CAPITAL RADIO - The First Mad Year!
Part IV - CRISIS.
Now, thirty-four years later, my memories of the period are hard to explore. I have to close my eyes, think about leaving my flat in East Finchley, the funky smell of the tube, drizzle drifting into the entrance as I leave Warren Street tube station or possibly Euston Square, the brightly lit tower, the foyer lined with photos, merchandise, magazines . . .
Or the drive in, around the back past the garbage skips, arguing with the jobsworth parking guy as usual.
And run the video. The video, that is, of my life in 1973, still stored somewhere in my head but in unedited form, as a series of reality-bites.
The crisis happened in the winter of 73, as I recall. There was a generally tense atmosphere in the building. I remember feeling very stressed-out at the time, and one incident still stands out:
I had been working all night running MCR which didn't involve a lot, but was strictly time dependent in that I had to run the correct adverts and so on at the correct times. And I had officially finished; it must have been 8 or 9 AM. Just as I was getting ready to drive home, very tired, one of the senior programme staff collared me and demanded rather than asked, that I stay on and do a mix in studio four, because the operator hadn't turned up.
Well, I tried, but in the state I was in, setting up the big music studio for a band mix was pretty much beyond me. After about half an hour or so I 'lost it' completely and exited the double doors of 4 literally crying out of sheer frustration and tiredness. I strode off down the corridor, exclaiming stuff like, "That's it I resign! I've had enough of this shit!" and so on.
Head down, I was going for the car park when (Sir) Richard Attenborough intercepted me in the corridor, asked me what was the matter and managed to calm me down somewhat. Somebody was found to organise the mix and I staggered off home to bed.
It was around this time that the management arranged to do a sort of survey. They decided on a weird method. I and the cockney comedian Monty Modlyn would visit houses chosen in some way I can't recall, and this was in the mornings, and do live interviews with the householder about how much they liked Capital. We'd give out prizes and so on. These were to be inserted live into the morning show.
We discovered that none of the people we visited had heard of Capital. Despite the mega advertising on TV, billboards, newspapers, etc etc, we were an unknown radio station. This did not go down too well with the advertisers.
Wild rumours began circulating amongst the staff. The station was going to be sold. The IBA was going to close the station because it was bust. And we began to wonder if we would get paid.
Chris Rowling notes:
...rumours swept the station that Capital was going bust.
The main one was that Sir Richard Attenborough was having to sell a prized oil painting off his wall at home to raise some cash.
* * * * *
I had forgotten just how bad the times were back in 1973, but evidently Jon Myer hasn't. I asked him about the Crisis and here he picks up the story:
Three months in, there was a change of music policy and a new programme schedule. When it launched Capital had been quite MOR - classy but soft - but that hadn't worked and over Christmas 1973 it went Top 40. That was when Kenny & Cash took over the Breakfast Show and Gary Glitter, Alvin Stardust, etc. appeared on the playlist.
As well as these problems, times were generally hard all over: the 3 day week, power cuts, etc. There was an industrial slump going on. Not the best of times to be launching a commercial radio station.
I am told that Capital nearly went under. Apparently letters had been typed, telling the staff that it was going to have to close. It may be an urban myth but Dickie (sorry, Sir Richard, now Lord, Attenborough) is supposed to have offered some of his art collection to a bank in order to secure the loan that paid our wages that month.
As part of the overall plan for local radio, LBC had been set up as a local news station for London but was also responsible for providing IRN, a national news feed that all the local stations had to pay for. Capital had launched with its own news room and, despite having to pay for IRN, chose to originate its own bulletins - just using IRN reports for overseas stories and as backup for any events they weren't able to cover themselves. When it became clear that economies were going to have to be made, the newsroom was an obvious one. After all, the station was already paying for IRN. They might as well use it. So, as far as I can remember, the entire NUJ membership went. I think a couple of broadcasters who were members of a different union stayed and presented the daily evening news magazine programme.
Ron Onions, who had been the original Capital news chief, took most of the journalists with him to LBC/IRN - which had had a similarly shaky start.
I do remember Dave Symonds telling me (in the pub - where else?) that he had pleaded with the "front office" (i.e top management) not to get rid of the technical operators - another suggested potential saving. Whether it was Dave's argument that won the day, I don't know, but we survived - fortunately.
(I can imagine the argument probably went that, in a pinch, the engineers could do ops duties, but that the operators would not be able to cover the engineering jobs like actually fixing stuff. )
Chris Rowling also notes:
Graham Freer had been presenting the early morning news live, with cart inserts which we played in MCR. Later we took the IRN feed from Independent Radio News instead.