CAPITAL RADIO - The First Mad Year!
Part VIII - NIGHT FLIGHT.
Written by ROBBIE BARISH.
WBAI was the most influential voice of the so-called counter-culture in New York, providing an outlet for a broad spectrum of artistic and political viewpoints.
In early September I traveled to London, primarily to find myself a place to live.
While there, I decided to stop in at the offices of
Capital Radio, which at that time were located on Piccadilly. With a WBAI staff ID card as my entrance ticket, I soon found myself in the company of management people who were all very much my contemporaries. I was invited to come back during the first week in October to the new broadcasting facility on Euston Road. There I would meet the Programme Controller, Michael Bukht and receive a formal interview to see if any of my experience would be of use to the new radio station. I was sincerely hoping that I could supplement my own resources with a modest paycheck from Capital!
I moved to London in early October and, after setting up my new digs and officially registering as an internal student at the University of London, I made an appointment with Michael Bukht. What was of most interest to him was my experience with overnight radio programming. Up to that time, the BBC had always turned off their transmitters at an hour close to that when the Underground trains stopped working.
Capital was going to be on the air twenty-four hours a day and there was not a strong consensus as to what type of programming should be heard in those overnight hours. Added to this uncertainty was the simple fact that the station was subject to “needle time” restrictions, arrangements with the musicians union that limited the amount of recorded music that could be played (except for so-called library music of the sort heard in lifts) and as well required that a certain amount of money be made available to musicians who would actually perform “live” or in recorded sessions for later broadcast.
During my interview with Michael Bukht, I was allowed to spend a few minutes privately (and separately) with both Sarah Ward and Sean Kelly, the two presenters who had been selected to be the overnight talent on the station. When I went back to Michael after talking with both Sean and Sarah, he asked me my impression of them. After telling him what I thought, he said: “you’ve figured out in minutes what has taken me a month to understand about each of them. You’re hired!” So, yes, I then became a paid staff member, but one who wasn’t around during the week making me a mystery to many of the other Capital employees!
Because I was completely committed to my research activities, expected by the Institute of Cancer Research to stay within the usual three-year time frame for obtaining a Ph.D. degree, I was only assigned by Michael Bukht to take the Sunday-morning midnight to 6 AM slot on Capital and produce live music that would be presented by Sarah Ward. And that’s how Saturday Night Flight was born. Later, Sarah moved to a more hospitable time slot, and I was given the presenter duties for the program, as well as retaining production responsibilities.
So far this letter has been nothing more than an autobiographical summary of how a fairly straight-laced twenty-seven year old physicist from New York City was put in charge of six hours of weekly live music performance in London, in a time slot where there was no competing radio programming. What we in the States call: “100% share.”
As producer, I decided that I would go outside of the “normal” pop music sources that could be heard during the day on Capital. I wanted a mix of folk, blues, jazz, rock and “other” interesting things. I also was not averse to finding groups or individuals who I though might “make it” someday if given an opportunity to appear on the program.
Appended to this letter is a complete list of performers who were heard on Saturday Night Flight, many of them going the whole six hours! But let me name a few now who might still have some interesting things to say about their appearances with either Sarah or me (or both of us).
Neil Innes, Zoot Money, Peter Frampton, Paul Carrack, Al Stewart, Ginger Baker, Mary Hopkin, Richard Digance, Roy Harper, Graham Collier, Stan Tracey, John Taylor, Labi Sifre, Tim Rice, Annie Haslam, Tom Paxton, Stan Webb, and Ian Whitcomb.
Unfortunately, it’s too late to talk with Brownie McGee and Sonny Terry, Alexis Korner, Long John Baldry, John B. Spencer, Mike Patto, Susannah McCorkle and many others who have passed away in the intervening years. And, yes, there were specials including a couple of “Nights of Horror” with actors, producers, directors, writers and musicians from the Hammer horror films.
Let me tell you what was also unique about the program, which was reviewed by Time Out Magazine as “one of the most audacious and original shows on British radio.” Quite simply, it was presented in what in the United States in general and at WBAI in particular was called “free-form.” Unlike sessions produced and heard on the BBC, I never required the performers to provide, in advance, any indication of what they would be doing. I would tell them if there was to be a commercial break scheduled at a particular time and also make them aware that there would be three minutes at the top of the hour when the news was read. They could otherwise fill the six hours any way they wanted to. Usually, for folk performers, I would have several arranged in a circle in the studio and they would trade sets as individuals or jam together as they wished. Sometimes, when there were jazz or rock sessions, other musicians who finished their gigs at London venues would simply come up to the radio station and join in the live session with their friends.
I also circulated a memo to the entire Capital staff inviting any employee who had an interest in radio production to submit a demo to me for airing on my show. That’s how Mike Childs, who was helping Roy Spredbury carry around snacks for “prime time” guests, got to do a movie review that eventually allowed him to present similar film reviews on other programmes and, ultimately, become a full producer at the station, a position he held for twenty years.
If I took phone calls from listeners, I insisted that the calls were never screened prior to going on the air live. Every other program at Capital (and for all I know everywhere else at that time) had its phone calls selected by a screener who would decide that the caller was suitable for air. Since I took calls as they came, I may have been the first person on British radio to dispose of callers who bothered me. I did so in what was certainly a less civil manner than was generally used.
One night, after a particularly rowdy session, with Boz Burrell, Mike Patto, Mel Collins, Zoot Money, Ginger Baker and others who, that night, called themselves “Dick and the Fireman” I received an irate phone call from then Managing Director John Whitney. After an upper-level management discussion about the program it was decided that it could no longer be aired live and that I would no longer be the presenter, being replaced by regular “front line” disk jockeys at Capital. Soon the program died, and with it so did my career on British radio. It just wasn’t the same, taping a highly controlled program that had to be edited to make it “squeaky-clean” for the higher-ups at Capital. I finished up my doctorate in early 1976 and returned to New York radio for an additional ten years or so.
Saturday Night Flight
17 Nov 73 Dave Ellis
24 Nov 73 Martin Winsor, Redd Sullivan (of the Troubadour Folk Club)
1 Nov 73 Ed Welch
8 Dec 73 Ian Harwood
15 Dec 73 Kokomo and Graham Bond
22 Dec 73 Neil Innes, Andy Roberts, Zoot Money
29 Dec 73 Raggy Farmer and Richard Newman
5 Jan 74 Ian Whitcomb, Chris Ellis, Tim Rice
12 Jan 74 Nic Jones
19 Jan 74 Ian Whitcomb, Chris Ellis, Tim Rice (back by popular demand)
26 Jan 74 Roger Williamson, Frank McConnell, Opray and Petersen
2 Feb 74 Kokomo
9 Feb 74 Thamesis
16 Feb 74 Alexis Korner, John Baldry, Brian Knight, Geoff Bradford
23 Feb 74 Stan Tracey + 11 musicians
2 March 74 Tom Paxton, Ian Hunt
9 March 74 Joy Hyman, Tim Walker
16 March 74 Horror Night (Peter Cushing, Kevin Francis, James Bernard, etc.)
23 March 74 Philip Goodhand-Tate
30 March 74 Folk Night (Cliff Aungier, Gerry Lochran, Simon Prager, etc.)
6 April 74 Willie and Reina
13 April 74 Decameron
20 April 74 Gyroscope (Gordon Beck’s Trio)
27 April 74 Ace (First-ever performance of “How Long has this Been Goin On”)
4 May 74 New Deal String Band
11 May 74 Mary Hopkin and Tony Visconti
18 May 74 Medicine Head
25 May 74 Dick Sudhalter’s Band with Susannah McCorkle
1 June 74 Wizz Jones, Richard Digance
8 June 74 McGuiness Flint
15 June 74 Halcyon
22 June 74 East, Silver Dancer, Wooden Lion
29 June 74 Roy Harper
6 July 74 Graham Collier Music
13 July 74 Ian Whitcomb
20 July 74 Tribute to Duke Ellington (Norma Winstone, Adelaide Hall, John Taylor Sextet, etc.)
27 July 74 Starry Eyed and Laughing
3 August 74 Gonzalez
10 August 74 Nick Pickett, Nigel Cameron, Raggy Farmer
17 August 74 Major Surgery (Tony Marsh, Mike Osborne, Evan Parker, etc.)
24 Aug 74 “Carnivale” with Davaracks, Arawack, and Metro Steel Band
31 Aug 74 Mike Garrick Sextet
7 Sept 74 Strange Fruit and Peter Bellamy
14 Sept 74 SNAFU (Bobby Harrison, Colin Gibson, Mick Moody, etc.)
21 Sept 74 Decameron (Johnny Coppin, Mike Silver, etc.)
28 Sept 74 Highway (Paul Rodgers, Paul Kossoff, Andy Fraser, Simon Kirke)
5 Oct 74 Dave Willis Quintet
12 Oct 74 Folk Night (Geoff Bradford, Brian Knight, Johnny Joyce, David Blosse, etc.)
19 Oct 74 New Deal String Band
26 Oct 74 Fran McGillivray and Mike Burke, Geoff Bradford, etc.
2 Nov 74 Isipingo (Harry Miller, Marc Chang, Mike Osborne, Malcom Griffiths, Keith Tippet, etc.)
9 Nov Dave Ellis, Frank McConnell
16 Nov 74 Paz (Geoff Castle, Frank Holder, Martin Shaw, etc.)
23 Nov 74 Alexis Korner, Peter Frampton, John Siomas, etc.
30 Nov 74 John Taylor sextet
7 Dec 74 New Deal String Band, Jack Warshaw Terry Yarnell, Sandra Kerr, John Faulkner.
14 Dec 74 Kokomo
21 Dec 74 Steve Tilston, Strange Fruit, Cliff Aungier
28 Dec 74 Dick and the Firemen4 Jan 75 Rag Night: Neville Dickie and Keith Nichols
from this point, all programs were taped for later airplay:
11Jan 75 Wizz Jones, Bonnie Dobson, Jim Reynolds
18 Jan 75 Alan Bown’s “No Surrender”
25 Jan 75 Jubiaba, Dave Ellis
1 Feb 75 Steve Tilston, Jenny Beeching, Nic Jones
8 Feb 75 Stan Webb Band, Johnny Joyce
15 Feb 75 Dave Willis Quintet
22 Feb 75 Renaissance with Annie Haslam
1 March 75 Al Stewart, Marian Segal
8 March 75 Horror Night II
15 March 75 Ram John Holder
22 March 75 Kevin Coyne and live feed from Sydney Australia
5 April 75 Decameron and Jack Hudson
12 April 75 Long John Baldry, Fran McGillivray and Mike Burke
19 April 75 Graham Collier Music
26 April 75 Labi Sifre, Bonnie Dobson, Glenn Cordier
3 May 75 Dave Ellis, Jim Bogdanus, Kevin Stenson, Richard Newman
10 May 75 Rough Alley, Frank McConnell
17 May 75 Rocky Rhodes Show
24 May 75 Brownie McGee, Sonny Terry, Gerry Lochran, John Baldry, Cliff Aungier, Simon Prager, Steve Rye
- and a couple of other shows that certainly couldn’t compete with this last one!