mon 14/06/2021

Radio Cymru: Penblwydd Hapus (= Happy Birthday) | reviews, news & interviews

Radio Cymru: Penblwydd Hapus (= Happy Birthday)

Radio Cymru: Penblwydd Hapus (= Happy Birthday)

The BBC's Welsh-language station is 40. Its editor explains its continuing importance

Presenter Aled Hughes (left) discussing Radio Cymru's launch in 1977 with guest Dei Tomos who joined the station at the start

Forty years ago, BBC Radio Cymru – the one and only Welsh-language national radio station – was born. It broke free from the world of opt-outs, where you might emerge from listening, say, to The Archers and stumble across a Welsh-language documentary, before being safely returned to Radio 4 Wales.

Creating a radio station that broadcast fully in Welsh was long overdue, said its fans; it was in danger of becoming a ghetto for Welsh-language programming, said others. But while they analysed, Radio Cymru got on with it and set out to persuade its listeners that VHF - FM had a future.

If you spoke Welsh, then Hywel Gwynfryn’s breakfast show Helo Bobol! was for you. In our house, we spoke Welsh so we listened to Hywel and to Radio Cymru – it was that simple. When there were birthdays to be celebrated, you did it with requests on Radio Cymru. When heavy snow was falling and you needed to know which shops had bread on the shelves, or waited with baited breath for news of school closures, you did it with Radio Cymru.

News bulletins on that first morning were delivered by journalist Gwyn Llewelyn, who brought stories from every single corner of Wales, some big, some very small, local and from all four corners of the country. We still broadcast every weekday from Cardiff, Bangor, Carmarthen and Aberystwyth, not because it makes life technically any easier but because if you want to speak to the whole of Wales, you need to be there, live there and work there.

The language is under pressure. There’s competition from digital stations who barely notice national boundaries

And from those early days, on BBC Radio Cymru, "BBC" stood for "Y Bobol Biau’r Cyfrwng" – "the people own the media". That doesn’t mean the people have always agreed with us. Over the years both musicians and poets, who play a huge role in the station’s success, have been "on strike" and refused to broadcast on Radio Cymru. The Bs in "BBC" have stood for considerably less complimentary words along the years. Yet as Radio Cymru turns 40, you’ll be hard pressed to find a national radio station that has more loyal listeners, or who believe "their" station is more precious.

Where else would you find a programme where audiences turn up in village halls and pubs to hear teams of poets going head to head? Talwrn y Beirdd is a jewel in our crown not just because it’s brilliant and entertaining stuff, but because no one else does it like we do. If you’d tuned in to our digital pop-up station, RC Mwy, launched on the iPlayer Radio app to mark our 40th anniversary, you’d know that the Welsh language music scene is thriving – thanks in no small part to Radio Cymru.   

And it’s thanks to a succession of Radio Cymru commentators that the language has kept up with the changing vocabulary of football and rugby over four decades. Without them, I’m not sure Dylan Griffiths would ever have stood in the Stade de Bordeaux last June, microphone in hand and screamed, “Bale... Bordeaux... Bendigedig!”

Yet there is an uncomfortable reality to face. The Welsh language is under pressure. There’s competition from digital stations who barely notice national boundaries. For my children and for their friends, Welsh-language culture is one part of a patchwork of influences that straddle Welsh, British and international cultures. It’s not that simple any more.

So as we celebrate, Radio Cymru will look back and make the most of 40 fantastic years of archives. But more importantly, we’ll look ahead and hand in hand with our listeners, we’ll have a ball.

You’ll be hard pressed to find a national radio station that has more loyal listeners

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