Sunday, November 02, 2008

2 November 2008: Late Night Sou' West

In a small space between a certain unnamed county in southern Florida somewhat famous for the words 'chad' and 'hanging', and a brief if not unwelcome return to Cincinnati, I have a weekend at home. And into this space last night came a blast from what seems a very distant past: yesterday evening, for the first time in about sixteen years, I listened to Chris Langmore doing the late night show on BBC Radios Devon and Cornwall.

Now, this will mean nothing to almost all of you, probably even Becky. The story goes something like this: around May 1988, aged 13, I was struggling to sleep one night and turned the radio on. Radio was tuned to Radio Cornwall, which I thought stopped broadcasting around 7pm and just took the national Radio 2 feed until 6am the next morning. But there was a guy on there playing what seemed normal Radio 2 music, yes, but reading out a bunch of messages from people in places like Ipplepen and Kingsteignton. I listened intently, trying to figure out exactly what this show was, broadcasting on Radio Cornwall but seemingly listened-to exclusively by people in Devon. At the end of the show, at midnight, the presenter guy, one Chris Langmore, revealed it was a show called Late Night Sou' West, it was simulcast on both stations and they'd be back tomorrow at 10pm.

The following night I tuned in and heard, again, a bunch of generally easy-listening music along with some good fun chat and - here's the rub - a phone-in competition. Usually a general knowledge question, read out at 10.20pm, and you had until 11.05 or so to get through on the phones with the correct answer. All the correct people would have their names put into the bin, one would be pulled out and they'd be called back, have a five to ten minute chat with the presenter on the air and then they'd be sent a nice prize of some description.

Well, I was hooked. I spent numerous evenings in a cold hallway attempting to phone through to Howard in the phone room, get the 'engaged' signal, redial... I'd usually get through at some point, and a few times I'd even be chosen as the lucky winner (the prize? A random CD or, if you didn't have a CD player, a vinyl LP). One of the best bits, though, was the 'roll of honour', where Chris would read out all the names of the people who got it right. This was where you began to get a feel for the regulars who always listened and who, like me, always entered the competition. Names like 'Bill in West Hill', 'Pete and Pet in Carnon Downs', 'The Planners of Threemilestone' (and, of course, 'Duncan in Ivybridge'), along with many others, came up almost every night. Often the winner would come from this gang of regulars, and it would be fun to hear their voices and learn a bit about them (the aforementioned Bill in West Hill won one night and claimed the only reason he listened was that his radio was stuck on the station and he couldn't turn it off). In short, it became a small club, and that was why it worked.

Whether it was that or just the general fun of the show that made it a success, I don't know, however (as Chris points out on his website), it grew to achieve not only huge audience figures but also an astoundingly high audience share for what was the first ever late-night show on a BBC local radio station in the UK, and indeed still holds the record for that category. It was this show that provided the template for BBC local radio in the UK to do late night programming, and that's the biggest legacy I think.

It ended on Christmas Eve 1992, when Chris left Late Night Sou' West to take up a more senior position on Radio Humberside or somewhere like that. Howard the phone guy took over the show (after a brief stint by Monica Ellis who clearly didn't want to be there) but it was never quite the same, and I drifted into listening to the new Virgin 1215 station, and then moved to Southampton anyway. Chris then went on to read the weather on ITV Carlton in London and eventually to become one of the continuity announcers for ITV1.

However, while in Florida this week and struggling to sleep in the featureless hotel room I was staying in, it popped into my head to Google for Shakatak, whose jazz-funk song 'Night Birds' was the theme tune to Late Night Sou' West. Not only did I find it on their MySpace page (track 2 on their music player thingy) but it also got be to thinking 'I wonder what that Langmore guy is up to now'. So, a little more Google and up he came, with his mobile disco website and various media projects, along with a little note saying he was covering the Saturday night late show on Radio Devon for a few weeks until the new presenter came along.

And that was that. Last night, 6pm local time (our clocks only went back this morning here in Indiana), switched on Radio Devon over the internet and there it was, Chris Langmore doing the late night show, first time I'd heard it in almost sixteen years, and it was very much like the old show as I remember it. Gloria wasn't sure what to make of it, although she joined in with the little quizzes he did such as asking people to spell 'Mississippi' (the phone guy spelling it M-I-S-S-I-P-P-I-S-S-I on his first attempt, which when pronounced sounds mildly humorous), and we listened to pretty much the whole thing. I even attempted to phone in and failed to get through, a fine throw-back to the Good Old Days.

And somehow it's comforting to think that in this crazy world where the economy is going down the toilet faster than last night's curry, where I'm now married, living in the USA, have a PhD and have been around the world, where the US election seems to be the only thing anyone is talking about over here (except for the NFL of course), it's comforting to hear something that I used to listen to every night, some twenty years ago.

Postscript: You might be asking 'ok, but tell us more about this Florida deal'. I won't say much - don't want to get in trouble with the boss - but I will say this: if the stuff we were told about the electoral process is true, nothing will surprise me in terms of who gets elected. However I will say this: it's meant to be a secret ballot, isn't it?


McDougle said...

probably (Dave Barret) Deeve Borrit's muse for his GWR days.

Ahhh the Tuesday late night problems phone in, unthinkable nowadays but he dished out live counselling advice.

Chris Langmore said...

Thank-you very much.

It's great to know I'm not yet forgotten! Hope you caught the shows over the Easter two weeks.

Best wishes from this side of the pond.


Sean Barnes said...

Gosh... what a blast from the past. I was also a regular Late Night Sou' Wester and can also remember sitting in the cold hallway trying to get through with my answer to the Brainteaser - with Mum's permission of course (I was about 14).

Happy days.

David French said...

You forgot about Peggy in Ashburton!

Anonymous said...

And Jacky of Leedstown (with her fax machine).
And Lisa the other phone operator (whatever happened to her?).

DuncMcRae said...

And many many others, worryingly even now I can probably remember a good two or three dozen names of the regulars, yes including Jacky of Leedstown. Any others of the old gang feel free to drop your names in a comment!!

What's also interesting, or perhaps worrying, is how much of my recent 'Top 40 At 40' music countdown (see the April/May 2015 archive on right hand side of this blog) was either directly from the LNSW playlist or can be traced to it somehow. Even just today I was listening to a David Lanz piano-only album that I would not be remotely interested in were it not for 'Piano In The Dark' being played every single night during the summer of 1988.

Anonymous said...

You forgot Carly Simon's "All I want is you". Heard many, many times on LNSW. Haven't heard it since.
I too was an avid listener to LNSW - before heading off to university in Oct 1991 and subsequently France. On returning to Devon 13 years later, CL had gone and LNSW was just a distant but fond memory.