2BD

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2BD
City of license Aberdeen
Broadcast area North-east Scotland
Frequency 495 metres
First air date 10 October 1923; 93 years ago (1923-10-10)
Last air date 1939?
Format Varied
Callsign meaning BD = Aberdeen
Owner British Broadcasting Company
Sister stations 5SC, 2EH, 2DE

2BD was the British Broadcasting Company's Aberdeen station, which ran from 10 October 1923 to 1932. It was the seventh of the initial chain of eight 'main' stations to be built and was the most distant from London. It was the first of the BBC’s stations to launch with the benefits of simultaneous broadcasting at its disposal and so did not have to produce all its own programming at the start. It made history with the first Gaelic broadcast on 2 December 1923.

Development

The decision to include Aberdeen in the British government's plan for the country's first eight broadcasting stations was announced by the Postmaster-General, Frederick Kellaway, in the House of Commons on 4 May 1922.[1]

Reports appeared in January 1923 that plans for the Aberdeen station had been dropped due to cost — each main station was estimated to cost £20,00 per annum. It was argued that the population did not justify it, especially when the power of the Glasgow station could simply be boosted. However, the reports were subsequently denied.[2] On the contrary, it was said that the promoters of the broadcasting scheme were specially interested in the Aberdeen experiment, as it would serve a rural area and bring the remote Highland clachans into closer touch with the outer world.[3]

In February 1923, it was reported that the 'radio bug', to use an Americanism of the time, was beginning to bite in the north of Scotland with the purchase of wireless sets proving popular among farmers and schools and colleges. "The other evening Banff audiences had the privilege of hearing Covent Garden opera," said The Bulletin newspaper, "and the clearness with which it came through was marvellous."[4] However, following the launch of Glasgow's 5SC on 6 March 1923, it was discovered that the north-east was something of a 'blind spot' for the reception of signals from the Central Belt. It seemed that listeners in Aberdeen could hear London better than Glasgow. This puzzled wireless experts at the time, although it was thought the Grampian Mountains were acting as some sort of barrier with iron deposits in the hills neutralising the radio waves.[5]

There had originally been some talk that the north of Scotland station could be sited at either Inverness or Aberdeen[6], but the reception issue doubtless worked in Aberdeen's favour. Aberdeen was also located on the right side of the Grampians for signals to reach Inverness and the North, including Orkney and Shetland.

The erection of a station in Aberdeen was officially approved in June 1923 and engineers immediately proceeded north to select a site and make the necessary preparations.[7] A month later it was confirmed that the transmitter would be situated at the city's Union Grove, and a site for the studio had been found in Belmont Street.[8]

Premises

See separate article on Belmont Street

2BD's studio and offices were in the centre of Aberdeen, at 17 Belmont Street, occupying the first and second floors of a building which belonged to the Aberdeen Electrical Engineering Company. The location was just one minute from the railway station.

Transmitter and wavelengths

See separate article on the Claremont Street transmitter

The transmitter was housed in an old dye-house in the grounds of the Aberdeen Steam Laundry Company at 40 Claremont Street. So proud was the laundry of its association, it proclaimed itself ‘The Aberdeen Radio Laundry’ on the sides of its vans.⁠[9]

It was originally announced that the Aberdeen station would broadcast on a wavelength of 360 metres, but shortly before the station opened the BBC announced that, because of the extension of the waveband allotted to the company, the wavelength would, in fact, be 495 metres.[10]

The Dundee Courier noted that the official range of the station was roughly 100 miles, compared with Glasgow's 5SC which only covered 75 miles.[11]

Opening night

Arrangements for the opening night broadcast, held at the Belmont Street studio on Wednesday 10 October 1923, were made by Herbert Carruthers, the station director of the Glasgow station 5SC.[12]

The invited guests were: the Marquis and Marchioness of Aberdeen and Temair; Lord Provost Meff; Mr F. C. Thomson KC, MP for South Aberdeen; Sir James Taggart; Professor Terry; Sir Thomas Jaffrey; Chief Constable Anderson; Mr J. A. C. Coutts and Lieut.-Colonel E. W. Watt, "Press and Journal"; Mr W. Johnston, traffic superintendent of the L. & N-E Railway Company; Mr John S. Yule, advocate, secretary of the Aberdeen Chamber of Commerce; Rev. A. W. Scudamore Forbes, West Parish Church, and Mr J. G. D. Ferries, advocate, president and secretary of the Aberdeen Rotary Club respectively; Mr John Ferries, secretary of the Northern Co-operatrve Society, Ltd.; Mr James S. Harvey, postmaster; ex-Treasurer Fiddes; Mr James Conner, Sheriff Clerk Depute; and Dr J. F. Tocher.

Representatives of the BBC present were: Sir William Noble and Mr Burnham, directors; Mr J. C. W. Reith, general manager; Captain P. P. Eckersley, chief engineer; Mr J. M. A. Cameron, Northern Area maintenance engineer; and Mr R. E. Jeffrey, the Aberdeen station director.[13]

The opening night concert lasted from 6.50 to 10.30pm, half an hour of which, from 9 to 9.30pm, including the official opening ceremony, was simultaneously broadcast to all BBC stations.

LOCAL

  • 6:50 — Pipers will open the evening's programme.

SB FROM LONDON

  • 6:55 — Time signal.
  • 7:00 — First general news bulletin and weather forecast.
  • 7:10 — Short talk on "The News and Views of the Theatre", by Mr Archibald Haddon, dramatic critic to the British Broadcasting Company, Ltd.

LOCAL

  • 7:30 — Miss May Lymburn, contralto: "O Love from thy Power" (Saint-Saens); "A Summer Night" (Goring Thomas).
  • 7:40 —Band of 2nd Battalion Gordon Highlanders (Bandmaster—W. Bartlett): Overture, "William Tell" (Rossini); Potpourrie, "The Thistle" (arr. Bartlett).
  • 8:00 — Mr Robert Murray, entertainer at the piano, will give selections from his repertoire.
  • 8:10 — Band of 2nd Battalion Gordon Highlanders: "Ballet Egyptian" (Luigini); Foxtrot, "Deedle Deedle Dum" (Mills).
  • 8:30 — Sir William Noble. Followed by Lord Provost of Aberdeen.
  • 8:50 — Band of 2nd Battalion Gordon Highlanders: Selection, "Scotland's Pride" (Godfrey).
  • 9:00 — The Marquis of Aberdeen and Temair, introduced by Mr J. C. W. Reith, general manager, B.B.C.
  • 9:20 — Bagpipe selections.
  • 9:30 — Simultaneous broadcast of the second news bulletin from London.
  • 9:45 — Miss May Lymburn, contralto: "A Birthday" (F. Cowen); "Annie Laurie" (arranged by MacFarren).
  • 9:55 — Mr Robert Murray, entertainer at the piano.
  • 10:05 — Band of 2nd Battalion Gordon Highlanders: Tone poem, "Finlandia" (Sibelius); Fox-trot, "Yes, we have no bananas" (Strong); Waltz, "Arrawarra" (Nicholls); One-step, "Broadcasting" (Strong).
  • 10:30 — Close

A staunch Aberdonian in the person of Sir William Noble, formerly chief engineer of the General Post Office, began the speech-making. As a director of the BBC, he introduced Lord Provost Meff, and in doing so gave an assurance that his feilow-directors would not neglect their most northerly station. They dared not do so, he joked, because the general manager Mr Reith was a Scotsman, two of the directors were Scots, and the other members of the board loved Scotch!

Gales bring down lines

The following day, the concert programmes had to be completely re-organised at a moment's notice owing to the temporary failure of the Post Office land lines. In place of a scheduled afternoon relay of the Wireless Trio from the Glasgow station, the well-known Aberdeen musicians, Mr and Mrs J. G. Burnett of Powis, agreed to give their services for a locally-transmitted concert. A Post Office line became available in the evening in time for a relay from the Birmingham station of Verdi's Grand Opera Il Trovatore, but it offered such poor quality of re-transmission that Jeffrey decided to dispense with the performance. In what he later described as a ‘fiasco’, he rushed to the neighbouring Picture House cinema and commandeered its orchestra as a replacement, along with the well-known baritone singer Andrew Kidd. (The audience at the Picture House did not lose out as loudspeakers were set-up in the theatre which relayed the concert from the broadcasting station.)[14]

During the Christmas week of 1925, severe snowstorms were experienced which brought down all the telephone lines, and emergency programmes had to be supplied. Daventry 5XX was not of much use on this occasion, owing to local disturbance.

First weeks of broadcasting

The first of the "women's half-hours" and the "children's corners" — the former conducted by 'Auntie Chris', and the latter by Uncles 'Ronny', 'Will', and 'Bert' — were broadcast from the second day, 11 October 1923.

On the Friday evening the Aberdeen station put on its own performance from 7.30pm, including the mezzo-contralto Catherine Paterson and the violinist Isaacs Losowsky. Saturday, meanwhile, was a simultaneous broadcast from the Glasgow station 5SC.

From 1–27 November 1923??, the Aberdeen station did not broadcast its own programmes, relaying instead the Glasgow concert every evening, except for Mondays when the whole of the London concert was also broadcast.[15]

One of the early highlights was Jeffrey's production of Les Cloches de Corneville on 7 November 1923.

Regular programmes from the Aberdeen studio began on Sunday 28 November, including regular programmes such as the local Children's Corner, talks, performances from the studio orchestra, and Aberdeen news and weather.[16]

Reaction

After the first five weeks almost 2,000 letters had been received and answered, and the ratio of congratulation to criticism was about 40 to 1.

A very large number of letters had been received from Norway, where the signals from Aberdeen were received remarkably well. As a result, a night of Grieg and other Norwegian music was broadcast in November 1923.[17]

Staffing

Station Director

Mr. R.E. Jeffrey ('Uncle Roddy') became Aberdeen’s first station director on 19 September 1923, transferring from his position at Glasgow's 5SC.[18] An often-told story was that Mr Jeffrey was a strong believer in listeners having a high aerial and stated this repeatedly at the microphone. It was said that for many years thereafter, the aerial masts in the North-East were higher than anywhere else in Scotland. Another story, which Jeffrey told himself, illustrated the friendly and informal relations existing between staff and the listening public. On one wet night he broadcast an appeal for lifts home for the staff. Soon, cars soon began to thread down Belmont Street.

Jeffrey left for head office on 21 July 1924; on that same date Neil McLean took over. McLean's employment was officially terminated on 30 September 1930. The question arose as to whether a full-time representative, or indeed any representative at all, was actually needed in Aberdeen. It was urged by the Scottish Regional Director, David Cleghorn Thomson, however, that although little was forthcoming from Aberdeen at the time, this was largely due to Mr. McLean's inability to cope with the work adequately.

Ian Whyte as a part-time station director until he left for Edinburgh on 1 October 1931. R. L. Malcolm was in post until November 1931. Moultrie Kelsall took over from November 1931

Jeffrey was joined by three assistants:

Station Assistant

Mr W. D. Simpson ('Uncle Will') (1923–31 Dec 1925) who had hitherto been employed at the Newcastle station, 5ND, in a similar capacity. He left on 31 December 1925 amid something of a 'scandal' according to a BBC document.[19] He was replaced in March 1926 by Mr D. Hunter Munro (‘Uncle Don’), who remained with the station until being transferred to head office in London on 1 October 1929.

Station Assistant

Mr H. J. McKee ('Uncle Harry') (10 Oct 1923–29 Nov 1924), who Jeffrey believed to have more 'assurance than ability'.[20] He was replaced by Henry Fitch from 19 January 1925. Fitch left for Glasgow on 17 Feb 1927.

Station Assistant

Mr. A. M. Shinnie ('Uncle Sandy') (21 Apr 1924–6 Jan 1925). He was replaced by William Mair on 1 February 1925, who remained with the station until 5 December 1927 when he transferred to head office in London in anticipation of the reduction of staff and local activities brought about by the move to regional broadcasting.[21]

Engineers

The BBC's chief engineer (Northern area), James Cameron, was the engineer-in-charge at the setting-up of the station. However, the permanent holder of this post was Mr Arthur Napier Birch (‘Uncle Birch’), who took over responsibility soon after.

In the early days the landlines were so noisy and unreliable that Aberdeen always had a stand-by programme ready to put on, and when the news bulletin arrived over the line from London it was sometimes so distorted that it could not be broadcast.

During the daytime, when there was no landline connection available between Aberdeen and London, a receiving set on the outskirts of Aberdeen picked up a signal from 5XX and handed it over a landline to the local transmitter. 5XX was the experimental long-wave transmitter at Daventry, Northamptonshire, about 400 miles away from Aberdeen. This situation persisted until around 1932.

Musical Director

See Station Orchestra below

Woman Assistant

Miss Callis, later Miss Winifred Manners ('Auntie Win'), was appointed full-time women's and children's organiser on 11 February 1924. Part of her responsibilities included the running of the Children's Corner programme. Her services were terminated on 30 September 1929 as a result of the move to regional broadcasting.

Station orchestra

The task of forming a station orchestra in Aberdeen proved a difficult one because of the lack of suitable musicians in the neighbourhood, and for the first month 2BD mainly relayed the Glasgow concert.[22] In June 1924, Miss Nancy Lee was appointed musical director and, a month later, she put together a station orchestra on contract for six months. Their composition was as follows:

  • Nancy Lee, leader
  • William Bennett, 1st Violin
  • Minnie Mutch, violin
  • Mrs Sykes, viola
  • Andrew Watson, cello
  • William Hawkins, clarinet
  • Burnett Farquhar, cornet
  • R. McConnachie, cornet
  • Charles Pirie, trombone
  •  ?? Willox, tympani??

Mr. L. W. Adcock took over as musical director from 1 December 1924. A small dance band was formed in February 1925 from members of the orchestra; the clarinet doubling the saxophone, and so on; and outside dance bands were also engaged to promote good feeling in the neighbourhood. Mr. Adcock concentrated on the more serious type of music and did not always see eye to eye with the station director Neil McLean. After a period of friction, Adcock departed in May 1925. He was replaced in the role by the orchestra's viola player, Paul Kilburn, but he, in turn, resigned weeks later in July owing to ill-health.

On 25 November 1925, the oboe player, Mr. Walter Benson, was appointed conductor; the title 'music director' had been scrapped in view of the impending programme of 'Regionalisation' which would, a year later, see the orchestra reduced from ten members to an octet. Benson did not live to see these changes, however, as he was killed in a motorcycle accident on 6 October 1926.

Benson was replaced as conductor on 17 October by Paul Askew, who had joined the orchestra in February of that year. In December 1927, Askew was given a salaried appointment with the Corporation, acting additionally as an assistant at the station. At this time he put up a scheme for a Municipal Orchestra of twelve players, but it was turned down by the municipal authorities. The new station octet took over from 31 December 1926, the membership of which was as follows:

  • Paul Askew, leader
  • A. Mades?, violin (replaced by A. Ross, April 1927)
  • Alex Nicol, violin
  • J. H. Shaw, cello
  • John Noble, double bass
  • L. Milne, drums
  • Nan Davidson, organ celesta
  • Marie Sutherland, piano

During 1926 and 1927 a series of Sunday concerts was arranged in the Cowdray Hall, beginning on 17 October 1926, under the auspices of the BBC and the Cowdray Hall management. Concerts and services were relayed.

On 9 May 1928, the Station Quintet made its first appearance, composed of the following:

  • Angus Ross, 1st violin (leader)
  • Alex Nicol, 2nd violin
  • J.H. Shaw, cello
  • John Noble, bass
  • Nan Davidson, piano

During the summer of 1928 the Octet began a series of concerts in the Sculpture Hall of the Art Gallery, which were listened to by increasing numbers of people.

The Aberdeen Octet was disbanded on 1 October 1929, and Paul Askew left for a position at head office in London the following day.

Station Choir

The station choir consisted of 12 members who sang under the conductorship of Arthur Collingwood.

Programmes

Most of the information in this section is taken from a 1925 document written by the then station director of 2BD, Neil McLean.[23]

Children's Hour

The Children's Corner began with the opening the station and was conducted at first mainly by Mr R.E. Jeffrey 'Uncle Roddy', Mr W. D. Simpson ('Uncle Will') and a lady elocutionist, 'Auntie Chris', who was not a regular member of the staff. They mostly used stories sent-up from London, except where they were able to get in special speakers. The Corner then lasted for half-an-hour. Later it was extended to three quarters of an hour on Tuesdays and Fridays, and on these occasions a vocalist or member of the station orchestra gave supplementary entertainment.

On 11 February 1924, Miss Winifred Manners ('Auntie Win') was appointed full-time women's and children's organiser, and was given control of 'Children's Corner'. Manners wrote a good deal of material, including plays which she helped to produce, but she also attempted to bring a more spontaneous atmosphere to the programme. The audience got involved through children's concert parties and boy minstrels who were put on-air. The children also took part in the community singing concerts which the station arranged in the earlier years (see below). Short orchestral concerts were given from March 1924: at first they were isolated, but later an attempt was made to correlate them with other items of the programme; from March 1925, the station orchestra played once a week on the programme.

When Neil McLean joined the station he became very popular as 'Uncle Neil', and Mr Fitch as 'Uncle Harry' told stories to children and took them for flights in the Radioplane when any of its 26 engines were working. 'Aunt Marie' (Miss Marie Sutherland) played and accompanied, and 'Uncle Jack' (Mr W. Mair) sang songs and duets with 'Auntie Nan' (Miss Nan Davidson) who was the accompanist and also took the children for rides in her motor boat, which was alleged to go best on dry land.

The Aberdeen Radio Circle was very popular, with around 2,300 members by 1926. The Circle's 'The Wee Bee Dees' produced a pantomime which was broadcast from all Scottish stations during the Children's Hour on Thursday 16 December 1927.[24] They were so great in number that they had to hold their annual gatherings in the Cowdray Hall.

From 1 October 1929, when the Regional Scheme came into force, Aberdeen ceased to run a separate Children's Hour and Miss Manners' services were terminated.

Aberdeen Children's Hour was re-opened in March 1932, with a view to preparing interest for the wider area to be reached by the Westerglen transmitter, and as a provisional measure. It contributed one programme a week, except during the holiday period when it filled those dates left vacant by the station whose staff were on leave. It was to begin definitely with a regional character, with a good deal of dialect for the benefit of the country area, but after some months it became modified in this respect. The membership at December 1932 was 227; and by October 1933, 606. The personnel of the Aberdeen Children’s Hour consisted of Mr. Moultrie Kelsall, responsible for programme building and production; Miss Addie Ross, who handled Radio Circle correspondence and took part in plays, being responsible for the Hour when Mr Kelsall was away. She was paid £1 4s. per week.

Gaelic

The Aberdeen Station made history with the first Gaelic broadcast when, on Sunday 2 December 1923, the Reverend John Bain of the High United Free Church delivered a religious address in the language.  19 days later, the station broadcast its first Gaelic songs as part of A Night of Scotch Music.

One of the most outstanding Gaelic services was on Sunday 28 February 1926 from King's College Chapel, with station director Neil McLean intoning the Praise in the old-fashioned Highland manner, and supported by the university choir. This service was attended by the whole of the Senate in hood and gown, including Principal Adam Smith.

Talks

A 15-minute talk was given every afternoon, except Friday when it was replaced by a broadcast to local schools. Manuscripts were sent from London for about two talks a week, and local speakers, often from women's associations in the district, delivered the others. Well-known ladies who broadcast included Dame Meril Talbot, the Hon. Mrs MacGilchrist, the Rt. Hon. The Marchioness of Aberdeen and Temair and Lady Adam Smith.

Local talks in the evening were given, in practically all cases, by well-known men in the city and district. Eminent speakers who broadcast included Sir James Taggart, an ex-Lord Provost of the city, Lord Provost Meff, Professor Sanford Terry, General Sir Ian Hamilton, Lord Aberdeen, Lord Glentanar and Professor J. Arthur Thomson, the latter of whom's talks were relayed all over Britain.

By 1925, about 20 per cent of the programmes were devoted to talk. This figure included bulletins and simultaneous broadcasts from other stations. About 5–7 percent of it was journalistic, the remainder being educational. On an average week 20 talks were given, seven of which were local. In addition, two talks a week were given to schools during term time.

Drama

The early dramatic broadcasts were run by 2BD's station director, Mr R. E. Jeffrey. In fact, the first repertory company in the BBC was the one established by Jeffrey in Aberdeen in the opening months of 1924.  Their first billing as the '2BD Repertory Players' was for Scenes and Characters from Dickens, broadcast on 15 February 1924.  

Jeffrey proved so successful in this branch of work he was transferred to Head Office in July 1924 to organise productions there. D. H. Munro carried on this work when he arrived in March 1926.

Arthur Black, a native of Aberdeen, took a keen interest in broadcast drama and wrote a series of little playlets in dialogue form, under the general title George and Wullie, in which he took the part of George. He also wrote several plays and helped in their presentation and was very popular locally. There were about 50 local radio actors from whom the casting was made.

Mr G. R. Harvey was in later years responsible for producing a good many plays at Aberdeen.

News, sport and information

News bulletins and weather reports were relayed from London, except for a bulletin of local news which was read at 10.25 pm.

The station gave the first regular sports broadcasts in Scotland from 7 February 1924, in the form of a Weekly Football Talk by Peter Craigmyle, a well-known international referee.⁠ It was renamed Football Corner from 12 December 1924. Talks were also given on golf, tennis, hockey and cricket.

The Boy Scouts, Girl Guides and Boys Brigade were each given 15 minutes per week for their bulletin and short talks aimed at members of the various organisations in question.

The uniquely rural audience was catered for in features such as the weekly Farmers’ Advice Corner, in which Donald G. Munro of the North of Scotland College of Agriculture gave a talk and answered queries sent-in by the audience. At the end of the programme, which ran from 14 November 1924, a list was given of the local prices of cattle, sheep and dairy produce. In addition, short agricultural notes were sent-in by a local authority and read by the announcer on duty as required.

Meanwhile, from 14 July 1925, a regular Fishing News Bulletin, compiled in conjunction with the Fishery Board for Scotland, was broadcast at 4 pm and 6.30 pm every weekday, except Monday and Saturday, during the herring season, ie. from July to the first fortnight in September. This bulletin, which proved to be of considerable value to the industry, contained a report of the herring fishing catches, prices, and grounds at the principal ports across the North of Scotland.[25] Apart from the benefit to the herring trade generally, the information was very helpful to fishermen who were able to get the news at sea and so save both time and money. However, the location of fishing grounds was no longer broadcast from July 1926 after local fishermen complained that foreign vessels were picking-up the information and getting to the grounds before them — something the press picked-up upon at the time.

Poetry

During 1925 there were eight broadcasts of poetry, each lasting 30–40 minutes. These were done in conjunction with the Scottish Association for the Speaking of Verse. No poets, however, had actually broadcast from the station.

Religion

Churches from which services were broadcast included: North & Trinity; West Church of St Andrew; St Machar's Cathedral; West Church of St Nicholas; Beechgrove Church; St Peter's RC; King's College Chapel; High Church, Inverness.

As of August 1925, Neil McLean reported that there had been "no religious transmissions of an outstanding nature from the station".

Music

A popular light feature in 1926 was the broadcasting of "Musical Romances", a form of competition in which a romantic tale was unfolded by the orchestra playing well-known tunes, the unannounced titles of which dovetailed into a running commentary by the announcer, making a complete story. Several hundred solutions were received each time, making this feature one of the most popular of the time.

Community singing

One of Mr. Jeffrey's earliest activities was the formation of a community singing club in March 1924, the first concert being given on the 27th of that month from the Music Hall, Aberdeen. This was the first time such an item had been broadcast and was watched with interest by other Stations. After Jeffrey left, Mr. McLean carried on the community singing club successfully, so much so that in April 1925 it had a membership of 5,000.

Education

Broadcasts to schoolchildren started in September 1924, every Friday afternoon from 3.15 to 4.15 pm. They consisted of two short lectures, separated by an orchestral interlude. Progress was very slow at first, on account of the indifference and apathy of the local authorities, and the slowness of schools in acquiring wireless sets. The position was further complicated by the existence of various 'blind' spots in the neighbourhood, in which reception was practically impossible — eg. Inverness and Nairn, Cromarty and parts of Sutherland.

A local Education Advisory Committee was formed but, in October 1926, when an Area Committee for Scotland was formed, Aberdeen was represented by Professor G. P. Thomson. Local school talks were still given from Aberdeen, but were supposed to be under the general supervision of Miss Scott Moncrieff, of the Northern Area staff. Unfortunately she was overburdened with work in other directions and was not able to devote sufficient time to this work, and it was not until January 1928, when Mr George Burnett was appointed as Educational Assistant for Scotland, that much progress could be made in schools broadcasting.

At the end of 1926 Mr McLean instituted a scheme of propaganda and began a series of French lessons by Mlle Madeleine Marot, which was popular among schools with radio sets and resulted in an increased number of listeners. A pamphlet published in connection with the talks was in great demand, but it was discovered that many schools asking for it had no wireless sets.

From January 1926 until the end of 1927, a series of orchestral concerts for children were given by the station orchestra from a local hall. Children from the various schools in Aberdeen were taken in turn to the hall and lectured to by the Director of Music to the Educational Authority. Colonel Dawson, the Director of Education, spoke at the first of the concerts.

From the summer term of 1927, Aberdeen took school talks from the Daventry transmitter three days a week, retaining the local French lessons on Fridays.

From the summer term of 1928, the Daventry programmes were dispensed with in Scotland, who arranged her own school broadcasts independently and broadcast them to all four Scottish stations simultaneously, under the direction of George Burnett.

1924–1927

In May 1926 Aberdeen's routine was upset by the General Strike. Although the Trade Union Council local headquarters were only a few doors away from the Aberdeen offices, and mass meetings were held almost outside the door, nothing disorderly took place, although now and again deputations arrived asking for information or wanting notices broadcast. In one instance the tramway employees demanded to see the local news bulletin in which they alleged it had been stated that one of their men had turned over a bus or some such feat, and they became aggressive when refused permission. They came back later, however, and apologised, having found that they were mistaken. Close touch was kept with Mr. Bennet Mitchell, the Deputy Lieutenant of the County, who was in charge of the area, and excellent relations were maintained with local authorities. The local bulletins broadcast were much appreciated, and many who had refused to listen previously now bought wireless sets, the sales managers being overwhelmed with orders. The BBC's premises were under police protection during the strike period, but there was no ill-feeling or violence on the part of the strikers and their supporters.

During 1927 Aberdeen suffered much interference from foreign stations, being on a common wave of 495 metres. Poland and Norway were the chief offenders.

McLean and growth

Taking over from Jeffrey in July 1924 was Neil McLean, a well-known singer, speaker and lecturer with an intimate knowledge of Scotland's traditions. McLean was a leading authority on Gaelic and Celtic lore, having represented Scottish Gaelic at the Irish National Festivals as well as in Scotland.[26]

Centralisation

Under the leadership of David Cleghorn Thomson, Scotland was the first part of the BBC to adopt the Regional Scheme, in which local radio stations would cease to broadcast as independent entities and instead contribute to a system of regional, all-Scotland output.

In anticipation of the reduction of local staff and activities, Mr. W. Mair was transferred from Aberdeen to Head Office in London in December 1927.

In view of Aberdeen's position as the only Station in the Highlands, however, and the outcry which arose when any threats of reduction of activities were made, the station did not suffer the same fate as Edinburgh and Dundee in 1928, but continued for some further period as a semi-Main Station, and conducting her own Children's Hour — Edinburgh and Dundee being obliged to take a Regional Children's Hour from Glasgow as from 1st November.

This was helped by the fact that, unlike the re-configuration of the relay stations in 1928, which saw them share the same wavelength and thus largely the same programmes, Aberdeen was moved on to an exclusive wavelength previously used by the Bournemouth station (326.1m or 920 kc/s). And so Aberdeen retained its status, including its station director and separate Children's Hour programme. Indeed there was talk in the newspapers of Aberdeen being developed as the BBC's 'Highland station' under the forthcoming Regional Scheme. Nonetheless, at the same, David Cleghorn Thomson became Scottish Regional Director, assuming programme control throughout Scotland along with the Scottish Regional Programme Board.[27]

During 1929, however, the Regional Scheme organisation was further developed, and came fully into force on October 1st of that year. 2BD was reduced to a relay station. The Aberdeen octet was disbanded and musical director Paul Askew (‘Uncle Paul’) moved to the Music Department at Head Office. Meanwhile, chief assistant, Mr D. Hunter Munro (‘Uncle Don’), was transferred to Head Office in London as a studio manager;  announcer B. W. Gray transferred to Belfast; and Mrs Callis’s services were terminated as no BBC post could be found for her. Neil McLean remained as the sole 'Aberdeen Representative'.

??From December 1929, a pooling system was instituted whereby each Scottish Station in turn provided an evening talk — Dundee and Aberdeen sharing one day a week, and two remaining stations being allotted a day each. Aberdeen’s contributions were usually of a humorous nature. There was also a periodic exchange of programmes between the stations, and inter-SB arrangements. Local religious services were restricted to one a month, and such branches of the work as Children’s Hour, school talks and publicity came under the general supervision of the Northern Area staff. Mr Fitch, assistant at Aberdeen, was transferred to Glasgow, and not replaced.

In the autumn of 1930, the Aberdeen newspapers conducted a fierce campaign against the Corporation, alleging that the interests of the Highlands were being neglected and that they were given little local talent in the programmes. They had bitterly resented Aberdeen's de-motion from main to relay Station, and matters were not improved at this time by the state of Neil McLean's health, which made it impossible for him to give the attention to Aberdeen programmes and potential resources that he should have done.

Following a number of memos, the Board of Governors in July 1930 authorised David Cleghorn Thomson, the Scottish Regional Director, to dispense with Neil McLean's services, giving him six months salary.[28]

1930-1931: Ian Whyte

On 30th September 1930 Mr. McLean's services were officially terminated at Aberdeen, and the question arose as to whether a full-time Representative, or indeed any Representative at all, was actually needed there. It was urged by the Scottish Regional Director, however, that although little was forthcoming from Aberdeen at the time, this was largely due to Mr. McLean's inability to cope with the work adequately, and that from a policy as well as a programme viewpoint it was most essential that a Representative should be appointed.

Ian Whyte, organist to Lord Glentanar at Aboyne, took over as a part-time Aberdeen Representative on 29 September 1930. Three days a week he would travel from Aboyne to Aberdeen to conduct gramophone recitals (dropped after 9 November 1930 and taken from Edinburgh), one afternoon concert a week and an occasional evening concert, usually monthly. He also undertook all auditions and accompanying, thus dispensing in the latter connection with Miss Marie Sutherland's services. The part-time nature of the role meant that he could continue working at Glentanar House and as conductor of the Aboyne Choral Society and organist of the church.

Whyte succeeded in opening-up fresh sources of talent in the Highlands, and in improving the quality of the local programmes, both musical and dramatic. He also acted generally as musical adviser to the Scottish Region, there being no one else with sufficient musical knowledge to undertake this work.

It soon became impossible for Whyte to cover this work adequately on a part-time basis, and on 18 April 1931 he was given a full-time junior assistant, Ronald L. Malcolm, who undertook announcing and routine duties. This relieved Whyte of considerable office work, so that he was obliged to attend at the station only two days a week instead of three, thus having more freedom to make local contacts. A quote given to the press suggested that the changes had been made "in order to encourage the development of broadcast talent in Aberdeen and the north generally".[29]

In addition to Whyte and Malcolm, the Aberdeen staff at this time consisted of the engineer-in-charge, Arthur Napier Birch, seven engineers and two typists. The studios were used on one afternoon a week and on an occasional evening; "for the rest of the time the microphones hang in silence and semi-darkness".[30]

1931-1937: Revival under Moultrie Kelsall

When Ian Whyte was transferred to Edinburgh as the Scottish Region's musical adviser on 31 October 1931, the actor Moultrie Kelsall received an offer from David Cleghorn Thomson to revive the "moribund" Aberdeen station. Kelsall, who took a particular interest in North-east matters, especially folk song and folklore, jumped at the chance, becoming Aberdeen Representative at the end of 1931.

By this stage little came from Aberdeen, other than the herring fishing bulletin and the odd vocal recital. There was nothing which reflected life in the north-east. Kelsall aimed to mount at least two, and often three, original productions from Aberdeen each week, emphasising the importance of bringing work to the city and the Aberdeen broadcasters. He depended on a small number of experienced actors and writers.

The first to walk in was Jimmy Ross, and he brought Addie Ross (no relation), Dougie Rait, Ruby Duncan, Dorothy Forrest, Steven Mitchell.

And then in came the ones with previous experience: George Rowntree Harvey, Arthur Black, Christine Crow, Sandy Shinne ('Uncle Sandy'), Willie Kemp.

And the snowball grew: Marris Murray, John Foster, Betty Craig, Bert Cruickshank, Bill Carnegie, Tommy Forbes. And through Alec Keith, the country bunch: Grace Leslie, Johnny Mearns, Louise Donald and, the daddy of them, John Strachan. [31]

Arthur Black and 'Alexander Spinnle Shanks'

Chief among the Aberdeen names was Arthur Black, well-established on the station as a script writer and actor. Black's most notable creation was 'Alexander Spinnle Shanks', whose initials were the key to his behaviour! Played by Willie Meston, the character kept a diary of comical comments on the topics of the day, suggesting absurd remedies for the world's ills.

George Rowntree Harvey

Next to Black, Harvey was the most prolific contributor, both as a writer and actor. He "had a lifelong love of the theatre and its players and a wonderful capacity for reminiscence and humorous anecdote about theatrical folk".

Violet Davidson

Nudging 60, Davidson had a strong soprano voice and reconstructed her old-time concert-party under the title, The North Stars. Among them were Willie Johnson, a gentle tenor in the style of J. M. Hamilton, a great favourite with Scots of a previous generation; comedians, Dan Fraser and Danny Williams; Mr and Mrs Gus Stratton in domestic cross-talk; and the soubrette, Juliette McLean.

'Rab the Rhymer'

'Rab the Rhymer' first broadcast on 15 March 1937. He would sing, "Oh I mak's them up and I sings them as I toddle on the road". Then would follow a series of songs of social comment — always topical, and up-to-the-minute. The bearded rustic man with the battered hat and pack on his back, as drawn in the Radio Times, was very different from the man who played Rab. He was, in fact, Douglas S. Raitt, Doctor of Science, in an important government post. Small, dapper, always immaculately dressed, he was quiet and reserved, rather introverted and withdrawn. His broadcasting career was cut short, however, after he was killed in a car accident.

Harold Coombs from the Capitol Cinema

The 1930s were the time of the cinema organ, and, in radio, Aberdeen led the field in Scotland with weekly UK-wide relays by Harold Coombs from the Capitol Cinema. In fact, the Capitol Cinema and the Beach Pavillion helped to put Aberdeen well and truly on the national broadcasting map. He once did four broadcasts in one week from the Capitol, Aberdeen.

Coombs was associated with music from a very early age. At the age of 14 he was organist in a Sheffield church and for eleven-and-a-half years was musical director at the Abbeydale Picture House. He was appointed to the Capitol Cinema, Aberdeen, in 1933 and during his four years there he made between 50 and 60 broadcasts.[32] Then, from 1937 to 1939, he performed from the Westover Cinema, Bournemouth, before transferring to the Ritz, Aldershot, and the Ritz, Woking.

Other names

In addition to the above names, Lockhart recalls: Laura Geddie, Enid Pinkham and Douglas Murchie. Also, Ella Gordon Park, a journalist with the Bon Accord Weekly who wrote many BBC scripts which Lockhart produced, such as Byron's Boyhood, about the poet's early days in Scotland, and Eerie Evening, a somewhat sinister symposium for Hallowe'en. Helen Drever, an old lady who lived in Tain, wrote scripts that "were scholarly without being stuffy". Her Ballad Days faithfully reconstructed from the Victorian social life she had known so well.

There was also Addie Ross, whose range, according to Lockhart, "both as an actress and as a singer has in my experience been surpassed by one person only, namely Violet Carson".

Others

Scottish Regional Director, Melville Dinwiddie, said that Kelsall, more than anyone else, had put that part of Scotland on the broadcasting map, making real and vocal something of the splendid individuality and vitality of that area. He also claimed that Kelsall had put on the air some of the best programmes in the history of Scottish broadcasting. For his part, Kelsall later described his time at Aberdeen as his happiest at the BBC.

One of Kelsall's finds was the jazz pianist Jimmy Ross. Ross knew a pianist he could work with called Ruby Duncan and, along with an array of artists, the 'Silver Citizens' were born, giving 2BD a distinctive jazz sound. Bill Thompson joined them on a third piano.

At 2BD Kelsall wrote his first play, 'This Day', which was performed several times purely because it had been written for radio, which was something of a novelty at the time. He also encouraged plays by Aberdeen authors, such as George Rowntree-Harvey and Marris Murray (daughter of the poet Charles Murray), but complained that playwrights were thin on the ground. A three-act comedy which Kelsall wrote, 'Brief Harmony', was successfully played on tour by the Scottish National Players. Kelsall also discovered actors such as Arthur Black, whom he became close friends with.

Return of Aberdeen Children's Hour

Kelsall brought back an Aberdeen Children's Hour in March 1932. The 'radio aunts and uncles' of old were replaced by animals — Miss Mouse, Squirrel (Ruby Duncan) and the mischievous 'Brer Rabbit' (played by Kelsall himself). Chirstine Crow joined them as 'Granny Mutch' to add a human touch. The programme began with a definite regional character, incorporating good deal of local dialect, but once the Scottish Regional Programme began in June 1932 it broadened its appeal. It was to broadcast to Scotland at least once a fortnight and possibly more frequently.[33]

In April 1937 it was announced that Kelsall had been transferred to the new BBC television service at Alexandra Palace, London, working on outside broadcasts.[34]

Regional Scheme transmitter switch

When the Scottish National Programme transmitter came into use at Westerglen in the summer of 1932, it did so on the common national wavelength of 288.5 metres — the only one available under the international partitioning. However, this was the same wavelength that Aberdeen had been using since 31 May 1931 (together with Newcastle, Plymouth, Bournemouth and Swansea), and if it continued to do so under the new arrangements, it would only be able to broadcast the BBC's National Programme, with no Scottish or local opt-outs. It would also mean a considerable reduction in the service area of Aberdeen's transmitter.

The wavelength of 214.5 metres was therefore borrowed from Poland for the exclusive use of Aberdeen. A temporary "Q" type transmitter began to put out the National programme on the new wavelength as from 11 July 1932, while the old transmitter radiated on the existing wavelength of 288.5 metres. On 10th July, the permanent transmitter was withdrawn from service so that it could be modified for its new wavelength, and transmissions were carried on by the temporary transmitter until the 17th July, when the modifications were completed and the service was definitely taken over on the new wavelength.

1937-38: New transmitter and studios

Taking over from Moultrie Kelsall in May 1937[35] was Alex Swinton Paterson, formerly first assistant to the Scottish Regional Executive at Scottish Broadcasting House, Edinburgh. Paterson had two programme assistants: Howard Lockhart and, from April 1937, Alan Melville, who was the author of many novels and plays, and had written for Scottish radio shows including Carter's Close, Highland Hollywood and What a Break. He had also written for Aberdeen's Children's Hour.[36]

The new transmitter at Redmoss came into service on 9 September 1938.

Station managers

Station managers/representatives
19.9.1923 Mr R.E. Jeffrey London Head Office
21.7.1924 Neil McLean Contract terminated
29.9.1930 Ian Whyte (part-time) Edinburgh
31 Oct(?) 1931

Moultrie Kelsall

9.4.1937 Alex Swinton Paterson Representative

2BD wavelengths

Under the new arrangements, listeners in the remote Scottish Highlands still found reception difficult. The conversion of Aberdeen to a low-power relay-type station with a new exclusive wavelength, specially borrowed from Poland, did not help scattered listeners in north Scotland. (See bbc year book 1933).

 
Oct 1923 495m
13 Jan 1929 301.5m
?? 311.2m
30 June 1929 301m[37]
31 May 1931 288.5m National common wavelength
17 July 1932 214.3m Exclusive wavelength
9 Sep 1938   "   " New transmitter at Redmoss with increased power

References

  1. Hansard, vol. 153, col. 1600–2, 4 May 1922.
  2. 'Broadcasting in Scotland', Scotsman, 5 January 1923, 5; Denial: 'Broadcasting in Scotland', Scotsman, 24 January 1923, 9.
  3. 'Aberdeen broadcasting', The Bulletin, 10 February 1923, 5.
  4. 'Wireless in the North', The Bulletin, Saturday 3 February 1923, 5.
  5. 'Glasgow's Broadcasting Station', Evening Telegraph, 8 March 1923, 5.
  6. 'Scotland's Additional Broadcasting Station', Scotsman, 11 April 1923, 9.
  7. 'The Aberdeen Broadcasting Station', Glasgow Herald, 19 June 1923, 9.
  8. 'The Aberdeen Station', Glasgow Herald, 14 July 1923, 9.
  9. 'Aberdeen Celebration’, BBC Scotland, Radio 4, 7 October 1973.
  10. 'The New Broadcasting Station', Glasgow Herald, 10 October 1923, 16.
  11. 'Aberdeen Broadcasts To-Night', Courier, 10 October 1923, 3.
  12. 'Broadcasting From Aberdeen', Glasgow Herald, 12 September 1923, 9.
  13. 'Broadcasting Begun at Aberdeen', Press and Journal, 11 October 1923, 4.
  14. 'Broadcasting From Aberdeen]', Press and Journal, 12 October 1923, 4.
  15. 'Aberdeen Broadcasts To-Night', Courier, 10 October 1923, 3.
  16. According to the listings, it seems the station trialled a local day of transmissions on Tuesday 23 November.
  17. 'Norwegian Listeners-in to Aberdeen Signals', Glasgow Herald, 16 November 1923, 4.
  18. Aberdeen staff chart, BBC WAC R13/370.
  19. See Aberdeen staff chart, BBC WAC R13/370.
  20. Director of Programmes' report on visit to Aberdeen station, 24 and 25 January 1924, BBC WAC R13/370.
  21. Aberdeen Station History, BBC WAC R13/369/1.
  22. ‘Aberdeen broadcasts tonight’, The Courier, 10 October 1923.
  23. Neil McLean, unidentified document, August 1925, BBC WAC R13/370.
  24. 'Scottish Broadcasting News', Fife Free Press, 10 December 1927, 7.
  25. 'Official News and Views: Fishing News Bulletin', Radio Times, 21 August 1925, 364.
  26. 'Aberdeen's new BBC station director', Press and Journal, 1 August 1924, 6.
  27. 'New status for Aberdeen BBC station', Press and Journal, 31 October 1928, 7.
  28. Minutes of Board of Governors Meeting, 16 July 1930, BBC WAC R1/1/1.
  29. 'New 2BD official', Aberdeen Press and Journal, 21 May 1931; 7.
  30. Popular Wireless, 18 July 1931.
  31. Aberdeen Celebration, BBC Scotland Radio 4, 7 October 1973.
  32. 'Mr Harold Coombs' New Post, 17 November 1937, 8.
  33. 'Bigger share by Aberdeen', Press and Journal, 12 March 1932, 6.
  34. 'BBC appointment' Glasgow Herald, 7 April 1937, 8.
  35. Ariel, Oct 1937, 56.
  36. 'BBC staff changes: Mr M Kelsall for television', Press and Journal, 10 April 1937, 8.
  37. Result of recent Prague conference. 'New Wavelengths', 6 June 1929, 2.