Thirty years of the Talking Banner

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Arran is to get its first internet community radio station, as revealed in last week’s Banner. But a talking newspaper service first started more than 30 years ago. Here Arran Sound chairwoman Mhairi-Aileen Smeir tells its history.

Arran Sound, originally the Talking Banner, began when Mrs Celia Sillars took on the task of reading and recording the The Arran Banner for sight impaired friend Jack Cooper in 1989.

The newspaper ran an article with photographs and subscribers quickly increased meaning more volunteer readers were required.

Celia set up a rota, usually two readers and one ‘techie’ operating the recording equipment, a somewhat ponderous operation, at that time very much considered to be a ‘man’s’ job. And, wow, did the gentlemen guard their recording rights. It was some time before any of the ladies were allowed to rise to the illustrious heights of recorder.

Volunteers came together in the tiny back room of ACVS every Friday when The Banner was printed in Brodick, collected copies hot off the press and rushed to Lamlash.

Reading was carried out amid much banter and often hilarious laughter, as those early Banners were frequently very funny, making reading out loud fraught with pitfalls necessitating many stops, rewinds and much grumbling from gentlemen recorders. The readers would often know a post script to an article and this would be included in the recording, along with the laughter and relevant discussion.

The letters page always prompted comment, with the sports page terrifying every volunteer as they tried to keep a straight face while reporting the complexities of football, rugby or ladies hockey ‘high’ balls. The listeners loved it!

Once completed, the recording was copied onto tapes, laboriously, by a large clunky machine, popped into yellow postage free envelopes and off into the evening post for delivery on Saturday morning to anyone who had difficulty reading the paper as a result of sight impairment or other issues. The service was free to anyone on the island who needed it and over the years copies were often also sent to the mainland.

At this time, the paper edition was distributed late Friday afternoon although the official publication day was Saturday. This resulted in core listeners having access to the local news almost simultaneously with the wider community, which meant that no matter how isolated by distance or disability our listeners were, they were included in the immediate island Saturday debate which The Banner always stimulated.

Volunteers came and went – 30 years is a long time – and listeners ebbed and flowed. The Banner changed ownership and the name of the group changed also, eventually becoming Arran Sound, as it is now.

Modernisation followed and we now record on a laptop and send out memory sticks for use on box readers provided to listeners. The service remains the same.

There are currently 14 volunteer readers and recorders who still provide the talking newspaper to anyone who finds it difficult to read the Banner. We now also record our online monthly newspaper The Voice for Arran.

Now, after 30 years providing a recorded service, it is time to evaluate our systems and consider there relevance and suitability in 2020 and beyond. It is imperative Arran Sound finds a way to become more immediate and responsive to listeners’ needs, helping overcome the isolation which disadvantages our core audience.

It is clear that in today’s world, access to immediate local news is accepted as a right, yet our core listeners are denied that access. However enjoyable they find their weekly and monthly recordings, they are always ‘catching up’ on local news. It is time to provide an over island service to encompass and promote inclusivity for our Arran Sound listeners and engage future volunteers or this service will be lost to the island and its people.

Pondering the question of how to move forward, we became more focused as we moved into lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic. What we needed then, and still need now, is a simple way to reach everyone on the island, not just Arran Sound listeners. The obvious solution would be by internet radio, so this is what we have decided to move toward.



How it all began. Celia Sillars of Brodick reads the Banner for Jack Cooper back in February 1989. 01_B32talking01

Six months after the launch of the Talking Banner Celia Sillars receives a cheque from the Arran Runners at Montrose House for £50o to buy a high speed copying machine. 01_B32talking02

The Talking Banner became a registered charity in 1990 after being set up under the CODA umbrella. Here Grace Kay, CODA’s treasurer hands over money already raised to Dick Cameron of the new charity. 01_B32talking03

Liz Kennedy reads the Banner for Arran Sounds, as it is now known, in 2001 while Jon Hollingworth directs operations in the corner. 01_B32talking04