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Speaker Allen Nixon ‘Radio – A Great Future Behind It?’

Allen Nixon worked in stocks and shares for most of his life, but he has always had a passion for radio. He has been a radio and TV critic and on the BBC Advisory Council for Cleveland. He was also the Chairman of a 24 hour station in Darlington. He gave us a very amusing and entertaining talk about the history of radio.

Allen started by looking at the rise of television. C.P.Scott, who was the owner of the Manchester Guardian in the early 20th century observed that ‘its name is half Latin and half Greek, and that no good can come of it.’ However, by the mid 1960s, TV had become the consumers’ choice and radio was seen as old-fashioned. That has slowly changed though and, in the last 10 years, the average person listens more than watches. In reply to a question on how this is established, Allen said that it is measured scientifically! Organisations such as RAJAR and BARB survey the public by sampling using interviews.

He noted that the increase in listening has resulted from radio becoming personal rather than collective. 2-way family favourites, Journey into Space, The Goon Show, ITMA and many more were aimed at the whole family. A good broadcaster today succeeds in making the listener feel that the communication is between two people. Terry Wogan was brilliant at this. He had affection and admiration from the audience that nobody had had since Tommy Handley. The star of ITMA had a big hold on people during World War 2. When he died in 1949, he became the first show-business personality to have a memorial service at St. Paul’s Cathedral. People stood several deep outside the completely filled church.

The Brains Trust was another huge success on a low budget. It was considered an honour to be asked to be a panellist. A famous professor was invited and informed the fee was 3 guineas. He accepted and sent a cheque! Commentary on football matches was originally only on the second half to avoid spectators choosing to stay at home and listen.

In the mid 1960s, pirate stations started broadcasting with less talking and more music than the BBC was permitted under its needle time agreement with the musicians’ union. They may have upset some politicians, but they shook up the BBC. The Light Programme, Home Service and Third Programme were replaced by Radios 1, 2, 3 and 4 with Radio 5 following later. Pirates were where many, including Tony Blackburn and Dave Lee Travis, started.

There has been a convergence between radio and TV. The display on Digital Audio Broadcasting radios provides information and some arts programmes have used the web as an aid for listeners to show the subjects being discussed. Allen wondered whether the future might be one box which does everything.

FM was a big improvement on AM, but DAB, despite the claims made for it is not better than FM. The Government has been planning to switch all radio to DAB, but this keeps being put back. Coverage is inadequate and listeners have not been persuaded to abandon FM.

The BBC World Service is excellent and local radio does a job. It also provides opportunities for young broadcasters – Mark Mardell started as a reporter and newsreader for Radio Tees. Michael Buerk and Angela Rippon also started their careers in local radio.

There are now about 30,000 radio stations! These can be found on TuneIn, a very good website. Breakfast shows are very popular. Chris Evans has the largest radio audience in Europe. It is possible to get continuous breakfast shows from around the world on the web.

Short wave radio has not developed, because listeners are now expected to use the internet.

Looking back, Allen recounted amusing incidents from Wilfred Pickles’ Have a Go, which was broadcast live – a risky thing to do. He also recalled that the BBC had recruited local voices to read the news in the war. The fear was that an invader might take over the airwaves and use accent less English to impersonate BBC broadcasters.