Thursday, 12 January 2012

A potted history of Fresh - part 1

The seeds for Yorkshire Dales Radio, subsequently Fresh Am, then finally Fresh Radio, were sown following an unsuccessful campaign to keep Stray FM in Harrogate under local independent ownership. Shareholders eventually received an offer that was simply too good to pass up and the station was taken over by a national group.

Former director Chris Parkin and I then got together with a group of like-minded individuals, and put together proposals for a local licence for Skipton. RSLs – or short Restricted Service Licence broadcasts were run in Pateley Bridge and Skipton, and were very well received, gaining significant listener interest and support. After considerable lobbying the then Radio Authority finally advertised the licence, but for political reasons had tagged on another 2,000 square miles of the Yorkshire Dales. Not only that, the successful licensee would be given technically inferior AM or Medium Wave frequencies instead of the clearer (and stereo) FM. For technical reasons AM is much better when dealing with hills and valleys, making use of ground as well as air waves, whereas FM ideally needs to be line of sight between transmitter and receiver.

After a lot of careful consideration our group decided to apply for the licence, and although we were the only ones who had done any sort of ground work or research in the area, two other groups joined the fray. We held several public meetings to gather support for our proposals, and spent many a long evening at our little office at Harefield Hall in Pateley Bridge writing the application. The day came when the announcement was to be made and we all met at Harefield Hall to await the dreaded phone call from the Radio Authority. We were surprised but delighted when the Authority announced that we had won the licence – and the realisation dawned on us that the real work was only just about to begin. We needed studio and transmission sites, and a lot of equipment. 

One major disappointment was when our suppliers came back to us after we won the licence. Most of the vital hi-tech stuff had suddenly increased massively in price, including installation of studios and transmitter masts. Undeterred – and with a lot of technical know-how between us – we set about the installation ourselves. A 145 foot mast was erected at Brunt Acres in Hawes while a smaller 105 foot tower was put up on the grounds of Aireville School in Skipton. We bought portable buildings and had them shipped in from Halifax  to the Craven College Aireville campus – site of our Skipton RSL trial broadcasts. Kitting out the studios for a small local station was incredibly complex, taking into account the capability of split transmissions for the northern and southern parts of the region, the need for a dedicated news booth, and a fully equipped production studio next door to the live on-air facility. Hawes was a little easier as we’d rented an industrial unit on the Brunt Acres estate and simply moved in our mobile studio.

Everything was ready on time for the official launch, on the 4th of May 1997, at the Wensleydale Creamery in Hawes. There was a little panic when one of my fellow directors (from Craven) spent some considerable time driving round the dales trying to pick up our test transmissions – without success. It was a massive worry until we checked his radio and found that he’d been trying to pick us up on 93.6fm instead of 936kHz medium wave!

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