Why I’m backing Blackburn’s Bid for City Status: A look back over the decades with BBC presenter Gerald Jackson

Published Monday 6 December 2021 at 15:43

BBC radio presenter and Blackburn resident Gerald Jackson, who has a 50 year association with BBC Radio Lancashire, has shared his memories of the town and outlined why he’s backing Blackburn’s bid for City Status.

He recalls using batteries and candlelight to ensure Radio Blackburn was born because due to the miners’ strikes, the winter of 1970 was plagued by rolling power cuts which spurred the new team into action.

This year the station celebrates its 50th Birthday.

Here’s Gerald’s story, now 70 and still living in Blackburn:

Let me be honest – before I came to the town in 1970, I knew nothing about it! Growing up in Leeds – the contrast was quite obvious. But that was part of the attraction too. Obviously a town with some real history to be proud of. A location that puts us in an amazing part of the North West, and a community that has grown in its diversity over the past 50 years.

I came here to work at the brand new BBC Local Radio service for East Lancashire, Radio Blackburn. The Beeb decided to locate the station here, and that immediately gave the town a much higher profile. Barbra Castle was then the MP and she herself added to that. Her roll in government at the time was growing, and she was always happy to come in for a chat and to be ‘grilled’ about the news of the day.

Barabra at Radio Blackburn

Barbra Castle at Radio Blackburn

She was to be followed as MP by Jack Straw, who I interviewed on a number of occasions when he went in to government and when at Ewood Park watching The Rovers!

When Radio Blackburn opened we had just had industrial action which lead to power cuts and “Rota Load Disconnections” as we told listeners when the may lose their electricity. In fact we came on air a month ahead of schedule so we could help people out with the information. We used car batteries and candles to operate the King Street studios!!

In 1972 we had a very ambitious project in King Georges Hall “The Festival of Contemporary Music” with everything from Andrew Lloyd Webber to the ‘delights’ of Karlheinz Stockhausen! An amazing set of broadcasts – and again giving the town some high profile.  As a still quite young operator, it tested all my music mixing skills!

At a personal level, I’d settled in to local life and was sharing accommodation with another producer. The community was warm and welcoming and despite both coming from outside Blackburn, we made friends with neighbours and soon became Lancashire lads.
I’ve lived in 6 houses here since then. Had 5 children here and like many young parents, spent far too much time at the Royal Infirmary Casualty unit!

The BBC had had plans for a second Radio service in the County, but finances ruled against that, and in 1981 Blackburn became home to BBC Radio Lancashire, covering the whole county. By 1988 we needed new premises and the BBC located a building opportunity on Darwen Street, directly opposite the Cathedral.

Building site for new studio 1988

Building site for new studios in 1988

We’ve had a number of Royal Visits down the decades – with various members of the Royal family visiting the Town. I’ve been lucky enough to work on many of the outside broadcasts. When Her majesty came to hand out Maundy Money at the Cathedral a few years ago, we also had a prime view for commentary from our building across the road. Massive crowds came to witness the big occasion. I believe that Blackburn Cathedral was one of very few that the Queen had not visited before.

I had the joy of travelling to Wembley  with Blackburn Rovers for the ‘Full Members’ cup and the play offs which saw the team join the brand new Premier League 30 years ago. I produced both broadcasts and then the celebrations back in Blackburn as Rovers enjoyed their triumphs.

Away from the BBC, I was also fortunate to work at Ewood on matchdays for 20 years. We set up the UK’s very first Football Club radio station – ‘Radio Rovers’ in 1993. Lost count of the number of time I shouted Alan Shearer’s name on the PA! He of course ended up with a street named after him near the ground – and a Blackburn bus too! Winning the Premier League title in the 94/95 season culminated with a VE (Victory at Ewood) celebration in a packed stadium, me playing “We are the Champions” over and over to 30 thousand fans.

I also worked at Blackburn College teaching media for 3 years and I’m proud to say that a number of my students from back then work in the industry today. Even some at Radio Lancashire! We did some pioneering work linking up with the brand new “Cable 7” local TV service. Our students got the chance to broadcast to a real audience connected at home with some ‘live’ radio and tv.

So why am I still here? Well Blackburn is my home. Despite now being semi-retired, I still broadcast on Radio Lancashire, still visit Ewood Park – now with my grandchildren. And will be recording in the Cathedral again this Christmas for the 50th time.

Blackburn would make a great City, and heighten its profile even further in the County.

I’m so glad I came!

Gerald Jackson profile

Gerald Jackson, December 2021

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