Why Radio Forth’s Open Line still sparks memories in 2019

Hazel, Ron and Andy were part of my youth.

Thursday, 14th March 2019, 8:40 am
Updated Thursday, 14th March 2019, 9:42 am

At least, their voices were.

Saturdays in Wester Hailes circa 1979 between midnight and 2am, you’d find a group of us sprawled on the floor listening to the Radio Forth trio take calls from people in desperate need of human contact and a friendly voice.

It was compelling broadcasting.

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Back then there were no 24-hour superstores, no internet, TV shut down, pubs and clubs closed, and you were isolated.

One of the few constants was the voice of the late night broadcaster – the airwaves a lifeline to a world that was otherwise asleep.

We’d listen to calls from wee drunk women who just wanted a blether after their inevitably “useless” blokes had fallen asleep in the big chair,

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But then came the real cries for help.

Victims of abuse, the newly bereaved howling with grief, alcoholics lost in a fog of booze desperate for a way out of the bottle, and terrified folk who’d reached the end of the road. Some had taken pills , others were staring into an abyss.

Listening to their stories, and the three presenters gently inching closer to gaining their trust before trying to make an intervention was more powerful than any film or play you’ll ever see.

The distress was very, very real, and they’d remain on the line for as long as it took. No adverts, no breaks, no cheesy jingles – and in houses across Edinburgh, and Fife, folk sat and listened, hoping for a positive outcome.

Moments like that suddenly made us feel embarrassed for even trying to get through with an entirely fictitious story. We managed once and were rumbled within about 15 seconds.

The Open Line wasn’t there for entertainment. It was far more important than that – it had real lifesaving, life-changing moments of broadcasting .

The very mention of the show by Grant Stott at the Kings in Edinburgh the other week resulted a huge wave of acknowledgement as an ultra local audience instantly reeled off the names of those three presenters.

It’s a testimony to the power of the spoken word, and to their ability to connect that, 40 years on, we can still hear them in our own memories.

And the truly sad thing is, at a time when support networks are being decimated by budget cuts and we need a new Open Line more than ever, there isn’t a commercial radio station interested in giving it air time.

They’d rather hand the studio over to an idiot like Nigel Farage to puff his own ego in what now passes for a phone-in, or simply close the doors and broadcast an automated feed until the breakfast team turn up.

Last month, Global pretty much wiped out local broadcasting – voices, information and jobs – by replacing it with homogenised content from London.

They did it to compete with the BBC. They missed the point.

Radio at its best is all about local voices. That’s why Hazel, Ron and Andy, and the Open Line, were, and still are, so important.