The launch of the (iovernment's White Paper on Broadcasting last Monday heralds a radical change in the television and radio that we will watch and listen to in the next decade and beyond. But this month also sees the anniversary of a mould-breaking change in broadcasting in Scotland.
The creation of BBC Radio Scotland won't. when the history of broadcasting is written. be seen as quite such a momentous event as the deregulation of the airwaves contemplated by Mr I lurd and his friends. In reality. Radio Scotland‘s birth merely marked one of the last tw caks to the established pattern of broadcasting in an era when the BBC ruled the national networks. Nevertheless. for Scotland. Illc‘ existence of its own public service national station may yet be seen to be ofgreat significance.
Such a view would have been hard to take ten years ago when Radio Scotland got ofro the shakiest of possible starts. ‘l‘he opening broadcast itself didn't augur well: Radio Scotland went off the air only minutes alterlim ()‘l lara had welcomed listeners to the station at (want on 23 November 1978 when the \‘l'estergail aerial serving a large section ofthe audience tailed. But it wasn‘t technical problems that were to cause the most concern in the first months of the Radio Scotland's life.
'l‘he station was officially opened from the arena ofthe Kelvin Hall on the evening of the launch day with a radio and television simulcast. Andy Cameron and 'l‘om l-‘errie presided over the glitzy event. featuring such luminary performers as Brotherhood of Man and Christian and 'l‘he Section. II was a tone that fitted the new station‘s approach.
Radio Scotland wasn't an entirely new station. Well before the report which recommended the setting up of a fully fledged station for Scotland and before the (ieneva convention on wavelengths made it technically possible to create a separate service for Scotland. the country had been served for many years by a ‘Radio Scotland'. Radio l’our-—still affectionately remembered as the ‘l lome Service‘— had been used as the structure onto which sortie Scottish programmes and Scottish news were grafted. Most notably. (iood Morning Scotland. albeit in a rather different form. w as already in place. l lowever. when the new Radio Scotland was launched. the R4 model was largely abandoned in favour of a mixture of talk and Radio Two. or as it became known ‘blether'. The audience was not just confused by this change but. judging from the letters pages of the papers and the Radio 'l'imes. insulted. A Miss M.M.Bibby from (ilasgow summed tip reaction to the new station in a letter to the Radio Times in December 1978: Reading the programmes in Radio limes on the new Radio Scotland for 23. 3-1 November confirms my long held contention that the more local programmes are made the lower the
Radio Scotland celebrates its tenth anniversary this fortnight. Nigel Billen looks back at its shaky early start and talks to Head of Radio Scotland. Neil Fraser. about
the possibility of a considerably rosier future.
17 Nov. 99m.
standard. If the mish mash of rubbish given is a sample. then I for one will do very little listening on this programme wavelength. I‘m only thankful that most of my usual programmes are still on the National Network. even if the Scots news programmes seem to have been chopped’. ()ther writers complained about the switch of R4 to longwave and the subsequent denial ofstereo Vl ll“ programmes (a thorn in the flesh of both channels which has onlv now been partially solved as the 1 central belt at last. earlier this year. got a wavelength allocated to R4 on
The tour presenter: of BBC Scotland': new an. The Wax youth lprogrammo, starting Thur:
BBC Scotland had tried to apply what were essentially local radio techniques to a national station with pretty disastrous results. One writer to the Herald was driven to write. "l'here can’t be enough halfwits in Scotland to sustain the new service'. BBC Local Radio itself had in practical terms been abandoned as a formula appropriate to Scotland. The population was too thinly dispersed over the country to make it economic. except for (ilasgow. Edinburgh and perhaps Aberdeen.
In any case. Scotland already had
two commercial stations (Clyde and Forth) and in England. the BBC had up till then been able to establish its local stations before the HR stations came on the air. But more importantly. BBC local radio didn‘t seem to address the most important broadcasting issues for Scotland. With the tide of nationalism running high. and the very real possibility of political devolution. the BBC clearly needed a voice in Scotland that wasn’t London based. Many people in Scotland were worried. then as now. that Scottish issues were being ignored by London based media and a national radio station was an obvious solution.
Adopting then the fashionable local radio broadcasting style for Radio Scotland in one way must have looked the most sensible thing for the new station. It was certainly relatively cheap and. in theory at least. ought to have been popular. Ironically. the National Broadcasting Council for Scotland in its report for the year 1978—77. assessing the scope for the new station. had sounded a warning almost predicting that the local radio approach wouldn't work. This ‘unique opportunity" was to be welcomed. they wrote. 'so long as the resources are available to enable Radio Scotland to hold its own with the Radio l-‘our lTK radio network with which it will be in full competition.‘
In its early months Radio Scotland failed to achieve audience figures anywhere near that of Radio Four in Scotland. It was a miserable performance given the wavelength handicap that Radio l’our had been dealt in Scotland. If the hope had been to achieve an audience the size of Radio 'l‘wo‘s or that of the commercial stations. then it was proved to be an inept one. Soon the station was in real trouble. BBC research which had an uncanny knack of being leaked to the press. revealed audiences too small to register for sortie programmes and an unﬂattering public perception of the station labelled it amateurish. A senior World Service producer was commissioned to draw up a report on the station which confirmed the impressions that had been gathering.
There was. in retrospect. a certain amateurism about these reports themselves: 'l‘om l-‘erry. one of the station's most respected figures. was criticised in one —- unfortunately the report referred to him throughout as Brian Ferry. But the current of opinion was confirmed. Looking back on the events of the previous two year in 1‘)Sfl(ilasgow llerald writer Kathleen Rantell wrote; "l‘he treatment of news was one of the silliest aspects of the Radio launching. News gathering was abysmal and selection worse . . . we were penned into our own kailyard and cut off from the national news. . . unless our sets could beat the poor transmissions of Radio Four and receive it direct. The home product was useless.‘
8'l‘he List 11— 24 November 1988