Saturday, 18 June 2011

To Quote Sgt Pepper, It was 20 years ago today.

This is the 100th post of my blog. As it was a bit of a milestone I wanted to commemorate it with something that means something to me personally.

It’s 7am on 18th June 1991. The dulcet tones of Caroline Le Bow are informing us about the latest problems with the economy before moving on to tell us how sunny it was going to be for the rest of the day.

In a 2m by 2m room full of record decks, Revox reel to reel tape players and 12” tape reels, cart racks and machines, a state of the art *coughs* broadcast mixing desk and three microphones, a warm mid June period doesn’t seem likely to be conducive to staying awake for 6 hours, never mind 60.

In Channel Radio 1 studio, I am settling into an incredibly comfortable chair, specially donated by Hattons of St Helens. Hmm. Comfort. Once again I’m not sure if this is helping me with the task in hand. Jeff (Jeffers) Rushton (I don’t know where the nickname came from) was sat opposite me with the first hour’s programme plan. I think he’d got to the studio as early as possible and was changing into his work clothes as we chatted. In studio 3 (we didn't have a studio 2 for some reason), the production team who were joining me fo the full stint were preparing the second hour, but more of them later.

Two weeks earlier, during a particularly long night cataloguing the records in the record library of Channel Radio, a group of keen volunteers had been tuned into John O’Hara on Radio City who was in the middle of his broadcast marathon. He was raising money for the stations children’s charity and his task was to present his breakfast show for as long as he could. At three in the morning we thought we would call him, just to see if he was really there. He invited us down to the studio to see for ourselves.

On the way there, one of our motley crew thought it would be a good idea if one of us challenged John to spur him on. We would attempt to beat whatever time he achieved and the sponsor money we received would be split between the hospital radio station and the children’s charity.

When we got there, I was thrust into the seat opposite John who proceeded to interview me and it was just about here that the die was cast. It seemed as though I had volunteered to be the mug brave sole who would take on the challenge.

I was willing John to give up all night, and the next day, and the next night and the next day. He eventually gave up at 4 pm on Thursday afternoon, some 57 hours after he had started. We decided that it would be a good idea to attempt 60 hours (I don’t remember being in that meeting).

Luckily, as I was the victim, I didn’t need to go out and find the sponsorship so I could prepare the content of the shows. I would be in the hot seat for the two and a half days, but those volunteers that had shows on those days, would come in and co-present. I was entitled to a 5 minute break every hour, although I could accumulate them for a longer break. This was really useful. It allowed me to go home for half an hour each morning for a shower and of course I needed to sign on during the broadcast as well didn’t I, the ribbons of bureaucracy were not going to release their grip on me, however much I was raising for charity.

So as the news played out, Jeffers wished me luck and the first jingle played. We were under way.

  60 Hour opener by stromi

You know how it is during a working week. You get home on a Monday evening and Friday still seems such a long was away. Well imagine waking up the next day and realising that not only was the weekend not that much closer, but you weren’t going to get any sleep until it was right on top of you. Oh, you’ve had kids have you? Fair enough.

When we had visited the bowels of Radio City’s studios in Stanley Street, we had been introduced after John had played a song and there had been another song directly after. We adopted these songs as the anthems for the marathon. The first one was also the communal dance song. Just outside the studios was a small area where patients, visitors and staff could congregate and enjoy some refreshments from the shop that was Channel Radio’s chief source of revenue. This became an impromptu dance stage. Every couple of hours, all the volunteers who were at the studio complex would gather in Avenue Three and dance along to R.E.M.

I’d had a commitment from two other members that they would stay awake with me for the full 60 hours and produce the whole shebang. Gerrard (Ged) Woods and Debbie (Deb) Lynch (you can see the effort we used to put into nicknames). Ged was our chief engineer, or at least the one we trusted to get things that were broke to work. Deb was a recent recruit that threw herself enthusiastically at everything that was offered. I think they both fell asleep in the production studio on the second night but they did make it for over 40 hours.

Tuesday was fairly easy going. Everyone wanted to be involved in some way. We sent presenters out onto the wards of Whiston Hospital, the hospital where channel Radio was based, although it did also serve St Helens Hospital as well as a couple of smaller units (points for the first person to name all the units served). We rounded up a couple of wards to take part in our inter-ward quiz competition. We had presenters representing the wards but the patients were encouraged to call the answers in. The winning ward went through to the final on Thursday against the winning ward from St Helens on the Wednesday.

There were some special jingles made by Gareth Hughes and Dave McKenna too. Or was it Neil Kinnock and John Cole et al?

I thought that the overnights would be were the slog was going to take it’s toll. I didn’t reckon on the gang of reprobates that decided to do the night shift with me. Stewart (Stew) Whitfield, Nikki (Nikki) Houghton, Louise (Lou) Hill, Andy (Gotcha) Hosker, John Gleig, Dave and Gareth, Jeffers, Gary the Mixer Fixer, Dave (Platty) Platt, Dave (Dave) Storey as well as Ged and Debbie all stayed into the wee small hours and one or two of them stayed right through the night. The Shiny Happy Dancing was employed when spirits were flagging, even at half past two in the morning. We were well away from the main wards.
On the final morning we called John O’Hara at Radio City who was presenting their breakfast show that day and he offered to do a live link up between the two stations.

By this time, the finishing line came started taunting me from a distance. My speech had become slurred at times and there was a lull in the number of people in the studio with me during the mid morning. Every minute felt like an hour and I seemed to be able to play 10 more records in an hour than I had been previously achieving. The overnighters had gone home to catch some sleep before the finale and those that were supporting me through the daytime hadn’t yet arrived. Even my two co-victims had started to flag so weren’t really giving me the motivation and support I needed. My mid morning trip home for a shower and race to sign on, gave me the boost I needed to see me to the end.

The final of the inter ward quiz was planned for mid afternoon, so a team set off for St Helens hospital while another team stayed at Whiston and the partisan wind ups started with me in the middle as referee (or additional wind up merchant).

After the quiz final, and the final part of our serialisation of Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds, we fairly zipped along and before I knew it, it was 6.30pm. We had completed 59½ hours and just had 30 minutes to go. Nikki remembered it like this. “The end was brilliant when we rang Ray and there must have been about 20 people in that little studio and the atmosphere of celebration was amazing. Happy Days”. For my part, it was all a bit of a blur. I can’t remember much of the end. I don’t recall what my final words of the broadcast were, even though I remember writing them before the start. I know I thanked lots of people for their support and probably forgot some of the most important ones. I also remember mentioning everyone who had donated and I know that we ended up raising over £800 for the charities.

I played Shiny Happy People one last time, played the jingle into the news, stood up and walked out of the studio, leaving the comfy chair ready for the next presenter. I think that may well have been Pete Mullroy, but I could be wrong.

The crew who had helped us complete the marathon decided that a celebration was in order. So we went to the local ten pin bowling centre and spent a fun couple of hours there. I didn’t manage to pick up a bowling ball but stayed to enjoy the camaraderie. I eventually got into my bed around 10.30pm, about 65 hours after I had last left it. I slept until almost 2 o’clock the next afternoon.

And now I’m attempting another marathon, this time one of the more traditional 26.2 mile variety. I think I’ve proved I can carry on and not give up. Now I just need to persuade my body that it can too.

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