BBC Dundee history
The BBC did not ignore Dundee after it lost its studio. In 1938, the broadcaster Howard Lockhart, who was then working at the Aberdeen station, descended upon Dundee to audition 56 local 'turns'. Eleven of them subsequently broadcast in a programme called Dundee Discoveries, broadcast on 10 June from a temporary studio in the city.
Campaign for the return of a studio
After Dundee lost its broadcasting studio and independent wavelength in 1929, various attempts were made to see the BBC return to the city.
When the suggestion was made at a public event in 1943, the Scottish Director Melville Dinwiddie said the cost of maintaining even a small studio with permanent staff was very heavy and not possible in war-time. However, he agreed that in peace time there was a strong case for a studio, and he would keep it in mind.
At the opening of the 'BBC at Work' exhibition in Dundee's Victoria Galleries on 20 November 1948, the Lord Provost, Mr A. Powrie, and his predecessor, Sir Garnet Wilson, urged the BBC to re-establish a studio centre in the city. Dinwiddie replied that they were always ready to provide equipment to broadcast special occasions but, as standards of broadcasting in Scotland had changed since the Regional Programme was launched in 1932, they would need to justify the staff and equipment for a studio centre beyond what they had been doing.
Wilson, who was also a member of the BBC Scottish Advisory Council, decided to chair a representative committee on the matter and produced a memorandum calling on the BBC to give greater place and significance to broadcasts from Dundee, including the surrounding neighbourhood. Sir Garnet Wilson's request for a full-scale radio station was refused by the BBC because of the national economic situation, but the BBC came-up with a compromise.
Coldside Library studio
Instead of constructing a full studio complex, the BBC decided that it would be more economical to identify a room in the city which could be used as 'a permanent outside broadcast point' — that is, a studio which would only be manned as broadcasts were arranged.
Dundee's librarian, Mr J. Duncan Dundas, offered the use of the former women's reading room on the upper floor of the Coldside Library on Strathmartine Road and the BBC duly submitted an application to the Dundee Public Libraries Finance Committee. In its application the BBC stated that the room would be used for broadcasts of talks, discussions, small music combinations and choirs, Children's Hour, and auditions of various kinds. The anticipated average use was about one broadcast a week, but it was envisaged that there would also be rehearsals and tests from time to time.
To cover the costs of light, heat and overtime for late evening work, the BBC offered the library a payment of £2 2s a week (or £109 4s a year). Some members of the Committee questioned whether the fees were high enough given that the room would effectively be out-of-commission for library use altogether. Others, however, believed that because the BBC's presence was a such good thing for Dundee, it did not matter if they lost a few pounds. The BBC's application duly received the Committee's unanimous approval.
The studio was in the former women's reading room on the upper floor of the library on Strathmartine Road. To make the room as near to a properly-built broadcasting studio as possible, partitions were removed, walls acoustically treated, the floor heavily carpeted, and a sound lock made at the door. Permanent telephone lines were installed to ensure the highest sound quality between the studio and other BBC centres.
The studio had equipment for the playing of recordings and was linked to an adjoining control room.
The Coldside Library studio was opened by Sir Garnet Wilson on Saturday 12 November 1949, exactly 25 years after the city's 2DE station opened.
The first programme, broadcast at 5pm, was the Children's Hour, presented in the form of a concert by 18 local boys and girls as part of the series We want to broadcast. First to take the plunge was 12-year-old kilted Daniel Brand, a pupil of Harris Academy. His contribution was the song Charlie is My Darling.
Later that same evening, at 6.55, the studio played host to the Saturday evening session of Scottish Dance Music provided by Jimmy Shand and his Band, with John Renwick, baritone, as the soloist between dances.
The first drama production to come from the Coldside Library studio, on Tuesday 29 November 1949, was The Real MacKay, a comedic play in which most of the parts were played by artistes from the Dundee area, some of whom had never broadcast in a major production before. The play was written by Sinclair Gauldie, the Dundee architect who was the author of the winning play in the 1947 Scottish Radio Drama Competition. Gauldie had contributed other scripts to the Scotish Home Service, and two of his features, Dundee Weave and Dundee Scrapbook, were both broadcast in 1948. The producer was Pat Hogg.
- Because of some technical problems, the programme was repeated again on 8 August.
- 'Dundee wants BBC studio', Sunday Post, 17 January 1943, 2.
- 'BBC studio urged for Dundee: Lord Provost's plea', Glasgow Herald, 22 November 1948, 4.
- 'No Wavelength for Dundee', Courier, 24 November 1948, 3.
- 'Dundee radio studio again', Courier, 9 August 1949, 4.
- 'BBC wants Dundee on the radio map', Evening Telegraph, 8 August 1949, 1; 'Dundee BBC studio plan approved', Evening Telegraph, 11 August 1949, 4.
- 'Dundee goes back on the air', Courier, 14 November 1949, 6.
- 'Play from Dundee studio', Falkirk Herald, 23 November 1949, 3.