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24 September 2014
BBC Radio Norfolk

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The neighbour who came to stay
Picture: Radio Norfolk at an outside broadcast in the 1980s
Radio Norfolk makes some new friends

In the media firmament, some might argue that radio's star might have been dimmed by the advent of television and the internet.

No so, writes senior broadcast journalist Jill Bennett.

It seems pretty obvious, with hindsight, that Norfolk was a county which would take to having its own radio station. But when the BBC embarked on the project it was something of a revolution, not just for Norfolk but for the corporation as well.

For the first time, the BBC was establishing county stations. We were among the first to be opened, in 1980, along with sister stations in Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshlre.

So why start the new wave of county stations in Norfolk? Admittedly, there was an element of chance about it. Commercial broadcasters and the BBC were sharing new frequencies earmarked for local radio, but it was clear Norfolk was an area which could be home to a successful station and so it fell to the corporation.

BBC Local Radio was branching out. No longer was it a pale imitation of network programmes or a brief concession to regional affairs slotted into the Today programme. It was developing a lively way of making the airwaves available to locals to air their concerns, their enthusiasms, their joys and their sorrows; to meet the movers and shakers who steered the county’s fortunes.

Mike Chaney was the first manager of the station. A larger-than-life, acute and experienced broadcaster, he had a manner reminiscent of actor James Robertson Justice and had been an editor of the Today programme. His remit was to see what kind of radio service was needed in Norfolk and then provide it.

His right-hand man as programme organiser was Peter Glanville, whose background was in local radio as an education producer at BBC Radio Kent. Ian Hyams, who lived in South Norfolk but had worked for many years as a news organiser in the BBC’s London newsroom, was our first news editor. David Penny, who had also come from Radio Kent, was the engineer in charge.

The team chose Norfolk Tower in Surrey Street, Norwich, as the station’s home — it was close to BBC East’s television studios, it was tall enough to take the technical equipment needed on the roof, and it was fairly central, so that listeners and contributors could reach us easily.

Jill Bennett and the Radio Norfolk newsteam in the 1980s.
Jill Bennett (centre) with the Radio Norfolk newsteam in the 1980s

I can remember walking in for the first time for a preliminary interview and sifting down in a bare office in dire need of decoration (previous occupants had painted it shades of bilious green) where a packing case served as a makeshift desk.

Like most people here, where we couldn’t even pick up another local radio station, I had little real idea of what the new station would be like but I was certain it could be terrific, not just for us but for Norfolk.

The enthusiasm of that pioneer management team was infectious. I might have been slightly vague about what we would sound like, but sure as eggs is eggs, I wanted to be in it. So did everyone else who joined.

During the spring and summer of 1980 the team was put together. Most are still in broadcasting, one way or another. The producers were Julian Rush (now Channel Four’s science editor) with whom I shared breakfast show production; Keith Roberts, who is now a senior manager at Radio Five Live; Bob Ledwidge, now with Anglia Television; Rob Bonnet, familiar to all sports fans as a presenter of BBC television sport, and Mike Chapman, who had been editor of Roundabout East Anglia, the half-hour slot for regional news and current affairs in the Today programme on Radio Four.

Two of us had come from local newspapers — I had been on the Eastern Daily Press reporting local government and politics, and the irrepressible Keith Skipper, a great raconteur and champion of all things Norfolk, had been a sports reporter with the paper. Two others were local station assistants Phil Johnson and Lesley Dolphin who had been with Roundabout East Anglia.

But that’s not the whole story, for we had great broadcasters and contributors who became the friendly and familiar voices of the station.

Read more about BBC Radio Norfolk's history »


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