Broadcasting

Radio Brighton creating local radio history

By Bob Gunnell

On the 8 December 1967, I was sitting at one of the few desks in the Radio Brighton office, when through the window it became clear that the area was being paralysed by a heavy snow storm.  Everything stopped.  People were trapped in offices and shops and children in schools.  I knew the transmitter on the Race Hill was running on test and there was still a regional radio studio in one of the cupolas of the Royal Pavilion. I rang the Head of Radio, Frank Gillard, one of the pioneers of local radio, and asked if we could overcome the technical problems could we go on the air with a special programme.  He gave permission and said he would fix it with the Post Office [who then controlled such matters] and would get the Light Programme to publicise the programmes.

Creating radio history
The Fire Brigade, who had a 4x4 vehicle, got George Orchard up to the transmitter to change the wiring.  The staff at the Kemp Town telephone exchange changed their wiring so the Pavilion studio was now connected to the transmitter.  My first executive decision was to send one of the small number of staff present, to buy wellington boots in Bond Street.  David Waine set up a news room in the office and I manned the Pavilion Studio.  During the rest of that day and on to mid day the following day we broadcast eight special programmes full of information. This showed how important local radio could be in an emergency and created radio history.

Photo:King's Road in the snows of 1967

King's Road in the snows of 1967

Photo by John Leach

Station opened in 1968
The station opened on 14 February 1968 at 6pm. This sounds an odd time for radio today but back then it made sense.  The Mayor of Brighton, Cllr Ronald Bates, cut a piece of recording tape secured across the entrance.  Four of Brighton's distinguished actors told the story of the town.  They were Flora Robson, Dora Bryan, John Clements and Sir Laurence Olivier.  The first three did it without fee.  Sir Laurence, respecting his trade union, did it for the basic Equity minimum. This was probably the first and last time this ever happened.

First outside broadcast
Also in the programme was our first outside broadcast.  John Henty was positioned on Sussex Heights, then the tallest building in the area.  The idea was that he would describe all that he could see.  Unfortunately, a heavy sea mist came down and he had to explain his predicament and rely on his memory. The station opened its regular programmes the next day in the early morning.

Photo:Radio Brighton's Studio 1 at Marlborough Place

Radio Brighton's Studio 1 at Marlborough Place

From the private collection of Bob Gunnell

Community partnership
Already in existence were four other BBC local stations, Leicester, Sheffield, Merseyside and Nottingham.  In preparing the schedules for Brighton I refused to look at those of the other stations, determined that ours would really match the needs of our area. The philosophy behind the BBC stations was new.  Each would provide a service for the city or town but this would be done in partnership with the local community.

Something for everyone
Before Brighton opened I had spoken to many local groups.  This meant that we had programmes for anglers, for sailors, for sports enthusiasts, and for business. The churches provided 'Thought for the Day' and services, the University of Sussex, and the polytechnic provided education programmes. There was even a regular programme for dog lovers. No fees were paid. The professional station staff helped the enthusiastic amateur broadcasters.

This page was added on 10/03/2009.
Comments about this page

My connections with Radio Brighton go back to the early 1980s when there was a regular series of local history programmes put out by David Arscott (now a successful author and publisher), David Legg (now BBC World Service) and Stewart McIntosh (now also BBC World Service news reader). These were locals who knew the area (Stewart went to Dorothy Stringer school) and could even pronounce Moulsecoomb correctly! I was then a student at Sussex Uni and did regular stints with the team. We even did an outside broadcast on the hoof in Plumpton following up research we had done on a course. Later I did a series of rural rambles with the lovely Murray Sanders around the nearby countryside, lots of deliberate scrunching of leaves and/or shingle to emphasise the outdoor quality! Where has all that gone? We now have non-local 'broadcasters' wittering on about nothing in particular and from God-knows where. I hope the move to BBC Sussex recently announced will someway remedy this. I stopped listening to BBC SCR on a regular basis when one morning the time from 6am-6.30 am contained not one single news item about anywhere in Sussex and that was broadcast from Queens Road!

By Geoffrey Mead (30/03/2009)

I am the beardie reading the news on the right hand side of the desk. I learnt many skills thanks to Bob and his news editor Bud Evans in what was my first job in broadcasting after newspapers. When I started, Radio Brighton used the 24-hour clock -it sometimes confused listeners and we had to correct contributors live on air, but it did show how continental we were by the sea. We also had a fantastic Heath Robinson tape pulley system in the main studio, so we could delay the start of the Radio 4 news bulletin on a loop of tape until we finished the local headlines and someone pressed "play". If the presenter wasn't quick enough, the studio assistant had to grab a spool on a pulley, take up the slack and run across the room with it. At the controls in the picture is the now sadly departed freelance Brian Deacon who was discovered (by me) doing a kids' hospital radio show in Worthing. I sometimes pass the current Brighton studio, but can't imagine it can all possibly be as much fun as it was in those maverick times. Looking back, you started with the local audience and basically did more or less what you wanted until Local radio HQ told you to stop. Sometimes the results were quaint- like those broadcasting bus controllers. But when the Athina B ran aground between the piers, when a Red Arrow crashed or the Brighton Marina first opened, we were there. Happy Days.

By Nigel Cassidy (19/01/2013)

I remember the children's program on Saturday mornings, I think it was called Cabbage's and Kings. I seem to remember school children were invited to the studio for the live broadcast and there was a phone in for the local kids; Tel:680231 comes to mind, maybe the number was read out to a jingle- ring this number now!

By Michael Brittain (20/01/2013)

I also remember the number 680231 - and there was indeed an excruciating jingle (something like: Brighton-six-eight-OH-two-three-ONE---RING-this-NUMber-NOW!). I remember it being used for a phone-in (Sunday lunchtime, I think), with a woman presenter whose name I forget. As part of a student prank one Sunday (perhaps we'd all overdone it on the Saturday night), I and some fellow Sussex Uni flatmates popped out to the phone boxes around Rottingdean - where we lived - and using as many phone boxes as there were lines to Radio Brighton (which was very few) we each phoned the famous number, put a few tanners in the coin box [those were the days!] and left the phone off the hook, so as to block the lines for most of the programme and stop any real callers ringing in. At the time, we were convinced that we'd improved the standard of that hour of BBC Radio Brighton's output. (I always intended to apologise to that presenter, one day).

By Albert Beale (23/05/2016)

Does anyone remember Keith Slade's Time Was .. Memories of a Bygone Age ?  Some were sold on cassette at the time. I worked on  a few. Great oral history series. 

By John Escolme (26/10/2017)

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