundy money at Carlisle Cathedral. It was a challenge to which everyone rose. Resources were stretched to the limit to offer multiple outside broadcast points for commentators to describe various parts of the procession and presentation, while the dutifully traditional BBC tones of producer Nigel Holmes produced a commentary on the cathedral service which was of Dimblebean proportions. It was a towering success, so much so that the whole taped broadcast was issued as a commemorative LP, and that doesn’t happen very often. By this time we had recruited a young news reporter called Richard Madeley, who manned one of the commentary points. He was obviously a young man in a hurry, but that’s to be commended in a news reporter. I took over the presentation of AM in Cumbria and Richard was often my morning producer and newsreader. One notable morning came a phone call that a shop had collapsed in Carlisle City Centre. Compared to most mornings this counted as breaking news, literally, so Richard grabbed a portable radio transmitter and legged it down to the scene. It wasn’t long before he was reporting that the front of one of the shops fronting Carlisle’s historic Lanes complex had indeed fallen into the road. The Victorian mortar had obviously given up the ghost. It was this event that began the discussion on the future of the Lanes and after a number of years of controversy led to the whole area being demolished and replaced by a modern shopping complex. My biggest regret was that the shop belonged to a butcher’s who made the best Cumberland sausage around and also baked a ‘special pork pie’ that was public enemy number one to my waistline. Oh happy days. During the time I spent at BBC TV Centre, Britain experienced a fabulous summer and even drought across the country. One of the effects was a godsend to archaeologists. When examined from the air, the ground and the crops could reveal markings unique to drought conditions which the archaeologists could identify as areas worthy of further examination. Nowhere was this more valuable than around Carlisle, with its extensive occupation and activity in Roman times, especially with the military activity guarding Hadrian’s Wall, which stretched across into the mists of Northumberland. Dr Barri Jones from Manchester University used this technique to identify a possible site of Roman interest, previously unknown, in the small town of Burgh-by-Sands to the west of Carlisle on the Solway coast. I have to pause to point out that Burgh-by-Sands is another of those presenter’s black holes. On sight it should be pronounced ‘Burr- by-sands’, but with typical Cumbrian cussedness is actually pronounced ‘Bruff-by-sands’. I only mention this because not far from where I now live in Devon is a feature off the coast called Burgh Island and yes, that is called ‘Burr Island’. Pity the poor presenter moving from Carlisle to Devon, or vice-versa. If I could extend that pause, Burgh (by Sands, that is) presented me with one of my greatest challenges of persuasion at BBC Radio Carlisle. One of our Sunday afternoon programmes was a variant of the old Home Service favourite ‘Down Your Way’. Simple but effective, all you had to do was some basic research, then spend time in the chosen spot talking to local residents about local life, history and personality and ask for a record to be played. I had a spell on the programme and found myself diverted to a reputedly interesting man who farmed in the middle of nowhere but near Burgh-by-Sands. Having made my way to the farm I found his son and explained my mission. He was bemused and confirmed his father had had an interesting life but that there was no way he would talk on tape for a radio programme. Undaunted I managed to get the father to join us and began trying to persuade him how interesting he might be. As predicted he flatly refused, but always showed just a chink of opportunity for me to change his mind. I became determined to break him down. In the end it took me a solid hour of talk and persuasion of them both, until he decided he would after all talk to me. Having shed his inhibitions he was indeed interesting and regaled me with lots of tales which involved spats and disputes with various members of the nearby community. It’s not often you get such juicy material and while some was unbroadcastable, I left in some good bits. Not good enough for the community, who complained loudly after transmission that I had featured (and I paraphrase) the local nutter and misrepresented the community. Back in Burgh-by-Sands, Dr Jones decided on an archaeological dig in July 1978 of a promising spot revealed by his crop drought aerial photos. The short news item this made seemed to me to hold more potential and in conversation with Barri we decided to try a daily report of activity on the dig for the month it would take, to feature on AM in Cumbria, which by then I was presenting. We also decided to employ an innovative element of interactivity which could be applied to the process, to allow interested listeners to follow and record the progress of the dig. Back in the very early days of the wireless in the 1920s, football and rugby commentary on the BBC was enlivened by an experiment to allow the listeners to better understand the progress of the ball. In the Radio Times was printed a representation of the pitch divided up into eight numbered ‘squares’. The listener would sit with this diagram and when the commentator described the progress of the ball, a second commentator would shout out the number of the area into which the ball had been kicked. We decided to adopt a similar principle. A basic ‘map’ of the dig site would be overlaid with a grid of squares all individually identifiable from letters and numbers running along two sides. The idea was that when something was found, the listener would be able to put a mark of some kind in the relevant square and over the month build up a picture of the dig’s progress. These basic maps were drawn and photocopied and then distributed to studio offices and information centres, and of course to anyone sending in a stamped addressed envelope. I then went to the dig most days during the week to produce a short report for AM with a list of the latest finds. Like any dig we didn’t know what would come to light, and I can’t say we discovered anything of great monetary value. However Barri and his team did discover post-holes where support posts for a fort and a watch-tower were put in the ground and identified wagon wheel or chariot wheel ruts going into the main gateway. They found a sandal, mainly intact, and the various shards of pottery helped to date the structure. For archaeologists this was far more important than a trinket or two as it helped push the knowledge of Roman fortifications out to the west of Carlisle. Barri was also delighted with the interactive technique we used. It seemed to have generated much more interest than usual and he had crowds of people visiting the site to check out their imagination. Nowadays there would be a website and a webcam and all sorts of technological help towards an understanding of what was going on. Forty years ago our technique may have seemed primitive, but as far as I know it remains the first and maybe only example of radio and academia teaming up for interactive archaeology. Sadly Barri died of a heart attack in 1999 at the tragically early age of 63. By 1978 I had been married for nearly three years to Irene Mallis, who was a Station Assistant on Radio Carlisle. (Although we parted and were divorced when I moved to the South West in 1982, we happily remain the best of friends.) The most difficult time for family members of staff was Christmas, so in 1978, as we were unencumbered by children, Irene and I offered to service the Christmas Day and Boxing Day output. I didn’t realise the scale of the challenge until I began to compile the production schedule. Suffice to say I found myself on a self-imposed treadmill of presenting AM in Cumbria each morning and working through until late at night as I travelled to some far-flung town or village to record their church bells for use throughout Christmas Day, or recorded carols by the home-grown choir called the Pro Nobis Singers. Between us we then presented the Christmas Day output before returning home, too tired to open presents and then returned on Boxing Day to somehow manage a live children’s party in Studio 2. We also used the talents of Paul Adams, a contributor from West Cumbria, who sang folk songs with his wife Linda and who was a bright and cheery soul to have around. In an excess of youthful exuberance we decided to write and perform the Radio Carlisle Pantomime, called " Cinder-rotten , The First Punk Pantomime". We had great fun, though it was clear it was a victim of massive self-indulgence, straying too far into the realms of fantasy using the trail-blazing genius of The Goon Show as an excuse. A tape has recently come to light, though I am keeping it under lock and key.
The one part which sticks in my mind illustrates the difficulty and potential of Cumberland dialect. The flirtatious vamp in the story we named Courgette, partly because of the risqué French overtones.
One character asks’ Why is she called Courgette?’ to which another explains ‘Because she’s everyone’s l’al marra ‘. To most of the population this is incomprehensible, and only becomes clear when we understand that a courgette can be considered a little marrow (or l’al marra’ in dialect) and that the word ‘marra’ is also dialect for ‘friend’ or ‘mate’. When uttered with the appropriate amount of Leslie Phillips-style innuendo it becomes (hopefully) pantomime. Paul and Linda spent years running their own recording company, Fellside Recordings, which goes to prove that even a Radio Carlisle pantomime need be no bar to a successful career. The other event of 1978 was a collaboration I undertook with an outside contributor, Rex Gregson. Rex was another irrepressibly cheery soul and we discovered we had a shared interest in old 78rpm records. In conversation we realised that this year was the perfect opportunity for a programme of old records which could be called ‘ The Christmas 78 Show ‘ . The chance would not come again for a hundred years. The idea was commissioned and Rex and I embarked on a wonderful adventure, journeying through the back-catalogue of 78s, which at that time were well out of fashion and years away from the digital revival which can nowadays make almost any vintage recording available on demand on the internet. Rex was the obvious presenter, I would be producer. We assembled our list of records, all with some sort of Christmas connection and sat down and wrote a script. Rex eventually became a proficient and relaxed local broadcaster, but in those first days in the studio he needed a great deal of work to make the script come alive. I would coach him on sentences, phrases, emphasis and intonation and keep the tape recorder running to catch the good efforts. In the end he cracked it, and all I had to do was sit down with a lot of recording tape and with good old razor blade, chinagraph pencil and adhesive tape assemble all the best bits into a continuous narrative. It worked and he was so well-received that in 1979 we embarked on a weekly series of 78s programmes, called after the tune we had chosen for our signature that Christmas, ‘Cheerful Little Earful’.
It was the last milestone of my BBC Radio Carlisle career. On my 29th birthday on 1st April 1979 I resigned from the BBC and took a job at Border Television, a mile way in Harraby, as a reporter and presenter. Eventually, after working at Border and the ITV station in the South West, TSW, I rejoined the BBC, this time to present the local evening news programme in Plymouth. We started working in ‘bi-media’, one of those buzz-phrases beloved of BBC mandarins over the decades, and I worked occasionally once more in local radio for BBC Radio Devon. By this time nearly twenty years had elapsed since my Carlisle debut. Local radio was evolving and changing into the essentially speech-based service it has become. It was different. In so many ways, Carlisle was a long way away.
EPILOGUE When I was young, along with local radio, the world dashed by and we followed, chased , got mixed up and sometimes led. I think even then I realised I was lucky to be caught up in the maelstrom, part of a tremendous energy of discovery, invention and production, in the company of professionals, performers, artists and the occasional genius. And all in the service of this thing called local radio. We took many of our cues from the past. We re-invented programmes like Down Your Way, Any Questions and Family Favourites for a local audience while inventing offshoots like Visiting Time, a daily programme of record requests for friends and relatives in hospital.
It was maybe understandable that one of the most popular requests was ‘Amazing Grace’, a popular tune of the time. But we were regularly mystified by the choice of ‘My Way’ with its opening line ‘And now – the end is near….’ It seemed in poor taste. There again it is a confident declaration of the independence of the human spirit, so maybe it was understandable after all.
We made so many programmes in a traditional way and we had so much opportunity to put ideas into practice. I made one or two episodes of an offshoot of Down Your Way called ‘Conducted Tour’, a weekly visit to a stately home or place of interest. In Millom Folk Museum I caused myself some embarrassment by falling into a dialectical black hole and not recognising the role of the miner’s ‘ bait tin’, which of course is a lunch box for his ‘bait’ or bite of lunch, and nothing to do with angling. The past supported us all by providing so many true and experienced professional broadcasters. I have briefly mentioned David Broomfield who became something of a role model for me. A cultured friendly and knowledgeable voice, forged in the excellence of BBC Radio 3, plus a career’s-worth store of experience in acting and presentation made his readings of Dickens’s ‘ A Christmas Carol’ ,which were serialised for the station and which I helped him record, compulsive listening and remain gems of broadcasting which should be in a national archive. The essence of calm and affability, he was an understanding and reasonable Programme Organiser when he joined management from being a producer. David Lamb came from the British Forces Broadcasting Service and had the most marvellous dark and resonant voice which enhanced any programme. Peter Stebbings was so laid back he never wore a watch, which was unusual in a live broadcaster with deadlines to meet. But he was another with the kind of quality voice which I have found listeners never tire of, always appreciate and nowadays constantly miss in the raucous competition of ethnicity of all sorts on the modern airwaves. The only odd thing about Radio Carlisle in the beginning was the lack of local voices as broadcasters. The determination to prove that local radio could be as professional as the best relied a lot on maintaining traditional standards and it was a long time before local people began taking prominent roles, rather than simply contributing. One of the first was Tommy Thomas, although I believe even he was originally Welsh. What he initially lacked in professional polish he made up for in enthusiasm and the ability to empathise with listeners by knowing their community at first hand. Paul Braithwaite was another, much younger but genuine Cumbrian voice from the community who began contributing music programmes and, notably and amazingly in the recent climate, is still presenting music programmes on what is now Radio Cumbria. We thought we were making the future, a station for everyone. Programmes as diverse as church services, football commentary, live council meetings, local recordings of brass bands, folk musicians, classical concerts, readings, documentaries, phone-ins, news and investigations, in the words of the old Sunday newspaper, all human life was there. I like to think that we achieved that, or at least I worked towards a time when my erstwhile colleagues did, because to me a diverse and rounded radio station schedule has the best chance of being a mirror to the community. Over the years, declining budgets and successive waves of BBC management have decreed otherwise and the excellence of BBC Local Radio now is rooted in its speech, its social action, its verbal interaction with its community. Listening again to old archive recordings shows how frenetic our society has become. The vintage output of 1973 can sound slow and measured compare to the slickness of today’s computer-aided complexity. But then that’s the way life has gone, too. It’s still possible that in the future someone will re-discover the hidden value which now lies untapped. If I was Director General I would immediately launch a programme of recruitment and increased budgets and resources to bring it again to the fore. My experience of starting in local radio, progressing through regional television and having the experience of working in network television as an announcer has shown me clearly that local radio gives a broadcaster the closest contact with the person he or she serves, the listener. The more you move up the career ladder the further away you move from that most important person. With its parsimonious budgets, local radio still gives the best consumer appreciation for the smallest outlay, but with not much more in the kitty it could do the job even better.
(ENDS) Chris Rogers - November 2013
My main mentors for the period were
David Broomfield, John Jefferson, Stuart Campbell