Radio launches 2 

15 August 2001

The first programme on Radio 5 was “Take Five”, a children’s programme which ran throughout the school holidays until the network’s demise in 1994, and which was presented on this day only by Bruno Brookes. Because he was doing a live Radio 1 breakfast show at the same time, you knew that the first programme on R5 was recorded, and that spoilt some of the fun for me as a ten-year-old – you wanted to believe that Bruno was there in the studio live sharing in this historic moment, not (as had indeed happened) that he had recorded the programme shortly before when Radio 2 was still using the medium wave frequencies of 909 and 693 kHz. But it didn’t really affect the sense that I was witnessing a part of radio history.

Radio 5 logo

A recording of the opening moments very much evokes the period, with comedians Trevor Neal and Simon Hickson (this broadcast wasn’t credited in Radio Times, but they were very familiar from “Going Live!” on children’s TV at the time – they even teamed up with Donovan for a remake of his 60s hit “Jennifer Juniper”) larking about in the studio amid the strains of “Sailing By”, the piece of music traditionally played late at night on Radio 4.

Trevor was opening his “Ode to Radio 5” – “devised by Trevor Robert Neal, written by Trevor Robert Neal and read by Trevor Robert Neal, Simon did absolutely nothing” – with the words “Radio 5”, before he was drowned out by a crowd of children chanting “5, 4, 3, 2, 1, welcome to Radio 5” and a 5-year-old boy from Blackpool, Andrew Kelly, enthusing “Hello, good morning, welcome to Radio 5”. Bruno Brookes’ knowing comment in his opening introduction – “special guests include Paul ‘Gazza’ Gascoigne – now there’s a name you know!” also places us definitively in 1990, as does the first record played on the new network – “Thunderbirds Are Go”, a pop-rap hit of the time by FAB featuring MC Parker which, curiously, predated the revival of the programme on BBC2 in 1991 by more than a year – there seemed no particular reason for it to go Top 10 when it was released, but its production values are as evocative of 1990 as The Move’s “Flowers In The Rain”, Radio 1’s opening sound, is of 1967.

Radio 5 was under-appreciated in its own time, and the BBC announced in the autumn of 1993 that it would be abolished and the frequencies used for the so-called “rolling news” network that many had feared would take over Radio 4’s long wave frequency, combining this with Radio 5’s existent sports coverage – one of R5’s achievements was its establishment of regular midweek slots for football coverage rather than the old midweek specials on Radio 2 MW, and its launching of radio coverage of the Premiership in 1992.

But many of us still miss the diversity of Radio 5 in its original form – it fostered, among others, Mark Radcliffe, Marc Riley, Andrew Collins and Stuart Maconie, who have since contributed much to Radios 1, 2 and 4 – and the network’s opening words at 9am that August morning still evoke a deeply optimistic, forward-looking moment in British radio.

There was an air of excitement surrounding the launch of Radio 5 on August Bank Holiday 1990 – this was the first launch of a new national radio station in the UK since Tony Blackburn had opened Radio 1 twenty-three years before, so an entire generation (mine) was experiencing the dawn of a national network for the first time. The three national commercial stations we’re so familiar with now had yet to emerge, and the launch of R5 coincided with a massive expansion in independent local radio.

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