Lesley Dolphin is celebrating an important radio milestone
I hope you won’t mind me indulging myself this month, but we’re celebrating a birthday at BBC Radio Suffolk – a half century of broadcasting.
BBC Local Radio is 50 years old and, although Suffolk is one of the youngest stations, we’ll most certainly be marking the occasion. For me it is also a milestone because I have been working with various BBC radio stations for over 40 years. I didn’t realise just how new and groundbreaking it all was when I got my first taste of local radio in 1975/76.
I grew up in the heart of the countryside, here in the east, so it was a whole new world when I found myself at university in Bradford in 1975. Radio Orwell had arrived in Suffolk in 1973, but Norfolk didn’t have any local radio. So a lecture by Anne Hunter, of BBC Radio Leeds, had me fascinated and I blagged a return visit to their studios. I was immediately hooked, not just by the excitement and immediacy of broadcasting, but the fact that this was radio being created by communities for their communities. Most of my radio experience had been of the national Home Service or Light programme, so to be at the sharp end of a service that dealt with matters concerning me and my neighbours was very exciting.
I spent all my spare hours working at Radio Leeds, and I was lucky because they took time to encourage and train me. One of my university essays was about the importance of local radio to communities and my sandwich placement (a year of work as part of the degree) was with Radio Leeds.
The 50th birthday will be celebrated at our annual awards event called The Gillards, named after the man who came up with the idea of local radio and then made it happen. Frank Gillard was a war correspondent and had seen local radio in action in America and Canada. It was his persuasiveness, the demise of pirate radio stations and the arrival of VHF radio that encouraged the BBC to give local stations a try in 1967.
As has always been the case, funding was an issue and the early stations were paid for jointly by the BBC and local councils. First to open was Radio Leicester. Seven more swiftly followed, including Leeds in 1968. Suffolk had to wait 23 years, while BBC Radio Norfolk opened in Norwich in 1980. I came home from Bradford in 1979, in time to get my first full time job at Norfolk. It was an exciting time, creating a new radio station where there was no local radio at all.
Radio Suffolk’s first boss was Lavenham man Ivan Howlett, who was passionate about giving Suffolk its own radio station. He knew the county was an amazing place to live and chose broadcasters who lived here, including several who had worked for Radio Orwell.
Since that day in 1990 we’ve been to every village in Suffolk, reported all sorts of news stories, including devastating floods and the Suffolk murders, and run local campaigns, such as the building of the EACH Treehouse Hospice. I like to think we really make a difference.
There are 40 local BBC stations across England and none of us are the same. We all reflect the communities we live in whether it’s a northern industrial city or a rural agricultural county.
I have seen so many changes over the years, technical and in the way the stations are run, but at the heart of our broadcasting are our listeners. Where else can you get up-to-the minute travel news, a chance to comment on daily happenings, and details of local events? When there’s bad weather you can always turn to us for the latest information.
There is nowhere else quite like Suffolk and I believe only local radio and local newspapers can truly reflect our community. Where else would you hear the dulcet Suffolk tones of Charlie Haylock, hear about the Wissett Treacle mines, challenge your local politicians or be able to champion The Tractor Boys?
So, I hope you’ll join me in wishing BBC Local Radio, not only a very happy birthday this November, but many more happy years to come.
Above: Mark Murphy and BBC Radio Suffolk colleagues fly the flag for a Suffolk Day. Picture: CONTRIBUTED