At the turn of the 1980s, Norfolk was getting
used to the idea that the BBC had arrived in their county
with an exciting new local service.
BBC Radio Norfolk brought some new friends
into people's homes. They included
John Mountford, who presented our breakfast show and now has
his own commercial studios in Wymondham; Ian Masters, well
known to thousands as presenter of Look East on BBC ONE who
became the voice of Saturday morning.
Wally Webb, the star of the local disco scene,
came to present the Sunday afternoon rock programme and there
was David Clayton, now the managing editor of Radio Norfolk,
who was soon starting out with a weekend show.
Our programmes had to be devised to make
the county the main contributor, giving people all over Norfolk
the means to talk with each other, laugh with each other,
and argue with each other if they wanted to. And that is exactly
what we did. We also spent time getting to grips with the
For Skip and I, new to the radio game, this
was not so much a steep learning curve as a cliff face. The
mysteries of talkback, tele-balance units, gains and fades
were foreign to us — and all the more obvious because everyone
else knew about them. We traded our local knowledge for help
in the studios when we were really stuck.
We would share the secrets of how the county
worked and how to pronounce Wymondham, Happisburgh and Costessey.
The summer was spent setting up and getting
around. We had to introduce ourselves to local emergency services,
councils, sports clubs, companies and the host of organisations
operating in Norfolk. The idea of local radio was new to them
I can remember one MP greeting our arrival
with the announcement that on no account would he appear on
any breakfast programme, as it was much too early to give
For the police and fire services, and Anglian
Water as it was then, there was another dimension to our arrival.
Local radio is more than just a news service when there is
an emergency. It becomes a vital means of letting people know
what is going on.
The classic case is when there are severe
snowfalls and every club is trying to tell members about cancelled
meetings, the police and highways authority want to keep people
informed about which roads are blocked, and people want to
ring in with their problems. Every family in the county wants
to know whether the local school is closed because of problems
with transport, heating or frozen pipes.
One family once described it to me as "Radio
Norfolk weather" because the kids were glued to the radio
hoping for a day off school. We all take this for granted
now. In 1980, it was new. It was like describing chocolate
to someone who has tasted only meat and two veg.
The Eastern Daily Press, on the day it welcomed
our arrival, referred to the "missionary zeal" with which
the supporters of BBC Local Radio had argued its case. At
least we appeared to have convinced the EDP. Radio Norfolk’s
launch was, in the paper’s view, an important local landmark.
"Much store is set by informality, versatility,
mutual identification and the helping hand across the airwaves,"
said the editorial the morning after the launch.
"The development of Radio Norfolk and the
organising of newsgathering across a large and often sparsely
populated county will be carried out by a team which is not
only fewer in number than the average station complement,
but also obliged to work within fairly severe financial constraints.
"We do not doubt that Radio Norfolk will
rise to the challenges, and quickly establish itself in the
life of our county. We wish our new neighbour well."
BBC Radio Norfolk - Your New Neighbour —
was the slogan coined that first summer as we began the dummy
runs at programmes. The preparations gathered pace.
We had visits from august managers in the
BBC — the head of BBC Radio, Aubrey Singer, was one. Michael
Barton, the head of BBC Local Radio, was a regular visitor.
By September 11, 1980, we couldn’t wait to get going. It was
time to open the station.
At 6.3Opm the building was full of people
who had come to be at the launch. It was timed to be seen
live on Look East; the first bulletin was written, John Mountford
was ready in the studio.
Two children who shared our birthday - Duane
Trower, 11, from Outwell, and Andrea Hughes, 7, from Hemsby
- had been chosen to cut the tape and Ian Masters’ dash across
the road from the television studios to be with us was all
The clock ticked around. Duane and Andrea
wielded the scissors and we were live on air.
John Mountford’s voice went out across Norfolk
and the station came to life. The first record spun was Sheena
Easton’s Modern Girl catching the mood of a new decade, a
new station, and something to celebrate.
June Butcher, Terry Wogan and Mike Chaney
in September 1980
That following morning, Terry Wogan presented
his Radio Two breakfast show from our studios, as John was
broadcasting our first full show.
Mike Chaney had decided that without the
funds to be on air full-time, we would broadcast at peak times
and let Radio Two take care of the rest.
So when John Mountford came off air at 10am,
we read a local news bulletin and then joined the Jimmy Young
programme until the lunchtime show at noon. The same happened
at 2pm — we went to Radio Two until an extended five o’clock
news, weather and sports bulletin.
But at weekends, when everyone was at home,
the strategy was to broadcast all day on Saturday and Sunday
with programmes getting out and about around Norfolk, reflecting
the day’s sport, its arts and entertainment.
The hours expanded with the arrival of new
manager Keith Salmon in 1982. He had been with BBC Radio Oxford
and set about giving Norfolk an all-day service.
Under his guidance, the Norfolk Airline was
born with Neil Walker and David Clayton, bringing a new dimension
to the morning’s broadcasting. It was an inspired partnership,
crowned in 1986 with a Sony Award for best magazine programme
at a glittering awards ceremony in London.
Keith Salmon, Peter Glanville, Neil and David
went down knowing they had been nominated but with no idea
of the judges’ decision.
"We were on cloud nine-and-a-half" David
remembers. "We hadn’t just taken a local radio category award,
we had won the national radio award for magazine programmes
and were taking it back to BBC Radio Norfolk right under the
noses of the big boys, Radio Four and London’s Capital Radio."
Neil Walker and David Clayton present
the award winning show Airline
Anybody who was anybody would come to our
studios for interviews on Airline.
Showbiz stars, Cabinet ministers, authors
and great figures of the day were to be found sifting in reception
waiting for their interview.
But it was also the chance for Norfolk to
talk with them, put them on the spot or ask them that question,
the one they had always wanted an answer to.
Another expansion came with the opening
of studios either end of the county. The first, in King’s
Lynn, started off in a portakabin behind the town hall. Simon
Ellis was the first producer to cover the west of the county.
He was succeeded by Trevor Austin, who worked out of a rather
more substantial studio in the Tuesday Market Place.
More recently, our West Norfolk studio has
been moved out to the North Lynn Business Village, where I'm
based with Chris Boxal.
Then it was Great Yarmouth’s turn for a proper
studio, and Lindsay Williams was the first producer there
to work out of our office in Stonecutter’s Way.
So more than 20 years on, where have we
got to? Well, I think the EDP was proved right. BBC Radio
Norfolk has become established as part of the life of the
county. We have introduced many talented broadcasters to the
great medium of radio, which still has a special place in
the range of media, even in the internet age.
It can transport you across the world, or
open a window on events right on your own doorstep. It can
re-unite old friends, take up cudgels on your behalf, or give
you a front seat at the biggest sporting fixtures, the summer
festivals and even the day the Queen comes to pay an official
You can share the pleasures of the Royal
Norfolk Show, the secrets of the stars coming to our theatres,
or the memories of those who have known Norfolk in days gone
by. To quote Peter Glanville: "The
pictures are better on the radio."
BBC Radio Norfolk is still one of the most
successful stations in the country. Why is that? Well, perhaps
it’s because we believe this is one of the best counties a
station could wish for, and we are proud to be here. There
are thousands of listeners who feel the same way.
some snaps from the archive »