Coldside Library was the home of the BBC's Dundee studio from 1949 to 1970s/80s? The BBC occupied the former women's reading room on the upper floor of the library on the city's Strathmartine Road. The studio notably played host to a closed-circuit experiment in local radio in 1961.
The closure of Dundee's local broadcasting station, 2DE, in 1928 was felt deeply by many people in the city. Increasing wavelength scarcity over the years meant that Dundee was never likely to get its radio station back, but from the 1940s pressure was put on the BBC to re-establish some kind of presence in the city.
When the BBC brought its 'BBC at War' photographic exhibition to Dundee's Victoria Art Galleries in January 1943, the city's Lord Provost raised the absence of a permanent BBC presence in Dundee with the Corporation's chairman, Sir Allan Powell, and was clear that he would give his civic support to any proposals. The BBC's Scottish Director, Melville Dinwiddie, told the newspapers that 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 would be a strong case for a studio, and he would keep it in mind.
After his retiral as Lord Provost in 1946, Garnet Wilson was knighted, and the following year was appointed a member of the BBC Scottish Advisory Council. In 1948 he decided to lead a committee to explore the possibilities of broadcasting in Dundee. It recommended a 'studio centre' as a short-term policy.
The calls were amplified by Wilson's successor as Lord Provost, Mr A. Powrie, who, at the opening of the 'BBC at Work' exhibition that same year, remarked that he hoped for the reinstatement of Dundee's local radio station. The more studios the BBC had throughout the country, Powrie argued, the better it would be, not only for the listeners but for those willing to allow themselves to be heard. Sir Garnet Wilson told reporters that he and some friends were minded to prepare a memorandum which would 'challenge the position and endeavour to secure an improvement'.
At the exhibition three days later, the BBC held public auditions to see what talent was available that could justify, at the very least, a small studio in Dundee. Dinwiddie argued that Scottish standards of broadcasting had changed since the introduction of the Scottish Regional Programme in 1932, and they would need to justify the costs of staff and equipment beyond what they had been doing. After all, he added, the BBC was always ready to provide equipment to broadcast special occasions.
The Wilson committee's call for a 'studio centre' was turned down, not least because of the dire economic situation Britain found itself in immediately after the Second World War. Nonetheless, Dinwiddie moved forward with plans for 'a permanent outside broadcast point' — that is, a studio which would be manned only as broadcasts were arranged — in a local library. This, he concluded, might go some way towards meeting the requests of Wilson and others.
Coldside Library studio
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 a letter to the Dundee Public Library Finance Committee, Melville Dinwiddie stated that the room would be used for broadcasts of "talks, discussions, small music combinations and choirs, Children's Hour features, and auditions of various kinds". He said that the average use would be one broadcast a week, but there would also be rehearsals and tests from time to time.
To cover the costs of light, heat and library staff overtime for late evening work, the BBC offered 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. However, others felt it did not matter if they lost a few pounds and a unanimous majority of members gave their approval in the hope that it would help "to put Dundee on the radio map of Scotland".
Commenting on the announcement, Sir Garnet Wilson said: "If we can impress upon the BBC that we are worthy of it, this development will lead to something better."
The studio was in the former women's reading room on the upper floor of the library at 150 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.
'Radio Dundee' experiment
On Thursday 24 August 1961, Coldside Library played host to the first of two Scottish experiments in BBC local radio (the other, 'Radio Dumfries',took place the following year). 'Radio Dundee' operated as a closed-circuit broadcast with five to six hours of local material spread-out across a thirteen hour broadcasting day, the gaps filled by a selection of material from the Scottish Home Service and Light Programme. As well as using the existing studio, the adjoining reading room was taken over and used as an office space, incorporating a makeshift newsroom and reception area. The operation was directed by the BBC's Aberdeen representative, Harry Hoggan, and involved staff from both Aberdeen and Glasgow.
- '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.
- Scottish Advisory Council minutes of a meeting held on 29 March 1949, BBC WAC R6/188.
- 'Dundee outside broadcasting point', Glasgow Herald, 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.