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A different Newsbeat

Rod McKenzie Rod McKenzie | 13:37 UK time, Monday, 17 September 2007

If you were able to travel back in time to the seventies for a random inspection of BBC editors' fridges, a glance inside might have given you some interesting clues to the owner's programme. At the Today programme and the World at One, they'd be well stocked with malt whisky, gin and suitably chilled mixers... while Newsbeat would make do with cans of the late and unlamented Kestrel lager.

Radio One logoDon't worry, we editors don't have fridges, drinks cabinets or guest hospitality anymore - we're much more careful with money now. And journalists - and their political guests - are much more sober. Well, mostly.

The anecdote helps to illustrate how different Newsbeat was from its peers at the time of its inception in the early seventies. Radio 1 had already been on air since 1967 - we're celebrating our fortieth birthday on 30 September. But the arrival of commercial radio stations in 1973 was a rude wake up call for the BBC.

Our rivals brought Australian and American influences in writing and presentation styles as well as their use of interviews and "clips" rather than lengthy dispatches voiced by BBC correspondents. Many in Ted Heath's Conservative government at the time were critical of Radios 1 and 2 - there was pressure on them to be sold off or closed down.

BBC bosses at the time believed a current affairs show on Radio 1 with a populist approach might help prove the network's public service credentials.

Newsbeat was designed to fight fire with fire. Its first editor was Mike Chaney, who had a background in Fleet Street as well as broadcasting - on the day of his appointment the Sun's front page carried the story with the headline "Sun staffer gets top Beeb job". Mike's no-nonsense approach - "I want an audible nipple every day" - and production instructions to be "faster and slicker than Radio 4" nurtured a service than brought the major news of the day to young Britons in more accessible style than the norm, as well as quirky stories and "pop" interviews with the stars of the day. All on a "pitifully small" budget of five producers, two secretaries and £100 a day for on-air reporting and presenting talent. Mike told me that when he saw the budget, he thought to himself, "this is going to be hard work"!

His team of young reporters and producers, recruited mainly from local radio, quickly established a unique style and vigour. Richard Skinner, Peter Mayne, Bill Rogers and Laurie Mayer were among those early pioneers. In the days before Five Live and continuous TV news, laptops and wifi, Newsbeat at 1230 was the rest of the media's first chance to hear the BBC's take on the day's news after the end of the Today programme.

By the early 80s, Newsbeat's bulletins were pioneering a style of breaking news later developed by Five Live. During the miners' strike labour correspondent Nick Jones would frequently reveal dramatic new developments in this bitter long running story on Newsbeat bulletins.

Through the nineties and into the present day the programme continued to innovate with sound, production and now visual and online content produced by some of the BBC's best young journalists - who then, as now, often go on to have distinguished careers across the organisation.

Newsbeat's experimental use of jingles and music background proved popular with listeners and later, the PM programme also adopted signature music. But just occasionally that can lead to some unfortunate juxtapositions: after a heated debate on Scottish and Welsh independence and devolution in general in the 80s, we rounded off the item with a jingle with the lyric - "Uniting the Nation, Won-der-ful Radio 1".


  • 1.
  • At 06:53 PM on 17 Sep 2007,
  • Steve wrote:

Nice piece Rod. But what exactly is 'an audible nipple'! :)

  • 2.
  • At 09:13 AM on 18 Sep 2007,
  • Andrew wrote:

Ah, Newsbeat. The programme that helped turn me into a news junkie! (Confound you all!)

  • 3.
  • At 09:35 PM on 18 Sep 2007,
  • J.WESTERMAN wrote:

There may be less booze (query on view) but there seem to be many more journalists complete with gratuitous comments and opinions.

This post is closed to new comments.

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