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
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
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 (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
But that’s not the whole story, for we had
great broadcasters and contributors who became the friendly
and familiar voices of the station.
more about BBC Radio Norfolk's history »