Sunday, 15 April 2018

Disposable? Sure. Remembered? Oh, yes.

We don't always realise what we're doing when we're in the thick of it. 

Next February, it will be 45 years since the old BRMB went on air from Radio House in Aston. Of course, a get-together is planned with as many of the old crew as we can summon up. It's not just to celebrate; we had a knees-up for the 40th birthday, after all. But, increasingly, we're losing some of our old colleagues. So we're not going to risk leaving it to the 50th anniversary in 2024.

Now, while everyone can still actually walk, these old work bashes are brilliant fun. But they're for us. There's quite another dimension: the audience. The listeners, the people who listened to and engaged with the old station.

WOLD? Not quite. And if you don't know what that means, this isn't for you.

I'm not claiming that pop radio of the 70s 80s and 90s was the be-all and end-all of broadcast milestones, far from it. We were disposable, like everything else. But it's easy to ignore the relationship the old BRMB built with its audience. If you dig back on Facebook's frankly lovely Old Pics of Brum pages, you'll find, somewhere around mid-March, a shot of a young Les Ross at the BBC Birmingham studios, where he had registered a solid impact (amazingly, considering the early restrictions imposed on BBC Local Radio), before eventually making the jump to BRMB. You'll note well over a hundred comments on that Facebook page, all brimming with warmth and nostalgia, mostly for what Les cooked up back in the day once he moved to Aston Cross.   

Radio House at night, back then. Photo Andy Wint  

I read all the comments. The affection that Les's work still commands is touching. It's just as touching for me when I get letters to this blog from people who used to listen to me playing rock music and local bands as they revised for their A levels, back in the day.

It's amazing when you think about it. But a lot of those 70s and 80s stations had a curiously effective impact, emerging as they did in a pretty restricted radio field. You only see that when you look back; it's often the way. But there is a powerful sense of nostalgia among a certain age group: boomers.  And nobody's stumbled on it, in my town at least, until now. 

Most pop radio reflects the time it is part of; then it's gone, instant ephemeral fun. But that entirely disposable entertainment plays a part in our lives. Sadly, the people who take it too seriously are often the jocks themselves. That's a mistake in my view, considering how the role of Radio DJ – a bringer of music, bathing in that music's reflected glory – was tenuous at best, and has now been massively undercut by the arrival of web services. 

I really think that that Radio DJ role belongs in the past century, when it still mattered. And there is a deep well of affection and nostalgia among many people for what the old BRMB managed to achieve, in its bumbling and well-meaning way, from the 70s onwards, in its 40 years. So memories spark, here and there. Maybe it's time to see if there's something more tangible.     

Come say hello...

Valk, Wilkes, Ross (T) in back, Ross (L) & Slater upfront
May 24th sees a gathering of old BRMB presenters at the tiny Kitchen Garden Cafe in King's Heath in South Brum. I'll be there, along with John Slater, who inherited the rock shows from me when I became a backroom boy. That alone, in terms of Brum rock history, is an interesting combination; it's well-suited to the venue too. But that's by no means all. Les Ross will be there. Jenny Wilkes, who still presents a Northern Soul show at BBC WM is coming. And the most passionate sports commentator I've ever met, Tom Ross, will be there as well.

... and raise a bit of money.

We're not making anything from the event. The night will raise funds for both Dementia research and the Ed Doolan Memorial fund, honouring our old colleague. That's very important to all of us; it was a joint decision.

So this is new: a first public night of BRMB memories and tales with some of us who were there at the time. A first face to face Q and A with old Birmingham radio hands. Tom never ceases to remind me that he was the longest-serving BRMB employee; I can respond by reminding him that I was the very first DJ the old station hired. We've all got stories to tell.  

This is an experiment, and it is slightly skewed towards the rockist end of BRMB's listenership, what with me and Slater, gassing away at the Kitchen Garden Cafe. I expect Les, Tom and Jenny to redress that. It's going to be a lot of fun. There will, I hope, be a bunch of other old hands in attendance, but what really tickles me is the prospect of talking to listeners.

But think beyond that, to the other events that were sparked by BRMB: events like the Walkathon. Think of some of the other presenters that you might remember with affection. Think of events like the creation of XTRA-AM, hands down the most successful Gold station this country has ever seen. Think back to Trevor Francis being merrily lambasted by Tony Butler when he became the country's first million pound footballer. Or the Villa fans walking past BRMB studios of a Saturday afternoon, raining down fruity abuse on Butler's head. I could go on.

This implies that we might see more events like this; I hope so. It all depends on how this one goes. 40 years of radio action doesn't, can't, completely fade away... until the people who listened fade away too. 


The BRMB gathering is at the Kitchen Garden Cafe, York Street, King's Heath, Birmingham B14, on May 24th. Advance tickets are £10 from We Got Tickets; more on the door.

The gig is organised by Music Majors who run monthly music Q and A sessions at the Kitchen Garden Cafe.

Ed Doolan - an appreciation on this blog; other associated posts here.

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