The Programmes, the people and the machines 

10 August 2022 tbs.pm/76450

 

Radio Annual cover

From the Radio Annual (Hereward edition) 1984

How do the people who start your day start their day? Stuart Cocker, the one with good looks, charm and a way with words numbered amongst his ambitions, gets an alarm call at 3.15a.m.

“It’s the only way I can get up for the Early Show, which I present from 5 to 6 a.m. on Mondays and Tuesdays,” he says.

Wayne Fitzgerald, who fronts the show on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and Aj Webber, who’s to be heard by Friday early-birds, both use alarms.

“I get so tired winding alarms,” yawns Wayne. “It makes me fall asleep, which you have to do quickly. This is not a job for bad sleepers.

“There’s no point going ‘on air’ at 5 a.m. if you’re going to make everyone listening feel tired. You must be well rested.” But he adds, “Sometimes my greatest asset is a good pair of matchsticks to keep my eyes open!”

While Stuart, Wayne and Aj are at the studios preparing their early

diet of music, features and news, lightly sprinkled with sport, travel news, ‘what’s ons’ and dedications — ready for waking up the station just before the five o’clock news — Paul Needle and Dave Bowen are stirring. “Some would say we go on stirring until the end of Daybreak, from 6 to 9 a.m.!” says Dave.

“I have a radio alarm. I call it that because when it goes off I think, ‘Oh no! I’ve got to go on the radio’…”

What about breakfasts for the breakfast show men? The early menus vary enormously. Stuart Cocker says he always has the works — boiled egg, toast and orange juice. He remembers, “Once I was so sleepy I forgot I hadn’t boiled the egg at all. When I cracked it, the yolk was on me, literally.”

 

 

Dave Bowen is a health food addict, preferring a bowl of muesli, while Paul Needle who is, let’s say, the less tall of the two ‘Daybreakers’, chooses such delicacies as frozen cheesecake. Ooooh!

At one time Daybreak for Paul really was a breakfast show. He’d arrive with a picnic bag and eat sandwiches and cakes. “But I ended up getting caught so many times with my mouth full, I stopped that.

‘The engineers get cross with us sometimes. I remember Dave getting into hot water for spilling a pot of yoghurt on to the controls. It added a whole new flavour to the programme.”

Paul collects a bundle of all the daily newspapers just before five, then joins Dave, with Richard Phillips and other journalists who will handle most of the news gathering, in the big newsroom.

‘The studio offices used to be an old pub,” Richard recalls, “and the newsroom used to be the rehearsal room for performing bands. But we’ve no time for rehearsals. Live radio has to be right first time.”

The room becomes busier as six o’clock approaches. Last minute changes may be made to the order of the programme… late stories may appear and be rushed into the studio… the activity never lets up.

Hereward by now will have spoken to every police force in the five counties which make up ‘Hereward Country’ to check on overnight crime or road accidents, and to see what driving conditions are like. News from all the bus companies is collated to add to the travel news, and up to the minute weather forecasts are prepared by the station’s own weatherman, who started helping the Hereward team while he was still at school. He’ll be on live at 6.10 a.m.

 

 

“Some of the news we find ourselves, some comes from a network of local journalists — and yet more comes from enthusiastic members of the public,” says Richard, in the midst of preparing a news bulletin.

“That’s the local news. In London IRN will have been working all night to bring us the latest national and world news. If the Government has been controversial, if someone’s been murdered, or if a war breaks out somewhere, IRN will give us pre-packaged scripts and usually a report from a journalist on the scene, even if it’s happening on the other side of the world. Then it’s up to a journalist like me to assemble the national stories with the local ones into a Hereward bulletin.”

Paul will read five minutes of news at six, ten minutes at seven and eight, and another five at nine — as well as co-hosting the programme in between.

“It takes a lot of concentration. It’s fatal to think of anything else. Harking back to breakfasts, I was once reading a story about children liking hamburgers, and for some reason I said ‘hamsters’. I’ve never lived it down — and it must have been a nasty moment for the hamsters, too!”

“Live interviews need concentration, too,” says Dave. “Once a news story changed dramatically and Jonathan Craymer and I rang one of the central figures for some instant comment. He was a lawyer in Peterborough whose client had just been acquitted in an African court. We had to tell him as he answered the phone that he was going live on air. Phew!”

At nine, the Daybreak team winds down, having brought you farming, travel, the day’s news so far, competitions, a look through the. papers, and even a look ahead to the night’s television. “All that breakfast television can do, without the disadvantage of having to stay in one place, and look at two bleary-eyed presenters,” quips Head of Programmes, Stewart Francis.

But while Stewart and his backup team of Maria and Chaz (“They always get my back up”, says Stewart) take to the air, the newsroom gears itself up for the day… and perhaps while Stewart is talking to a caller in ‘People Points’, one of his panel of experts, the main guest at eleven, or someone selling or buying on the open market, several other interviews are going on in other studios, or out and about.

“We use portable cassette recorders for on-the-spot interviews with people who’re making the news,” says News Editor John Armstrong, “and we have a radio car which will transmit live from the scene of a news story. Alternatively, if we can’t get to where the news is happening, we’ll ring up, again talking live to someone at the heart of an important event.

“In addition, we have a studio in Cambridge, at the Shire Hall.”

 

Map of the Hereward region, centred on Peterborough

 

The show case for the morning’s happenings is the Lunchtime Programme from twelve till two, with Andy Gillies, who feels happiest in the midst of lively chaos.

“Once I was interviewing someone in the Cambridge studio and the phone started ringing. It had never rung before and no-one had thought to disconnect the bell. The guest couldn’t reach the phone. It was hilarious.

“We have more laughs almost every day, when recording the local history feature which follows all the news at 1.45 p.m. It sounds all right when you hear it, but there’s usually an odd-sounding place name or a strange fact to set someone off— then no-one can keep a straight face.”

Andy is someone who tries not to keep a straight face. “And if they don’t laugh sometimes, they’re not allowed to listen. We have special laugh detector vans out, you know.”

Andy’s worst ever moment came when he’d been interviewing an actor for twenty minutes, thinking he was someone else. “The studio floor refused to swallow me up in my embarrassment. I’ve asked them to fit a trap door for future disasters!”

Entertaining though all the programmes are, Stewart Francis likes to make sure they’re also helpful and informative. “Listening to the afternoon show you can become a bit of an expert on antiques, be able to improve your hair care, get the best deal at the grocer’s, hear news for the disabled and elderly, and perhaps find out about alternative medicine.

“There’s even more in the way of helpful tips from the panel of experts in the mornings. Hereward’s answer to James Herriot is local vet Andrew Spurrell, who’ll give advice on anything from a labrador to a llama. Every morning at 10.35 there’s something useful, in fact, from our doctor, cookery expert, lawyer, gardener or fashion expert. On Mondays at the same time, there’s a feature for parents with children below school age. Want anything else covered? Drop me a line.”

 

 

Most of the staff in the newsroom work very closely with other members of the presentation team. “Unfortunately there isn’t always the same spirit of cooperation between the studio equipment and us,” says David Forsdike, who presents the early evening news programme, Monitor, from 5 to 7.

‘Trouble sometimes develops when you’re on your own. I was reading the ten o’clock news one night when the machine in front of me caught fire. But I had to keep going. I felt like the orchestra playing as the Titanic went down.”

Reporter Angela Jones once found herself chained to the controls. “My bracelet had slipped into a gap and become jammed. I couldn’t take it off, or get it free. After a long time I managed to call for help on the intercom.”

Alan Wallcroft, who brings you More Than Sport on Saturday afternoons, has painful memories of some of the strange places he’s had to broadcast from. “At a Natwest Trophy cricket match in Northampton I had to crouch behind a door to commentate. Of course someone came through the door and I went sprawling on the floor — but still talking.”

Andy Gillies

Andy Gillies takes a listener’s call on a p-hone-in

“Sometimes it’s our fault when things go wrong,” adds John Bradley, who fronts the 7 to 10 p.m. pop, rock and disco show, and another Saturday programme — the Hereward Top 40 from 9 to 12. “One Saturday I was gearing myself up for the rapid run-down of the whole chart, over a very pacey piece of music. The trouble was. I’d put late night romantic music on by mistake, and there was no way of changing it. It almost sounded cultured…!!!”

But the sweeter side of today’s music features heavily in the late night show, which rounds off the day from 10 to 1 a.m. Regulars will know how many competitions and quizzes are squeezed in between 11 and midnight, and finding new quiz questions is a headache.

Managing Director, Cecilia Garnett, says, “We listen to other stations and watch TV quizzes to make sure questions aren’t becoming cliches. I’m always amazed at how often the one about Henry the Eighth’s number of wives crops up — and how often people say eight, not six.

“You have to watch you’re not creating a nuisance when setting questions. Once we asked what fell on Devizes in Wiltshire in the sixties. The local newspaper rang up to ask why hundreds of people were ringing them up!

“The answer, to save them being bothered again, was lumps of hay the size of a fist, and it’s still a mystery.”

There are many other quizzes featured and the Games Show, from 12 to 2 p.m. brightens up Saturday lunchtimes.

Another feature of weekends is the special music programmes Hereward provides. Robert Jones brings you soul from 7 to 10 p.m. on Saturdays, and some Solid Gold — “Even if it needs a bit of a polish” — from 11 to 2 p.m. on Sundays. From 6.30 to 7 on Saturday evening there’s always a special session from a local or well known artist (or both!), and Terry McKenna takes you exploring Hereward Country on Sunday afternoons between 2 and 5.

“I’ve learnt to read dedications carefully before going into the studio,’ says Terry, who’s an accomplished country performer in his own right. “I started to read one recently which said ‘We always listen to you — without fail’. Then it went on — ‘Just to hear all the mistakes you make’…

“But errors don’t throw me any more — I know when to expect them!”

Hereward has recorded many fine concerts around the region for broadcast, and regularly visits the Peterborough Festival of Country Music and the Cambridge Folk Festival, as well as numerous pop, jazz and classical concerts.

The station’s microphones are often pointed towards local drama groups, professional and amateur, for recording good plays for a wide audience, and the enormous field of local arts is featured with Richard Phillips and Caboodle, from 8 to 10 on Sunday nights. Or, if you’ve got something to say about the community and its welfare, get on to Cecilia Garnett, and she’ll have you in Sunday Monitor from 6 to 8 before the phone’s back in the cradle.

 

George Geddes

George Geddes… what can we say?

 

Another Sunday programme, without which Hereward would just have to get something else, is The Exploding Wireless Show, with George Geddes.

“‘It’s the show for kids which is before its time,’ wrote one dad,” says George ruefully. “He said it should be on at three o’clock in the morning… so no-one could hear it.”

George claims the programme is never completely ready on time by 5 pm, but it’s an hour of fun and lunacy for children of all ages. Will the programme move in any particular direction in future, George?

“Probably towards the waste bin!” he jokes.

 

 

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Liverpool, Friday 30 September 2022