I was truly surprised this week to find my mug plastered across the Scottish pages of the BBC website. Not for any wrong-doing, but for a words-and-photos piece marking the 30th anniversary of the first airing of both BBC Radio Tweed and BBC Radio Solway.
Tweed was based in the Old Municipal Buildings in Selkirk and Solway in studios in the evocatively-named Lovers Lane in Dumfries. Tweed covered the Borders. The stations were opt-outs of the mainstream programming of Radio Scotland – half an hour from Good Morning Scotland and a similar period from Good Evening Scotland.
The stations were born in April 1983 and I drifted into the Selkirk outfit later that year at the invitation of the station’s first senior producer, Caroline Adam. I was going through an emotional patch at the time. I had recently lost my wife. She’d gone to live with a joiner at Star of Markinch in Fife.
This wasn’t my first experience in the world of broadcasting. As a newspaper reporter in Galashiels, I had boosted my meagre wages by doing some freelance work for Edinburgh-based Radio Forth.
But back to the Beeb. There was only a permanent staff of four, so plenty of work for eager freelancers. And not just the professionals. Part of the reason for establishing these stations in Lerwick, Kirkwall, Inverness and Aberdeen, as well as the south of Scotland, was to give the people the opportunity to broadcast. And they did: teachers, millworkers, housewives, students – if they were keen the opportunity was there. It was a commendable move and it worked.
But only until 1993 when the hierarchy deemed a change was needed. Local programmes covering music, history, education and sport disappeared.
I lost a 25-minute live discussion programme that once ended in embarrassment for a local councillor who thought, as the signature tune rolled, that his mic was off and it wasn’t. He said something he’d probably wanted to say during the programme, but held his tongue. I still have the tape somewhere.
The live element of broadcasting is the best. But it has pitfalls.
Remember the Gillian Taylforth court hearing. It centred on an alleged sex act in a car. I was broadcasting the morning programme.
It was boring news day locally; my concentration drifted and in a moment of almost madness I told the still half-sleeping population of the Borders that the back road between Peebles and Innerleithen was blocked because a tree had suffered a massive blow job.
The population wasn’t dozy for long. Oh how the phones rang. I was chastised regularly by one listener for having too broad a Border voice. Next day I described an incident in Overhaugh Street, Galashiels, as having taken place in the Coogate. Well that’s what we call it in Gala.
We were party lovers at Tweed. Any excuse. The Buck’s Fizz and fry-ups at Selkirk Common Riding were famous. We worked hard and late – and we played hard and late. We sometimes slept in the office.
Bill McLaren tripped over my size 11s one Saturday morning. Then he almost tripped over a pair of rather more dainty feet.
Radio was great.