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

A weekend tonic

The year of 2016 has not been the easiest (in particular, two bereavements) so Kathie and I decided a weekend away with our dog Roscoe would do us the world of good – and so it proved.

Since we left London in 2010 we have tried to visit at least one new Orkney island each year, although we failed in this quest in 2015.

For those not familiar with this part of the world, we live on what is called Mainland Orkney, ie the biggest of the Orkney islands, to be precise in the West Mainland. But Orkney is made up of about 70 islands, of which 16 are inhabited.

The biggest island we had not previously visited was Sanday and so that is where we headed one Friday morning in July. Something about getting on a ferry really gives me that getting-away-from-it-all feeling.

Kathie Touin and Roscoe in the sunshine on Orkney Ferries’ MV Varagen (image: Graham Brown)

The ferry – MV Varagen, belonging to Orkney Ferries – sailed from Kirkwall, Orkney’s capital, and on our particular trip called at the island of Eday before arriving at Sanday about one-and-three-quarter hours later. We sat on the deck in the sunshine.

Sanday’s port is at the south-west end of the island and in the only area with any hills – quite a challenge for any day-tripper cyclists heading to or from the ferry. But we were in our elderly but, so far, reliable, Volkswagen Lupo and so we soon arrived on the flat landscape that is typical of the island.

Backaskaill Bay, Sanday – a crowded beach in July (image: Graham Brown)

Sanday, appropriately, has many sandy beaches – in fact, one of the many helpful tourist leaflets available tells me the island was named by the Vikings, in Old Norse “sandr” meaning sand and “ey” meaning island.

But Sanday does not just have Viking heritage. There are Neolithic remains, and both of the 20th century’s World Wars left their mark on the landscape.

The conflicts left their mark in other ways as well. The war memorial, just outside the wonderfully-named Lady Village, contains so many names from such a small island community – particularly from the First World War, 51 men lost.

The remains of German naval ship B-98 can just be seen – you can see much more at low tide (image: Graham Brown)

At low tide you can see what is left of German destroyer B-98. She took part in the Battle of Jutland in 1916 and later served as a mail and supply ship for the German ships interned in Scapa Flow, Orkney.

In 1920 while being towed to the breakers’ yard at Rosyth she broke loose and drifted towards the Bay of Lopness where her remains still lie.

You can find out much more about B-98 and the island’s history in the smartly-presented and informative Sanday Heritage Centre, again in Lady Village.

There you can also read about U-70, a German submarine which was grounded for seven hours overnight at Tofts Ness, Sanday in April 1918 without being noticed – or, at least, reported.

Next to the heritage centre is a restored croft, complete with pump organ and box beds, and a reconstructed Bronze Age burnt mound.

And we struck lucky – by chance we were in Lady Village at the same time as Sanday’s Reuse Centre, in the rear of the old Temperance Hall, was open. It is in effect a charity shop for the island and we came away with some bargain CDs and books.

Start Point lighthouse, Sanday (image: Graham Brown)

On such a small island away from large areas of population you will not find familiar high street shops and coffee outlets, but why would you want to? However, we found two well-stocked and friendly food shops – Sinclair General Stores, in their new premises, and the Sanday Community Shop.

A happy Roscoe on his morning walk along the shore at Kettletoft, Sanday (image: Graham Brown)

Incidentally, there are some interesting property opportunities in Sanday, one of which is the old Sinclair shop being marketed as a possible conversion into a house or studio for only £70,000 (see Sanday links below).

I do not play golf but I was intrigued to see Sanday’s nine-hole course close to, or perhaps even sharing, the site of a Second World War dummy airfield. There are sheep wandering across the course so the greens are each surrounded by a gated fence.

We met a friend on the ferry to Sanday who was going diving for the weekend, and we met another after we arrived who had taken her bicycle over for the day.

For us gentle walking is more the activity and there are plenty of places to choose from, in particular the beautiful, long white sandy beaches. We mostly had these to ourselves though on occasion there were three or four other people on the beach at the same time – talk about crowded!

Sanday is great for nature, there are lots of wild flowers, seashells, seabirds and waders, and in the spring and autumn look out for migrant birds. The beaches have curious seals just offshore who will swim along as you walk in order to watch what you are doing.

Our VW Lupo outside our weekend home (top) and the view from our lounge window (bottom) (images: Graham Brown)

We stayed at a comfortable self-catering house in Kettletoft, which boasted an idiosyncratic old piano. Kathie described it as so out-of-tune that it was musically interesting. There are two hotels in the village, each serving excellent food.

Postbox in Kettletoft, Sanday (image: Graham Brown)

Across the road from our accommodation was a Royal Mail postbox unlike any you will find in a big city, or even Mainland Orkney. Under Collection Times it says: “Times vary according to flight times.” Fantastic.

The weather was pretty good for our weekend, overcast at times but sunny at others, always mild, and a little rain on the Monday did not spoil the day. We got home refreshed after a splendid weekend. Thank you Sanday.

Graham Brown

P.S. This afternoon’s Open Country programme on BBC Radio 4 was about Orkney wildlife – it included a section on Sanday followed by another on our local West Mainland beach at Bay of Skaill.

Sanday links

Sanday Community Website

Wikipedia: Sanday

Orkney Ferries’s islands brochure (PDF)

Sanday’s Meur Burnt Mound

Facebook: Sinclair General Stores

Facebook: Sanday Community Shop

For sale: Bank House, Kettletoft, Sanday




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


Canongate: Amy Liptrot

A Californian and an Englishman taking part in momentous Scottish events

Flag of Scotland: Saint Andrew's Cross, or the Saltire
Flag of Scotland: Saint Andrew’s Cross, or the Saltire

So, after weeks and months of campaigning – years and decades for some – we are coming towards the end of the Scottish independence referendum campaign. The vote on 18 September is three weeks away and the pace of debate and argument is more frantic. Many of us watched this week a heated, that is code for shouty and ill-tempered, debate between First Minister Alex Salmond, speaking for Yes Scotland, and Better Together’s Alistair Darling.

When my Californian wife Kathie Touin and I, an Englishman, moved to Orkney four years ago we never imagined we would be participating in the biggest vote in Scotland, and in the United Kingdom, for more than 300 years. It could lead to the biggest change in the United Kingdom since Ireland became independent, perhaps ever.

It is a privilege to live here at this time, and it is wonderful that – some social media abuse from a minority aside – the campaign has been conducted peacefully, politely and democratically. And, if friends in England are not sure, yes, as British citizens resident in Scotland Kathie and I do get to vote in the referendum.

There have been many public meetings to debate the issues – we went to one such event in our small village of Quoyloo. And Kathie went to a women’s conference in Kirkwall. How many years since political campaigns have inspired public meetings? I can vaguely remember as a child going to one such meeting, in Huntingdon, I think, to see Huntingdonshire MP David Renton speak at an election meeting – that must have been about 50 years ago.

Of course, the vote on 18 September will not settle everything, whether Scotland decides to go independent or to stay in the United Kingdom. Either way the future for Scotland, and the UK, is uncertain, but exciting as well. I get the feeling that folk in England are only just starting to realise and consider the possibilities. Those living in Wales and Northern Ireland, I suspect, may have given it more thought.

On the day I will be voting for… against… come now, you would not expect an old-fashioned ex-BBC employee brought up on impartiality to give that away would you?

But I will tell you this. I am concerned about the Scottish Government’s proposals for broadcasting in an independent Scotland.

Broadcasting was not mentioned as a topic in either Salmond v Darling TV debate and has only briefly, for a day or two, been in the media coverage of the debate. But, for me, it is important.

In summary, the Scottish Government, ie the Scottish National Party, proposes a Scottish Broadcasting Service (SBS), funded by the existing TV Licence fee, at the existing rate of £145.50-a-year. The SBS will provide TV, radio and online services, working in a joint venture with the BBC – not something the BBC and Licence payers in England will necessarily want.

We are told that we can expect to retain BBC Alba (Gaelic TV channel) but also to receive a new TV channel (details unspecified).

On radio, we will continue to receive the existing BBC stations Radio Scotland and Radio nan Gaidhael (Gaelic), and a new radio station (details, again, unspecified).

The SBS will also provide online services, to include a news website and a catch-up player.

In addition, SBS will have the right to opt-out of BBC One and BBC Two, as BBC Scotland does now. This proposal also has issues, will the BBC want to cede editorial control for chunks of its BBC-branded channels?

We are assured, under these proposals, that popular programmes like EastEnders, Doctor Who and Strictly Come Dancing will still be available. Leaving aside the question of why EastEnders is popular – every trail I see for it seems to be unmitigated gloom – I think this is correct. Even if BBC channels were not available in Scotland, programmes like these can easily be bought in by a Scottish broadcaster.

But how do these proposals add up when we think of the full range of BBC services? Somehow, without increasing the Licence Fee, and without taking advertising (as RTE does in Ireland), viewers and listeners in Scotland will get everything they do now plus a new TV channel and a new radio channel.

To me, it doesn’t add up. Something would have to give. For example, a BBC that no longer has to cater for Scottish licence payers could decide to turn off, or stop maintaining, transmitters north of the border. Can we guarantee getting the full range of BBC programmes? BBC Radio 4? Or BBC Radio 3? What about BBC Four? Or the BBC News channel?

We are told that people in many other countries receive BBC channels quite happily. But, in truth, they do not get the full range of services, and they are likely to be paying extra to get BBC channels. My friend in Belgium, for example, gets BBC One and BBC Two as part of his cable subscription. If he wanted to get more channels, he would have to pay more. And only some BBC Radio services are available.

I also have a concern about our local service here, BBC Radio Orkney. We get a properly staffed, professional news service, giving us a 30-minute news programme each morning, and a lunchtime bulletin, as well as a weekly request show and, during the winter months, nightly documentary, music and community programmes.

Given that the Scottish Government proposals seem to be trying to get a quart out of a pint pot – or whatever the metric equivalent might be – some cuts in existing output might be needed. Someone (in Glasgow or Edinburgh) might decide to reduce Radio Orkney to a morning-only service, or perhaps a joint service with BBC Radio Shetland, with a dedicated reporter or two in each place? Hopefully not.

Now, you might think my concern about broadcasting is mis-placed and that the Scottish Government proposals make sense. Or, you might think that voting for independence will give Scotland a chance to get its own TV and radio services and losing some BBC channels would be a price worth paying. One person on Twitter – @AAAForScotland – contacted me after I raised this issue to say: “BBC! lived without it for years out of choice I would never miss it, personal boycott in protest anti Scots.”

At the beginning of the referendum campaign I predicted that the result would be close. I stand by my prediction. Here in Orkney I would be amazed if there is a majority for independence. But across Scotland? It might just happen.

The night of Thursday 18 September could be very interesting. And not just for those of us living in Scotland.

To find out more

Scotland’s Future: Your Guide To An Independent Scotland –http://scotreferendum.com/reports/scotlands-future-your-guide-to-an-independent-scotland/

Better Together –

BBC Annual Report 2013/14 –

Lord Birt says Scotland would lose many BBC services after yes vote –http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/aug/19/lord-birt-scotland-bbc-independent

Scottish independence: ‘Yes’ vote would ‘devastate’ broadcasting –http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-28863806

Post-independence break up of BBC would be ‘devastating’ says Curran –http://news.stv.tv/scotland-decides/news/288964-post-independence-break-up-of-bbc-would-be-devastating-says-curran/

Scottish independence: BBC services might not be free, says ex-Trust member –http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-27116556

My previous blog on this subject, Across the Border: Broadcasting In An independent Scotland (2013 article) –

How would the BBC be divided if Scotland became independent? (2012 article) – http://www.theguardian.com/politics/reality-check-with-polly-curtis/2012/feb/29/how-would-the-bbc-be-divided-if-scotland-became-independent

An album to take through the pearly gates

The River & The Thread by Rosanne Cash
The River & The Thread by Rosanne Cash

Every now and again an outstanding album comes along. I don’t just mean an album of music that you like, but one that has a powerful resonance and that will be with you for years to come, for the rest of your life. And not just an album of great individual tracks, but one that works as an intelligent whole.

The last time this happened to me was 2012 when Gretchen Peters released Hello Cruel World. I have previously written a blog about Gretchen Peters’ beautiful songs. If you don’t know her music and, in particular, this album, I urge you to search them out.

And now, two years later, it has happened again. This time the album is The River & The Thread, by Rosanne Cash. It is fabulous beyond words. But I will try.

Well, to cheat a little, how about some other people’s words?

“Mesmerizing… Cash paints her masterpiece,” says Uncut magazine.

“It’s an album we’ll be looking at in December when it’s time to single out the most powerful works of 2014,” says Los Angeles Times.

I’d say more than that, it’s an album I’ll be taking to my desert island, if asked. Incidentally, for non-UK readers who are not familiar with the BBC Radio programme Desert Island Discs there is an explanation of this curious comment at the foot of this blog [1].

Put it another way, if I ever get to the pearly gates, and I’m allowed a few CDs in with me, this will be one.

But don’t ask me, ask Elton John who said this: “It is inconceivable that there will be a more beautiful album than this in 2014.” That sounds about right.

Rosanne Cash’s album, featuring 11 of her own songs, explores the history of the Southern United States, and her own roots in the South, where her father Johnny Cash was born.

The lyrics are wonderful: “A feather’s not a bird, The rain is not the sea, A stone is not a mountain, But a river runs through me.” Those words are from A Feather’s Not A Bird. But I could quote the complete lyric sheet.

The River & The Thread is a spiritual album, thoughtful, sometimes quiet, sometimes rockier. Spiritual, soaring, tender, wordly-wise, wistful, hopeful are some of the other words that come to mind.

It is beautifully produced and arranged by Rosanne’s husband and co-writer John Leventhal. Where many producers would pile on more and more instruments, and production tricks, he has left definite spaces to allow the work to breathe.

And the musicians playing on the album are superbly sensitive.

To give you a fuller picture, here is a trailer for The River & The Thread with song extracts and Rosanne’s comments…

You may have spotted in the video the singer-songwriter Rodney Crowell who appears as a backing singer on the song When The Master Calls The Roll along with Amy Helm, Kris Kristofferson, John Prine and Tony Joe White. Imagine being able to call on such great artists – it gives you an idea of the respect accorded to Rosanne Cash.

Rodney Crowell also appears on the previously mentioned Gretchen Peters album Hello Cruel World, on the song Dark Angel.

But there’s another connection between these two albums. They are both created by mature women, I hope this does not sound rude, who have years of experience and are at the top of their game as writers and performers.

Of course, writing about music is an odd activity – much better to hear it. Here is one of the songs on The River & The Thread but in acoustic form, Rosanne Cash and John Leventhal performing Etta’s Tune…

And to remind you of Gretchen Peters, here she is performing Five Minutes, a song on the Hello Cruel World album…

Such beautiful songs – thank you to Rosanne, Gretchen and all the artists who contributed.

To find out more



Hello Cruel World – a blog about Gretchen Peters – https://grahambrownorkney.wordpress.com/2011/12/14/gretchen-peters/

[1] Desert Island Discs is a BBC Radio programme, which was created by Roy Plomley in 1942. A guest is invited to choose the eight records they would take with them to a desert island. Each guest can also choose a book and a luxury. Today the presenter is Kirsty Young and the programme is broadcast on BBC Radio 4. Nearly 1,700 archive episodes are available to listen to online: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/features/desert-island-discs

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 –

TV Licensing –



The Snow Goose
The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico

Our house, like most I imagine, has themes that run through the events taking place there.

One of my wife’s themes is lost, or missing, expressed in phrases commonly heard here such as “I’m sure I had a copy of that book…” or “I can’t believe I would have got rid of that book..”

It’s not always a book, occasionally it’s something else, perhaps a CD or LP, or an ornament. But it is usually a book.

The reason for this theme is our history. My wife, Kathie Touin, is a Californian who was living in Washington state in north-west USA when we met. I am English and, at the time, was living in London.

We married after what I suppose you would call a whirlwind romance. Incidentally, is this the only possible positive use of the word whirlwind, other than when Dorothy’s house fell on the Wicked Witch of the East?

Anyway, when we married 10 years ago – I mean Kathie and me, not the Wicked Witch of the East, I never married her – we set up home in my then flat in Ealing, London.

In the weeks leading up to the big move Kathie spent most of her time sorting out her possessions, giving much away to friends and charity, before packing what was left in boxes which were freighted from Washington to Ealing.

Incidentally, it would have been fun to travel with the boxes – we assume they went down the US west coast, through the Panama Canal, across the Atlantic, before finally arriving in Essex for the less interesting part of their journey.

When Kathie’s possessions eventually got to our flat some were unpacked and many went into our storage unit. Some boxes were never unpacked or sorted until we moved to Orkney three years ago.

And so, with the long passage of time between packing and unpacking, Kathie still puzzles over books she thinks she once had or can’t believe she gave away.

It is one of the amusing themes of our home-life – but now it has happened to me.

My late mother had a lovely copy of the book, not much more than a short story really, The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico. I think it is properly described as a novella. I’m pretty sure my mother’s copy was an illustrated edition and, some years before she died, she gave the book to me.

Since moving to Orkney and semi-retirement I’ve determined to catch-up on my reading and also with the many CDs I have bought over the years but never played.

As I mentioned on Twitter, I opened my Patsy Cline four-CD box-set to listen to for the first time the other day, only to discover a receipt which says I bought it 20 years ago this month. As my Twitter friend @myraponeill pointed out, quoting Patsy: “Crazy…”

Anyway I decided it was well past time to read The Snow Goose. I’ve never seen the film – starring Richard Harris and Jenny Agutter – but not so long ago there was a BBC Radio 4 adaptation which reduced me to tears. I have a cassette tape of it – err, somewhere.

The Snow Goose is the story of a lone artist, a young girl and an injured snow goose; a story of war; a story of love, loss and friendship; and a story of the power of nature.

However, I have failed to find the book. This despite the fact that we recently bought extra bookcases and all our books are finally, we think, out on display.

I was rather upset that I could lose a book which my mother had given me and which, I know, was special to her. Because it is a tale of love and loss, and my mother is no longer alive, its loss seemed all the more poignant.

Please don’t think I am careless. I have other books and possessions which my mother gave me. One of the most precious is her 1948 copy of the Oxford Book Of English Verse, which she has signed “Mary E Smith”.

And so I have bought another copy of Paul Gallico’s The Snow Goose, over the internet, it was not illustrated, and not expensive, and I am about to read it for the first time.

I am hoping that buying a second copy will make my mother’s copy somehow turn up, in a box, tucked into another book, somewhere… But that is perhaps hoping for too much.

Graham Brown

Turn on, tune in, but don’t drop out

Great mug for coffee and radio listening
Great mug for coffee and radio listening

The BBC’s recent celebration of 90 years of radio broadcasting has got me thinking – I reckon I’ve been a listener for around half of those years, which is a bit scary.

I’m not sure exactly when I started listening to the radio. I would love to say I can remember the so-called pirate stations of the Sixties – such as Radio Caroline or Radio London – which broadcast from ships, or disused military forts, outside UK territorial waters.

Frustratingly my late mother once told me that she was a Radio Caroline listener in the Sixties and, therefore, so was I. Since you’re asking, I was born in December 1957. But I don’t remember this.

I do know that I have a huge jukebox of Sixties hits in my head, records that I can recall inside out, and I can’t have got all that into my brain from the weekly TV show Top Of The Pops so, probably, I was listening to Caroline with mother but just thought of it as music coming out of the radio.

I can also vaguely recall being excited about a news item, in 1967, that the BBC was launching its own pop service, Radio 1, and I can recall my father being less than excited.

But my first clear recollections of listening to pop radio are from about 1970. As I started to get out and explore beyond my own home I met a couple of likely lads who told me how you could hear pop music all evening, every evening, on Radio Luxembourg.

It is hard to imagine now but in those days Radio 1 closed down at 7pm, just as Radio Luxembourg – known affectionately as Luxy – was starting its English broadcasts beamed from the Grand Duchy.

I can even recall the Luxy DJ line-up when I first started listening: Bob Stewart, Kid (later David) Jensen, Tony Prince (“Your Royal Ruler”), Dave Christian and Paul Burnett, shortly afterwards joined by Mark Wesley.

Someone who is even more of an anorak than me will now write to tell me that this line-up is incorrect! That’s fine – bring on the comments, criticisms and omissions.

I was also listening to Radio 1 around this time, although my recollection of exact dates is hazy. But I remember the breakfast show with Tony Blackburn; Top Gear – yes, it was called that – which was a progressive music show presented by John Peel; the brilliant Kenny Everett – until he was sacked; Junior Choice with Ed Stewart; and the Tuesday lunchtime chart rundown with Johnnie Walker.

And at some point – perhaps around 1973 – I loved the Saturday line-up of Stuart Henry, who for some reason started at the odd time of 9.55am, with his exciting theme tune of The Bar-Kays’ Soul Finger and his wonderful Scottish delivery: “It’s Stu-art Henry ma friends”. He was followed at noon by the American DJ Emperor Rosko who was unlike anything else on UK radio. If you’ve seen the film The Boat That Rocked (called Pirate Radio in North America), the character The Count is loosely based on Rosko.

Anyone who listened to Radio 1 in the early days as the 7pm closedown approached cannot forget, on a dark evening, that it was almost impossible to hear the music because the station’s AM frequency – or medium wavelength as we said in those days – was also used by Radio Tirana from Albania. They broadcast a recording of a short trumpet solo repeated over and over though, presumably, they eventually got around to some programmes. I can still hear it in my head: “Da, da, da-da, da, da, daa.”

Then at 10pm on weeknights – goodness, this was exciting – Radio 1 was allowed to use the Radio 2 FM frequencies for two hours! I should say FM was known as VHF in those days. The late night broadcasts were Sounds Of The Seventies, introduced by the groovy Theme One music written by George Martin. The music was progressive, the presenters included John Peel, Alan Black, Pete Drummond and Bob Harris.

I might not recall listening to music from the Sixties radio ships but the Seventies were very different. Soon after discovering Radio Luxembourg I came across – I think by playing around with my parents’ Grundig radio – RNI, which was broadcast from a ship anchored off Holland.

RNI was Radio North Sea International, broadcasting in English and Dutch. At first I was puzzled why it was not RNSI until I discovered that in Dutch the station was Radio Noordzee International.

RNI had a checkered history – see the links at the foot of this blog – but the importance for me was this was the first time I had directly experienced the excitement of offshore broadcasting, hearing about the storms, never being sure if the broadcast would be there tomorrow, wondering what had happened if there was dead air, hearing a break in the news because the newsreader’s chair had slid across the studio… it all added to the bond between presenters and listeners, and to the spirit and energy of the station.

Soon after discovering RNI I also found Radio Veronica, a Dutch station which unbeknown to me had been broadcasting since 1960.

Radio Caroline mug, itself about 35 years old
Radio Caroline mug, itself about 35 years old

Then in 1972 came my first remembered experience of Radio Caroline when the station returned to the airwaves after a four-year break. The ship, Mi Amigo, was in poor condition but one way or another the station continued, sometimes intermittently, until the boat sank to the bottom of the Thames Estuary in 1980. I loved Radio Caroline, particularly with its Seventies format of album tracks and more grown-up music.

In 1983 Radio Caroline returned – this time broadcasting from the rather more sturdy Ross Revenge, a former North Sea trawler which had featured in the 1970s Cod Wars with Iceland.

Once again, I loved the station, and the airwaves became even more exciting when Caroline was joined in 1984 by another ship anchored nearby, the MV Communicator, home of the radio station Laser 558. For those who know the smart besuited US Republican pundit Charlie Wolf through his appearances on UK news programmes – well, he was a DJ on Laser 558. Another of my favourites was Tommy “What A Guy” Rivers.

I mustn’t go on and on, you can read the history on the Caroline website (see below). Or go and buy Steve Conway’s excellent book Shiprocked: Life On The Waves With Radio Caroline to see what it was really like to be there.

Eventually, after adventures, raids and shipwrecks, the days of broadcasting from the high seas came to an end. But Radio Caroline continues today: the volunteer team of presenters play a great selection of music and it is easy to hear them. They broadcast online and there are even apps available for those of you with smart phones.

Over the years there have been numerous Caroline presenters but just some of the names I remember from the Seventies and Eighties include Johnny Reece, Steve Masters, Randall Lee Rose, Dave Asher, Caroline Martin, Dave Richards, Peter Philips, Johnny Lewis, Tom Anderson, Graham Gill, Tony Allan, Johnny Jason, Andy Archer, Peter Chicago and Jay Jackson.

And today’s Caroline line-up includes Peter Antony (who played tracks from my wife Kathie Touin’s album Dark Moons & Nightingales one memorable Saturday morning), Pat Edison, Steve Conway (author of Shiprocked), Nick Jackson, Johnny Lewis, Bob Lawrence, Del Richardson (presenter of Tuesday rock ‘n’ roll show Good Rockin’ Tonight), Barry James – well, I could go on, do give them a listen…


Tuned into Radio Caroline via an internet radio
Tuned into Radio Caroline via an internet radio

But back to my childhood, I wasn’t just listening to music radio and pirate stations. I can remember at breakfast the family listened to a regional magazine programme on BBC Radio 4 – no local stations in those days – called Roundabout East Anglia.

I can remember at lunchtime the family listening to BBC comedies such as The Clitheroe Kid and The Navy Lark. I remember The World At One with William Hardcastle.

And I remember Two-Way Family Favourites, broadcast every Sunday lunchtime for years on first the BBC Light Programme and then BBC Radio 2. Even now its theme music With A Song in My Heart makes me think of Mum’s roast lunches. The programme consisted of requests for members of the UK forces overseas, and there were presenters overseas as well as a London-based host. In those days international link-ups with foreign places was a big deal.

Later I would listen to BBC Radio programmes of my own choosing. I was a regular listener to Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, with its original presenter Roy Plomley, and I started to listen to plays and documentaries.

I enjoyed current affairs presenter Jack de Manio, Letter From America with Alistair Cooke, and as an adult the original The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, which still works best on the radio.

I also recall a Radio 2 show, perhaps in the early Seventies, which had a presenter, possibly called Don, I’m a bit hazy on this, playing instrumental music tracks. Listeners on the phone would try to name the piece of music while it played on in the background. Entertainment was simple and cheap in those days.

And I recall falling asleep one Saturday night listening to Radio 4 on FM. In those days there were no programmes overnight and, being FM, there was little interference so the radio was quiet. But when programmes re-started on a Sunday morning with a broadcast of church bells I woke up in confusion, wondering where I was and what was happening.

This is just a small selection of many great programmes and broadcasters on BBC Radio over the years, and I’ve not even mentioned Radio 3 (sorry 3 fans).

For a flavour of some of the BBC’s broadcasts over the years I’d recommend the excellent 90 By 90 collection put together by BBC Radio 4 Extra, which features a highlight from each year:


The 1977 extract is a clip of the opening broadcast of BBC Radio Orkney, now my local radio station. To be strictly accurate it is an opt-out of BBC Radio Scotland but it is great. The current Senior Producer, or Head Honcho, is Dave Gray and you can hear him comment on the 1977 clip and tell a marvellous story about a stuffed kangaroo – check it out.

Today I do most of my radio listening via my two internet radios. Not heard of internet radios? They look a bit like a conventional transistor radio, but with a modern design, and you can listen to pretty much any station you want from anywhere in the world. I’m not one for gadgets but an internet radio is a must – you can buy one for about £80.

The internet radios allow me to listen to Radio Caroline, to my in-laws’ favoured local station, KCLU in Thousand Oaks, California, or to my friend Alan Waring who presents his breakfast show on Biggles FM in Bedfordshire – and to so much more.

But I still listen to what you might call conventional radio and enjoy much of what is on offer from the BBC – especially Radio Orkney – although Radio 1 is, for me personally, off the dial, as it should be at my age.

So, there we are, some of my radio memories and habits.

There is so much more I have not included – internet radio favourites of today such as Radio Seagull, CatClassica, KAAM 770 AM Legends and, back again, Radio Northsea International. The early days of independent commercial radio in the UK, when stations – such as my local Hereward Radio in Peterborough – were not all soundalike jukeboxes like today. What about great radio sport commentaries, a whole area for exploration in itself?

There are many great DJs I have not mentioned, some no longer with us: Alan Freeman, fabulous on Pick Of The Pops, but whose Saturday rock show was also wonderful and had a fantastic rock and classical music intro (an example here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hyvby25HWh0); the lovely Rob Leighton, who championed the music of my wife Kathie Touin and others on 21st century Radio Caroline before his untimely death; and Roger Scott, a dignified man who continued to present great music on Radio 1 through his illness until shortly before his death.

And there are many great DJs still with us: we’ve mentioned Rosko, Bob Harris, Tony Blackburn, Johnnie Walker and others, but don’t forget the elegant Brian Matthew, presenter of Radio 2’s Sound Of The Sixties; and former pirates Keith Skues and Roger Day, still plugging away out there.

I’d like to thank everyone who has presented, or contributed behind the scenes, to the many hours of radio I have listened to over these 45 years. Radio is a great source of music, information, inspiration, companionship and, frankly, sanity in a sometimes crazy world.

And as Kenny Everett once said: “Stay loose, keep cool, keep on trucking, and remember – telly may be too much, but wireless is wonderful.”

Graham Brown

To find out more

Radio Caroline: http://www.radiocaroline.co.uk/

Radio Caroline history: http://radiocaroline.co.uk/#history.html

More Radio Caroline history: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radio_Caroline

RNI: http://www.rni.vze.com/

RNI history: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radio_North_Sea_International

Radio Veronica history: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radio_Veronica

The Pirate Radio Hall of Fame: http://www.offshoreradio.co.uk/

The BBC Celebrating 90 Years: http://www.bbc.co.uk/historyofthebbc/

KCLU: http://www.kclu.org/

Biggles FM: http://www.bigglesfm.com/

Letter From America programmes: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00f6hbp

Roger Day’s new venture: http://rogerday.co.uk/

To discover the fate of Laser 558’s MV Communicator, see my previous blog, Where is the Super Station in Orkney?: https://grahambrownorkney.wordpress.com/2011/12/12/super-station/

Guardian angels, the gods & lost friends

Angel at Mottisfont, Hampshire (National Trust property)

Some years ago I had a good friend. I’ve had several over the years, you understand, but this blog is about one friend in particular. I won’t tell you her real name, let’s call her Sally.

I met Sally at work in the late Seventies, then we lost touch, and then a few years later met up again and got on like a house on fire. By this time she had moved away to a remote part of north England where I would visit or sometimes meet with her and other friends.

I believe the last time we met was a weekend visit when it seemed to me my friend was having some difficulties. She had no job and money was becoming short.

Sally spoke about having powers, and access to the gods. Her words didn’t scare me, there was no unusual atmosphere in the house, but they didn’t seem right either.

For instance, she told me that once she had wished really strongly for her boyfriend, who was not in the house at the time, to be with her in bed. And he appeared, she said. But she also said it was wrong to use her powers this way.

Some of what Sally said reminded me of someone I only knew through TV and radio documentaries, an English sailor called Donald Crowhurst. In 1968 he entered a single-handed round-the-world yacht race, sponsored by the Sunday Times, in order to raise funds for his business.

But Crowhurst and his boat Teignmouth Electron were ill-prepared and eventually he resorted to falsifying his position and gave up on his attempt to sail round the world. He had some sort of mental breakdown and, in the end, it is thought, threw himself off his boat in the Atlantic rather than face having his deception uncovered.

His boat was found drifting. He left behind charts that allowed investigators to work out his actual journey. He had recorded the voyage of his boat on silent cine film and he had recorded his own voyage into insanity on a tape recorder.

In the tapes, at once fascinating and frightening, he too spoke of being in communication with the gods, just like my friend Sally. I’m not saying she was insane but clearly something wasn’t right.

Then, in the middle of this strange weekend, something odd yet comforting happened to me.

Out of nowhere I got in my mind a really strong image of my mother’s mother, or Nanny as she was known to me. I don’t mean it was a vision, or that she appeared before me, but it was as strong a mental image as I can ever remember of anything.

Nanny had died many years before when I was about nine-years-old and I wasn’t in the habit of conjuring up images of her.

I told my friend Sally what had happened. Very matter of fact she replied: “Oh, she’ll be your guardian angel.”

Now this is a fanciful idea. But it is also oddly reassuring that there is some presence, some spirit, left behind by those we have loved – and have loved us – that keeps an eye on what we are up to.

Thinking back, I was very close to my Nanny. Each summer I would stay with my grandparents, probably only for a week but it seemed forever. I am an only child so I would get lots of attention.

Two memories stand out. First, early each morning, helping my grandfather catch the earwigs that would get into his prize chrysanthemums. Second, lying in bed at night and watching passing car headlights make patterns on the ceiling. Happy times.

It is perhaps not surprising that such happy, loving times would create a strong impression that could almost spring to life many years later.

Soon after my last visit to Sally we lost touch. She had faced some difficulties in her previous job and didn’t seem to have any prospect of work. As she cut back on spending, both the car and the telephone were dispensed with. Soon I got no replies to letters and cards. This was, of course, long before email and texting, probably nearly 20 years ago.

Since then I’ve often wondered what became of Sally. Internet searches throw up nothing. I have no friend-in-common to ask.

If you would like to know more about the sad story of Donald Crowhurst there is lots online, though this will be of small comfort to the family he left behind.

From time to time there are TV and radio documentaries about him. Some years ago BBC Radio 4 broadcast a brilliant drama using the tapes Crowhurst left behind. I have it somewhere, buried in a box. I must find it.

A good starting point to find out more might be this:

I wish I had a starting point for Sally.

Does Sally have a guardian angel looking out for her? I hope so.