The Golden Age of Rock On The Radio – by Bill Aitken A book review by the wireless waffler

The Golden Age of ROCK ON THE RADIO


Bill Aitken has, in my opinion, written a comprehensive history and explanation of the techniques involved in making music recordings and transmissions. It is lavishly illustrated with pictures, it is well written, and in a non technical way, which will appeal to non “techies”

I also have to say that it was interesting to me who was not an engineer, but during my BBC career came into contact with many of the Studio Managers, Producers, Head of Departments. Reference is made to Phil Lawton who created the BBC pop music archive, this innovation brought together masses of “rescued recordings” by staff, and boxes of tapes in production offices. Phil Lawton was a colleague of mine ,and I admired his dedication and pioneering spirit organising a structured system and archive.

The cover of the book as you can see above has the union jack with the Beatles and other artists in four corners.

The product description on Amazon says
“In the days before record companies took an interest in artists like The Beatles, Marc Bolan, Free and Queen, there was a small band of people at the BBC who championed their cause, broadcasting their music to millions often many months before these unknown performers landed their first recording contracts. This small band of BBC music producers and sound engineers never enjoyed the glamour and recognition accorded to their counterparts in the commercial recording business. But they played a key role in the development of UK rock music, despite their managers – many of whom were routinely apathetic, often obstructive and sometimes downright hostile. Recordings of their unique radio productions, live concerts and special studio sessions with these wonderful artists have given us a historic archive from the golden age of UK rock – from the likes of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones through The Kinks, The Yardbirds, The Who, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Jeff Beck, Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin, T Rex, Deep Purple, Elton John, Yes, Free, Genesis, Rod Stewart and The Faces, David Bowie, Queen, Def Leppard, Iron Maiden, U2 and beyond… Many of these historic recordings are now available on commercial release. But it is a miracle that this legacy exists at all. This book documents why these recordings were made in the first place, and how they somehow managed to survive, along with the stories of those who were there when history was being made – tales from the studios by those who put Rock On The Radio – a detailed testimony of the times which includes an extensive discography as well as hundreds of pictures, illustrations and photos of the period. This book also contains the definitive back-stage story of what really happened at Live Aid – the biggest ever event in the history of rock music”

Bill Aitken has also included web links at appropriate parts of the text, which supplement the text. He admits he is not a rock historian or musicologist, and has taken the trouble of interviewing and speaking to people who were involved in the early days, and more recent days of the BBC recording pop artists. He explains why the BBC did not retain all the performances that were made for transmission. The subject of BBC “politics” which prevented certain things happening, is tackled in what I feel is a non confrontational, or critical way. If you think that the current so called comedy “W1” highlights BBC organisation etc is “off the wall”, so were some of the happenings from the start of BBC recording!

Information on amplifiers, artists and programmes like Saturday Club. Lots of very interesting photos, and also adverts relevant to the time, surrounded by pages of well written text. I marvelled at the pictures of basic amplifiers and mixers in the book, and then at the big mixer desks that came later on in the book.

It documents the development of rock music at the BBC from roots level, That is in the studios, both by the author and interviews with the BBC studio staff, and Producers. It starts in the early days of Rock Music and covers right up to Live Aid.

I worked in the Sound Archive at the time of Live Aid, and initiated a recording of Live Aid for the archives. We were not sure that the Radio 1 copy would be released to us, so we booked a parallel copy for our archivist. The show was longer than the time I booked. To my surprise and delight when I came in the next day there were massive rows of 10 inch tapes, two sets of tapes, one for Radio 1 and one for the Archive.

Our copy contained the over-run, a Studio Manager had stayed on longer than their shift and recorded the whole concert. This is thankfully how a great organisation the BBC was at the time, and hopefully still is!

Bill also has a whos who at the end of people at the BBC who shaped rock music, and lists a wide range of contributors

A great read, and also a superb rock reference book, both of artist and recording techniques, and recording engineers at the BBC.

I have just watched a programme on BBC 2 which shows how authors can write books and upload and market them on Amazon. How brave of Bill Aitken to spend a considerable amount of time and effort on researching, compiling and producing the excellent ebook.

It is currently only available in digital format
I do hope that one day it will be available in print.





Author: wirelesswaffle

A radio enthusiast from the UK - but also includes humour and comments on a wide variety of subjects including music and photos. A hobby site

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