Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Radio One More Time: Simultaneous Broadcasts

Now, with NICAM digital stereo and all that, stereo music coming out the TV is as normal as small worm-like larvae coming out of Scottish taps. But it's not always been like that. In the 1980s, stereo was for radios, and TVs were restricted to a single speaker, usually lop-sided on one edge.

So, what to do when transmitting a musical event? There was always the option of pumping the sound through the one wheezy
speaker, but the BBC came up with a more elegant solution: the simultaneous broadcast. As the name implies, the pictures would be on one of the TV networks, the radio carrying the stereo sound, all indicated by a giant "SB" in a circle in Radio Times listings, with instructions that, for best effect, you should position your hi-fi speakers either side of the television.

Normally, the SB blob would pop up in the BBC2 and Radio 3 listings - proms, opera, that sort of thing. But sometimes, Radio One would get to join in. Whistle Test and Radio One In Concert would come together for Sight And Sound In Concert specials, and we suspect it was this experience which led to the same combination being called up for what, surely, is the high-water mark for the SB: Live Aid. So simultaneous was the experience, so cross-media was the event fertilized, that the news summary during the afternoon was done by Newsbeat's Frank Partridge rather than someone from the television news squad. It also explains why there was the slightly clunky "Live Aid... From London... around the world" jingle, which was way too wordy for television, but attempted to deliver the same message to radio listeners as TV's glitzy silver world map.

Radio One also hosted the audio leg of the longest-running SB, when Top of the Pops turned up on the radio at the same time as on the television. It's likely the association would have been longer still, but it couldn't happen until Radio One had a proper FM network, and only lasted until BBC One was broadcasting nationwide in stereo. We're still not sure agreeing to take the audio feed was the best idea that Radio One ever had, but we'll charitably assume they thought all their natural constituency would have been watching the Pops anyway, so saw this as a graceful concession.

[Part of Radio One More Time]


Anonymous said...

Ah, the simultaneous broadcast of TOTP. That takes me back. Or at least it takes to the time in the early 90s when I heard Simes, with a real aggressive adge in his voice, instruct potential viewers, 'Don't listen to it on the telly, because that's a dumb way to listen.' Charming. Just charming.

Anonymous said...

ah, the days when I used to be able to listen to Top of the Pops in my Dad's car!

Anonymous said...

I remember a Blondie concert on SB on New Year's Eve from somewhere in London, the year that Blondie ruled the world (1979?). It was probably an Old Grey Whistle Test concert but the radio was radio 1 (having nicked the stereo frequency from radio 2 for a while?). We were having probably the best NYE party I've been to (well, I was 14!).

doyok sebastiantot said...

Thank you, your article is very good

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