Radio Sheffield celebrates half a century on air with high hopes for the next 50 years

After half a century on the airwaves, Sheffield is still listening in to its BBC radio station - and the milestone is being celebrated in style.

Wednesday, 15th November 2017, 1:30 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 12:12 pm
BBC Radio Sheffield's 50th birthday party at Sheffield Town Hall: Presenters Paulette Edwards and Rony Robinson with Lord Mayor of Sheffield Anne Murphy. Picture: Marisa Cashill

Yesterday marked exactly 50 years since BBC Radio Sheffield made its first broadcast across South Yorkshire and North Derbyshire from its original home, a large Victorian house on Westbourne Road, Broomhill.

Now the station is ensconced in more modern studios on Shoreham Street, but its half-century is a timely reminder of the challenging early days of local radio.

BBC Radio Sheffield's 50th birthday party at Sheffield Town Hall: The singing plumber Paul Ballington, and his children Thomas, 10, and Lana, seven - he performed live a song he wrote for the anniversary. Picture: Marisa Cashill

Sheffield's was the second BBC station of its kind to launch, closely following Radio Leicester on November 8, 1967, and formed part of a tentative experiment by the corporation and the Government.

Frank Gillard, an ex-war correspondent, is credited with dreaming up the original vision for local radio. He persuaded bosses to run a series of 'closed circuit' trials in the early 1960s - then, in 1966, the pirates were outlawed and Radios 1, 2, 3 and 4 were offered as an alternative, with permission granted to test eight regional stations for two years.

There was no licence fee money to pay for the venture, however. Instead, the BBC funded the stations' launch but local authorities were encouraged to meet the running costs. Sheffield was one of the few places willing to step forward, as councils weren't allowed to put up rates to raise money. Michael Barton - Radio Sheffield's first station manager - is said to have described Gillard as 'working like Jeffrey Archer running a charity auction' to gather support.

Early schedules included breakfast news, female-focused programming and shows aimed at schools. In 1969 a research study proved the stations were reaching audiences and permanent permission was granted.

Radio Sheffield's original home in Broomhill

Presenters in the Radio Sheffield hall of fame include John Motson, Ian McMillan, Emlyn Hughes, Tony Capstick and Simon Groom, while among today's roster are Toby Foster, Paulette Edwards, Rony Robinson and Howard Pressman.

According to the latest RAJAR audience figures, Radio Sheffield reaches more than 200,000 people every week – almost one in five of the local population – and the BBC's director general, Tony Hall, has reaffirmed his commitment to local broadcasting, reversing £10 million of planned cuts.

Yesterday a special 50th birthday party took place at the Town Hall, an event that was covered live by Paulette and Rony. Special guests and ex-presenters dropped by and an anniversary documentary was aired.

The station also remade Sheffield band Pulp's hit song Common People. A community choir recorded a special arrangement of the track, and presenters were joined by around 300 volunteers to film a version of the original music video. Locations included Barnsley Town Hall, Doncaster Market and a sweet shop in Rotherham, while some scenes were shot on a working Sheffield tram.

Michael Barton, Radio Sheffield's first managing editor

Entertainer Bernie Clifton, city knifemaker Michael May and Look North newsreader Harry Gration got involved in the video, and the finale comprised a large crowd scene filmed at The Leadmill featuring over 200 radio listeners.

Pulp's drummer, Nick Banks, watched a special screening of the film earlier this week, and said: "Radio, music and community are closely intertwined, so it’s great to see Common People being used by Radio Sheffield to celebrate their 50th birthday. I always get a thrill seeing people singing along with the song and it has obviously struck a chord with many people over the years.“

Jarvis Cocker, the band's frontman, wasn't able to attend, but said he was 'honoured and excited' about the video. "I’m wishing Radio Sheffield fifty more years of broadcasting success," he said.

Katrina Bunker, Radio Sheffield's managing editor, said: “It was really important to us that this film was all about local people and that it captured the unique spirit and attitude that we share in this part of the world. I think the finished product shows that beautifully. It’s full of joy and celebration and tells a great story of people coming together. It makes you smile, feel proud, laugh and even brings a tear to the eye at the end.”

BBC Radio Sheffield's 50th birthday party at Sheffield Town Hall: The singing plumber Paul Ballington, and his children Thomas, 10, and Lana, seven - he performed live a song he wrote for the anniversary. Picture: Marisa Cashill

Click here to see the video.

Radio Sheffield's original home in Broomhill
Michael Barton, Radio Sheffield's first managing editor