Tuesday, November 20, 2012

FRANK HALL

Frank Hall was born in Newry, County Down in 1921. After a brief unsuccessful attempt at becoming a musician he moved south of the border to Dublin. He began his journalistic career in 1947 working for Independent Newspapers. He started working for the paper’s picture desk but in the early 1950s began writing a Saturday night dance column ‘Tempo’ for the Evening Herald then in heavy competition with the Evening Press. Under the pseudonym Frank Lee, he began the Evening Herald’s first diary which became known as ‘Going Places’. He also wrote a regular record review column for the paper under the by line Rick O’Shea. Frank interviewed the Beatles on the occasion of their visit to Dublin for a concert in Abbey Street and famously reacted after the interview that he believed that their popularity would not last.
He started in the RTE News room in 1964 presenting a topical programme called 'Newsbeat' but is most famously remembered as host of the political satire show Halls Pictorial Weekly that also starred Eamon Morrissey and Frank Kelly. The show ran from 1971 until 1980 broadcasting almost 250 episodes. In an interview Frank revealed that the programme was recorded on a Thursday with the crew in studio from 10am until 8.30pm that night. The show was the edited and broadcast the following Thursday. A far cry from Jon Stewart’s Comedy Channel ‘Daily Show’ that is on air today. It is said that during the halcyon days of \Hall Pictorial that Frank single handily kept comedy alive on RTE television. The show was set in the fictional town of Ballymagash and Frank trawled the local and provincial newspapers to get the funniest stories. An ensemble of characters appeared on the show with Frank and they themselves became household names like The Minister for Hardship and Cha and Miah, two Cork wits who knew everything about nothing. (A Youtube clip of Cha and Miah can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PyDWLSrbzUw&feature=channel&list=UL) The show is thought by many political commentators as a major part of the downfall of the Liam Cosgrave led Fine Gael/ Labour coalition Government of 1973 – 1977. His depiction of a Dickensesque Minister for Hardship, played by Eamonn Morrissey satarized the then Government seriously damaging its public perception. In the 1977 General Election Fianna Fail’s Jack Lynch swept to power with one of the biggest majorities seen in Parliament. Franks depiction of local county councils is still referred to today as the ‘ballymagash’ style. Frank Kelly when asked about the controversial axing of Halls Pictorial Weekly said that the then RTE controller of Programme Muiris MacConghail had taken the final decision and had persuaded Frank to give up the show after twelve years on the air. His fame never phased him. He counted one day that he had met a school friend from Newry who had been working at a border customs post until the IRA blew it up. When they met his friend asked him ‘what are you into?’ to which Frank replied ‘television’, ‘Is that making them or selling them? Came the reply proving that Frank’s fame was struggling to travel even around the island.
‘Ballymagash’ was a short lived reincarnation of the show in January 1983 broadcasting on Monday nights. Location filming for the series was done around Summerhill in County Meath. In keeping with the times, the show’s fictional town had its own pirate radio station. He was host for one season of the Late Late Show in 1964 when Gay Byrne briefly departed to broadcast in the UK. The critics were not kind to him and only relented when the show reintroduced the panel to the show.
In the mid 80s he was presenting a Sunday Night programme called Hall and Company but would leave RTE to take up a new role on behalf of the State. Frank was appointed the Irish Censor replacing the late Dermot Breen then leaving the position to Sheamus Smith in September 1986. During his time at the Censors Office Among the films banned by him was Monty Python's Life of Brian, which he described as "offensive to Christians and to Jews as well, because it made them appear a terrible load of gobshites". Frank passed away in September 1995 following a heart attack. He was married to Aileen Kearney and was survived by Aileen and their five children Don, David, Geraldine, Vivienne and Julie
The publishing of his will showed that he had left an estate valued at £257,098. RTE Archives section of Frank Hall can be found at http://www.rte.ie/archives/people/289754-frank-hall/

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

IRISH BROADCASTING IN 1930s

Broadcasting in Ireland in the 1930’s was strictly controlled by the Government and the Department of Posts and Telegraphs with Eamon DeValera as Taoiseach from March 1932 and the Minister in charge from 33-37 was Gerry Boland. 2RN continued to broadcast but 6CK was closed due to financial difficulties. A high powered sixty kilowatt transmitter was installed in Athlone to cover the entire country and was due to go on the air in 1933 but the Government sped up plans and the transmitter went live for the Eucharistic Congress held in Ireland in 1932. Eamon DeValera officially opened the station known as Radio Athlone on February 6th 1933. Radio Athlone began life on 413m but the Lucerne Conference altered that to 513mMW. In 1937 the service was renamed Radio Eireann. Sponsored programmes were the popular medium for advertising in the early days of radio broadcasting. Advertising revenue became increasingly important to cover the cost of the Athlone transmitter. The first sponsored programme, featuring Euthymol toothpaste, was broadcast on 31 December 1927. Through the 1930s, Independent Newspapers sponsored "Slumber Hour", PJ Carroll, makers of Sweet Afton cigarettes, sponsored "Sweet Afton Varieties", The Savoy Cocoa Company sponsored the "Savoy Minstrels", and The Blackrock Hosiery Company, "Rock Revellers". "The Irish Hospitals' Sweepstakes" programme, sponsored by the Irish Hospitals' Trust to promote the sale of tickets for the Irish Sweepstake, and "The Walton's Programme", Leo Maguire sponsored by the Dublin music shop of that name, became among the best-known and longest-running sponsored programmes. On St. Patricks Day 1939 following the acquisition of a one hundred watt short wave transmitter for £7,500, Radio Eireann began short wave broadcasts on 19.85metres. With the outbreak of the Second World War these transmissions ceased but was relaunched with transmission of the News Bulletins aimed at North America. The service was discontinued in 1952. Over several days in February 1936, twenty tunes were played for listeners to Radio Athlone. The purpose was to let the listeners select a suitable identification tune signal for the Irish national station. By a large majority, the tune selected was "O'Donnell Abú". In all, 968 letters were received. There were 260 votes for "O'Donnell Abú". The 1926 Wireless Telegraphy Act was supposed to be a deterrent but one young man in Limerick would break all the rules. Jim O’Carroll attended the Technical Institute on O’Connell Avenue in the city. He had a keen interest in electronics and while experimenting built a crystal receiving set that allowed him to listen to 2RN, the BBC and with improvements he began to listen to Short Wave broadcasts from America and Australia. In 1935 O’Carroll added an oscillator to his receiving set and turned it into a transmitter that was powerful enough to be heard all over the city. After testing its limitations O’Carroll had to find a home for his new station as living with his sister was not the ideal location for secrecy. He eventually found a location on the third floor at the home of his friend Charlie O’Connor at 84 Henry Street. The station now named The City Broadcasting Station (CBS) went on the air playing gramophone records and announcing what movie was showing in the local picture houses. On air most nights from 7 – 11pm on 520m the station continued with Billy Dynamite (O’Carroll) and Al Dubbin (O’Connor) at the controls broadcasting a mixture of speech, gramophone records, relayed programmes from American radio and even swimming lessons on the radio. The station continued from February to October with the only change being the location. The station moved to the home of Michael Madden at 25 Wolfe Tone Street who had been providing the batteries for the station. The station went from strength to strength and was the first station in Ireland to carry a paid commercial when the Wolfe Tone Dairy began to advertise its products. On October 31st, Halloween while Michael Madden was on the air, the station was raided by the police and an engineer from the Post Office Walter Dain. Madden was arrested and the equipment confiscated. Following a court case in February 1936 Madden was convicted and fined £1 and 2 guineas costs. During the case Garda Lenihan said that, ‘during the illegal broadcasts names were mentioned and scandalous remarks used’. It would be the first conviction under the 1926 Wireless Telegraphy Act. August 14th 1938 Michael O’Hehir’s first Radio Eireann broadcast All Ireland semi final between Loais and Kerry (Worked on GAA matches until 1985)