A late-night conversation with an old friend in a remote windswept house

FTFS cover_3000
Facing The Falling Sky album cover (image: Kathie Touin)

So, here we are, my first blog for nearly six months. Any excuse? Not really.

Not only that but my headline is stolen – it’s all in a good cause, though.

On 1 November Kathie Touin (that is Mrs Brown) released a new album of her wonderful songs, Facing The Falling Sky. And it is a super creative collection.

As the person who looks after Kathie’s publicity I am supposed to come up with snappy phrases to promote her work but I cannot beat this quote…

DJ Steve Conway says: “It’s truly brilliant. It’s like a late-night conversation with an old friend in a remote windswept house.” Thank you Steve.

Steve is a great supporter of Kathie’s music. He presents a show on Ireland’s 8Radio.com called the A-Z Of Great Tracks and, to date, six of Kathie’s songs have featured – most recently her single, Waiting For The Silence…

Previously Steve was a DJ on Radio Caroline and was one of the crew rescued by RAF helicopter in November 1991 when the station’s radio ship, Ross Revenge, drifted onto the Goodwin Sands. His book ShipRocked: Life On The Waves With Radio Caroline is highly recommended.

It is great for Kathie to get such positive feedback for the album after all the work she has put into it. She wrote the songs, played most of the instruments, did technical wizardry in her own Starling Recording Studio that goes way above my head, mixed and produced the album – oh, and created the artwork.

We held a launch for the album at Orkney Brewery which is situated, conveniently, just beyond the end of the track to our house. In fact, you can see the brewery from our dining room window.

No jokes please – we did manage to organise a launch in a brewery. We invited friends and Kathie, in her Eeyore mode, thought perhaps 10 people might come. In the event there were nearly 60 folk there and the warmth and support feeding back to Kathie meant so much to her.

I was the MC, introducing some tracks played from the CD and some songs played live by Kathie – as well as quizzing Kathie about the songs and the album. Kathie had a string trio join her for one song, Between Heaven And The Sky – thank you Linda Hamilton, cello, and Elizabeth Sullivan and Lesley Macleod, violins, it was beautiful.

cottage close up2
Publicity shot for Facing The Falling Sky (image: Kathie Touin)

Kathie was interviewed by BBC Radio Orkney for their daily breakfast news programme. You can hear this on Kathie’s SoundCloud feed…

She also featured in our weekly newspaper, The Orcadian, and the online Orkney News reported from the launch.

How would I describe the album? Well, herein lies a problem. These days, of course, music is distributed digitally for download and streaming as well as in physical form (CD in the case of this album). And the digital sites like to have the music put into categories.

Here, I admit, Kathie struggles and her publicity person (me) is not much help either. It is not folk, though I see on Google that is how Kathie is labelled. It is not progressive. It is not electronic. But it does have elements of all three, and more. The closest we have come is folktronic, or folktronica. Answers on a postcard please!

The digital world is a two-edged sword for artists. Potentially it gets the music to anyone, anywhere in the world thanks to Kathie’s website and to digital distribution (Apple Music, Spotify, Google Music, Amazon Music and so on).

But the downside is the income, or should I say lack of it, particularly for streams. A single stream on Spotify, to give two examples from Kathie’s previous albums, could pay you $0.00030394 or perhaps $0.00235781. I don’t know why the figures vary, both were songs written and performed by Kathie. Either way, she is not going to get rich that way.

Recently a track from Kathie’s piano music album Soliloquy Deluxe – Valses Poeticos by Granados – was streamed 133 times on Google Music Store resulting in a total payment of $0.68815381. Hey-ho.

Anyway, back to the new album, Facing The Falling Sky. It has received airplay on BBC Radio Scotland, Radio Caroline, Vectis Radio, Deal Radio, Biggles FM and Glastonbury FM and, who knows, elsewhere in the UK and beyond?

I had hoped for airplay on BBC Radio 6 Music but despite sending eight copies to various people we have not achieved that particular breakthrough. Who knows whether anyone there ever got to listen to the album from the hundreds they must receive each week?

Whatever, I think the album is fantastic and well worthy of UK-wide, indeed, worldwide, airplay. To repeat Steve Conway’s quote once more: “It’s truly brilliant. It’s like a late-night conversation with an old friend in a remote windswept house.”

Here is some more feedback Kathie has received…

“I’ve listened to it several times and each time find something else I like… Your vocals are great, a lovely sound, smooth and warm.”

“Really enjoying your CD. How catchy some of the tunes are – Waiting For The Silence is a real ear-worm!”

“Just the answer to the dreich winter weather bringing into your home a warmth and seasonal feel.”

“Such a good album packed full of great tracks.”

So there.

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Poster for Kathie Touin’s new album (image: Kathie Touin)

You can buy the album from Kathie’s website – the CD comes with an attractive lyrics booklet – or from shops in Orkney including The Old Library and The Reel in Kirkwall, the Waterfront Gallery and JB Rosey in Stromness, and Castaway Crafts in Dounby.

If you are into downloads or streaming Facing The Falling Sky is on all the regular outlets including Apple Music, Google Music, Amazon Music, Spotify and CD Baby (Kathie’s digital distributor).

Go on, give it a listen. You could even email 6 Music and request a play!

Graham Brown

To find out more

Kathie’s website – http://www.kathietouin.com/

Kathie’s blog – https://kathietouin.wordpress.com/

Steve Conway on Twitter – https://twitter.com/steveconway

8Radio.com – http://8radio.com/

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

Orkney Brewery – https://www.orkneybrewery.co.uk/

The wonderful expanding universe of radio

We are 15 years into the 21st century and radio might seem old-fashioned in an age of smartphones, tablets and apps but fear not – radio is adapting and, in some ways, I believe, getting better.

I love listening to the radio, and I’ve written blogs on the subject three times before. In 2011 I complained about the programme content from Orkney’s Super Station (it has subsequently closed down); in 2012 I wrote about my childhood radio memories and some current favourites; and in 2014 I wrote about my changing listening habits in the age of the smartphone.

Kenny Everett (image: PA Photos)
Kenny Everett (image: PA Photos)

In the second of those blogs I quoted the late DJ Kenny Everett who once said: “Stay loose, keep cool, keep on trucking, and remember – telly may be too much, but wireless is wonderful.” Quite.

I am returning to the subject again because radio just keeps expanding and, in my opinion, becoming more wonderful. You have to dig around though – too many radio stations available today on FM radio in the UK, and the USA, are heavily formatted, playing the same few songs, and not allowing the presenters the freedom to be themselves.

There are some exceptions and, if you move into the internet and the world of smartphone apps, there are many good choices for your ears.

The station I most listen to is Radio Caroline. I continue to meet folk who think this one-time pirate radio, or offshore radio, station was long ago sunk. But broadcasts continue over the internet and smartphone apps thanks to a dedicated team of volunteers.

These days the station uses a land-based studio in Kent but on special occasions the last Radio Caroline ship, the Ross Revenge, is still used.

As I wrote in my most recent blog (A Remarkable 24 Hours), the Ross Revenge is now moored on the River Blackwater and last month a day’s broadcasting came from the ship thanks to some very clever new technology.

To repeat what Radio Caroline said on their website: “Friday’s experimental live broadcast from the Ross Revenge was a great success. We were trialling a high tech means of getting the signal ashore and into our web streams – a 4G Wi-Fi router fitted with a small outdoor omni-directional aerial to ensure a constant mobile data signal as the ship moves through 180 degrees with the tide.” That’s pretty neat, I would say.

Radio Caroline's Ross Revenge on the River Blackwater (image: Steve Anthony)
Radio Caroline’s Ross Revenge on the River Blackwater (image: Steve Anthony)

The presenters – Kevin Turner, Barry James and Steve Anthony – were clearly having great fun and the sound quality on my internet radios was excellent. I hope they are able to do more of this in the future.

But this is not the only development from Radio Caroline. A new station, or stream to use the modern parlance, was launched earlier this year, Caroline Flashback.

As you might imagine from the name, the music on Caroline Flashback is geared more to the Sixties and Seventies. Gradually – remember this is all voluntary – the schedule is moving from non-stop music to one with regular programmes. These include Caroline favourite Roger Day and a chance to hear again the station’s specialist music programmes such as the brilliant Good Rocking Tonight, presented by Dell Richardson. A schedule appears at the bottom of this blog.

Alongside the main Radio Caroline service – which features largely album music, broadly in the rock category, with knowledgeable, engaged presenters – Caroline Flashback provides a useful alternative, depending on what mood I am in.

Radio Caroline has a fascinating, and still developing, history, much more detailed than I can explain properly here. But, briefly, Radio Caroline began in 1964 with broadcasts from a ship off the south-east coast of England. Shortly afterwards Radio Atlanta began broadcasting nearby but within two months the stations merged to form Radio Caroline North and Radio Caroline South.

This archive film of the briefly-lived Radio Atlanta is fascinating – look at the jackets and ties the “pirate” presenters are wearing:

As I said, Radio Caroline is available through its website, its own smartphone app and through other apps such as TuneIn.

TuneIn is well worth exploring – it streams, onto my phone, stations from all around the world. And, the pro version, which is not expensive, gives me the ability to record programmes.

So my online favourites – such as Steve Conway’s A To Z Of Great Tracks on 8Radio.com, or the archive 1970s Dutch top 20 on RNI – can if necessary be recorded and saved for a convenient time.

New discoveries available from TuneIn and/or my internet radios are made all the time. Recent ones include WGHT 1500 AM, an oldies station in New Jersey (it is fun hearing the adverts and the weather reports); Serenade Radio, an online easy listening station based in England; and KJZZ 91.5 FM, a public radio station in Arizona (where my in-laws now live).

There has also been a significant recent development from the BBC – its excellent BBC iPlayer Radio app now offers the ability to download programmes to my smartphone for listening (without the need for wi-fi, 3G or 4G) at a later date. The sound quality is really good.

It should be noted that most of the programmes are time-limited and, after a certain date, will delete themselves, though hopefully not in the style of the Mission Impossible tapes in the late 1960s US TV series.

But there is also a huge archive of older BBC Radio programmes, for example more than 1,500 editions of Desert Island Discs, which are not time limited.

Incidentally, the FM Radio on my smartphone – in itself an app – was upgraded recently and that now offers me the ability to record programmes.

All of which means that, finally, after more than 40 years, my use of cassette tapes for recording from the radio is diminishing quickly.

Well, I could go on but I must reach for the off switch. Before I go, a quick mention for some of the super programmes I have featured in previous blogs and still love – Alex Hawkins’ Homely Remedies on Frome FM, Alan Waring at breakfast on Biggles FM, and my old chum Graham Lovatt who presents the Eclectic Eel Radio Show via the Mixcloud platform (49 wonderful back episodes are available) and Radio Vera.

Yes, like the actual universe, the radio universe is expanding. What will be next?

Graham Brown

PS Currently listening to Ray Clark on Radio Caroline

My previous radio blogs

Where is the Super Station in Orkney? –
https://grahambrownorkney.wordpress.com/2011/12/12/super-station/

Turn on, tune in, but don’t drop out –
https://grahambrownorkney.wordpress.com/2012/11/30/radio_90/

Radio diamonds in a digital age – https://grahambrownorkney.wordpress.com/2014/07/17/radio-diamonds/

To find out more

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

Wikipedia on Radio Atlanta: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radio_Atlanta

Alan Beech’s website on MV Ross Revenge: http://www.rossrevenge.co.uk/

TuneIn: http://tunein.com/

WGHT 1500 AM: http://www.wghtradio.com/

Serenade Radio: http://www.serenade-radio.com/

KJZZ: http://kjzz.org/

Desert Island Discs archive: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qnmr

Homely Remedies on Frome FM: http://frome.fm/programmes/music/homely-remedies/

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

The Eclectic Eel Radio Show: https://www.mixcloud.com/GrahamLovatt/

Caroline Flashback schedule (as of 24 August 2015, UK times)

Monday
14.00-16.00 Ray Collins (repeat)
16.00-18.00 Roger Day
18.00-19.00 Steve Anthony (repeat)
22.00-23.00 Gary Ziepe: Mellow Show (repeat)

Tuesday
14.00-16.00 Tony Christian (repeat)
16.00-18.00 Roger Day
18.00-21.00 Stafford’s World
21.00-00.00 60s & 70s Request Show (simulcast with Radio Caroline)

Wednesday
16.00-18.00 Roger Day
18.00-19.00 Steve Anthony (repeat)
19.00-21.00 Archive Roots Americana Show (repeat from Radio Caroline)

Thursday
16.00-18.00 Roger Day
18.00-19.00 Steve Scott
20.00-21.00 The Elvis Hour (repeat from Radio Caroline)
22.00-00.00 Barry James

Friday
16.00-18.00 Roger Day
18.00-21.00 Good Rocking Tonight (repeat from Radio Caroline)

Saturday
10.00-12.00 Tony Christian
12.00-13.00 Dave Foster: Retro Chart Show
13.00-14.00 Steve Anthony
14.00-16.00 Ray Collins
16.00-18.00 Graham L Hall
19.00-21.00 Barry James (repeat)

Sunday
10.00-11.00 Gary Ziepe: Mellow Show
12.00-13.00 Dave Foster: Retro Chart Show (repeat)
13.00-14.00 Steve Anthony
14.00-16.00 Brian Cullen
16.00-18.00 Graham L Hall (repeat)

Thank you to the guys on the Radio Caroline Fan Mailing List on Yahoo! for the Caroline Flashback scheduling information: https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/RadioCarolineMailinglist/info

Radio Caroline schedules are on the main station website: http://www.radiocaroline.co.uk/

Radio diamonds in a digital age

 

A microphone? In fact, this is a radio (image: Graham Brown)
A microphone? In fact, this is a radio (image: Graham Brown)

Back in November 2012 I wrote a blog about my love of radio – “Turn on, tune in, but don’t drop out”. The blog was loosely connected to the 90th anniversary of BBC Radio and my scary realisation that I had been listening for about half of those years. I made a reference to “apps available for those of you with smart phones”, a gadget which I didn’t have at the time. But now I do and I realise that as a result my listening habits are evolving. More of that shortly.

Yes, I still love my two internet radios which have opened up a world, literally, of possibilities of listening pleasure. And still my favourite station is Radio Caroline, this year celebrating its, I should say her, 50th birthday.

I still listen to FM radio, particularly for BBC Radio Orkney’s daily broadcast, and for BBC Radios 2, 3 and 4. Sometimes I listen to DAB digital radio and just occasionally good old AM. Remember AM? Or, as it was called years ago, medium wave? Medium wave. It sounds like an unenthusiastic greeting from a distance. “I saw Jim in the high street, can’t stand that man, I just gave him a medium wave.”

Truth be told, there’s not much on AM here in Orkney: we can receive BBC Radio 5 Live, just about, but not Talksport, otherwise there are a few Scandinavian stations and, at night in the winter, you would once have heard the mighty Radio Luxembourg on 208 metres. Remember that? If so, you are older than you are letting on. The last time I was able to check the transmitter is now hired out to China Radio International at night.

But now my smart phone is opening up an even bigger world of listening possibilities. Or perhaps a solar system of possibilities. Or perhaps I’m stretching this simile a little far. Snap, yes, there it goes.

Through my smart phone I’ve discovered the joys of TuneIn Radio, SoundCloud, MixCloud and a renewed interest in BBCiPlayer Radio. In fact, these clever little apps are also available on traditional computers.

TuneIn Radio allows me to listen, broadly, to the same radio stations as on my internet radio. But here is the really clever bit. Pay a small one-off fee – just £2.49 – and you get TuneIn Radio Pro which allows you to record programmes to listen at your convenience, or to keep for repeated listening.

Steve Conway at the microphone (image: Steve Conway)
Steve Conway at the microphone (image: Steve Conway)

One show I like to catch is Steve Conway on 8 Radio, an Irish radio station. He was one of the final DJs on the offshore Radio Caroline and had to leave the ship, Ross Revenge, in a frightening storm after she ran aground on the Goodwin Sands.

Steve is now working through a mammoth task. He presents The A-Z of Great Tracks each Wednesday at 8.00pm, and Saturday at 10.00am (all times UK). Last night he was eight weeks into songs beginning with B (they included Best Of My Love and Bette Davis Eyes), and Steve reckons he has another 13 or 14 weeks of B to go. He must have spent hours pulling this personal A-Z together. Wonderful.

Another show I recorded on TuneIn until recently was Radio Seagull’s Graham Lovatt but Graham has moved – and his show is available on-demand through something new to me, Mixcloud.

How do I explain Mixcloud? Their website proclaims: “Re-think Radio” and “Listen to the best DJs and radio presenters in the world”. It is a streaming service but instead of non-stop music it hosts shows presented by DJs.

Graham Lovatt, a shy guy (image: Graham Lovatt)
Graham Lovatt, a shy guy (image: Graham Lovatt)

Actually, that was fairly easy to explain but how about Graham’s show? Words are not enough, you need to hear it… It is called The Eclectic Eel Radio Show and I suppose you might say it is somewhat in the spirit of John Peel shows but more wide-ranging, and featuring old, sometimes very old, material along with the new.

Earlier in the year Graham described one of his shows with these words on Twitter: “”Hip-hop, Electronica, Musique Concrete, Rocksteady, Haitian jazz, R&B, Bossa Nova, Hindi Disco & Catherine Deneuve!” What more can I say? Fantastic.

Of course, once you start exploring these less well-known radio shows, who knows where you might end up? I think it was a recommendation of Graham to tune in to Alex Holmes who presents two programmes on Frome FM, in Somerset, England – Open Studio and Homely Remedies.

Alex Holmes (image: Alex Holmes)
Alex Holmes (image: Alex Holmes)

Alex’s shows are warm and relaxed, there is usually a live guest, the music is sometimes acoustic, sometimes electronic, very often there is nothing you have heard before. On a recent show I particularly enjoyed Blind River Scare and Keith Christmas, and will be purchasing their music as a result.

And, to declare an interest, Alex’s Frome FM programmes have featured two tracks by Mrs Brown, better known as Kathie Touin, Season Of The Raven and Adam’s Kiss.

But I also mentioned SoundCloud. Well, you could spend all day listening to this. For a start, it is where BBC Radio Orkney programmes are posted in case you miss them. And BBC Radio Shetland does the same – so I was able to listen to the RSPB’s Helen Moncrieff present the station’s latest request show at the end of Shetland Nature Festival.

Among the many contributors to SoundCloud are The Economist magazine, Motor Sport magazine, National Public Radio from the USA, Penguin books, Orcadian musician Fiona Driver, and RTE, the Irish broadcaster.

RTE Radio 1 Documentary On One logo
RTE Radio 1 Documentary On One logo

Earlier this year RTE posted a magical programme from their Documentary On One strand – Sister Brid Is Heading For High Places. It followed a 65-year-old nun, Sister Brid, who had lost her sight, taking part in a charity challenge to climb Mount Brandon in Kerry. As she walked and climbed, those around her described the scenery but it was Sister Brid’s insights into life that gave the programme its vision. Beautiful.

 

I could go on – as you may have noticed – it’s worth another plug for my friend Alan Waring, mentioned in my previous radio blog, who presents a splendid weekday community breakfast show on Biggles FM; a shout for Rory Auskerry, an Orcadian working for the BBC in Salford, who also hosts some pretty loud rock shows, such as Route 66, Sundays at 7.00pm on Pure 107.8FM; hello, from me in Orkney, to islands on the other side of the Earth, and to the Falkland Islands Radio Service; and we cannot forget the seemingly endless great programmes from the BBC available on BBC iPlayer.

These shows are diamonds, some polished, some engagingly raw, but truly diamonds shining in a mass of digital communications. Please go explore.

Graham Brown

To find out more

My previous blog about radio, “Turn on, tune in, but don’t drop out”: https://grahambrownorkney.wordpress.com/2012/11/30/radio_90/

TuneIn: http://tunein.com/

Mixcloud: http://www.mixcloud.com/

SoundCloud: https://soundcloud.com/

BBC iPlayer Radio: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/

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

8 Radio: http://8radio.com/

Steve Conway on Twitter: https://twitter.com/steveconway

Graham Lovatt’s The Eclectic Eel Radio Show: http://www.mixcloud.com/GrahamLovatt/

Graham Lovatt on Twitter: https://twitter.com/TheGrahamLovatt

Frome FM: http://frome.fm/

Alex Hawkins’ Homely Remedies: http://www.homelyremedies.com/

BBC Radio Orkney on SoundCloud: https://soundcloud.com/radio-orkney

BBC Radio Shetland on SoundCloud: https://soundcloud.com/bbcradioshetland

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

Rory Auskerry: http://www.roryauskerry.com/

Fiona Driver: http://www.fionadriver.com/

Falkland Islands Radio Service on TuneIn: http://tunein.com/radio/Falkland-Islands-Radio-Service-883-s111551/

RTE documentary Sister Brid Is Heading For High Places: https://soundcloud.com/doc-on-one/sr-brid-is-heading-for-high

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…

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

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:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01ntlvp/features/90-by-90-collections

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/

Where is the Super Station in Orkney?

Grandma's old valve radio

Here in Orkney we’re well served by local media considering we only have a population of about 20,000.

We have a fine newspaper, The Orcadian, packed full of local news, information and advertising. There is also an award-winning colour monthly magazine featuring local folk, Living Orkney. And the monthly Orkney Advertiser, a free publication of useful classified advertising.

Add to that a number of smaller publications, newsletters and websites such as All About Orkney.

But in this blog I want to write about our local radio and, in particular, ask some questions about our community radio station the Super Station and how it compares to BBC Radio Orkney.

First I should tell you about Radio Orkney. It operates as an opt-out of BBC Radio Scotland – and a damn fine services it provides as well.

Every weekday morning at 7.30am we get Around Orkney, 30-minutes of vital news, weather and information. At 12.54pm there is a six-minute bulletin of local news and weather.

Then every Friday at 6.10pm we have the Radio Orkney request show, a glorious 50 minutes of everything from Daniel O’Donnell to heavy metal, as well as local music. Thanks to my wife Kathie I’ve had my birthday request on here twice – last year it was Esther & Abi Ofarim’s Cinderella Rockefella and on Friday it was Captain Beaky.

In addition, in the winter months, there are programmes from Monday to Thursday at 6.10pm covering folk music, traditional music, local history, the arts, language, farming and more.

In between times Radio Orkney posts lots of information on its Facebook page. So, all round, an excellent service.

As I said, we also have the Super Station which began broadcasting in 2004, and then full-time from 2005.

Originally, anoraks amongst us remember, they used studios on the radio ship MV Communicator, which had previously been the home of the popular Eighties offshore radio station Laser 558.

But the Super Station moved to land-based studios and sadly the MV Communicator was scrapped in St Margaret’s Hope, Orkney.

Remains of the MV Communicator being scrapped in Orkney

But where is the Super Station now? The address on their website is The Old Hospital, East Road, Kirkwall but you would hardly know it from listening to the broadcasts.

I’m sure the presenters work very hard but the station sound is not Orkney – you could be listening to a top 40 radio station anywhere in the UK. A friend of mine described the station as “broadcasting from Essex”. I’m not sure if he really meant that, but it does sometimes sound like that.

The advertisements are mostly for local businesses – and it is good to hear them – but the ads also sound as if they were produced in England somewhere.

Last Friday morning Orkney was facing the aftermath of a big storm – one wind gust was recorded at 138mph the night before, property had been damaged, roads blocked. Blizzards were forecast, there was travel disruption, all the schools were closed and many homes were left without power.

In addition, BBC Radio Orkney was off-air due to a transmitter problem and relaying all its information via Facebook.

So where was the Super Station in all this?

I listened until just after 9.30am and there was some travel news, though it was not comprehensive and seemed incidental to the music. And where is this place Sharpinsay that was referred to? Could that be Shapinsay?

Critically I did not hear one single mention of schools closures or homes without power. Come on – that’s not good enough.

I appreciate Super Station does not have the journalism resources of Radio Orkney but for a community station not to mention that all the schools are closed?

The problem, it seems to me, is in at least three parts.

First, limited resources. The Super Station serves a small population and so will have limited income, particularly in the current financial climate. This might explain why the station now claims to serve Caithness as well as Orkney, further diluting its local focus.

Second, BBC Radio Orkney. The presence of a licence fee-funded news operation in the islands makes it hard-going for any rival station.

Third, where are the roots? I have only lived in Orkney since April 2010 but I’ve never seen a Super Station presence at any event or noticed them in the local press. The presenters’ profiles on the station website make no reference to Orkney, good or bad.

This is a shame because reading back over the station’s licence application to broadcast it promised a breakfast programme with 45% speech, a broad music policy to include local and Celtic music, news programmes at 1pm and 6pm, and regular studio guests.

Now it is pretty well non-stop top 40 music – nothing local, no specialist music – with no news programmes, very little local news and no studio guests. Many of the programmes outside peak times sound voice-tracked, ie the presenters have pre-recorded their links and are not actually in the studio.

Incidentally, the Super Station application to broadcast also suggested a relay transmitter to improve reception in Stromness as well as a wish to have further relays for the northern isles of Orkney.

The solution? Well, I’m not a businessman, nor have I ever run a radio station. But I have followed the radio industry with interest over the years and I am an avid radio listener.

The Super Station needs to find its roots. It needs to concentrate on Orkney.

It needs a studio and office that is a hub for the local community. It needs local folk going on-air to talk about their lives, projects and charity work. It needs local folk presenting at least some of the programmes.

It needs to broadcast from local events. It needs a much bigger spread of music, both to celebrate the fantastic musicians of Orkney but also to cater for a wider range of tastes. It needs live music sessions on its programmes.

And all of this is going to need volunteers. A community radio station in a small community like Orkney cannot be run like a commercial radio station in a big city.

How about it Super Station?

To find out more

To get an idea of how other community stations operate as part of their communities, take a look at the websites for Cuillin FM in Skye or Biggles FM in Bedfordshire, England:

www.cuillinfm.co.uk/

http://www.bigglesfm.com/

Here is the Super Station website, its application to broadcast, and the BBC Radio Orkney Facebook page:

http://www.thesuperstation.co.uk/

http://licensing.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/radio/community/archive/superstation.pdf

http://www.facebook.com/pages/BBC-Radio-Orkney/31395967167