Broadcasting

Radio Brighton's exciting early years

By Bob Gunnell

Initially the station only broadcast on VHF [88.1 VHF] which was a major handicap because at that time few listeners had VHF receivers.  What really helped the station was the three-day week which hit the country in the 1970s.  Then different areas of the twin towns lost power for a number of hours.  After some firm exchange of words Seeboard agreed to give the station details of which areas were about to be hit. These we broadcast, but the problem was we had to keep on the air ourselves.

Power problems
Initially the studio was kept on the air by batteries, later the Territorial Army loaned us a large generator. Finally we bought our own generator.  To keep the transmitter on air we managed to borrow a Mr. Softy ice cream van, which our engineers had to bring into action as and when it was needed.  At that time every VHF receiver in the town was sold!  Later Medium Wave [202 MW] was introduced with a new VHF frequency [95.3 VHF]

Technical facilities
Even the technical facilities used then to make the programmes were different. The traditional way to make a radio programme, was for the programme engineer and the producer to sit in a cubicle controlling the output and through a window was the studio with the broadcaster. We had a control panel in the two adjoining areas and for most of the time the producer operated the main panel, playing in discs and tapes, interviewing guests across the equipment.

Outside broadcasts

The second panel was only used for more complex programmes.  Great use was made of portable tape recording machines. The radio car provided the link to the studio for outside broadcasts from sporting events, churches, and frequently just the streets when the team were out and about meeting the public. The radio car led the Brighton Carnival for many years.

Photo:The foyer of Southern Counties Radio, now renamed Radio Sussex

The foyer of Southern Counties Radio, now renamed Radio Sussex

Photo by Tony Mould


Involving the public
At Brighton and elsewhere new programme forms came into existence. We used a professional weather forecaster to tell us if the sun would shine or the rain fall. Until local radio, all weather forecasts were read by announcers.  Staff from the bus company came on air with information about services. The most important change was the introduction of phone-in programmes where the public could really have their say on local and national issues. I ran one each week and got the reputation of being the right person to contact if your street light had failed. We often had the company involved in the matter discussed, back on the programme to answer questions.

Famous names
Radio Brighton provided a start to many who later became national broadcasters - Desmond Lynam, Gavin Hewitt, Barbara Myers - even Jeremy Paxman and Kate Adie spent some time with us. Because of the big political conferences hosted by the town more people from across the country had their first taste of BBC local radio by listening to Radio Brighton. Because of the potential shown by the first experimental stations, the government gave the BBC permission to widen its coverage and stations sprang up all over the country, later joined by the commercial stations.

Area coverage increased
Radio Brighton had developed its own news room even before the experiment ceased. Across the years, the staff grew and the area covered widened. Initially the station covered Newhaven to Shoreham. Later this grew to embrace Worthing, Haywards Heath and Lewes. In each of those towns the local authority provided a room for an inject studio connected to the station by line, so that staff and councillors could easily go on the air. There was a commentary box in the cricket ground, facilities in the football ground and a studio in the Brighton Centre. There was another studio in Sussex University.

True local radio is no more

I left the station in 1982 at the point where it became BBC Radio Sussex.  Later it was joined to Radio Surrey in Guildford to become Southern Counties Radio, covering both counties and part of north Hampshire.  The Brighton studios left Marlborough Place [now a language school] and moved to Queen's Road. The control was transferred to Guildford but is now back in Brighton. Admittedly at certain peak times the output of the station is split to give more detailed coverage to individual areas.  True BBC local radio as we knew it, however, has gone.  This is area radio, probably the only practicable result of those exciting early years.

This page was added on 04/04/2009.
Comments about this page

BBC Radio Brighton changed its 88.1 frequency to 95.8 and then in 1973 to 95.3.

By Nick Phillips (14/07/2014)

I like to think I worked at BBC Radio Sussex during its last magical phase, ie - before it turned into Sussex/Surrey SCR and attempted to broadcast to three counties (not really 'local' anymore). I joined in 1985 and contributed to the Sunday night youth show 'Turn It Up' (Richard Osman, Jo Wiley, Mark Coles, Clive Myrie, Jane Hill - just a few of the names who also worked on TIU). I moved into daytime and presented the afternoon drive-time show for a couple of years - plus other slots such as late nights, Saturday mornings, the old John Henty 'early bird' show and Sunday afternoons. I had 9 happy years at Radio Sussex but by 1993 the writing was on the wall with a move to Guildford imminent leaving just a skeleton staff in Brighton. That wasn't for me so I moved to pastures new - ending up on Surf 107 and Juice - but that's another story.

By Mike Bradshaw (17/07/2016)

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