Random Jottings Of Gildersleeve

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Saturday, August 11, 2007

Pirate BBC Essex...2007

This weekend is special. BBC Radio Essex have organised another(and it's said that it could be the last time)a special event to commemorate the Pirate Radio that started in the 1960's and broadcast from ships anchored in the sea.

Why were they special? Well, much as I love BBC Radio and believe that they still offer the best choice of speech and music, back then, they virtually ignored what the teenagers and young adults wanted to hear. I think they offered only two programmes that could be considered what the teenager wanted to hear.

They had been unchallenged because there was no competition. Not here in the UK itself but people were listening to a kind of commercial radio which had been affecting their audience figures for sometime...an English Service broadcast by arrangement with Radio Luxembourg. It offered entertainment as close to what the Americans were hearing and many well known performers had programmes on it's airwaves. Though on land and legitimate, I suppose this was a forerunner of what the pirates offered when they anchored off the coast of the UK.

To be fair, what the BBC offered and their attitude was probably as much to do with society at the time, those running the country, technically a lack of frequencies available and restrictions within the media and those working within it such as the musicians Union and so on. The teenagers wanted to hear the new Pop groups and yet radio could only play so many records.

Even Radio Luxembourg dropped it's variety and quiz shows for record programmes. Often again, playing the records heard in the States and by artists we wanted here like Elvis Presley or Frank Sinatra etc...

A few Pirate stations managed to keep going after they were outlawed by the British Government by starting up in International Waters it is remarkable that these stations were really on air for approx 3 years 1964-1967. Some dj's took their chances, others saw what was coming and left in the hope that the BBC would employ them as plans were in progress to introduce a service similar to what they had struggled to give out at sea.

Did they sell out? No, not really. What were they going to do? You either joined the BBC and stayed in broadcasting or had to find another job(Commercial radio did not start until 1973)and local BBC Radio I think started in the late 60's.

Those DJ's and times are held in the memories of those who listened and those who were not around at the time who realise their importance.

I'm sure commercial radio and the changes at the BBC would've happened eventually but maybe it would've taken longer. The act that closed the stations down was brought in by a Labour Government with Harold Wilson as Prime Minister and the Post Master General was Tony Benn. The Marine Broadcasting Offences Act brought the Pirates to a close but equally many of the dj's were brought on land and many joined the BBC who in 1967 started 4 National Radio Stations so it's the 40th Anniversary of them starting too...Radio 1 trying to sound like the Pirates it replaced.

The biggest change for the BBC was that Radio 1 actually allowed the dj's themselves to drive their own programmes often until then programmes were scripted and the presenter would introduce a record and someone else would play it in the control room.

The Home Of BBC Pirate Essex The LV18 lightship in Harwich

Its not just a case of being a radio anorak but I realise more than ever what we have lost over the years, that music radio is dull, dull, dull. The format and sound with only a few exceptions has lost it's fun. Banter between the presenters sounds the same and in many cases false. In many cases its too slick. I know that commercial radio is a business and now has to make large sums of money and competition is fierce but many stations are so alike, a important radio consultant who teaches and advises the radio business and has been also in charge of a fair few suggests that presenters be chummy. I don't like it. It sounds forced. Commercial radio was good in it's early days but now as with the National game of Football, the suits and moneymen have come into broadcasting so revenue overides everything but they seem to ignore quality.

The BBC Pirate Radio Essex Ship taken on August 10th by my very good friend Curmy who lives around the area as dusk fell.

It may be argued that we're all living in the past but as what would now be called a gold station, it sounds better than those that are doing it now and this same format would work even with today's music. Those fortunate to live in the area can tune in via good old medium wave(AM)but now thanks to the internet many of us are managing to listen in across the world.

What I have also noticed is that so many of these broadcasters though they were on the air approx 40 years ago still sound young in attitude and in many cases they actually sound in many cases as they did then. They have personality, lacking in many of today's broadcasters.

Thankfully many of the DJ's of the time have remained in the business and are still to be heard, unfortuntely many have had to go into local radio and therefore are heard within a certain part of the UK only(usually in the South)and so someone like myself has lost track of their career. I have discovered that even those that once worked in commercial radio have more often than not moved back to the BBC. And when I go broadband I am hoping to start to listen to names I once might've heard years ago. When national radio lets these people go, thankfully there is usually a place within the BBC to continue because they have so many local stations.

BBC Radio Kent is fortunate to have the services of Dave Cash and Roger "Twiggy" Day. So local radio can be worth listening to and with the right broadcasters(though the budget is tight)it can be better than National Radio that gets the more attention.

Some have managed to work in both public and commercial radio but in general sooner or later they prefer and the BBC is often sensible, that they return to the Beeb and though on local radio they have a strong, loyal following and a high profile in that area.

Dave Cash being interviewed on the local TV news.

Dave Cash on board the ship and broadcasting.

I have been fortunate to get a mention for myself and some of my friends and we've been united in sharing this event across the UK and the World. It's a pity that once again it has to come to an end. Unfortunately, special things often do, is that what makes them special? Who knows. Sadly, many of these pioneers are getting older and some are no longer with us.

Could such a broadcast be done if we only had Digital Radio? As though BBC National radio is carried on the system, local BBC Radio has to beg to be included on the new system and share space on the transmitters that carry commercial radio stations. So usually BBC Local Radio can only have one allocated space for their programmes. To do this Radio Essex has had to split it frequencies and carry the Pirates on AM and normal programmes on FM. Also, unless you live in an area where you can pick up neighbouring DAB transmissions and the power is increased unless you have access via the net, this would only be heard in the immediate area, at least AM or FM can stretch greater distances and if the signal is weak you can still listen, DAB if it fails sounds terrible. Have we progressed?

The broadcast lasts until Tuesday 14th August 2007 at around 4pm.

If you have access to the internet have a listen.

BBC Pirate Radio Essex Website

BBC Pirate Radio Essex Listen Live

Roger "Twiggy" Day

Dave Cash

Digital Spy's Radio Forum has been positive about this event but two postings I found particularly well written and(I would say this because they make my points for me about a problem with radio in this country especially BBC Radio 2 and Commercial Radio's attitude)

Spot's Post

DodgerMullins Post

I'd have to think this out but the BBC has approx 5 National radio networks(and another 4 digital stations that are available in some form nation wide)

Mostly they are music driven.

Some are now so close in what they play and similar it's difficult to say they are offering something different. If it wasn't for the fact that the BBC or Government tries to go on about ethnic communities being neglected roughly these networks could work something like this...

Radio 1 Pop and modern music in general

Radio 2 Easy listening playing music from the early days to today

Radio 3 Classical and Jazz

Radio 4 Speech ie: Drama, Comedy, Documentaries, News etc...

Radio 5 News and Sport(but get back to a little more news)which has been dropped more and more and though the trailers say its a news station, it's more a lifestyle station with lots of discussions in a trivial manner and the news programmes are filled more and more with sports subjects which should be talked of in the sports programmes.

BBC6 Music Specialist and Adult Orientated Rock.

BBC7 Archive station where classic or programmes of drama, comedy etc...are replayed.

The remaining two networks could become if needs be, a station for the ethnic communities with a mixture of music and talk.

And the final station perhaps like what the Pirate event has been playing "oldies" but lets have the format freed up so its not so rigid and is full of fun and energy.

I'm sure it could be fine tuned and it needs thinking out more but this is just a very quickly sketched out idea thought out in seconds. Then if commercial radio feels it can do this better or offer styles that the BBC isn't covering...do it.

Sadly within a few days we'll be back to where we were...