Monday, 13 May 2019

The New Age of Audio

In my box of radio treasures lies a yellowing radio research diary from the ‘70s for Glasgow. Listeners were invited to note down their listening to Radios 1, 2, 3, 4 (Scotland), Clyde and Luxembourg.

That’s as complicated as life got.

No podcasting. And streaming was confined to dialling Dial-a-Disc on 16 from the phone in your cold hallway.

It was tough to secure an on-air position in those days, with under 50 stations in the whole country, BBC and commercial.

However - if you were lucky enough to get a gig, you were huge. Within weeks of being on-air, you were delivering impressive audiences and could brush your chest with pride at the many thousands hanging on your every word.

Did that mean we were the greatest radio presenters? Maybe not. We were just one of very few citizens equipped with a dirty great big mast on a huge hill.

There were some presenter greats back then. And a lot of others who weren’t. Both are regarded fondly to this day by their audiences.

Now, the audience battle has never been tougher, with hundreds of radio stations on FM and DAB - alongside podcasting and streamed options - and a busier world with online and gaming affording so many other ways for people to spend their time.

No longer can you go on-air with a mediocre offering and expect to command huge audiences. Each pair of ears has to be truly earned.

Chris Moyles, Chris Evans and Simon Mayo switch to pure digital platforms and they know that, no longer bolstered by station loyalty and FM universality, their audience now has to make a bit of effort to seek them out. They thrive or fail on their own endeavours. Bauer’s music brands now compete increasingly head-on with Global’s. BBC local radio listeners can watch daytime TV or hop across to Smooth or Magic for a few pleasant tunes. Having a building on the high street doesn’t entitle you to the local listenership.

Those presenters who commanded high audiences in the old radio world now have to gird themselves for the fight. Not all will survive, even if we are lucky enough to hang on to our gig in a changing consolidated world.

Creating the finest radio is a challenge, and just maybe some listeners will conclude that some presenters who thought they were brilliant aren’t. They were just lucky.

Podcasting similarly exposes vulnerability. When you launch one, you have no listeners. Every one has to be earned and retained. Then it is your audience endorsement and algorithms which propel you.

On radio, whether you are doing newstalk, a breakfast show or daytime music radio, you need to be, amongst other things, genuinely entertaining company - and know your craft - and that’s a gift. Talent needs to be talented.

Never before has audio been quite so democratised. Whilst radio listeners continue to show loyalty, the range of places to attach that loyalty is growing and they may not quite love some presenters enough. The days are likely numbered for those who get away with plodding along.

It’s about brand-building too - both the radio station and the talent. It’s easy to get sniffy about radio brand-spread and TV presenters on radio, but familiarity and profile can help trial, and that’s an asset. Canny presenters now realise too that part of their job is building ‘brand-me’ off-air as well as on. Whatever the buzz around you, however, in time, listeners will decide whether what you do on-air is sufficiently valuable to make them want to hang around.

Job opportunities in local markets have been lessened and that’s caused huge pain to those affected. Some people will find other opportunities and some won’t, and given luck counts for something, there will be some undeserving casualties. Nevertheless, creating and disseminating audio has never been easier. Never before have you been able to distribute a podcast to sizeable numbers, create a streamed station, become a YouTube influencer, appear on a polished national radio brand, pitch for Government funding for a fresh idea, play a role on a community station, work with global giants as they devise new audio offerings - or rent some DAB space and get on-air in your town. When the excellence of what you do is proven - you’ll be more valued than ever.

As linear and non-linear proliferates, this is the most exciting time for audio. But to survive long term, you’ve simply got to be the best at what you do. If you’re on radio now - and not up for the fight, make way for someone who is. 

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Farewell to Luxy's Bob Stewart


A generation knew his powerful voice instantly. It would vibrate the speakers on your hi-fi system as the Radio Luxembourg AM signal phased in and out.

Despite the accent, ‘Baby’ Bob Stewart was born in Liverpool. After national service, he became a DJ at the suggestion of Pete Best, the original Beatles drummer. Radio beckoned and he joined the new Radio Caroline in 1965 shortly after its launch, transferring in due course from the South ship to the North.

When he was told that his accept might deter audiences, and mindful of the American Top 40 radio influences which the successful pop pirates were adopting as a model, he created the authentic mid-Atlantic accent which was to become his trademark.

As the offshore stations closed following the change in the law, Bob moved on, eventually securing work at Radio Luxembourg. At the time, in the absence of the pirates and yet no commercial radio, Luxy was huge. Across night-time Britain - in cars, service stations and cinema car parks, Bob’s voice powered through to the teens and twenties.

After 18 years at Luxembourg, Bob moved to Dallas in the late eighties, but his voice was heard again on Radio Luxembourg, and  also on Jazz FM, Capital Gold in the '90s and Red Rose. His eventual home was back in Texas.

Bob, farewell. For a generation of radio lovers, you meant a lot.  When you talked about all those watts of power, we could feel them.

Bob Stewart  died on 28th March 2019



How Does the BBC Think It's Doing?


The BBC has published its third Annual Plan for the current Charter period, updating its strategy and setting out the work plan for the year.  Below is a thumb-nail sketch of some of the contents as they apply to radio and audio.

News

There is much mention of the BBC’s responsibility with news at a time of “growing partisanship and fragmentation in politics and the media” which has “changed the context in which our news teams operate, altering perceptions of impartiality and bias”. “We are determined to sustain the trust audiences express about the BBC.

“Our updated editorial guidelines will renew our commitment to impartiality, accuracy and other core values, and we will roll out new training resources to challenge subconscious bias and test how it might creep into anything from a presenter’s tone to a programme’s running order." It is good to read about “the need to stand up for impartiality”, and I have long said that the BBC might just be a little more confident in its official rebuttals and do even more to explain to rational consumers the lengths to which it goes to get things right rather than leave it to its valiant and long-suffering producers and journalists.

Youth

As expected, there is a focus on young audiences. It’s pointed out that music streaming has grown by 40% in a year and “15-34s now spend around as much time each week with Spotify as with BBC Radio (both around four and a quarter hours)”.  The report also suggests that “the internet is the primary source” for news amongst younger people and habits are being adopted by older demos. They are comforted, however, by Ofcom’s conclusion that “a substantial majority of young people support public service broadcasting”.

They talk of new formats that match the ways young people are consuming news, on-demand podcasts for younger listeners and developing the ‘voice’ offer for news on smart speakers.

Creativity

Creativity remains a priority and the intent to “take even more creative risks for our audience”, especially younger audiences. In radio they mention Radio 2’s changes as being “a great example of creative refreshment – with Zoe Ball at breakfast, Sara Cox at drive-time, Jo Whiley in a new evening solo slot and Trevor Nelson bringing his Rhythm Nation to late nights”.

Other creative highlights are Radio 1’s Big Weekend in Middlesbrough, the return of BBC Music to Glastonbury, BBC Proms and BBC Music Day. “Across the BBC, we want to make sure all our output is marked by the confidence to do things others simply would not”.

Diversity

The focus on diversity on and off air is highlighted: “audiences will be able to see and hear diverse voices in everything we do”. I think we do. There is an acknowledgement that “there are still too many creative talents who can feel locked out of an industry that remains stubbornly tilted towards London and the South East”.

BBC Sounds

The first few months of BBC Sounds “have proven the impact that ambitious new podcasts can have”.  They say it will “continue to improve as we listen to audience feedback” just before they close the iPlayer radio app.

Growing BBC Sounds is included in the BBC’s second major priority for this year: “For the future of radio, pushing ahead with BBC Sounds is vital. In its first few months we have seen around 1.8 million downloads of the app, and an average of more than a million listeners a week. This year our aim is firmly to establish Sounds as the best place to listen to all BBC audio – music, podcasts, and radio.”

There will be new “investigative, storytelling and funny podcasts” for the increasing numbers of on-demand listeners and more companions to television programmes, plus “new titles from the archives, and more exclusive music mixes”. “We will explore combining human and algorithmic techniques to curate our content more effectively so that audiences discover more content they love".

There is talk too of implementing proposals to  link from BBC Sounds to live linear radio and podcasts from third party sources and trial of ‘windowing’ BBC podcasts in BBC Sounds. There is a nod to the industry too: “Our plans for BBC iPlayer and BBC Sounds are bold and ambitious. It is important that we are clear and transparent with the industry around our plans in these areas.”

Culture and HR

The BBC recognises a need: “to modernise our organisation and make the BBC one of the very best places to work”.  I hope they feel sufficiently confident and open to publish suitably granular detail of the latest staff survey and hold managers to account across the Corporation.

Goals

By 2021/22 they want the BBC to be used every week by 90% of the adult population. It’s now 91%, but they want 90% of all under-35s to sign in to one of our online products every week, compared to the current frequency of once a month. There are also specific goals set out for all services; and an account of the distinctiveness of each.

Music

Radio headlines the music section, with Radio 1 supporting  BBC Introducing, and of new music in general: “Radio 1 will maintain its support of new and home-grown music with 50% of music played during daytime hours being new, and 45% of daytime music played from the UK.” 1Xtra will continue to "surface new UK artists and Asian Network will act as a showcase for The British Asian Sound". BBC Radio 2 will "shine a light on specialist music" and BBC Radio 3 will "promote new talent. 6 Music remains committed to championing new and alternative music from the UK and beyond. In 2019/20, at least 30% of music in daytime will be new and there will be more than 300 live music sessions".

Local Radio

In local radio: “Work is already underway to reinvent BBC Local Radio”, some two years after the DG announced it was starting.  “All of our 39 Local Radio stations in England have introduced 15 hours of new local programming each week” “more than 200 new shows on BBC Local Radio, with a diverse mix of presenters and themes", as part of the "effort to build a new relationship with underserved audiences across England”. Transforming local radio aims to ensure “stations better reflect the communities they serve, uncover and nurture exciting new talent, and engage younger, more diverse audiences. Local Radio will be the front door for new talent into the BBC and the place where local conversations are heard.”

They flag up some possible changes, including “refreshing” the speech quotas for English Local Radio, Radio Scotland, Radio Foyle, Radio Ulster, Radio Wales, Radio Cymru, and Radio nan Gaidheal. Whilst speech – “with news at its core – will remain a vitally important part of our local radio service”, they  will be asking Ofcom to amend the Operating Licence to remove the 100% speech quota at breakfast time, whilst retaining the overall 60% quota for speech content.

There is also mention of 'The Social' online service from BBC Scotland, which will be expanded into England; and of the progress at the World Service since their language expansion.

Money

In funding, the BBC points out that it has had to absorb inflation and the cost of significant new obligations imposed by government (such as paying for the World Service and S4C) with largely a frozen licence fee. They calculate that by 2017/18, licence fee income available for UK public services fell by around 20%. For the current period, licence fee inflation has been restored, which helps, but the BBC points out it is lumbered with the funding for free TV licences for over 75s.  Over this period, they point out that ITV’s income has grown by more than 31% and Sky by 99% in real terms.

And Finally

It’s a useful document and, as one might expect, no huge surprises in this interim report. Drawing back, I just get a feel though that maybe the real value of everyday radio to the BBC’s audiences is not totally understood. Some would say that’s been the case since the 1960s. And yes - tomorrow's BBC customers are hugely important and pivotal to the health of the whole industry - but let's also attach suitable importance to radio's most avid consumers and they're a tad older.





Grab my book 'Radio Moments': 50 years of radio - life on the inside. A personal and frighteningly candid reflection on life in radio now and then. The drama - the characters - the headaches - the victories. Available in paperback or ebook.







Also 'How to Make Great Radio'. Techniques for today's presenters and producers.  Great for newcomers - and real food for thought if you've been doing it years. 
Available in paperback or ebook.



Need a conference speaker? I'd love to work with you.












I work with radio stations around the world in a range of areas. From programme strategy to research, key brand work and marketing strategy. From presenter training to compliance, consultation responses and licensing. Talk to me via www.davidlloydradio.com



Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Another Global Step


It was not unexpected news to read of Global Radio’s changes - those regulatory sands shifted many moons ago.

Most Global people I have spoken to in recent months have been resigned to imminent change: true professionals facing their futures philosophically. Going on-air stoically each day in the last few months has not been easy, and the fact that they’ve managed to plough away with impressive and inventive radio is a tribute to their talents. I salute and respect you. At last, at least now you can plan ahead.

At times like this, and many of us have been there, it’s important to carry on believing in yourself. I appreciate that, particularly if you have a family to look after and local ties, that’s easier said than done if you are to stay in the industry you love.

I hope Rae Earl will forgive me for mentioning the bar in Leeds where she, her husband Kev and I met emotionally - as friends - some years ago, just after it became clear their breakfast show would not be continuing on Leicester Sound.

Now, they’re in Tasmania, with Kev an announcer and assistant content director at 7HO FM and Rae, of course, enjoying life as an accomplished author - thanks originally to  ‘My Mad Fat Diary’ - the very one she delivered originally on Leicester Sound.

Yesterday, she wrote as below: 

“Have a good rant/bloody good cry.
Be sad because it IS sad.
But then - know it’ll be bloody OK.
The great mates you made will stay in your life.
Now that you’ve done THAT, there’s loads you can do.
Go and do something else brilliantly, and love it.
Love to all.
You don’t stop being radio because you stop being in radio.”

Our beloved business was always destined to change. It always has. The original BBC local stations in the 1920s became regional and national. The offshore pirates closed down; as did Radio Luxembourg. In every single radio company, there have been re-organisations in the last decade - with piecemeal redundancies - and also fresh posts created which did not exist a generation ago. And now, as with all industries, the pace of change quickens.

As I’ve often said, had we planned to create a successful UK commercial radio industry, we probably would not have started the way we did.  Commercial radio was not a popular concept at all, and it brought a change in government in 1970 to bring it about at all. Then it was a local model - and so piecemeal at the outset to be virtually useless as a national advertising platform. Now, a sensible national structure has painfully emerged. It is an accident of history that we have had to demolish local to create a sustainable future. 

Was local important? In capable hands, it brought value - but ‘doing local radio’ well is a real gift, and it has been truly mastered by few.  Is it odd we have mainstream local radio in little Mansfield and not in larger Nottingham? Yes, but then again evidence suggests it is in proud smaller communities where local radio truly thrives.

The listener turns on their radio now, virtually anywhere in the UK, and the choice of programming is broader now than it was a generation ago. Local radio tiers are not as thick - but nationally we enjoy the sort of radio formats - like Scala - which could never have survived locally. It’s not the radio we grew up with, but a lot else has changed in life since then too.

Watching the demise of high street retail, the challenges of the music industry and the grappling of the press, we should forgive the radio industry for acting boldly and quickly to ensure it is equipped to fight the tough battles ahead. We should not hurl abuse at sensible businesses who act before they are forced to by circumstances.  Those who fail to take advantage of latent economies will be bought by those who will.

Where from here? The number of local radio brands has diminished - yet the number of national brands has multiplied. Audio generally  has certainly never been so exciting. There are now jobs in the broader arena which simply did not exist five years ago. A heightened reliance on national ad business from Global will also increase local business opportunities for the other operators.

I hope most of the best presenters, journalists, techies and producers will secure new opportunities. Many station managements would concede that they have struggled hitherto to fill many vacancies with those of a suitably high calibre. Our industry’s brightest brains will continue to do great things - here and overseas. There will be awful exceptions, of course. As your mother and mine likely said - life sometimes isn’t fair.

Community radio can thrive. I was vocal in my worries about those small commercial stations at threat through tiers of community stations; and I still worry about such commercial minnows who now feel that life has become so tough, they may as well sell. That is a worrying design flaw in the implementation of community radio licensing. But where a community station now no longer threatens a local commercial operator - good luck to that community station. The regulatory test rightly allows them to launch and flourish. They should embrace the challenge, as Keri Jones said, with real genuine focus on the audience and social gain.

BBC local radio should also seize the opportunity. I have written many times about this sector, yet still it struggles. I hope that Chris Burns can provide the leadership and programming nous it needs to forge a sustainable path ahead. I worry that, for now,  with notable exceptions, it remains poorly and expensively run and led, with an alarming lack of audience focus - not helped by an ill-judged DG speech in 2017 which has resulted in less rather than more focus. It’s wonderful that the BBC now says it believes in local radio, after many years in the cold, but it needs to be programmed brilliantly by those who really understand on-air talent and the art of radio programming. If it cannot grow its audience now, there is something wrong. Go find the best newly-free candidates both to manage and appear on-air on your frequencies.

Drawing back - to have radio audiences overall so healthy, and proud companies like Bauer, Global and News UK investing in enviably polished brands - has to be good news. There are hundreds of people who work there who are rightly hugely proud of the content they create. Capital, Heart and Smooth are huge - and will grow further. Commercial radio now reaches 65% of all adults, and its focused high-profile brands will now lead to heightened success.  Listeners appear happy - and it is to keep growing them that this industry exists. A healthy commercial sector will also keep the BBC on its toes.

Few issues are black and white. Brexit has been a painful lesson in that. The latest changes in radio will be regarded by devastating for many,  and I share that agony more than my objective, professional self would ever care to admit. I’m an anorak at heart. I could sob too, but tomorrow’s another day and I hope that it brings resolve and success for you if you are gifted, committed and persistent.

And for those of us unaffected, for now, by the latest changes, let’s be thankful for having a job we love and give it all we have tomorrow. Similarly, good luck to those who will emerge from these changes with a heightened opportunity. Let’s never take our beautiful world for granted - it is a privilege.

Adam Bowie blog
Radio Today report
Phil Riley blog



Grab my book 'Radio Moments': 50 years of radio - life on the inside. A personal and frighteningly candid reflection on life in radio now and then. The drama - the characters - the headaches - the victories. Available in paperback or ebook.







Also 'How to Make Great Radio'. Techniques for today's presenters and producers.  Great for newcomers - and real food for thought if you've been doing it years. 
Available in paperback or ebook.



Need a conference speaker? I'd love to work with you.












I work with radio stations around the world in a range of areas. From programme strategy to research, key brand work and marketing strategy. From presenter training to compliance, consultation responses and licensing. Talk to me via www.davidlloydradio.com



Wednesday, 20 February 2019

A Dozen Great Women


Tribute Portraits of a Dozen Pioneering Women 
in British Radio

1. Delia Derbyshire – early electronic sound synthesist

"My most beautiful sound at the time was a tatty green BBC lampshade," she recalled. "It was the wrong colour, but it had a beautiful ringing sound to it. I hit the lampshade, recorded that, faded it up into the ringing part without the percussive start."

Delia had studied acoustics, which she enjoyed for its mix of mathematics and music. A career at Decca records appealed, but the company turned her down - saying they did not employ women in their recording studios. 

After a spell at a music publishers, Delia joined the BBC in 1960 as a trainee studio manager. Fascinated by the new Radiophonic Workshop, established originally to serve BBC radio drama, she was granted an attachment there and began to indulge her fascination.

Her most famous work emerged shortly afterwards with her interpretation of Ron Grainer's score for the then new BBC series, Dr Who. In a world without synthesisers or even multi-track tape recorders, Delia devised ways to interpret ‘clouds’, ‘bubbles’ or ‘wind’ using tape speed, dubbing - and a huge amount of imagination.

Her briefs were varied, from drama projects to audio elements for science, arts and educational programmes.  For a time, the Workshop where she was a leading figure generated a multitude of familiar radio theme tunes and jingles on BBC local and network radio.  For each, she assembled a collage of sound, drawing on anything to hand, from her own voice to bells, gravel or the famous lampshade.

Delia was said to have influenced The Beatles, The Chemical Brothers and Pink Floyd. Her work stretched beyond BBC projects to major music festivals and working with leading composers.

Delia died in July 2001. 

2. Clare Lawson Dick – Radio 4 Controller.


Said to be the first woman to come to work at the BBC wearing trousers, Clare Lawson rose from the post of temporary filing clerk in the Reithian days to become the first female Controller of BBC Radio 4 in the 1970s.

Her arrival at the BBC on 10 shillings a day in 1935 was the result of many determined applications. The job was based at Wood Norton Hall, the BBC’s secret wartime location, working in the BBC’s Registry.

Once in London, when her own flat was bombed, she moved into the basement of Broadcasting House where she ‘worked, eat, drank and played” with colleagues.

For eighteen years, Clare was chief assistant at the Home Service and the new Radio 4, being appointed Controller in 1975 on the death of the previous incumbent, for whom she’d covered in illness. Her understanding of the station’s scheduling was said to be second to none and she said Radio 4 should appeal “not only to the intellect but also the emotions”. She restored ‘Down Your Way’ to the schedule.

62 years old at the time of her appointment, the Observer reported that “when she glides into the office, the tall slender Miss Lawson Dick looks more like a fashion house directrice in her late forties”

Clare died in June 1987

3. Olive Shapley – innovative radio producer and broadcaster

Famously, during a live programme featuring Durham miners, called 'Men Talking', Olive was said to have marched in silently holding a placard bearing the words: “don't say bugger or bloody".

Olive had joined the BBC in 1934, co-ordinating Children's Hour programming in Manchester, which included lengthy live plays.

Her father was a sanitary inspector, which left Olive well aware of the impact of poverty. As a documentary-maker, her programmes Homeless People and Miners Wives reflected her concern for the disadvantaged. She was one of the first to take the microphone out to people in their everyday lives - rather than be limited to studio-based programmes. Through this approach, rich regional accents were aired on the BBC – not always a popular move at the time.

Woman’s Hour became a regular home for Olive after the War, with an association stretching twenty years, becoming its third ever presenter; and she produced the programme between 1949 and 1953.

In her autobiography, ‘Broadcasting a Life’, she recalled one of the earliest pieces of advice she received from another woman at the BBC, suggesting that a crucial thing to know was “how the gentlemen like their tea”.

Olive died in March 1999.

4. Olga Collett – early radio commentator

"I refused from the start to be a woman commentator- I said i will be a commentator or nothing. I will not describe fashions - and I never did." 

Olga was the only women between the Wars to work as a commentator for the BBC’s outside broadcast unit, delighting audiences with her broadcasts from Covent Garden and Ascot. 

Olga graduated to commentary from a spell with the Talks department, broadcasting her first programme in 1937 on political canvassing. After writing to the head of outside broadcasts, she was granted a rooftop interview at which she was asked to describe what she could see from her vantage point on the top of Broadcasting House. After fellow interviewees dried up after two or three minutes, BBC bosses begged her to stop after eleven.

Duly appointed, she was keen to commentate on the Coronation as she suggested a woman might have ‘a more noticing eye for detail’. The BBC was more cautious, fearing the Coronation was no place for such an experiment.  1937 saw her eventual debut, describing the arrival or the Royal family at Ascot. Her 1939 European Figure Skating Championship commentary was regarded so highly, it was regularly used by BBC staff trainers.

An 1939 commentary was to attract real acclaim, when she was on duty at a state visit of the French President to London. A combination of delays and the illness of a male colleague saw Olga obliged to continue for a lengthy period. Her marathon performance resulted in inches of admiring press coverage.

5. Angela Bond – radio producer and music programmer


Angela Bond knew the real role of the radio producer on a music radio station. 

She knew that to get the best out of talent like Kenny Everett, she had to understand him. Angela helped to persuade cautious BBC bosses to give him his own radio show and did her best to contain his enthusiasm and creativity to the point of acceptability. She persuaded him to act sensibly, even when such direction was unwelcome.

Her love and knowledge of music was legendary, beginning in the early 1950s in the Seychelles when she acquired a guitar. Following a spell in Nairobi, she returned to Britain in the early '60s and secured a role in the ‘Gramophone Department’ at the BBC Light Programme where she was well-positioned to make a contribution to the thinking which drove the establishment of BBC Radio 1.

Her contribution to Kenny Everett’s Saturday show is well-remembered - her desk piled high with records and always knowing when she stumbled across something which would be of interest to him. The programme achieved audiences of five million.

At Radio 2 from 1969, Angela produced the legendary Pete Murray on his ‘Open House’ programme.

Her influence was to stretch beyond the BBC. On her retirement, she trained herself in the early music scheduling software ‘Selector’. Then, in a world of great suspicion about computerised music programming, she trained a generation of bright young commercial radio programmers how to get the best from it.

Angela died in January 2013

6. Daphne Oxenford – Listen with Mother presenter

"Are you sitting comfortably ...? Then I’ll begin", said Daphne, as she launched into another edition of BBC radio's ‘Listen with Mother’. A generation remembers her tones to this day.

Daphne was an actress, making her stage debut at the age of 13, and touring with ENSA after the War, before returning to perform in revues in London. On TV, her best-known early role was as Esther Hayes in Coronation Street. On radio, she was part of the ‘Listen to Les’ and ‘The Dawson Watch’ on BBC Radio 2, and ‘The Clitheroe Kid’ comedy series.

But it was ‘Listen with Mother’, originally on the BBC Light Programme, for which she would be best-remembered, with its mix of stories, songs and nursery rhymes for children under the age of five. At 1:45pm every weekday afternoon, a million children and parents would pause: "And when the music stops Daphne Oxenford will be here to tell you a story". 

She narrated the programme from 1950 to 1971, and her beautifully delivered opening words were eventually included as a phrase in the Oxford dictionary of quotations.

Daphne died in December 2012

7. Jean Metcalfe – Family Favourites presenter

As Jean grew up, Uncle Mac and Toy Town, of Children's Hour all "went into one ear and stayed there".

In subsequent years, her own warm voice became part of Sunday lunchtime tradition for a generation of radio listeners with her appearances on ‘Family Favourites’.

In her early years, Jean loved elocution, art and radio. Little wonder she was eager to win the prize on Children’s Hour to visit Broadcasting House.

In 1940, she began at the BBC’s Variety department making her on-air debut the following year, reading a poem on the Empire Service. As War began and the BBC Forces Programme was launched as comfort to our troops worldwide, she auditioned. At the BBC Africa Service, she began her relationship with the long-running and much-loved programme which made her a household name: ‘Forces Favourites’, later renamed ‘Family Favourites’ and ‘Two Way Family Favourites'.

The programme, heralded by the familiar theme tune ‘With a song in my heart’ comprised requests from members of the armed forces abroad, and their families at home.  It was whilst hosting the programme that she met fellow presenter Cliff Michelmore ‘down the line’ – a discreet relationship which would end in marriage.

Her listeners developed a real closeness with her. When she lost her second baby, she and her husband received a huge volume of letters of sympathy from listeners.

A natural interviewer, Jean also broadcast for the Expeditionary Forces programme and was dubbed ‘Broadcasting Personality of the Year’ in 1955 by the Daily Mail - and won a Variety Club of Great Britain radio personality award in 1963. In 1950, she hosted Woman's Hour, then aired on the BBC Light Programme.

In later years, Jean served as a suitably frank chair of ‘If You Think You've Got Problems’ on Radio 4, where teams of experts discussed real human issues.

Jean’s final Family Favourites was broadcast in 1985, she died in January 2000.

8. Mary Somerville OBE – broadcasting executive and schools broadcasting pioneer

Mary Somerville pioneered schools broadcasting in the 30s and 40s, and served as controller of BBC Talks.

Mary had met the BBC’s first director general John Reith whilst at school and offered to work unpaid, convinced that the new medium of radio broadcasting should be used in schools to supplement the scholastic teaching methods of the time. His advice, however, was to continue studying at Oxford.

She was eventually hired, beginning her career at Savoy Hill, then working for the BBC's Education Department, becoming Director of School Broadcasting in 1929.

At the time, there were worries about radio’s role in education – some even feared that radio could influence the educational agenda. Mary recognised its potential; and, whilst ensuring it brought genuine educational value, she also sought opportunities to liven up the programmes with dramatizations and sound effects.  She also pioneered new styles of broadcasting for infants, notably Music and Movement.

Whilst Reith had retained a fondness for Mary, she became seen as a rebel in a male-dominated BBC, albeit the organisation was generally some way ahead of many others at the time in equal rights. She fought for the tools to do her job, and for both her own rights and for those of others – putting pay parity for women and maternity leave firmly on the agenda. It was her pregnancy that prompted the BBC to introduce maternity leave in 1928.

After a spell as assistant controller of the BBC Talks division (home sound), she became controller in 1950 – the first ever woman controller of a BBC division.

On her retirement in 1955, the BBC stated that 'the service of broadcasting to schools is Miss Somerville's great monument' and that 'during her last five years in office' she had brought her mature wisdom to bear upon the difficult and exacting problems that face controller, talks”.

Mary died in September 1963

9. Doris Arnold – the first woman DJ

Doris was one of radio's earliest stars. As presenter of ‘These You Have Loved’ until 1963, she became the BBC’s first female 'disc jockey'.

Although her parents viewed her career aspirations as precarious, she joined the BBC in 1929 in the way many women did, as a typist - working in the stores department. When a pianist was unwell, however, she made her on-air debut. She was a talented sight-reader and was trialled as a BBC accompanist, despite her worries of the ‘lowbrow music’ broadcast. She later performed arrangements for programmes such as ‘Songs from the Shows’ and ‘Music Hall’. Playing alongside her husband, she was to become one of the BBC’s most highly paid people in the inter-war years.

One manager suggested that had she fallen ill, it would have taken three people to replace her – and, even then, their work would not be equal to hers.  Nevertheless, she had to push for pay parity with male colleagues, eventually securing increased expenses for her ‘stylish attire’ when giving radio concerts.

Doris died in 1969.

10. Sheila Tracy – presenter, newsreader and musician


Sheila Tracy’s cheery voice through the night on Radio 2’s ‘Truckers’ Hour’ represented a time and a place in British radio.

Having studied music at the Royal Academy of Music, Sheila formed a vocal/trombone duo, The Tracy Sisters, who appeared in variety, on radio and television. Sheila was then appointed as on-screen announcer on BBC Television, moving to BBC Radio 4 in 1974. There, she became the station’s first ever female newsreader, reading her first bulletin in July 1975. “It was the midnight bulletin - so it didn’t cause too much fuss”, she said. The same year, she was one of four newsreaders chosen to take part in the experiments in parliamentary broadcasting.

Sheila became a regular and hugely likeable voice on Radio 2, bringing ‘Truckers Hour’ to the station, based on a format she’d witnessed on a visit to the USA. She introduced ‘Big Band Special’ – and would even join in with the trombone section.

Having left Radio 2 in 2000, she joined commercial radio, working on the digital station Primetime Radio – and continued expressing her love for big band with a show called Swing Time on the Saga Radio regional stations.

Sheila died in September 2014.

11. Hilda Matheson OBE – first director of Talks at the BBC

“Broadcasting may spread the worst features of our age as effectively as the best”.

Hilda met John Reith, the BBC’s first Director General, whilst working as political secretary for Lady Nancy Astor, Britain’s’ first female parliamentarian. Reith head-hunted her to assist the head of the BBC Education Department.

She became the first Director of Talks in 1927, establishing the first news department as the BBC began compiling its own news rather than rely on agencies. She moved the focus to reporting rather than simply reading bulletins and recognised that the radio medium demanded a more engaging style rather than formal talks and addresses. She was known to vet every script - and instruct presenters to speak as if conversing with a friend, rather than lecturing.

Under her direction, intellectuals such as HG Wells, Bernard Shaw, Virginia Woolf and the woman who would become her lover, the novelist Vita Sackville-West were given a platform.
She also launched ‘The Week in Westminster’ to inform on the workings of parliament following the extension of the vote to adult women; and organised the first live political leaders’ broadcast.

After arguments with Reith, Hilda resigned from the BBC in 1932 and began working as the radio critic on the Observer and wrote the influential book called ‘Broadcasting’ which captured the march of technology. The first woman to write such a book, she asserted that broadcasting answered: “the need for rapid interchange of news and views, for familiarizing each country with the ideas and habits of all other countries, and above all the need for an education which may fit men and women, literate and illiterate, for the complicated world of tomorrow”.

She ran the Joint Broadcasting Committee during the War to counter German propaganda by broadcasting British opinion on foreign stations, which were in neutral European and Latin American countries, in German and Italian.

Hilda died aged 52 in October 1940.

12. Sheila Borrett - the first female announcer on the BBC

Sheila was the first ever female newsreader. Her tenure was famously short, being fired after just three months, owing to thousands of complaints from listeners uncomfortable with having a woman on the radio.

Sheila had been employed by the BBC as an actress, working on radio drama, although she hankered after an announcing job, a prestigious post usually reserved for men. These were days when newsreaders were an anonymous bunch who did not give their names, and it was feared a woman might be a little too conspicuous.

Her arrival as a newsreader in 1933 was trumpeted by the BBC, although the Radio Times observed “we foresee panic amongst the horsehair armchairs - retired colonels muttering darkly over their muffins”. In the event, over 10,000 listeners were said to have complained, most of them women.

Sheila continued in drama; and moved to the United States after the War. As Sheila Stewart, she continued broadcasting on radio and television until she was in her seventies.  She suggested it was her ''great foghorn of a voice'' which helped her become an announcer at a time when the technical quality was so bad that ''a woman's high-pitched voice was very displeasing to the ear”.

Sheila died in 1986.

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I work with radio stations around the world in a range of areas. From programme strategy to research, key brand work and marketing strategy. From presenter training to compliance, consultation responses and licensing. Talk to me via www.davidlloydradio.com






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