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!

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Our best ever location!

Fresh Radio - or Yorkshire Dales Radio as it was originally - has moved three times in its history. We set up by kind permission of Alan Blackwell at Craven College's Aireville Campus, which is where we started broadcasting in 1997. From there we moved to Firth Mills on Firth Street in Skipton, close to Merritt and Fryers, then to the Watermill at Broughton Hall. We moved once in our time at Broughton, from fantastic studios and offices in the Mill to our final resting place in what was known as the Retort House. Alan Watts has very kindly sent me a couple of pictures from our original site, at Craven College. It may look a bit rough and ready, but it worked. We had two good sized studios plus a news booth, and plenty of office space too. There was a fantastic refectory in the college building, and a ready supply of eager media students as well!

Monday, 2 January 2012

Yorkshire Dales Radio and Fresh - the best and the worst

These are very slightly edited comments over the past 24 hours, taken from my Facebook page. The edits simply took out the Likes and time checks.

Magic moments at Fresh:

1: Actually YDR, there was a disastrous house fire in Earby just before Christmas; we put out an appeal and were inundated with gifts for the kiddies, clothes, and even a house for them to move into
2: Stuart Clarkson  races down to Skipton centre as Carla beck threatens to burst its banks - Skipton centre is to be evacuated. He goes into a pub with a recorder and the first person he sees says "Are you t'karaoke?" - "No, I'm from the radio" - "Radio? I just love that Becky 'All" (expletives deleted!)

Stuart Clarkson:  A former Programme Controller ringing me from a police station on a Sunday afternoon in summer '98 and asking me to cover his breakfast show the next morning... as he'd been banged up for a fighting! He didn't ever return to the air at YDR.

James Wilson: He kept asking for his job back - I think Interpol was after him for a while, but it was all resolved! NO NAMES!!!

James Wilson: The portakabins at Craven College's Aireville campus - I loved them!

James Wilson: By the way, the stream was Eller Beck

Stuart Clarkson:  My first ever show was 8-10pm on 23 Dec 1997 in the Portakabin.... I did evening show all that week and on Xmas Eve the wind was so strong I thought me inside!

James Wilson: Of course you got your first breaks at YDR - as did many others

Judith Wilson: A certain lady fell in love with a presenters voice - a year later she married him. Backy Hall was our 'best woman'and most of the presenters came to the wedding.

James Wilson: Becky Hall - the legendary and much fancied Trekkie Becky -doing a traffic and travel bulletin as she leapt from a 100ft crane by the A65 at Gargrave!

Judith Wilson: Stuart, remember being in the cabin when all the fire alarms went off and you shot out of the studio shouting 'I touched nothing'! and then there was the wasps building it's nest over the doorway that you blasted to oblivion with something like WD40!

Stuart Clarkson:  Don't remember those Judith!

James Wilson: Andy who did the folk show - what was his last name? Mike Long - he started at YDR when I was doing my mid-morning show Through til Two and was taken ill. Mike was visiting me, took over, did the show and stayed on for years!

James Wilson: I think it was me who massacred the wasps while you were on air - it was aerosol air freshener which I set light to!

Judith Wilson: I'm sure that was you Stu?Maybe it was Jeremy, he was there when the wasp was doing its thing with its nest over the door, but I thought you took over from Jezza, it was a weekend as me and James were writing the quiz at the cabin. The nest was like a paper lantern. I can remember you being on air when it was either your 18th or 21st birthday time.

James Wilson: Alan Potter! One of the leading experts in the UK on country music!

Stuart Clarkson:  I was there for both my 18th and my 21st birthdays! In 1998 and then 2001 the week before 9/11.

Judith Wilson: Alan Hollin's being sacked twice on air during Mark Reasons marathon record breaking attempt at a week on air, and him having hallucinations that a teddy bear was moving! The kids coming from Chernobyl and all the fruit donated to them to make them get loads of vitamins. The lovely wobbly Wighton who gives me a big hug every time we see him at the Yorkshire Show.

James Wilson: The 2001 Foot and Mouth outbreak, where we gained the respect of the farming community across the dale

Judith Wilson: and dispelled several myths and rumours circulating the area.

Judith Wilson: and Daisy, and Audrey......bless 'em.

James Wilson: RIP Daisy - a wonderful woman, and Audrey - she kept in contact until relatively recently and was a massive fan of Julian and I on Breakfast

James Wilson: Crazy Dave!!! I remember the day he brought a pair of kuni kuni piglets into the studio, completely un-announced. I did the news live with one on my lap while Julian kept trying to persuade the other one to grunt, to put me off! Hesketh Farm Park named them Julian and James!

Judith Wilson: Daisy had more Dj's at her funeral than family. Daisy Duck, the only 80 odd year old woman to send naked phot's of herself in the bath to my husband.

James Wilson: The legendary Tim Paul - a real loose cannon I was told, yet he produced some of the most entertaining radio ever! Talk about painting pictures in the mind. One day he was describing trying to nail jelly to the studio ceiling - you had to hear it!

James Wilson: David Sibbald - Jonathan Darwin - he's gone on to reach a huge audience across the north of England, Ron Nicholson, our first ever station manager

Judith Wilson: Tim was brilliant to listen to, and Gunny. Becky was brilliant, she was so good with kids when they rang in. I remember her saying she would never have kids, then we saw her at Malham with one toddler sat on her other half's shoulders and a new baby strapped to her chest!

Jonathan Darwin: Thanks James, got my break on Fresh Radio. Had a ball, and can still be heard from time to time reading the travel news on the radio. James, maybe we should have a reunion party?.

James Wilson: It was a sad day when all of our specialist shows were dropped, once again down to a policy developed by a man in an ivory tower trying to justify his existence from a now defunct radio group. The theory was that you must make sure people never re-tune their radio because they don't like what you're broadcasting. ALL of our specialist shows were in the evening when it was widely recognised that the vast majority of radio listeners move to TV. You therefore had a golden opportunity to provide a service for a minority group, with the potential that they would stay with the mainstream during the day. Radio Two, the acknowledged leader in UK radio, does just that, and it doesn't do them any harm whatsoever!

James Wilson: Mandy on Jeremy's Superquiz! What a fabulous character, much missed! I remember having to pull over in my car one day I was laughing so much! She'd called in on rapid re-dial (as she did) and in mid conversation, told Jeremy to hang on, because there was someone at the door! There followed a stream of callers who did exactly the same to Jeremy, who handled it beautifully - simply fabulous local radio!

James Wilson: WOBBLY! Who could forget Ian Wighton with his Motown show? Fabulous stuff!!

James Wilson: Of course, one of the best voices we had available to us was our then chairman, Chris Parkin - who wouldn't do it! Missed opportunity

Nerys Davies: Mandy on the superquiz that used to hold everything up by coughing, giving full accounts of her week, her sons week, and Elaine my next door neighbour at the min that told me the other day she's in love with Jeremy!

James Wilson: Jeremy: "What have you been up to this morning Mandy?"
James Wilson: Mandy: "Nowt much"
James Wilson: Jeremy: "What have you planned for the rest of the day?"
James Wilson: Mandy: "Nowt much"

Nerys Davies: Yeah but I'll just tell you wot me n r Andrew av done all week

James Wilson: The ma himself - Alan Potter!
Redirect Notice

Nerys Davies: Hang on that's Tracy. Mandy had the parrot didn't she

James Wilson: That's right - Tracy from Keighley, who had that incredible laugh!

Nerys Davies: The 80 a day laugh. How the hell i showed people round the house with them two on i don't know

Nerys Davies: Now neighbour who loves Jeremy went on and didn't realise if she got one right, had to set new question. Half hour later she's asking me to explain the rules to her!

Denise Edwards: How about you broadcasting live while swinging off the end of a rope below the Humber bridge & nearly knocking your head off on the bridge in the process. 'And all in the name of charity'!!

James Wilson: Oh yes! And with my own personal hypnotherapist on hand (Brian) to "cure my fear of heights!" - what nobody realised is that we'd done something very similar when we set up Stray FM - leaping off the top of the tower block at the side of Harrogate International Centre.

Glenn Pinder: My first ever show on YDR and having to read the Farming news ... i'm a city boy and i was thinking half this stuff i've only ever seen on the shelves of the supermarket! Good luck James x

Vivienne Abell: I remember Mike Long wanting name suggestions for his unborn son( on air) Jane and i suggested Miles, he was quite impressed till he ran it together with his surname! Dohhhh, ive been set up!!!! Ha we had a right laugh! Happy days gone.

James Wilson: Miles Long! Oh, how could you!!! I can remember my first ever visit to your salon, and a couple of your customers actually getting quite excited!!

James Wilson: Farming news! Now that WAS a long time ago Glenn!

Glenn Pinder: oh yes - glad i've kept my boyish looks :)

Vivienne Abell: That was because you were having (your then locks) cut off! He He x

James Wilson: Ha ha!! Trent Watson (very short lived) on Saturday morning. Failed to show one morning, whoever followed him couldn't get in. I was woken up, rushed down to Aireville with the keys, let presenter in - then Mark Reason docked a days pay from the ENTIRE staff!!

Simon Parrock: Carl, That's all

James Wilson: Hmmm!

Nick Bewes: So many amazing times and people at YDR/fresh over the years. I witnessed Glenn doing the Farming news, one of the greatest things I've ever seen! James cooking award winning sausages from Jacksons of Cracoe on the breakfast show, being onair during Foot and Mouth outbreak, the floods, and Christmas mornings bringing everyone together. Presenting breakfast with James, Loz and Matt was great fun. The memories will live on...

Sunday, 1 January 2012

A sad day for local radio

I've decided to put one of my Facebook posts into my blog, because today is one of the saddest I can remember - Facebook friends, please bear with me:
How incredibly sad to hear Jeremy Gartland sign off for the final time at Fresh. I learnt new information last night about the future for Fresh, contrary to what I'd been led to believe. I now understand that everybody is to go. 
I feel sad for everybody, but a couple in particular, one whose family is about to expand. He, like the other person I have in mind is a consummate professional and has youth on his side, so hopefully will find something very soon. Another has been constant since he turned up at Fresh, and again will find something - one of the best presenters I've had the pleasure to work with. 
And last but by no means least is Julian. He has put more into Fresh than anyone could possibly imagine, and has kept very quiet about his own circumstances, which have been near impossible to imagine. Julian you're the best - hopefully the "Boys" will be "back in town" some time in the not too distant future. 
This is not the end