A New Old Song: blog by Kathie Touin & Graham Brown

Graham writes:

I have been fascinated by the radio since a young age when I started playing around with a small transistor radio, moving on aged 11 (ish) to borrow my parents’ large Grundig radio with its better sound quality. I listened to pop music, naturally, from BBC Radio 1 but also from Radio Luxembourg (English service in the evening) and from the pirate radio stations operating off the Dutch coast.

Then I expanded my listening to include shortwave radio stations from distant lands, as well as news, documentaries, drama and comedy on BBC Radio 4 – and in those days there was comedy on BBC Radio 2 as well (Hello Cheeky anyone?).

My interest has stayed with me for more than 50 years. Today I have a large collection of radios including internet radios, on which I can listen to radio stations from all over the world in good quality sound.

So I was intrigued when I came across a podcast called the British Broadcasting Century, something of a labour of love for its host, interviewer and researcher Paul Kerensa.

The podcast’s website describes it as: “100 Years of the BBC, Radio and Life as We Know It. Be informed, educated and entertained by the amazing true story of radio’s forgotten pioneers.”

It makes for fascinating listening. Thank you Paul.

One edition of the podcast featured a modern recording of an old song about radio listening in the 1920s. It reminded me of something I had seen on social media – the sheet music artwork for a song called There’s A Wireless Station Down In My Heart.

To cut a long story short, Paul was interested in the song and we agreed that my wife Kathie, a musician, would make a recording for his podcast. Kathie was able to obtain a copy of the actual sheet music and discovered the song dated from 1913.

There’s A Wireless Station Down in My Heart has words by Ed Moran & Joe McCarthy, music by James V Monaco. The song was written when wireless did not mean wi-fi like today and even pre-dates radio broadcasting in the sense that we know it. Instead the song celebrates wireless communication via Morse code, in a rather saucy way.

Kathie writes:

I had to laugh when I first read the lyrics to There’s A Wireless Station Down In My Heart. The title is catchy enough but I don’t think you can beat an opening line like: “Oh, there’s something nobody knows/I don’t suppose anyone knows”. It’s surprisingly naughty for such an early song, though people were probably just as naughty then as they are now.

It is another of these recording projects I take on where I think ‘oh, that will be easy and quick’ and four weeks later I’m still messing around with the arrangement. It began with piano for the accompaniment; because of the time period it’s an excellent, ragtime-style piano part and really good fun to play.

When I’d added the vocal I thought it sounded like it needed a bit more. So I added some old fashioned-sounding acoustic drums in the background. (Using software, I hasten to add. I’m a lousy drummer.) It needed a clarinet and a trombone, obviously; sadly I was unable to fake a banjo part which I felt it could have used. Eventually I stopped messing around with it and ended up with the arrangement you can hear now.

One difficulty I had was the form. We were lucky to find the sheet music online but when I looked at it I wasn’t sure what the order of the sections should be. The chorus has a repeat marked at the end so one would assume you play it twice through. But there are two verses. I decided to just go with what seemed the most obvious structure (verse/chorus/chorus/verse/chorus/chorus) but that has meant it’s quite long – it clocks in at over four minutes.

I remember thinking that couldn’t be right because I didn’t think the recording mediums of the time would hold that much music. But doing a quick online search, I see that the predominant recording medium of the 1910s were flat discs, usually made of shellac resin. A 10” 78 rpm disc could only hold three minutes of music – this has survived to this day as the ‘ideal’ length of a pop single – but a 12” could hold up to five minutes. So it’s not inconceivable that the song may have been as long as my version of it when it was released. Assuming it was ever released as a recording.

I had to look up the authors in order to register my arrangement and recording with PRS, the performing rights agency in the UK. I could find nothing on the lyricist Ed Moran, but Joe McCarthy (1865-1943) went on to write You Made Me Love You (I Didn’t Want To Do It) with the composer of ‘Wireless Station’ James V. Monaco (1885-1945). McCarthy has a long list of credits including several Ziegfield Follies from 1919 to 1930 and film credits including Irene and Rio Rita. His most famous song is I’m Always Chasing Rainbows. I do find it amusing it took two men to write the lyrics to ‘Wireless Station’ (“Ev’ry time he sends me a spark/he hits the mark/right in the dark” etc).

Composer James V. Monaco had a stellar career with his songs recorded by Al Jolson, Bing Crosby and Judy Garland among others. His first hit was two years before ‘Wireless Station’ with a song called Oh, You Circus Day from the Broadway review Hanky Panky. Four of his compositions were nominated for Oscars.

It was great fun learning all this while working on the song. And it’s interesting to think about the changes in musical styles as well as the technology for broadcasting and recording these men would have experienced during their lifetimes. They were both born before the advent of wireless radio communication but during their lives it moved from Morse code through the invention of the telephone to proper radio broadcasting as we’d understand it today. Recording technology began as wax cylinders then changed to 78rpm flat discs (which were the forerunners of today’s trendy-again LP records). Both men died just before the advent of LPs and using magnetic tape was just beginning to be seen as a possible successor to wax for capturing music. They would have first experienced recording with the musicians grouped around a large horn to convey the sound to the cutting stylus; a decade or so after ‘Wireless Station’ was written, microphones became more commonplace in recording studios, creating a seismic change in singing styles that led directly to popular music becoming such a dominant force in music.

It’s a lot to pack in to a cute little song about a lonely girl and her anonymous operator sending her sparks in the dark when she’s lonely and blue. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did recording it.

Graham writes:

You can listen to Paul Kerensa’s podcast The British Broadcasting Century via this website or via other podcast platforms. Kathie’s version of There’s A Wireless Station Down In My Heart appears in the podcast which has as its main subject matter “Early Black British Broadcasters” (released on 8 August 2022).

To stream or download Kathie performing There’s A Wireless Station Down In My Heart – either in stereo or old-time mono – please visit Kathie’s Bandcamp page.

Kathie Touin & Graham Brown
August 2022

I’m only dreaming

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Heading into dreamland (image: http://www.freeimages.co.uk)

Dreaming. What do we mean by this? Planning an ideal future? Day dreaming on a sunny afternoon about happy memories? A longing to be somewhere else? That strange activity we undertake at night-time? Something else altogether?

There are many songs about dreams. Most, if not all, of the ones I know are about night-time dreaming – but not the kind I experience. My dreams, at least those I remember, are a confused jumble of experiences which make little sense at all. More of that later.

Whereas songs about dreaming are typically about a dream woman (or sometimes man). Typically the singer (or songwriter) will have met and won somebody fantastic, or hopes to meet such a person, or did meet but was ignored by such a person, or lost – or fears losing – such a person through break-up or death.

The many examples include: All I Have To Do Is Dream performed by The Everly Brothers; Dreaming by Buddy Holly (written by Buddy for, but not recorded by, The Everly Brothers); Dreams by Fleetwood Mac; These Dreams by Heart; Daydream Believer by The Monkees; Sweet Dreams Baby by Roy Orbison; Talking In Your Sleep by Crystal Gayle; and Dream Lover by Bobby Darin and Mr Sandman by The Chordettes.

Other songs about dreaming, but on a different topic, include Dreamweaver by Gary Wright which is, I think, more about the activity of dreaming, California Dreamin’ by The Mamas and The Papas, about missing the warmth of California, and Number 9 Dream by John Lennon, which was apparently written in a dream.

But perhaps my favourite dream song is Joe Brown’s rendition of I’ll See You In My Dreams, a 1924 song written by Isham Jones and Gus Kahn, and performed by many artists over the last 90 years. I have seen Joe Brown perform the song in concert on a number of occasions. Incidentally, if you ever spot that Joe is due to appear at a venue near you, do go along, he is a fantastic guitarist, singer and entertainer – country, rock, blues, folk, gospel, you will get it all, and some bad jokes…

Joe Brown also performed I’ll See You In My Dreams, accompanying himself on ukulele, as the finale of Concert For George, a George Harrison tribute event in 2002 (Joe and George were friends and neighbours). Which shows that you can use one of these boy-meets/loses-girl songs for a completely different purpose.

But, as I indicated, my actual dreams – and I suspect most people’s dreams – are nothing like that at all, although loved ones do appear in them from time to time. Nor do I do anything useful such as write songs in my dreams as, apparently, John Lennon did when he wrote Number 9 Dream or Paul McCartney when he woke with the tune for Yesterday in his head.

Some folk believe dreams to have meanings and invest great energy into reading or analysing them. Personally I think dreams might indicate something very general, such as anxiety, but otherwise they seem to me to be your brain shuffling through recent and more distant experiences – perhaps a little like someone shuffling several decks of cards at once, with each deck having different illustrations on the reverse, so the packs become confused.

I have noticed three recurring themes in my dreams: frequent journeys through a townscape, in a car or a bus; appearances by my father (not surprising as he died just over a year ago); and becoming a journalist again (something I did for real from the late Seventies to the mid-Eighties) – although in recent weeks some dreams have taken me back, in a very confused way, to the BBC, where I worked from 1986 to 2010.

Anyway, here are some of my recent dreams. My recollections of them are pretty vague but this is the best I can do despite making an effort to remember them. If you think these extracts show me to be mad, sad or bad I would be grateful if you could keep this to yourself and not say so in the comments section of this blog!

1. The musician Joe Brown (as above) and our neighbour trying to raise something from sea. I believe I am trying to help.

2. I am in a modern department store. While I am there it turns into a store from the Second World War era. I am there as a reporter, I meet a man, apparently the owner, with a double or even a triple-barelled name, who speaks about changing the store into an old-fashioned look because of Brexit. My father turns up at the end of the dream.

3. In the back seat of car travelling at night, urging my father – the driver – to turn because he has failed to see the entrance to our house and an oncoming cyclist. The incident seems to be in slow motion and fades away without resolution. Then I am driving my Volkswagen Lupo along country roads trying to put a giant black key into the ignition. A little later, I am with my mother and someone else (not my father, I think) in a house waiting for one of my aunts and other people to arrive for dinner.

4. I am out with my wife, Kathie Touin, we decide to go for an ice cream dessert before a theatre trip but I have with me a sauce made from salad cream which will not go with ice cream. Then Kathie wants a restaurant meal with garlic so – instead of looking for, perhaps, an Italian restaurant – we search for a shop selling garlic. Out on a country road, we see two friends with their children in a car watching or listening to the singer Marti Webb – one of our friends in the car describes Marti Webb as the woman who played The Queen in the film (in reality, Helen Mirren).

5. I am due to be presenting a live programme for BBC Radio 2, helped by a former BBC colleague (I should say that when I was at the BBC I was not involved in production or presentation, though many years ago I was a hospital radio presenter in Peterborough, Radio 5, and King’s Lynn, Radio Lynn). My colleague plays CDs on-air while I trawl through the CDs in my collection but never find what I am looking for. Eventually my colleague leaves and I sit at the presentation desk only to discover I cannot make it work.

Make of that what you will.

By the way, I have noticed another phenomenon sometimes which is a state somewhere between sleep and waking. It might be just after waking up or, perhaps more often, as I go back to sleep after waking briefly in the night. I am still awake, and conscious of my surroundings, but into my mind comes an apparently random stream of surreal and disconnected images. Is it just me?

Well, there we are, confessions of a dreamer. I wonder what tonight will bring?

Graham Brown

To find out more

Joe Brown’s website

Thank you freeimages.co.uk for the photograph at the top of this blog entry.

Thank you NHS Orkney, Mrs Brown – and Amelia

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Amelia Earhart: A Biography by Doris L Rich

If you are a regular reader of this blog (thank you) then you might know that I am a huge admirer of Amelia Earhart, the pioneering aviator – or aviatrix as female pilots were known in her day.

In 1932 Amelia became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. This year, on 2 July, it will be 80 years since Amelia, aged 39, and her navigator Fred Noonan disappeared in their Lockheed Electra aircraft somewhere over the Pacific Ocean while attempting to circumnavigate the globe.

There has been much speculation over the years that they survived somehow, were stranded on a remote island, were taken prisoner by the Japanese, were shot down by the Japanese, were spies, had turned back, or even that Amelia survived and lived under an assumed identity.

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Amelia Earhart: The Mystery Solved by Elgen M Long and Marie K Long

Having read books about Amelia and her last flight (see illustrations) it seems to me that they ran out of fuel looking for the almost impossibly small Howland Island, their next scheduled stop-off, in the middle of a huge ocean.

I used one of Amelia Earhart’s famous quotes in my previous blog entry, That Was The Year That Was, but this month I have been thinking about another of her phrases: “The most difficult thing is the decision to act. The rest is mere tenacity.”

This strikes me as very true, and certainly applied to my first big adventure of 2017 – undergoing an operation here in Orkney at Kirkwall’s Balfour Hospital. Do not fear, delicate reader, I will not go into too much detail.

But, briefly, I noticed towards the end of last year that my belly button had changed shape, and not just because of my liking for beer and cakes. Rather than be a stereotypical man, and ignore this development, I decided to act.

A visit to the GP soon followed in early November and I was told I had a hernia. The doctor said it was a common condition in babies and older men (thanks Doc) and only required a small operation. I have been lucky in that I have never had any kind of hospital operation before and so to me it seemed a more daunting prospect than the doctor implied – but I knew I had to see it through.

The service I got from the NHS here in Orkney was excellent. By early December I had seen a specialist who confirmed the prognosis and discussed with me whether to go ahead with the operation. I knew it was for the best. Soon afterwards I got the date for the big day, Wednesday 18 January.

I did not look forward to the operation but was able to put it to the back of my mind and enjoy Christmas and New Year. If I am honest part of my concern – and this will sound melodramatic – was the fact that my father died in hospital last year following an operation. Ridiculous, I know, but there you are.

Anyway, my operation day arrived and I went to the hospital, with my wife Kathie Touin, who has been a wonderful support all the way through this process. Because we were going to be out for a long time our dog, Roscoe, came along as well and spent the day in the car with occasional walks with Kathie to explore the hospital grounds.

I must say the team at the Balfour Hospital were brilliant – helpful, friendly, reassuring, amusing and professional. I was the second person into the operating theatre and was back in the ward in time for a light lunch.

By 4pm Kathie, Roscoe and I were home. I was walking about very carefully, and I am under instructions not to lift heavy objects or to drive for six weeks, but I had successfully undergone my first operation.

To be honest, this procedure did not require much tenacity from me, I just had to keep turning up in all the right places, the credit should go to the NHS in Orkney, along with Kathie. Nevertheless I certainly did not regret my decision to make the first visit to the doctor and follow this through.

While I am recuperating I am spending much time reading and listening to the radio. One of the programmes I’ve heard, courtesy of BBC iPlayer Radio, was a fascinating BBC World Service programme, The Why Factor, about regret…

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04nhgw1

A nurse who has spent many hours looking after terminally ill patients told listeners that in her experience nearly all regrets fall into five categories:

  1. Not living a life true to yourself (by far the most common regret, apparently)
  2. Having worked so hard
  3. Wishing had taken courage to express feelings (about others, or oneself)
  4. Wishing had stayed in touch with friends
  5. Wishing had let oneself be happier (ie not wallowing in feelings or giving power to feelings that hold you back).

I have always told myself I do not have regrets, and that what has happened has happened, but if I am honest that is not strictly true. We all have some regrets, it is part of being human.

However I am lucky, I believe, in having chosen to move to Orkney with Kathie nearly seven years ago. It means, essentially, that I am able to lead a life that is true to myself – as was the case in a previous phase of my life with the nearly 24 years I spent working at the BBC (though I probably worked too hard).

Finally in this blog, two contrasting pieces of music I am listening to regularly – one is a relatively straightforward production, both in terms of the music and the video, the other is more complex. By the way, I do not see straightforward and complex as good or bad, just different.

Here is Louise Jordan with her song, In The End, from her album Veritas. Louise writes in the sleeve notes: “I hope it encourages each of us to realise the power we have to make a positive change in our lives.” I thought the lyrics appropriate to this blog entry…

And here is Agnes Obel with Familiar, a song you may be familiar with (sorry about that) but which I only stumbled upon when Bob Harris played it on his BBC Radio 2 programme towards the end of last year (thanks Bob). I like the track’s air of mystery, both musically and lyrically…

Graham Brown

More about Amelia Earhart

Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amelia_Earhart

Life

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A sunny February morning view from our Orkney home (image: Graham Brown)

Life is sad, depressing, hopeless.

Life is happy, joyous, full of hope.

Which of these statements is correct? Or is it something in between?

I think it is all three, depending on life experiences, the day’s events, illness, state of mind, luck, money (sometimes), expectations, and so on.

The first weeks of 2016 for me have felt a bit like a roller coaster at times.

We lost David Bowie from the world stage, surely one of the most talented people thrown up by modern music, and from the British and Irish stage we lost much-loved radio and TV presenter Terry Wogan.

Both were big personalities who seemed as if they had always been with us, and always would be, and their passing leaves a gap.

Another of my personal favourites, though less well known, also died suddenly – the DJ Ed Stewart, whose programmes were such a big part of my life. Next Christmas Day morning will not be the same without his BBC Radio 2 programme.

And, here in Orkney, a flu outbreak over Christmas and New Year took lives, including two folk local to us who will be sadly missed from our village events.

Meanwhile events in Syria, and Iraq, have become so depressing that it seems easier now to watch the TV news at all. What can the people trapped in the fighting imagine for their future?

But living where I do here in Orkney allows me to raise my head, look out the window, or take our Roscoe for a walk, and see a wonderful landscape. The days are noticeably lengthening, the birds are singing again, the oyster catchers and lapwings have reappeared in the surrounding fields. It is inspiring.

I was also inspired by a wonderful, and deserved, event in the life of friend and former RSPB work colleague Amy Liptrot. In January her book, The Outrun, was published to great acclaim and was also serialised as the BBC Radio 4 Book Of The Week.

Amy is attending many launches and readings for her book. I was at the Orkney launch, in the Pier Arts Centre, Stromness, and was so thrilled for her. She has faced many difficulties in her life, as the book describes, and to feel the warmth and support for Amy in the crowded room was special.

I would recommend The Outrun to anyone. And if you have an interest in addiction, London, Orkney, or life-affirming stories, it is a must-read.

My wife Kathie Touin also had some good news in January – and so, by extension, did I. We have not said or written much about it but Kathie was not well for most of last year, making work and leisure difficult for both of us. One day Kathie will perhaps write about her experiences but suffice to say, for now, we have had a breakthrough and she is getting treatment which is transforming her life, giving her back the energy she craved.

Of course, not all medical and health news is good. A neighbour had a nasty fall in January and has spent a month in hospital already – though she seems to keep cheerful.

And a close relative of mine has had “disappointing” news from the doctors which means I will be away from Orkney from early March for a month acting as a driver, cook and bottle-washer.

While I am away I will physically miss committee meetings for the Kitchener & HMS Hampshire Memorial project (see our blog) and for the RSPB Local Group.

Emotionally, I will miss Kathie, our dog Roscoe and Orkney itself which is a wonderful place to live, on a human scale with human people.

But I’m sure my time away will, in some way, be good for me. I don’t know how much computer access I will have but I will make notes in my journal which, at some point, in some form, will probably appear here.

Graham Brown

To find out more

Orkney.com

Canongate: Amy Liptrot

The strange story of Renee, who was invited to walk away

A great pop song is a wonderful sound to tickle your ears with. Sadly they seem to be less common these days. I only hear the occasional chart act doing anything interesting – Lady Gaga, Gorillaz, Clean Bandit, and, err… that’s about it. Though, to be fair, I’m not listening to Radio 1 these days – I discovered Clean Bandit months after they had a number one single.

Nevertheless, it seems to me that back in the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies, and possibly the Eighties, there were more singles around that grabbed you by the lugs and made you pay attention.

“Boring old fart,” I hear the Greek chorus shout from behind me.

Recently I heard on the radio one of the pop songs I would consider a classic, Walk Away Renée. The Four Tops. Ah, yes, the Tamla Motown record label, and those great songs created by Holland/Dozier/Holland and other Motown house writers.

For people in my age group, Tamla Motown was a big deal and the label’s singles were frequently heard at my school’s sixth form/staff discos – yes, really, I’m not making this up, we really did this back in the Seventies.

Except, no. The song I heard on the radio was, indeed, Walk Away Renée, but it was not the Four Tops. This was yet another revelation to me courtesy of the informative Sounds Of The 60s programme presented by Brian Matthew on BBC Radio 2 each Saturday morning.

If you are a hip popster you perhaps already knew this but Walk Away Renée was first recorded by the band The Left Banke in 1966. The Four Tops version followed in 1968. The song was written by The Left Banke keyboard player Michael Brown, aged 16, about Renée Fladen-Kamm, who according to Wikipedia was the bass player’s then girlfriend.

The Left Banke version is described as baroque pop. It is interesting but, for me, not as good as The Four Tops version. This could be because I’m more familiar with the latter, but I don’t think so. See what you think, here’s The Left Banke…

And here’s The Four Tops…

I think The Four Tops have it. First, it’s hard to sit still, the Motown beat just gets to you. If you were a musician, what would you give to get the drummer and bass player on your recording? Second, the lead vocal of Levi Stubbs is heart-rending. Ah, yes, I’m back at the school disco. Third, the arrangement is superb – it pulls you in from the beginning. And, fourth, the production is more rounded, finished – but not so polished as to lose its spontaneity.

Yet it’s not just the performance and the production, it is a great song, an unusual song from the off – the opening word is “And”. I can’t think of any other song which does that. At school we were told not to start sentences with “And”, it was not grammatical. Then when I trained as a journalist we were told we could start sentences with “And” – a habit I still have, as you may have noticed. But even on newspapers we never started with “And” at the very beginning of a story. In fact, the whole opening line is wonderful: “And when I see the sign that points one way…” You know it’s not going to end well.

Being a great song it has lent itself to other cover versions. For example, Linda Ronstadt – tragically no longer able to sing due to Parkinson’s Disease – recorded this version with Ann Savoy…

But it doesn’t end there. Billy Bragg must be a fan of this song, and of The Four Tops. Not only has he recorded a song of his own called Levi Stubbs’ Tears, he has also covered Walk Away Renee. But, being Billy, he did it rather differently. He retained the tune, picked out on guitar by Johnny Marr, but added his own lyric, in his own style, which speaks of bus rides, nose bleeds, the fun-fair, and Mr Potato Head. It’s still very touching…

Generally speaking I think great pop songs are best not covered – though, as I said, it is possible I prefer The Four Tops’ cover because I heard it first.

But, now and then, a cover comes along that breaks this rule. Remember the Bacharach-David song I Say A Little Prayer For You? It was a 1967 hit for Dionne Warwick. This, apparently, is the unedited version with the count-in…

Of course, you probably also remember that it was very quickly back in the charts, sung by Aretha Franklin in 1968…

And many, many more have covered the song, including the late Jackie Leven. That is Jackie a man, not a woman, but I love that he kept the lyric about putting on make-up and a dress (though it annoys my musician wife Kathie Touin). It is another great version, to be found on the album The Mystery Of Love Is Greater Than The Mystery Of Death, which adds something to the original…

There are other examples of covers, in my opinion, improving on the original. The Carpenters, for example, who recorded Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft, first recorded by Klaatu. As well as Richard’s arrangements and Karen’s singing, I particularly like the cheesy intro they added to the song – and the alien who says “Baby” is priceless…

But of course most of us knew The Carpenters version before we came across Klaatu. Finding covers of really well known hit singles, that work really well and add something to the song, is harder. Apart from I Say A Little Prayer For You, I’m struggling. Any ideas?

Graham Brown

Postscript

I mentioned Clean Bandit, and that I came across them months after they enjoyed a number one single. I then discovered that many friends, including some younger folk (ie early thirties), do not know their music. This is an outcome of the low sales of singles in the UK and the lack of interest in the charts. At one time nearly everyone would have known the number one single – they might not have liked it, but they would have known it.

Anyway, for those who do not know Clean Bandit, they have extremely catchy songs, great production, creative use of auto-tuning – and someone has put money into their videos as well. Considerable investment, in fact. This is Come Over (featuring Stylo G)…

To find out more

Clean Bandit website: http://cleanbandit.co.uk/

Wikipedia on Walk Away Renee, The Left Banke and Motown:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walk_Away_Ren%C3%A9e

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Left_Banke

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motown

Across the Border: Broadcasting in an independent Scotland

 

BBC Scotland HQ in Glasgow. (photo: Stewart Priest)
BBC Scotland HQ in Glasgow (photo: Stewart Priest)

The devil is in the detail. What a great expression. And like many old sayings it carries great truth.

Here in Scotland we are moving towards our vote on whether to become an independent country. The referendum will be held on Thursday 18 September, 2014. I think the vote will be against independence but we shall see – much can and will happen over the next 15 months.

Many want Scotland to be independent come what may and they will not change their view before the referendum. Others believe Scotland should remain an integral part of the UK and, again, will not change their view.

But in between are the “don’t know” or “undecided” folk who will vote largely, I think, on economic issues. They will make a calculation about how independence will affect them and their families as the debate unfolds and as those devilish details are teased out.

The uncertainty of going into an independent future may make many undecided voters stick with the UK. What about public services, will there be sufficient money for them? How strong will Scotland’s economy be in the big wide world? What about the SNP proposal to keep sterling – how will that work? Will Scotland be accepted into the EU, with or without the Euro?

People will probably be less concerned about services such as health and education which have been run by Scottish governments since devolution re-established the Scottish Parliament in 1999 – provided, that is, they calculate that there will be enough money to fund them.

But there is a tricky area of services which currently operate across the border between England and Scotland. Railways is one example – how would that work? Would English-operated trains be expected to stop at the border. How far would ScotRail trains be allowed to operate into England?

And what about the military? Would a Scottish army, navy and air force be anything more than a token defence?

Personally I’m particularly concerned about broadcasting. For all its faults, we in the UK currently benefit from the BBC, an operation that is surely unequalled anywhere in the world.

For £145.50 a year (per household) we get a wonderful range of TV and radio stations – and online content – that provides something, in fact, lots of things, for everyone.

But what kind of public service broadcasting might we see in an independent Scotland? 

In August 2012 Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond outlined his ideas. The Guardian reported that he wants a new public service broadcaster, built on the assets and staff of BBC Scotland and funded mainly by licence fee payers. But he refused to rule out the prospect of the network carrying advertising alongside its public funding.

For me one of the joys of living in the UK is publicly-funded broadcasting which I am able to enjoy without advertising interrupting the flow of dramas, documentaries and sporting events. Do we really want to throw that away?

In mid-2011 there were 2.37 million households in Scotland (source: General Register Office for Scotland). Let’s be generous and assume every one of those households has a colour TV Licence. That will give a Scottish Broadcasting Corporation an income – without advertising – of less than £345m a year.

So, what can you get for £345m a year? I expect the BBC to publish its 2012/13 annual report and accounts later this month but the 2011/12 figures will give us a pretty good idea.

And it doesn’t make good reading for those who favour a Scottish Broadcasting Corporation.

To run BBC Two cost £416.6m in content – £537.1m by the time you have added in distribution and infrastructure/support – so there’s the budget gone straight away before you’ve got one TV channel, albeit a very good one, on the air. For the record, to run BBC One costs £1,041.1m in content which is approximately three times the projected income. Anyone fancy a three times increase in the Licence Fee?

The good news is that radio is cheaper. BBC Radio Scotland and the Gaelic service BBC Radio nan Gaidheal cost, including add-ons, £38.1m a year.

But the combined costs of BBC Radios 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 Live comes to £348.8m a year – roughly equivalent to our projected income for a Scottish public service broadcaster.

Many people in Scotland, most even, will not want to sacrifice all these services in return for a single under-funded new TV channel to run alongside BBC Radio Scotland.

And don’t expect the majority of TV Licence Fee payers in England to happily pay for existing BBC services to be broadcast for free in an independent Scotland.

Yes, the Scottish Broadcasting Corporation could buy in some of the popular programmes such as EastEnders, Strictly Come Dancing and David Attenborough documentaries – but this will quickly eat into the small budget.

And will we manage without BBC Radio 4 altogether? Or Radio 2?

Alex Salmond is right when he identifies the fact that “we do not have an English-language public service broadcasting channel of our own” in Scotland. But I don’t think his latest ideas are the right way to go about getting one.

To find out more

Guardian: Alex Salmond outlines plans to replace BBC Scotland –http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2012/aug/24/alex-salmond-replace-bbc-scotland

Guardian: Scottish referendum: BBC Scotland to invest £5m in extra programming –http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2013/may/21/scottish-referendum-bbc-scotland

BBC Annual Report 2012 –
http://www.bbc.co.uk/annualreport/2012/

TV Licensing –
http://www.tvlicensing.co.uk/