Saturday, 13 June 2009

Farewell Essex FM

This is the final week or so of local radio station ‘Essex FM’. It is pretty sad when local identity is erased and passes into history. The broadcaster which began life as Southend based ‘Essex Radio’ on 12 September 1981 is being renamed ‘Heart’ – and badged as a new radio station - from 22 June becoming absorbed into a quasi national network. Other internet sites are not slow to be critical that Essex FM’s parent company is re-branding a product which is successful and has a high audience share. I have to say that I rarely hear Essex FM these days but when Essex Radio was first launched in 1981 I was much younger – weren’t we all! - and an avid listener.

Essex Radio was the first commercial radio station in the county, and part of the Independent Local Radio network. The BBC did not make an appearance until 5 November 1986 when BBC Essex was launched. Often BBC local radio stations were, and are still, called ‘Radio Norfolk’ etc but with its competitor being called Essex Radio it was stuck.

I digress. In its early years Essex Radio broadcast a range of music programmes including folk (Dennis Rookard, Sunday afternoons), and jazz (with Eddie Blackwell, station controller). Jeff Bonser and (Revd.) Peter Elvy presented the Sunday morning religious programme. There was ‘Saturday Night At Home’ with John and Penny Ledigo, and Alan Bell presented the Top 30 singles in Essex on Sunday afternoons, then, of course, played on 45rpm. The No. 30 record on the first Sunday – 13 September 1981 - was by Portmouth Sinfonia called ‘Classical Muddley’, send up of the massively successful ‘Hooked On Classics’ by the ‘Royal Philharmonic Orchestra’. This Orchestra (the RPO) was also commissioned to provide the jingles for this station. One was: “Just received an invitation, RSVP. A sentimental journey to Essex with me, I’m inclined to have a mind of taking a trip to Essex, Why don’t you take a train or plane and hurry on down … It’s somewhere special that we’ve found, Stay around”. Essex County Cricket Club won the Sunday League in 1981 and during the inaugural Top 30 Roger Buxton provided updates from the County Ground in Chelmsford. This was truly local radio for the first time. The dial had been turned from London’s Capital Radio.

The county woke up to Jon Scragg on weekday mornings and drove home to Terry Davis’ Drivetime programme. Timbo (Tim Lloyd) was an extremely popular and slightly zany late-night presenter of the Chris Evans genre. Terry Davis won an on-air local radio song contest with ‘The Number One Song’, can you believe it! It was the closedown song which ran “1431 on my radio … “, one of the medium wave transmitters the station broadcast on before it split frequencies a few years later to become ‘Breeze’. Essex Radio initially broadcast for 18 hours a day – much more than BBC national radio –from 6am to midnight, before extending to 20 hours then broadcasting around the clock.

In 1982 the station produced a serious documentary entitled “60 Years of Radio” in which Steve Wood (head of news) narrated the story of the development of radio from Marconi and 2MT (two emma tock) Writtle to the then present day. It included extracts from numerous sound archives and was sold on cassette tape to Essex Radio devotees. I still have the tape somewhere.

The compact disc did not make its appearance until 1983, and I remember believing at that time that it would not catch on. I relented and bought my first CD player in 1986.

Reverting to the RPO, at Christmas 1981 Essex Radio released ‘Christmas Carousel’, a medley of Christmas carols sung by the Chelmsford Cathedral Choir. I bought that single. On the B side there was the station theme ‘Listen To Essex’.

This was a commercial radio station backed by Keddies in Southend and TOTS nightclub. Downturn Records, that had a shop in Brentwood, advertised in Essex Radio’s early days, but the memorable ads were ‘H W Stone’ using the March from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, “Da da da da da HW Stone. The Essex people” and a specialist garment outlet using the wartime song ‘Bless ‘Em All’ with words changed to “Fit them all. Fit them all. Fit the long and the short and the tall. Field Brothers of Westcliff is certain it’s true, With so many sizes is sure to fit you”.

I think that there was a genuine enthusiasm that exuded from all the presenters. It seemed a friendly station appealing to all ages. I remember, for instance, asking for a request to be played on Lindsay King’s Sunday Requests programme (she succeeded John Wellington) on 16 October 1983 in connection with the Boys’ Brigade centenary celebrations. Many people I met that day, both young and old, had heard the request. My brother and I even had the Essex Radio T-shirt. I saw Keith Rogers with a small crowd of people at an Outside Broadcast in Chapel High, Brentwood one lunchtime and spoke to him afterwards. In summer 1985 Keith Rogers hosted the Top 100, a countdown of the hundred most popular records of a past year in a programme lasting six hours.

Later, in search probably of a niche market, Essex Radio adopted the ‘Greatest Memories. Latest Hits’ tag after doing an April Fools Day spoof in which the presenters went on strike. Gordon Kay, of Allo Allo fame, was one of the guests who took to the turntables.

I was surprised how much stuff I remember but, like the pirate stations of a previous generation, Essex Radio was ‘my’ local radio station. Its original strap-line was “Essex Radio. Somewhere Special”. So although I don’t really listen to Essex FM, I’m sad to learn of its demise.

After writing this I discovered this fantastic link:
http://www.zen77094.zen.co.uk/vintagebroadcasting/essex.htm

3 comments:

JHWESTCLIFF said...

Great article.

Another Goodbye Essex FM post is here at my website:

http://www.longpier.com


RIP Essex FM

Andrew Smith said...

Thanks for your comment. These are my 'greatest memories' of Essex Radio. I read your item on www.longpier.com with interest. You mention splits. I remember Essex Radio North (i.e. the Chelmsford transmitter) broadcasting 'Sunday Concert' (classical music programme by Chris Green) at the same time as Essex Radio South (Southend) broadcast the Top 30 on Sunday afternoons between 2.00 and 4.00pm. This was 1983. The breakfast show was split with 'A Country Breakfast', a rural affairs programme, hosted on Essex Radio North by Dennis Rookard, with Alan Bell on Essex Radio South. In those days Essex Radio was the only local radio station in the county and costs and advertising revenue may not have been such a concern as now.

Paul said...

Hi Andrew. I met Lindsay recently and she is still very well and working in theatre as a director. You may be interested to know that Keith Rogers is back on the radio every weekday on Phoenix FM in Brentwood, hosting the afternoon Drive show.