The Diary of David Heathcote (1) 

10 September 2016

MORE: [Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4] [Part 5] [Part 6] [Part 7] [Part 8] [Part 9] [Part 10] [Part 11] [Part 12] [Part 13] [Part 14] [Part 15]

My broadcasting career began in July 1966 in a Maths lesson at Southend High School for Boys, when our teacher – “Stanley” (we were always ones for the subtle nicknames!) Gibbons – strode into the classroom. My, could that man stride!! “Who’s interested in tape-recording?” he enquired.

The planets at that point must have been in special alignment, for this was to be An Auspicious Moment.

I’d not learnt the rule of never volunteering for anything; I, David Heathcote aged 16¾, raised my hand. For I was the proud owner of an Elizabethan 2-track 5¾” reel-to-reel 3¾ips tape recorder!

It turned out there was a local radio station that was desperate for new volunteers.

Actually, that wasn’t entirely true. The radio “station” was Southend Action Radio, the youth division of the Toc-H team that provided commentary to Southend United’s home games. Southend Action broadcast a 45-minute magazine programme of music and features before the commentary began, and the whole package was delivered by landline to patients at Southend, Westcliff and Rochford Hospitals.

And they weren’t “desperate” for new volunteers, they were frantic!

Southend Action had come together as a group of A-level students: they were given use of a room in the local Royal British Legion branch, and they constructed a studio, themselves, by hand. Two turntables, an amazing Ferrograph variable-speed tape recorder, and a purpose-built, valve-driven mixer and amplifier in one third of the room, and a microphone on a stand and a set of armchairs in the remainder, behind fibre-board insulation. A great achievement, and they busied themselves at making programmes.

They had forgotten, however, that in September 1966 they were going to university! There would be no one left to run the station!

Hence, “Stanley’s” question, and why I found myself a few days later pouring over blueprints and circuit diagrams while a soon-to-be GPO engineer explained to me how the studio worked.

He might just as well have been showing me Egyptian hieroglyphics off a tomb wall.

I could use a tape recorder, I even had a single non-ferrous razor blade and an editing block so I could edit precious 1/4” magnetic tape, but valve amplifiers were light years above my head.

Even so, no one else came forward and therefore, in September, I found myself manager, presenter, producer… everything at Southend Action Radio!

I recruited others from the nearby Sixth Forms – Lower Sixth, like me. My mates from Southend High School and girls from Westcliff High School.

I had no records of my own, and a rapid survey of the LPs owned by the parents of my fellow broadcasters suggested there’d be a lot of Herb Alpert in future playlists…

I had a Saturday job at Keddies department store in Southend. I approached their gramophone record department with a really stupid idea. To my amazement and delight, they said yes.

On condition that I returned them in MINT condition, for a week at a time I could borrow any two LPs they had on sale! The good people in beds in Southend, Westcliff and Rochford hospitals were suddenly – joyously – exposed to the vocal talents of Dusty Springfield and The Beatles!

MORE: [Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4] [Part 5] [Part 6] [Part 7] [Part 8] [Part 9] [Part 10] [Part 11] [Part 12] [Part 13] [Part 14] [Part 15]

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