Sound On, Vision On
I was a child of the Golden Age of Television.
I was at the tail end of the first generation of kids in Ukania to be raised on The Box rather than The Wireless (although good ole steam-powered radio still had a huge impact on me).
The second half of the 60s and the whole of the 70s seems now like some sort of paradise. Yes, we only had three (count them) television channels, and none of them broadcast for more than about fifteen hours a day (including schools programmes). Wireless-wise, our options consisted of four BBC national networks (with their occasional opt-outs for piddling little 'regions' like Wales and Scotland) and - if you were in the right place - a BBC Local station which tried to be (and, to be fair, often succeeded in being) all things to all people within a limited budget. There was The Incredible Fading Radio Luxembourg in the evenings, of course, but until land-based, legal commercial radio came along (we came within reach of it in April 1974), that was it.
After that, things seemed to go downhill more than somewhat. The brash, over-commercialised 80s seemed to drain much of what was elevated and authoritative out of both media; we had a fourth television channel from 1981 which broadened the range of voices heard and faces seen, but as the last decade of the twentieth century beckoned that too seemed to fall prey to the ratings obsession which market-forces propaganda had impressed upon our cultural landscape as much as upon our economic and social ones. Radio had also fallen prey to this, with the supposedly 'local' commercial stations being gobbled up by a small number of media conglomerates which, in the chase for ever-diminishing advertising income, became generalised and genericised out of all meaningful existence.
Is it any wonder, therefore, that many of us look back at the sixties and seventies with a nostalgia which we feel we can justify by pointing scornfully at much of what has happened since?
The trouble is, of course, that for the most part we had to rely on our memories alone for our romantic journeys back to the Good Times. There was no domestic video recording equipment easily available until the tail end of the 70s (and you had to be pretty loaded to be able to take advantage of that) and - the actions of a small number of obsessives apart - radio programmes too disappeared in the general direction of Alpha Centauri without audible trace.
One of the most fantastic things about the online world when I first ventured into it in the summer of 2001 was that it became possible to find out more about programmes and broadcasters from the Olden Golden Tymes which/whom you had started to think you had imagined. And not only was there information in text form, there were even sound and video clips of some of them (although the experience of trying to listen to or view them on a 56K hook-up and Real Player was frustrating in the extreme). Once again, it became possible to wallow in the memories of past delights with actual proof that they were, more or less, as we recalled them being.
For there were some of those 'obsessives' I referred to above who had decided that the history of broadcasting had been inadequately served by books which varied from celebrity pleb-fodder at the bottom end of the market to weighty tomes by 'proper' historians such as Asa Briggs at the top. For, whilst the minutiae of what was said and done by the upper echelons of the broadcasting and political establishment were significant in an official history/Jacob Bronowski sort of way, what really interested the vast majority of us were the sights, the sounds, the people and the music which we had watched or heard coming out of wooden or plastic boxes of various dimensions at those times - our childhoods and proto-adult years - when we were at our most receptive to impressions.
These committed amateur archivists had (much as I, in my own tiny way, had also done to some extent) committed hours of radio and television (or, at least, the audio channel thereof) to various tapes, both open reel and cassette, which they were - when I came on the scene just after the turn of this increasingly baffling century - now committing to digital formats and making available to the wider world.
The organisation with the longest pedigree in this regard has a history which long precedes even the concept of the Web. Transdiffusion was begun by a group of Wirral schoolboys in 1964 under the leadership of Christopher ('Kif') Bowden-Smith. The original concept was simply for the members to communicate with each other via 'letters' on tape. After a couple of years, this expanded to a service of actual programmes created by the members which were also supplied to hospital radio stations, and to a merger with a similar service operating out of the English midlands.
With various changes in both the media landscape and technology, the early 1980s saw the closure of the tape services, and Transdiffusion was left with its own archives and those of its contributing organisations.
Transdiffusion lay fallow for over a decade until Kif and his then-partner (now husband) Russ J. Graham and a number of other volunteers created the Transdiffusion Broadcasting System's website with the aim of digitising the archive to provide a ready resource for researchers, educators and for just plain nostalgics.
More even than that, there were essays and articles about a wide variety of broadcasting topics, often from people with an inside knowledge of the radio and television systems.
It was this absolute treasure trove which I stumbled upon sixteen years ago and browsed about in like there was no tomorrow (in the hours which my then-ISP permitted me to go online without charging me extra).
In 2007, I did something very unusual for me; I actually pitched a proposed article to Kif about the BBC Radio 4 programme Stop The Week. He very kindly accepted, and I made my TBS debut on the first of June that year.
Kif's encouragement subsequently led to more articles (which you can find listed here). The one on Y Talwrn from 2008 (later updated) was described by my editor (Kif again) as "possibly the most erudite article we've ever published" (reader, I - as the old Jews say - kvelled); and the tribute to Ryan Davies which was published a few weeks later led to an interesting exchange of phone calls and e-mails with Ryan's former personal manager Mike Evans.
TBS has continued to expand madly in all directions, and its YouTube channel and Soundcloud page are well worth checking out for a veritable goldmine of fascinating recorded material.
The reason I mention this today is that it marks the TBS website's eighteenth birthday, with the prospect of much more archive material and fascinating essays still to come in the years ahead.
So, happy eighteenth birthday, TBS! Don't come home blind drunk tonight, you hear?