CAPITAL RADIO - The First Mad Year!
Part III - Global Village and other adventures.
Global Village was a venue in South London where there'd be a DJ and one or more live bands. Capital did a deal with the venue such that one of Capital's star DJs such as Nicky Horne or Tommy Vance would be the venue's DJ and the show would be broadcast live, complete with audience interaction.
It was a nightmare for the technical staff to set up, and involved driving the Mercedes OB van to the location, then rigging hundreds of feet of multicore Belden audio cable. The worst part was negotiating the rat-infested alleys below, where the tramps lived, to access a 'stereo pair' of lines grudgingly provided by the Post Office and that we relied on to get the programme back to the studios at Euston Tower.
On one occasion, desperate to get the de-rig over and done, I took some speed that one of the roadies had and was noticed running back and forth carrying loads of Belden cable over each shoulder.
Noted as 'inappropriate behaviour'!
There was a constant background pressure that Capital should be more than the kind of station that
just plays music. Because of the various statements made in the application, live music was supposed to be put on for a given percentage of the time. Besides, 'needle time' was still quite restricted. This is where the phone-ins and talk shows and childrens programmes came from. Mike Bukht the head of programmes must have had nightmares wondering what the hell to do to fill all those hours of programming with only 9 out of 24 allowed to be commercial music.
Speaking of childrens programming, I recall this event that happened on a Sunday. Basically Sunday's output consisted of an engineer sitting at the MCR (main control room) desk, running various pre-recorded programmes and cutting occasionally to the news team.
So, there would be the engineer sitting at the MCR desk, the traffic person (in radio, 'traffic' does not mean the guy in the helicopter advising motorists, it means the person responsible for coordinating the playing of the ads at the correct times and recording the fact) and one other, a very bored 'emergency presenter' sitting on the other side of the soundproof glass facing the MCR engineer or operator, in the DJ studio. Remember the DJ studio is a tiny triangle tacked onto MCR.
At the time, Capital had a kid's programme, it must have been for around four year olds or so, anyway just little ones. This woman would come in during the week and record it in one of rhe studios, then an operator would edit it to make sure it was 'clean' and then on Sunday the MCR operator would stick the big 10" NAB tape spool on the Studer B72 and press 'play'.
On this particular day, the tape had somehow slipped through editing and was in its 'raw' state, something radio people dread.
I started the tape and heard the intro. 'Hello. Today we'll hear how little Toby Bear managed to avoid being stung by the nasty bees . . . ' - you can imagine. Kind of a rip-off of 'Listen With Mother' the BBC programme.
The story got going in its syrupy way and I relaxed into the chair. I turned the monitors low since it wasn't exactly my kind of thing. Then suddenly I thought I heard the word 'shit' and sat bolt upright.
I cranked the monitors up and glanced at the standby presenter. He had also sat up and seemed to be listening to the story. But there was nothing; just the usual story droning on and on. I was about to turn the monitors down again when I heard the reader stumble in the middle of a line, and clearly say 'Oh fuck' before reading the line again and carrying on.
I depressed the intercom key to the DJ studio and said to the presenter, "Did you hear that just now?"
"Well what are we going to do? Take it off now? And replace it with what?"
- "Ermm . . . well there hasn't been any more. Let's give it a few minutes."
So we did. And just when everything seemed OK, she stumbled badly and said, 'Shit. I've done it again.' and followed up with the F-word a few times.
I pulled the fader to zero without further thought, opened the presenter's mike, he saw the red light come on and began trying to cover. I didn't envy him. As soon as he finished and turned a frantic face in my direction, I fired off a few 'standard' carts one after another, while scanning the programme log to see what I could do for programme content. As far as I recall we temporised by having some inoffensive non-needle-time music on for a while.
Meanwhile the phones lit up and all incoming lines were jammed by outraged parents calling to complain.
The producer got fired for the incident but taken on again later, I seem to recall.
At any time you were liable to meet the most interesting and outreageous personalities. For instance, during the first week I had an accident in which an iron transformer weighing about 2 kg fell from the table on my foot. It smashed my big toe up something horrible. In agony I took off around the complex at olympic speed, sprinting down each corridor in turn and going ung . . . ung . . . ung.
I had made two complete loops and was starting on the third when a posse, led by Dave Symonds, (see photo) waylaid me outside the music studio and brought me down. . . So I set off with one or two of the programme staff to the hospital, where the inept nurse plunged a red hot wire through my toenail and into the matrix underneath, causing me to levitate towards the ceiling.
I fled, in horrible pain.
Back at the studios though, Marsha Hunt, the star of the musical 'Hair', talked me into going to the hospital again where a more competent nurse used the hot wire correctly to make a hole and release this spurt of hot blood from under the smashed nail. More levitation but after a few moments the pain abated considerably.
* * * * *
One day the well-known spoon-bending guy, Uri Geller, came in. This was for Tommy Vance's show perhaps or it may have been after the schedule changed radically, that is after the big crisis. Anyway after he did his piece on air, Uri came into the cafeteria where I and several other operators and engineers were having a break.
Of course we could not resist asking him about spoon bending and he promptly challenged us to bring him a fork or spoon from the cafeteria supply. One of us went and got a fork. He gently stroked the fork and then wobbled it, stroked it and wobbled it. He didn't seem to be exerting any force at all but then to our amazement the end of the fork began to wobble and after a few moments fell off.
This was right in front - at arms length - of a table full of hard headed techies of the 'you can't kid metal' variety.
Another time a psychic came in. After his interview he too came into the cafteria where one of the operators waxed somewhat skeptical about psychic stuff.
Whereupon the famous psychic - I forget his name, but he had supposdly solved murders for the cops, and that sort of thing - invited the skeptic to present his hand for 'feeling'.
The psychic got hold of the hand of the unfortunate engineer or operator and proceeded to relate in intimate detail all sorts of events that had happened to the guy. The poor guy turned very very pale
and pulled his hand away when the psychic said 'and now, the future . . '
Needless to say we ribbed the operator later but he refused to talk about it and looked quite upset.
Jon Myer reports:
. . . when Capital launched it was only allowed to play nine hours a day of "needletime" (i.e commercially released music) despite being on the air 24 hours a day. This meant that the overnight presenters, Sarah Ward and Sean Kelly, had to play a lot of pre-recorded sessions - of varying quality.
An American guy studying in London called Robbie Barish (known to us cynics, of course, as "Barry Rubbish") contacted the Capital management and said that he thought that it was a shame that, on Saturday nights in particular, the station was playing these sessions when there was so much live music available in London. Michael Bukht (or whoever received the letter) took this on board and asked Robbie to help on the show and book suitable guests. As far as I know, he was never on the staff. He might not even have been paid at all, but he started persuading musicians and, occasionally, actors, to come into the studio after their Saturday gigs.
The show ran right through the night, from midnight, so the sessions were very open-ended and unstructured. Because the bands were often arriving straight from gigs, they would bring friends, hangers-on and all manner of 'refreshment'. This meant that sometimes the ensuing few hours was a shambles, sometimes it was fantastic - often a fascinating mix of the two.
As I remember it, there was a schedule change after a few months and Sarah was moved to a different time slot. These programmes did not last long.
Also, because of the nature of the engineers' shift system, I only worked one Saturday night in six, so only experienced a few of them first-hand. Joan Armatrading, Kokomo, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, but I think there was a Hammer Horror Film night as well with guests like Christopher Lee (possibly).
I have strong memories of the various characters listed in the opening programme schedule. London's Day was put together by the newsroom, which at least in the early days was staffed by a large contingent of Australian reporters. These guys were hardnosed characters, the sort that would lean over a patient being evacuated from a disaster and enquire loudly, "Will he make it, mate?"
Chris Rowling reports that "The newsroom man was Greg Grainger and his catch phrase was 'Cut The Crap' "
Greg Grainger has done very well over the years and now runs Grainger TV in New South Wales, Australia.
As the need grew to better organise the playing of 'spots' (commercials), a traffic department came into being. The traffic person sat in MCR near the operator and organised which carts were to be played at which times. It was all quite complicated. Originally the spots were played on three triple-stack ITC cart machines sat in MCR, but soon this became inadequate and an Instacart was installed, I recall it handled about 60 carts or so, and four carousels, big rotating cart players that handled, as I remember, 36 carts each.
At one time the traffic person was a wonderful young woman we had named 'Big Sue' in honour of her considerable funbags. She was a great sport and we hatched this terrible plot against one of the Aussie newsreaders. The name Simon Prebble springs to mind but heaven knows if my memory is accurate after all these years.
The main news started, the MCR operator opened the news mike, and Simon started to read the news. And at that moment Big Sue stood in front of him, on the other side of the window of course, and removed her top. The opening sentence came out something like ' . . . and here is the News. Gah .. . . um ... urk . . . on Capital . . . today . . . ar . . . '
The management, lacking a sense of humour, promptly fired Sue.
I wonder where she is today. Maybe if she reads this she will drop me an email and we can include her version.
Photo of Dave Symonds courtesy of Ingemar Lindqvist.