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Opera North - The Little Greats

Advertising Sectioned: “It’s the local sound… and it’s all yours!” (BBC Radio Nottingham, 1979)

12 August 17 words: Wayne Burrows

Local adverts ripped from the pages of history...

This slim magazine contains a huge number of adverts, but these were clearly a way to disguise the fact that the whole publication is essentially a thirty-page advert for Radio Nottingham itself, with a 20p asking price. Still, it’s held its value: 20p is the exact amount I paid for this copy a week ago, unable to resist the headline, redolent of a League of Gentlemen catchphrase two decades before any such thing existed.

The contents move us decisively from League of Gentlemen into I’m Alan Partridge territory. A succession of DJs, reporters, engineers and office types comment on their varied roles at the station. There’s even a Charlie Partridge on the staff, it turns out. Co-presenter of a weekday music programme called Free Hand, Charlie probably isn’t related to the entirely fictional Alan, but you can never be quite sure with seventies local radio.

Among the features, Dennis McCarthy talks about five-year-old Tara, “the world’s youngest DJ”, who introduces a couple of records on his show each week. Manager Tom Beesley describes conversations with listeners in local supermarkets. John Hobson introduces his work on the station’s phone-in shows with a somewhat convoluted metaphor that begins: “If Hans Christian Andersen had been around a hundred years later than he was and lived in Clifton...”

Despite all this, it’s obvious that in 1979, local radio did much of the day-to-day stuff we now use social media to accomplish. Education, news, religion and sports coverage all get mentioned here but, more tellingly, McCarthy writes about the station’s community features: “In the first four years of Where Are You Now? it was reckoned that more than a thousand Nottingham people were put in touch with friends, relatives and neighbours they’d lost touch with...”

John Holmes’ comments on Roundabout – “Britain’s first ever instant greeting, dial-a-dedication service” – also suggest that, when communication options were limited to landlines and snail mail, a letter or call to a local radio station asking to pass something on was basically a Facebook post or WhatsApp message travelling in ultra-slow motion. BBC Radio Nottingham may have lived up to its futuristic BBC Radiophonic Workshop theme tune even better than we imagine.

Maybe that social usefulness also explains why the comedy value inherent in the world of local radio had to wait until email and home-based internet were widespread to reveal itself. It wasn’t until 2002, after all, that Steve Coogan’s already decade-old Alan Partridge character, formerly a mere TV presenter, finally attained the dizzying heights of a graveyard shift at Radio Nottingham’s Norwich equivalent.

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