Behind the mic – Golden days before they end

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Jul 2019 Behind the mic – Golden days before they end

JOURNALIST and broadcaster Alan Thompson has worked in BBC and independent radio in a senior capacity and was one of a handful of Brits who made their professional broadcasting début in the United States.

He also produced the “programme that had legs” – Golden Days – since 1984 when he took over the perennial programme and later moved it with him to other stations – including the BBC. Currently, as well as some programmes on the BBC Eastern Counties Network with veteran broadcaster Keith Skues, Alan co-presents some editions of the Groove Britain series for local radio with associate Nigel Pearce.
Now, a new programme on Golden Days revisited is to be produced for airing in the Autumn.

Alan takes up the story.

I NEVER imagined a radio programme I took over for two weeks, entitled Golden Days, in May 1984, would still be with me more than 35 years later.

There has been a number of spin-offs viz Hail! Hail! Rock’n’Roll, Rewind, American Countdown, a number of documentaries, an association with a major US broadcasting company, and the formation of the London-based indie production company Radio Matters.

I was at Reading’s Radio 210 where the series began, for four years. Previous presenters were Mike Read, Bob Harris and Mike Quinn. In 1988, I was appointed Head of Programmes for the then latest BBC station Wiltshire Sound (now BBC Wiltshire).

In 1985, I attended the Regal Rock’n’Blues Reunion tour with journo friend Vince Price, and what a line-up! There was Bobby Vee, Del Shannon, Frankie Ford, known as the New Orleans Dynamo man, grandfather of R-and-B Bo Diddley, an augmented Marvelletes with Brenda Watty, and topping the bill, Rick Nelson.

I was fortunate to be interviewing them all. When I spoke to Bo Diddley I said he had influenced a number of British groups, including The Beatles and the Rolling Stones and asked who had influenced him growing up with all that blues music.

He gave me one of those ‘die for a thousand years’ looks when he said: “No-one, not one, I’m original.”

In an interview with Paul Jones some years later, he told me he found Bo Diddley quite amusing, and wondered if Bo himself realised how amusing he was!

Alan Thompson

Bobby Vee was very matter-of- fact about his achievements and at the time, he was still married to Karen, after more than 20 years, and one of his four sons had followed him in to show business.

Del Shannon told of his army days and how he first ventured into singing having been influenced by – and growing up with – the music of Hank Williams and Hank Snow.

Rick Nelson explained how he got the big singing break while appearing on the Ozzie and Harriet TV show, who were his real parents and he explained that “…the show was really a characterisation of who we really were.”

Between 1994 and 2001, there was a number of associated programmes, including American Countdown with Carol Miller, who was at WNEW-FM when I first met her, and now anchors a daily programme at WAXQ-FM in New York. Carol ran the programme on Cambridgeshire-based X-CEL FM while I was programme controller.

One of the most challenging documentaries I worked on was with Johnnie Walker – a two – our programme ‘When pirates ruled the waves’; which commemorated the 30th anniversary of the outlawing of off-shore radio stations. But JW remained on board Radio Caroline and waded into the world of truly illegal broadcasting. He said he still gets a tingling feeling when he re-hears the recording back, of the time Caroline passed the midnight hour, as he told listeners the station intended remaining on the air.

There were serious programmes now contained in the archive, ‘Egypt – Journey of a Lifetime’ which was presented and produced by me and co-written by my then wife Carole Thompson. There was also ‘Something is terribly wrong’ to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the JFK assassination, which was produced by Neil George and presented by myself.

In 2002, I pooled resources with Keith Slues on the BBC Eastern Counties Network and produced eight music-based documentaries, for which the US editions are now archived at the Paley Centre, New York, formerly known as the Museum of Television and Radio.

But despite this ever-growing colourful list of radio stations I have worked at – about 18 on the last count – Golden Days – and most of its spin-offs – have always been about the artistes and their music.

And now, with Groove Britain, I am hopeful it will long continue! All will be told in the ‘Golden Days Revisted’ programme.

Alan Thompson

Alan Thompson is one of a handful of Brits to make their first professional broadcasts in the US. He has been a presenter, producer and news editor for both BBC and ILR stations.

Nigel Pearce and Alan Thompson have been doing shows together for years. Both are experienced radio DJs, with Alan being lucky enough to have had a lifelong career in radio.

They specialise in all things 60s and their show, recently re-titled Groove Britain, brings some major guests to Future Radio, including original Beatles drummer Pete Best, and Jim McCarty of the Yardbirds, in the past couple of months.

The regular show was extended to two hours, with its two-hour debut featuring an exclusive collection of demos recorded in Apple Studios, including demos by Bob Dylan, The Who and Roger Daltrey.
Groove Britain is sponsored by Heritage Will Writers and estate planning services.

Tune in to Groove Britain every Sunday from 3pm until 5pm. Recently, it featured T-Rex drummer Paul Fenton, and an exclusive airing of an old interview with the late Marck Bolan.