Long before the invention of the MP3, there was a way of getting hold of music, speech, and other audio sensations, free of charge, in the form of flexidiscs. Originally developed in the 1930s to play at 78rpm, by the 1960s, seven-inch, 45rpm flexidiscs were so cheap to produce, and so light and bendy, that they were often given away free with a magazine. In the Soviet Union, though, where flexidiscs were called roentgenizdat, and were recorded on disused medical x-ray sheets, the audio was usually of an illegal nature, such as jazz music, or, later, punk rock. In telling the story of the flexidisc, we'll hear plenty of music, some of which is now valuable (such as the Rolling Stones Exit on Mainstreet Blues, given away with New Musical Express in 1972).
In tracking down the story of flexidiscs, presenter Paul Bayley meets collector Jez Randell, journalist Ian Shirley, and the novelist Tim Lott, who co-founded Flexipop magazine in the early 1980s (which gave away a free flexi with every issue). The programme includes extracts from flexidiscs galore, including several advertisements for products as diverse as crisps, hair pieces and rat poison, music from big band jazz to beat groups to punk rock, and some of the most famous recordings made on flexidisc including Beatles fanclub records, Private Eye's satirical flexidiscs and the sound of humpback whales, from the world's biggest circulation flexidisc ever.
Presenter Paul Bayley previously presented The Strange Parallel World of Christian Pop for Radio 4, which subsequently inspired Frank Cottrell Boyce's radio play The Believers. The producer is Bob Dickinson.