Jump to content

BBC Radio Shite (pic heavy)


Recommended Posts

I've seen a few postings of BBC Radio Shite here in the past. I started working in local radio at the ripe old age of 15 in Lincolnshire, and worked for the BBC as a journo in Hull and Leeds till 1999 when I got a proper job. I have quite a few pics of BBC Shite that I took at the time, and have collected other pics from the web since. Most of this is Cortinas and Montegos... so here goes for a brief history of BBC radio cars...


A radio car is basically a Shite car with a pneumatic telescopic mast and a low-power UHF transmitter. You drive to the scene of an outside broadcast (OB) - e.g. village fete - or a hot breaking news story. You check that there are no high voltage killer electricity lines too close, then pump up the mast, fire up the transmitter and you're on air. The UHF needs line-of-sight back to a receiving base station (a big place like Lincolnshire has a few of them). You get your "cue" off-air from the car radio, and there's a two-way VHF radio for talking to the studio. Of course these days it's all changed with mobile phones, computers and satellite data connections too. But let's stay in the 1980s for now.


The first local radio cars were lovely Hillman Hunter estates, liked this one from Radio Humberside, when it opened in 1971. (I spotted Paykan Hunter had used the same pic). Never seen one of these in the metal unfortunately.




The most famous radio car must be the Cortina though... these started appearing around 1979/80 as the number of local stations expanded. City-based stations with a smaller patch got a 1.6L, the bigger county stations got a 2.0GL. Here's a few... including Radio Lincolnshire's first one EYW 373V.



And the same car being towed out of a muddy field at the World Ploughing Championships near Horncastle in 1982 by the engineer's personal Landy SNX 619.



The radio car I know best is the late-reg Cortina that replaced it - A219 SUL - that I first drove in 1989. I took this pic of the dash - you can see that the centre console was removed and replaced by a length of copper plumbing pipe holding in the Moseley UHF transmitter (which no doubt cost more than the Cortina, and also lasted longer being swapped from car to car as they were replaced), and a custom console below containing the radio for off-air cue, a Storno two-way radio, and buttons to switch on the power. There's also a microphone connection - it was not uncommon for presenters to cut the OB short and finish up the programme while being driven home - the giveaway was the alternator whining on the signal, plus even more hiss than usual because of course the mast had to be down.


In the glovebox was a unit allowing an operator in the car to talk back to the presenter, who might have wandered off on the end of a 200-metre long cable. Also in here is the magic interlock override key. Even before the days of 'elf'n'safety, it was an absolute no-no to drive or move the car with the pneumatic mast extended. So an interlock system would sound and alarm and deflate the mast if you tried to start the engine. Unfortunately for longer programmes the battery would need charging mid way, so the interlock key would allow you to run the engine with the mast up. It was only supposed to be used by engineers, though I remember at least one car I drove had it permanently in the dash (must have had a c**p battery). There was still a second interlock on the handbrake though to stop you moving off with the mast up (there were legends of bent masts and electrocutions from people who had tried)




The cars were not quite stock mechanically: they all had a second alternator driven off an auxilliary belt on the engine to charge a second "tech battery" - a leisure type deep discharge battery to power the transmitter. You can just about see this in the Montego pic further down. Here are some more pics of A219 SUL in action that I took in summer 1989...






And next to Astra E867 EFW



The best thing about A219 SUL is that it still survives ... as a radio car. When it was replaced in 1990, it was donated to the Museum of Lincolnshire Life where it exists to this day. Pics below were taken quite recently at the museum (don't Cortinas look small now!) The car from the A-posts back has survived pretty well - it was Ziebarted from new and still has the little sticker in the back window - but the A-posts, scuttle and valance are now rusted to near oblivion. I think this is because the front end was re-built in about 1986 after "an incident" ... presumably the repairer didn't bother with as much Ziebart.








I did think about making the museum an offer for it (apparently they wanted rid at one point) - but the ownership is a bit complex - I think it's actually owned by the Lincolnshire Vintage Vehicle Society and on permanaent loan to the museum, but not sure. I shouldn't really say so, but I did once see this car do an indicated 110mph on a quiet, straight stretch of road...


Here are a few other Cortina pics from Devon, Norfolk, Leicester and London that I found on the net:









Now... unforunately I helped one of the BBC Cortinas to a slghtly earlier grave. Just before A219 SUL went out of service and into the museum it went off for a re-spray, and one of the pool of "loan" radio cars was brought in for a few weeks. KYY 456X was an ex-Radio Bristol 1.6L although it was plain white. After clipping the curve, spinning 360 degrees and whacking the curve sideways the car rolled several times landing in a farmer's field. The mast made a pretty good roll cage as there isn't a single broken window though every panel was damaged. As the car was already semi-retired by this point it was scrapped, and while the managers pretended to be annoyed they were actually pretty pleased as they were able to strip all of the technical goodies, including the valuable mast, and use them for other little projects. Pictures below show the results of my handiwork (in the background is E76 EOY, the then-new Landy V8 that they had somehow managed to persuade the BBC to let them buy):






Apparently the BBC was rather stuffed by the demise of the Cortina as it didn't have another design for a radio car on another vehicle ready. So they stockpiled them - and lots of Cortina radio cars went on A, B and even C plates. Here's an ex-BBC C-plater that was posted on Late Registration madness here before...



However, eventually the Cortina had to be replaced - enter the Montego. These started appearing from C-reg, and here are a few net pictures of Monties in BBC action:






The Montego made a few design changes - shifting most of the technical gear to the boot and introducing a strange new all-in-one microphone and control unit that was nicknamed the elephant c**k and was connected to the car by a hosepipe-thick cable. Lincolnshire took delivery of Montego F188 OYM in March 1990... in the pics below it's still wearing a project code number instead of its reg plates, though DVLA shows it was actually registered in September 1988! Not often you see pics of a brand new Monty. You can see here how the technical kit was added under the bonnet (second battery and alternator), glove box (talkback controls) and under the boot floor (mast compressor).










You can tell time has moved on, because the ashtray on the Cortina dash has been replaced by numerous health-and-safety warning notices in the Montego. I drove this car once or twice, much later in 1993. It was a 2.0L model, only time I've driven a Monty, and remember it as being a really nice car to drive. One more pic of the Lincolnshire Montego on RAF duties:




The Lincolnshire Montego was last of the line. Perhaps not surprisingy the Monty didn't have a great reputation for reliabilty, and by G-reg, it was replaced by the Sierra - not many though. Things got a bit more varied after this. There were a few Toyota Previas (see pic below, though I've never seen one), and a couple of Landrover Discoveries (no pics unfortunately). The Discos were found to be a bit top-heavy with the extra kit and mast. When I was working at BBC Leeds, the Disco had been rolled and underwent a costly repair (the high cost of fitting out the cars - probably about £100k these days - means they don't get written off too easily). But a few weeks after it was back on the road it was rolled again. Someone in H&S decided they should be quietly retired after that...




By 1991 the BBC did a big leasing deal with Peugeot, meaning radio cars became 405s (see below), then 406s and finally 806/7s or whatever they're called now - which is what it still used I think. These days the kit is held in a rack that sits in place of one part of the back seat - presumably to keep the weight forward and better balanced.




Broken 406 (nothing to do with me this time!)







And the most famous radio car of recent times - the BBC Manchester 806 burned out in the riots...



As well as the main radio broadcast cars many BBC stations also had a sound recording van (someone on this very forum has one), many of which are years old with hardly any miles -- quite a few were Hxxx XUU transits - some may even be in use.






And, not forgetting the run-around cars. Radio Lincolnshire started with these fantastic Acclaims, replaced by three Maestros and a B-reg Escort diesel that was grotty from day one (will try to find pics). These were replaced by E- and the G-reg Astras. From J-plate Peugeots were standard, as I freelanced around different stations I drove a whole range of 309s, 205s, 405s and a very early 306. To this day I hate Peugeot 309s, largely due to their complete inability to start hot when you've just stalled the liveried BBC car in the middle of a busy junction in a strange city where you don't know your way around and you have a deadline...









Link to comment
Share on other sites

Interesting stuff and nice to know that A219SUL stills survives if the museum wants rid i'd say buy it. With regard to the stock piling of Cortinas records show that Cortinas were still being registered up to 1987, could be that many of them were estates at the BBC.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Loving the picture of a young Steve Massam in the last picture!


Well spotted! The only other person I recognise in this pic is Judi Murden (far left). This must have been the one and only local radio Cav estate in existence. Pic must have been taken about '88... Lots had changed by the time I worked at 'umberside from '93-'99.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

That Mk2 Cav Estate wouldn't have a legible numberplate on another pic would it? I had an ex-BBC one, in white, B571VYR. I retrimmed it, sprayed it almost Arden Blue, lowered it (Holden Camira air shocks on the rear), bobbed a 2 litre 8V in it, CDi box, Calibra "slab" wheels etc.... gone many years ago....

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Well John Deere - thanks a lot!

You turn up here and in no time at all you have made my radio car thread:


look like a load of half arsed cack! :


Not at all... Your original thread was my inspiration! Will try to dig out some more pics... I have one somewhere of A219 SUL on my parents' drive (same spot as the LNA in the Newbie thread) when we decided to do an OB from my back garden.


The Trent View tower block in the background that Albert Ross spotted was also the site of one of the UHF receivers for the car's signal, so it didn't have far to go.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

is there a reason for the name? Like a barn full of tractor shite?


Not yet :D but that's the aim... some 70s John Deere tractorshite is planned - I'm looking forward to holding the traffic up. If not John Deere then maybe a Marshall from Gainsborough, but you can't beat yank farm shite.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

That Mk2 Cav Estate wouldn't have a legible numberplate on another pic would it? I had an ex-BBC one, in white, B571VYR. I retrimmed it, sprayed it almost Arden Blue, lowered it (Holden Camira air shocks on the rear), bobbed a 2 litre 8V in it, CDi box, Calibra "slab" wheels etc.... gone many years ago....


Unfortunately that's the only photo - nicked from the Radio Humberside 40th anniversary site - and it was taken long before my time there. Bxxx YVR is certainly a BBC plate... and might fit with this car, it was replaced by a Sierra which would have been on a G or H, that was written off and replaced by L197 GUW, a Peugeot 405 which was brand new when I was still quite new there.


Interestingly the Radio Humberside shite of my era lasted pretty well:

L197GUW (405) Sep 1993 till Sep 2009 (must have stayed in BBC service quite a while as DVLA shows 'maroon' as the colour, so would have been resprayed from white at some point)

K755 EUL (205) Nov 1992 till Jun 2007

K756 EUL (205) details no longer found - so must have lasted into the new DVLA scrapping system (anyone know the cut-off date?)

L218 GUW (208 diesel) Oct 1993 till Jul 2004 (not such a long life, but it wasn't anywhere near as nice as the petrols)

F189 OYM (swb Transit radio car, 2 litre petrol) also details not found, so lasted till recenty even though it was on its last legs by the mid-90s (while searching for this one and trying to remember the reg, I found another similar BBC Transit F197OYM that's still going, albeit on SORN!)


Just goes to show that being thrashed by journalists for a few years is the best possible start to a car's life - or maybe it's that Peugeot still made decent cars then.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Excellent thread, nice to know that the A reg Cortina survives (albeit needing some serious work on the windscreen pillars!) - its kept outside by the looks of it.


I remember Radio Wyvern Escorts in Worcester in the 1980s, and currently a commercial Birmingham station (the one with offices on Broad Street, forgotten the name) uses Ford S-Maxes and Galaxys.


BTW, I think the DVLA system works from the early 1990s onward, judging from when I put all my families' old cars in it a few years ago. It recognised a 1977 Cortina that got sold in 1993, which mysteriously then disappeared off the radar promptly afterwards, although we know my neighbour ran it for another 5 years at least!


'Details not found' is probably reflecting a loss of data, or numerous re-registrations.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thats a very interesting read. especially as I own one of the ex BBC Transits!




Its reg is B354 VYR, 18K from new and probably about as original as a mk2 Transit is ever likely to be these days! I have no idea where it came from or who used it but you can just see faded stripes and BBC radio logos on the sides some times where they were removed when it was retired. I think this one was actually retired fairly recently. It still had some of the equiptment in the back when I got it too.



Chilton QM3 mixing desk.

Apparantly very hard to come by these now. And it was an absolute sod to move aswell, it weighed a ton!


I also know the next van on, B355 VYR is still going aswell. There was one of those Cortina estates on ebay a while back but it was pretty nackered, id love to have one though!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...