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29 October 2014

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Neil Walker (left) and David Clayton
Neil Walker (left) and David Clayton

BBC Radio Norfolk's 25th anniversary

BBC Radio Norfolk marked its 25th anniversary in September 2005. To celebrate presenters, journalists and former staff have written a book which both charts the station's history and looks to the future.

BBC Radio Norfolk is blowing out 25 candles on the birthday cake this month. To mark the occasion presenters, journalists and former staff have penned a book, casting an eye over the past quarter of a century and looking ahead to the future.

Norfolk's 'new neighbour,' as the station was first labelled, went on air on 11 September, 1980.

To complicate matters and add to the tension, the station made its entrance live on television. Look East thought it was such an important occasion in regional broadcasting history that there were cameras in the studios ready to capture the moment.

Memorable moments

Local press covered the opening in 1980
Local press covered the opening in 1980

The book looks back with fondness at the launch and some of the memorable moments of the station's life and includes contributions from former Formula 1 racing driver Martin Brundle and BBC ONE sports presenter Rob Bonnet.

In his foreword Martin Brundle remembers the station in its infancy.

"I thought it all seemed very exotic. Without doubt the local media helped me establish my motor racing career," he writes.

"Radio Norfolk supported me along the way. True Norfolk people have a genuine integrity and warmth and this is very well reflected by Radio Norfolk."

Editor David Clayton tells the story of how Norfolk got its own BBC local radio station on the toss of a coin. He picks up the story here.

"We had a sort of 'local radio' service coming out of the BBC premises in All Saints Green. The programme, Roundabout East Anglia, was on the air every week day morning between 6.45am and 8.45am as a regional Radio 4 alternative to the Today programme.

The original wherry logo
The original wherry logo

"It covered the same area as Look East so wasn't truly local. Presenters like Ellis Hill, Christopher Trace, Tom Edwards and John Mountford presented the programmes but it was more of a serious news magazine programme and lacked the informality and accessibility of local radio.

Station launch

"So onwards to 1979 and word got out that Norfolk was to have a BBC Local Radio station in the autumn of 1980.

"Michael Barton was, at the time, the BBC’s Controller of Local Radio and it was he who negotiated with the government and the chaps from commercial local radio as to how the broadcasting areas of the country were carved up.

"Quite rightly, the commercial sector and the BBC didn't want to launch side by side in the same location at the same time. Much better to open a BBC station in one place and a commercial station in another so as to build a good audience base before the opposition came along.

"I have had the pleasure of knowing Michael for many years. He's now a much-respected 'elder statesman' of broadcasting and I have no reason to disbelieve him when he revealed that BBC Radio Norfolk’s existence, ahead of a commercial station, was settled in an unconventional way.

"In most cases, the commercial chaps and the BBC agreed locations each time the creation of more stations were on the cards, but when Devon and Norfolk were suggested, both parties declared a strong interest in opening a new radio station first – but who should it be?

Staff celebrate the move to The Forum
Staff celebrate the move to The Forum

"Unable to reach an agreement, the Home Secretary, Willie Whitelaw, tossed a coin. Michael Barton called "tails," won and staked his claim on Norfolk first while John Thompson for the Independent Broadcasting Authority accepted," said David.

Past and present

The book also includes photographs of staff, past and present, from the first BBC Radio Norfolk Old Car Rally, to celebrities such as Steve Coogan and Jake Humphrey who have broadcast from the studios over the years. Listeners are featured at station events such as holidays and outside broadcasts.

Rob Bonnet, one of the original members of staff who has since gone on to read the sport on BBC ONE, remembers a football match at Carrow Road which probably hasn't gone down in the Norwich City history books - Radio Norfolk versus the Radio 1 All Stars.

He writes: "The Ledwidge-Bonnet partnership (more Laurel and Hardy than Bertschin and Deehan) was well supplied by manager John Bond and scored prolifically for a 5-2 win. Ten thousand fans were there and cheered to the crumbling rafters of the main stand but, curiously, the autograph hunters were only interested in John Peel, Peter Powell and Mike Read."

Current BBC Radio Norfolk presenter Graham Barnard gives an insight in to the studios at The Forum, while Wally Webb describes his life in the radio car and Chris Goreham ponders on Radio Norfolk's future.

Feature first published: 9 September, 2005

last updated: 03/03/06
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