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UK Radio History - 1980s



During the last 3 months of 1979 although UK Radio was off the air it did give Paul Johnson more time to experiment on his own with the remaining Medium Wave transmitter and by the turn of the decade a booster was built which was found to increase the power on medium wave from the original 3 watts to 10 watts.

In January 1980 a new quarter wave longwire aerial was erected and tests began on 225 metres 1332 kHz medium wave using the new power amplifier. The tests concluded that the signal on medium wave was much better than before. Transmitting from Wolverhampton the signal was heard as far away as Longbridge in South Birmingham and one person thought we were an offshore station about to start up.

In February 1980 UK Radio recommenced programmes using the new improved medium wave transmitter every evening from 7 till 10pm on 225 metres medium wave only. At this point only Paul Johnson and David Jarvis were running the station but unfortunately Doug Neilson did not want the station to continue without him and during March and April 1980 he made several attempts to put the station off the air by damaging our aerial. In May the final conclusion was reached when he deliberately shorted our aerial down to ground while we were on the air one night which caused our transmitter to literally set on fire rendering it irreparable. After this the station was off the air and he was kicked out of the station and told never to come back. Following this no further attempts were made to get the station back on the air that year and so UK Radio remained silent for the rest of 1980.

However by some coincidence just a month later in June Paul Johnson met some members of another free radio station called Radio Free Birmingham at a CB club. This station had begun broadcasting in September 1979 on 242 metres MW and had recently suffered a raid by the GPO. Some members of the station had heard of UK Radio and Paul Johnson was invited to join the station as it was looking for some new members to get it back on the air again. Therefore at Steve Merrick's request, both Paul Johnson and David Jarvis joined Radio Free Birmingham and did regular programmes on there for several months. The power output of RFB was much more than UK had been using previously and could be heard well on Sunday afternoons throughout most of the Black Country on 227 metres 1323 kHz MW. Perhaps some people reading this will remember Radio Free Birmingham as it later in 1982 changed its name to County Radio. Unfortunately this station did not survive to the present day as County Radio lost all of its equipment and staff in a big raid whilst it was off air in April 1986. It's a sad thing really because all its equipment had been left in a flat and a fire broke out on the same floor whilst no-one was at home. Firemen put out the fire and broke down the door with Police Officers present to check that no one had been overcome by smoke only to find the station's equipment with Easter programme schedules pinned up on the wall of the studio. On finding no-one present, the DTI were somehow alerted and they confiscated their equipment and unfortunately County Radio has not been heard since.

Another free radio station that we should perhaps pay some tribute to in the West Midlands that began broadcasting in the early 1980s was Sounds Alternative which was a breakaway from the original Radio Free Birmingham. This station began in December 1980 and existed until August 4th 1985 when it made its last ever broadcast and closed down. The station was run by a guy called Keith Rogers who was very much into Heavy Rock music. Not surprisingly the station had a Heavy Album Rock format but the trouble was that most of the music played on Sounds Alternative was very obscure and the station did not get a very good reputation. It operated on Sundays and Bank Holidays on 255 metres Medium Wave and used to run 80 watts which gave it a very strong signal across the West Midlands and Birmingham.

Other stations that used to operate in the West Midlands were EST on 94 FM which existed between 1981 and 1984, Phoenix Radio on 94.4 FM which operated between 1982 and 1983 on Sunday evenings and a station that was jointly run by ourselves in 1983, Wulfrun Sound. Wulfrun Sound was really UK Radio under a different name and operated on Sunday afternoons from 2 till 6pm on 94.2 MHz FM and 212 metres Medium Wave. Unfortunately this station was only a temporary affair run with an ex-student named Mike Johns who did not come from this area, so when his studies finished the station closed down.

Perhaps the biggest and most successful station in the West Midlands was Sunshine Radio from Ludlow in Shropshire. This station began in 1981 and was then only heard on Bank Holidays. However in 1983 the station began 7 day operation on 299 metres Medium Wave 1017 kHz. The station had a very good signal using 500 watts of power and soon attracted advertising but it too closed down for good in 1986. In conclusion 1980 was the year that a lot of new stations began to spring up in the West Midlands but it's sad that most of them are no more. So the year ended with UK Radio down but not out as 1981 was to see a complete turnaround and a new look.


In February 1981 Paul Johnson and David Jarvis decided to leave Radio Free Birmingham as they felt that their services were no longer needed. Also a new person came on the scene named Nigel Gordon who was interested in putting UK back on the air. Therefore in February 81 it was decided to revive the station and so a new, more powerful VHF FM transmitter was acquired giving an output power of 20 watts on 94.2 FM. Programmes began on this frequency every other Sunday evening, fortnightly between 7 and 11pm. Another new member of staff joined us in March named Adam Logan and the station achieved more success than ever before because we had a much clearer signal covering the whole of Wolverhampton and much of the West Midlands including out into Shropshire.

The letters came flooding in from as far as 50 miles away to our mailing address which at that time was PO Box 35, Telford, Shropshire. Also we received many phone calls for our Sunday evening broadcasts which all seemed very encouraging. UK Radio continued to broadcast on Sunday evenings throughout 1981 with few breaks. Adam Logan left the station in the same year as he joined and at the end of the year the main three members of the station were Paul Johnson, David Jarvis and Nigel Gordon.


UK Radio put out extended programmes over Christmas 1981 and into the New Year of 1982. The station continued to broadcast its Sunday evening programmes into the new year fairly uninterrupted. The station changed its mailing address also in this year to PO Box 144 Wolverhampton.

Some of the programmes being aired on UK around this time included Paul Johnson's Goldmine, which was basically an oldies programme and zany programmes with Nigel Gordon including the Acne Show which included such mad features as the 1981-1982 Acne Awards to the most famous people of the time who were nominated as having the worst spots. Another feature was zit squashing and Monty Python comedy clips plus the latest rock news and rock music. Also in 1982 David Jarvis used to play all the latest records by the new romantic groups such as Soft Cell, Japan, Spandau Ballet and ABC among others, many of which sank without trace.

On not such a good note though there was worse to come. In 1982 the station's on-air telephone line was raided, or at least visited by a member of the DTI who at the time was not very friendly and who stated that he had heard the station for a few years and intended busting the station that same night in June. As it turned out it would be another 3 years before he would get the opportunity to do so.

In October 1982 a new studio was built and this improved the audio quality considerably over previous years and several comments were made referring to this. Over Christmas 1982 the station put out extended programmes as usual and it was at this time that we started Wulfrun Sound which was to become our main concern during the early part of 1983.

Finally 1982 also saw us in May, our first ever appearance on Short Wave. The station decided to begin operations on SW as an extension of the output being broadcast on FM locally. Our SW broadcasts met with good response from all over Europe from such countries as West Germany, Holland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, France and Belgium to name just a few. The frequency utilised was 7359 kHz in the 41 metre band and the response was and still is overwhelming. The station operated on SW on Sunday mornings between 9am and 1pm using a 15 watt SW transmitter fed into a quarter-wave dipole for 41 metres.

1982 was also the year that we got together and formed an alliance with another brand-new free radio station called Phoenix Radio, who with our help obtained their own transmitter for 94.4 MHz. We got together because UK Radio was operating on a 2-weekly basis on a Sunday evening, and we came to an arrangement whereby they operated on the Sundays that UK was off. This meant that on the same frequency one week one could listen to UK Radio and the next week Phoenix Radio, so that there was a station on between us every week. We allowed them the use of our studio to record programmes, and in return they helped us out in transporting our heavy equipment to the various transmission sites we used to use around the West Midlands at the time. This agreement worked very well for several months, however in the end Phoenix Radio turned out to be nothing more than a fad dreamed up by its 3 members, and it lasted less than a year.


January saw us involved in another new station which was a temporary spin-off UK Radio. This new station was called Wulfrun Sound, which began fortnightly programmes on a Sunday afternoon between 2 and 6pm. Because of this, UK changed its operation from Sunday evenings to Saturday evenings between 7 and 10pm. Some new programmes were introduced, such as the record review of the week's new releases, but by June we realised that the Saturday evening schedule was not as successful as Sundays, presumably because more people go out on Saturday nights. We continued to operate on Sunday mornings on the 41 metres band Short Wave, and this was still proving successful with letters coming in from Italy and Czechoslovakia. Wulfun Sound on Medium Wave and FM proved to be very successful and its programme line-up was 2pm Mike Johns, 3pm Andy Scott, 4pm The Wulfrun local sales chart with David Jarvis, and 5pm Paul Johnson till closedown. We also introduced a news service on the hour and live phone-ins, but unfortunately in June Mike Johns, a student at Wolverhampton Polytechnic, had to leave the area and the station closed down at the end of June. A very sad day indeed.

Following Wulfrun's demise, by some strange coincidence the following week being the first week in July saw us joining forces with County Radio, which had been operating weekly on 94.4 FM from Birmingham. We stayed with County for a few months and we felt that we did a lot to improve the station's output following some of their staff leaving the same week as Wulfrun Sound closed down. It was during the latter half of 1985 that we met some new people who would later break away from County and join UK.

UK Radio itself despite the pressures of being involved with County at this time did continue its Saturday night schedule, but response from listeners was appalling, and so at the end of September it was decided to temporarily cease broadcasting. By this time County Radio had been occupying our frequency every Sunday night for nearly a year, so we realised that if we were to return to Sunday operations which had previously given us more listeners, we would have to change our wavelength to an unused frequency. Therefore work began on a new transmitter for 103.5 MHz, and at the end of December we decided to break away from County Radio and reopen UK on a new wavelength.


Test transmissions began at the end of January following many painstaking hours of tuning and building a new transmitter. The new frequency was to be 103.5 FM, at that time a totally clear frequency. Initially we had teething problems with the new rig, but following much perseverance in the end all seemed to be working well, so it was decided to begin programmes once again on Easter Sunday 1984.

Easter Sunday came and the station took to the airwaves on its new spot on the dial. Everything went well and so we decided to continue every Sunday. By June 1984 we were joined by Rod Lucas, who had been involved in County Radio. During 1983 he had left County with a few other members such as Kelvin Scott because they were fed up with the antics of a certain Mr Steve Merrick who used to run the station mostly under the influence of alcohol. We changed our mailing address slightly also in 1984 from PO Box 144 in Wolverhampton to PO Box 143 Wolverhampton. This was because our previous address closed.

In August we were also joined by another new member to UK Radio who is still one of the station's main presenters today, namely Mad Mike Harris. He did his first programme on the first Sunday of September 1984, and it was from this point that the station began to broadcast every week.

Another development in September 1984 was the publication of our first quarterly newsletter, which many listeners subscribed to. This newsletter prompted some people to write letters in support of the station and free radio in general to the local press. Many of these letters began appearing in the letters column of the Express & Star newspaper during October, and by the end of the year a letter was appearing concerning the subject of free or community radio almost nightly. This was very encouraging but we feel it could have had something to do with the attention the authorities began to pay us in the New Year. December 1984 was a very successful month because we completed a power booster just in time for our Christmas programmes and we were able to broadcast daily all over the holiday period right up to New Year's Day with a much improved signal. This was due to the fact that we were able to increase power from 20 to 50 watts on our FM frequency.


Following the success of our Christmas and New Year programmes, January got off to a slow start caused by bad weather. However by the end of the month we were back on our usual Sunday schedule on a weekly basis. All went well until the 23rd of February, when at approx. 5.30pm on the Sunday afternoon during one of our broadcasts, an unmarked Austin Maestro was spotted crawling at dead slow speed up and down the road near our transmission site. It was decided to swirtch off immediately, and it was just as well we did as we later confirmed that it was the Department of Trade and Industry tracking us down, so on this occasion we were lucky and foiled their attempts to silence us. The following week we decided to switch transmission sites, and all went well for about another 4 weeks, but in March at another location the DTI turned up once again. This time they came on foot and attempted to gain access to the site we were using. Luckily though they could not get in as they came without a search warrant, so we turned them away and once again they were foiled.

UK Radio continued every Sunday despite these two near misses and we began to increase our listeners. The main two presenters at this time were Mike Harris and Paul Johnson, with David Jarvis also making the odd appearance from time to time. It is believed by ourselves that the DTI were making a determined effort during 1985 to put us off the air, but despite this, UK Radio managed to avoid the powers-that-be throughout the rest of March, April, May and June even though the station was on air every week. In the end we even began to believe that perhaps the DTI had stopped chasing us, as we had not seen anything of them since mid-March. However the first week of July proved us wrong.

It was Sunday 7th July 1985 that turned out to become the day we always dreaded. The station went on air as usual, and had been on for about 3 hours when an unmarked car was spotted again looking suspicious, driving at very slow speed up and down a side road which was visible from the transmission site used on that day. After some consultation we all came to the conclusion that it was someone learning to drive. As it turned out, this proved to be our fatal mistake, as there was more to follow. Eventually the car disappeared from view and was soon forgotten. About an hour later we noticed someone messing around with the transmitter, which was situated in a nearby wood. Immediately we acted upon this, thinking that someone was trying to vandalise or steal our equipment. As it turned out we were right, but it was not being carried out by any ordinary person but a representative of the DTI and a 10-year-old accomplice. As we arrived on the site, the man tore the aerial clean out of a tree bringing one of its branches down with it. "Is this your transmitter?", was the demand made by the DTI man. We made out that we didn't know anything about it, but demanded to see some identification. This he later produced, much to our annoyance, after he had put his foot on our equipment and confiscated (stole) it.

On that day we lost several hundred pounds worth of gear. It must be said that the DTI were very nasty to us, almost to the point of being abusive. Following this, he threatened to make an arrest on us, but as the DTI have no power of arrest and no police officers were present, we resisted this and stated to him that we ought to arrest him for vandalism and theft and well as using threatening behaviour. This he did not find very funny, but took our equipment to a local police station, which we never claimed back.

Despite the effects of the raid, UK Radio returned to the air just over a month later at the August Bank Holiday with a 12 hour extended operation on both the Bank Holiday Sunday and Monday with 50 watts using a new transmitter.

December 1985 saw UK back on the air again with extended programmes, but these Christmas and New Year programmes were to be the last ones to be broadcast on 103.5, because by this time another free radio station had begun 7-day operation on our frequency.


After the New Years Day programmes, UK Radio took a break and the transmitter was altered to operate on 105 MHz FM. The station carried out several test transmissions during February on the new frequency, but unfortunately problems were encountered with some new equipment which in the end proved to be totally unsuitable. Therefore the station did not make a comeback at this point, and it was decided to shelve plans for the station until more suitable equipment could be found.

Also during February 1986 a new project was about to become a reality, run jointly with a new encounter named Mike Wilson, who had the previous year and still was at the time involved with County Radio on FM mentioned earlier. This new project was a 7-day Short Wave station, which we decided to call Radio Orion. The station was set up on February 19th 1986 when test transmissions were carried out, and the following morning, February 20th, the station took to the air at 10am till 12 midday. The frequency was 6240 KHz in the 48 metre band. This was the frequency to be used 6 days a week from Monday to Saturday inclusive, with 6266 kHz being used on Sundays. Everything kicked off smoothly, and as of February 19th 1986, Radio Orion became the first ever 7-day Short Wave free radio station, running 2 hours a day Monday to Friday, and 3 hours or more on Saturdays and Sundays. Letters began to pour in to our initial mailing address from all over Europe, and Radio Orion also began to relay several European free radio stations, including Radio Rainbow from Germany and Radio Discoline.

Because of our involvement in Radio Orion, much time was spent during 1986 recording and presenting programmes, which meant that UK Radio took a back seat and was not a major priority because technical problems had arisen earlier in the year. UK's next appearance was over the Easter Bank Holiday weekend on 105 MHz FM and also relayed on Short Wave via the Radio Orion transmitter after 1pm. UK was also active at the May Day Holiday, Whitsun Holiday, August Bank Holiday and finally Christmas and New Year. All of these were live broadcasts, which meant that we did not encounter the same problems as when we had attempted to put out pre-recorded shows earlier in the year. Despite UK's lay-off during 1986, we were far from idle because Radio Orion continued to go from strength to strength, which meant more of our time was taken up with this than had been by UK Radio before Orion's inception. The main presenters on Radio Orion in 1986 were Mike Wilson, Paul Johnson, Alan Davies, Mike Harris, David Jarvis, Rod Lucas and Andy Scott. The engineering was, and still is, undertaken by Paul Johnson, with Mike Wilson as station manager. Alan Davies presented the German and French programmes every weekend, which met with good response. Early in 1987 Alan Davies left Orion to join the Voice of Peace, which is an offshore station anchored off the coast of Tel Aviv in Israel.

Orion suffered only about 3 technical faults to its transmitter during 1986, which meant that apart from about 7 days all toll the station did in fact operate a 7 day schedule on Short Wave throughout 1986. This we feel was quite an achievement, and what's more, despite its daily appearance, there was no trouble from the DTI.

The station operated on 6240 KHz for 6 days of the week until October, when it was decided to switch to 6200 KHz. Unfortunately this frequency proved to be no better, so in late November another frequency change was made to 6280 KHz, which seemed to be better. So at the end of 1986, Radio Orion was on air daily, Monday to Saturday inclusive, on 6280 KHz, and on Sundays on 6266 KHz, both in the 48 metre band. Finally to round off 1986, in September Orion began nightly tests on 3463 KHz in the 86 metre band, to see if there was sufficient response to warrant starting up an international evening service. These tests continued nightly from 8 till 9pm from September until the end of December, when it was decided to abandon it because only a few letters were received. 1986 ended with both Orion on SW and UK on FM putting out extended programmes all over Christmas, from Christmas Eve until New Year's Day. Everything seemed to be going better than ever.


1987 got off to a good start with Radio Orion still going strong 7 days a week on Short Wave. In January, UK Radio also returned to the air with what was to be a return from the dead. At the end of January some new equipment was obtained and tested, and thankfully it was found to be suitable for use on FM. Therefore it was decided to re-launch UK Radio with a new regular schedule, every Sunday evening from 9 till 12 midnight. From mid-February until mid-July this schedule has not changed, and the station has been active most Sunday evenings. Also we have relayed some programmes mid-week from 4FWS and it seems that the station has slowly built up a new audience but time will tell.

Radio Orion continued its 7-day operation and everything was going well until 24th February 1987 when about an hour after the station opened up, 7 members of the DTI turned up at Radio Orion's transmission site fully armed with a search warrant. They also brought a police constable along with them and carried out a full-scale raid on the station. They confiscated (stole) the transmitter, tape decks, letters and, although it played no part in the station's operation, they also took a £300 communications receiver. This item was worth more than the rest of the equipment put together.

Despite the raid, Orion returned to the air just 4 days later on Saturday 28th February, from a new transmission site and using a new transmitter. Since the raid however the station has not been broadcasting 7 days a week but every Saturday and Sunday. Despite the cutback in operation, Radio Orion continued to be the most regular and active Short Wave free radio staion. Radio Orion could now be heard on 6290 KHz on Saturdays and on 6266 KHz on Sundays.

In September 1987, Mike Wilson appeared at Sutton Coldfield magistrate's court along with Paul Johnson, and was fined £350 for operating Radio orion on Short Wave.

October 1987 saw the launch of the UK Roadshow, which did several appearances in the Wolverhampton area with Paul Johnson and Mike Harris. Unfortunately towards the end of 1987 Paul Johnson's health began to suffer, but at this stage not seriously enough to stop broadcasting. UK was on air over Christmas 1987 and New Year 1988 on 105 MHz FM with 100 watts of power.


UK Radio was on air during January 1988 every Sunday evening on 105 FM and on January 24th celebrated 10 years of existence. Unfortunately however this was very nearly UK Radio's last ever broadcast because on February 3rd 1988, Paul Johnson became seriously ill and had to be taken to hospital following a severre mental and nervous breakdown where during March he almost died twice. Luckily however he managed to hold on to life but the effect of the illness made it impossible for any further broadcasts to be made for most of 1988. In November 1988 although still seriously ill UK Radio did come back on a new frequency and waveband. The frequency 1413 KHz (212 metres) Medium Wave. UK did several Sunday broadcasts during November and over Christmas 1988 / New Year 1989 when the station returned on 105.5 MHz FM as well as Medium Wave.


Since the beginning of 1989 UK Radio has been on air several times mainly on Sundays, but also on several occasions during the week, on MW and FM. Unfortunately Paul Johnson's health although getting better during 1989 was still suffering and seems to be left with a permanent psychological mental and nervous problem which sometimes makes broadcasting difficult. Only time will tell if he makes a complete recovery, at this stage according to a physciatrist it's difficult to tell. After such an illness some people are mentally affected for the rest of their lives. It looks as though an organisation called the Wolverhampton Community Radio Association are planning to get a licence to operate a community radio station in Wolverhampton in the future. An unsuccessful bid was made by the WCRA in January 1989, as the IBA decided to grant the licence to Coventry instead of Wolverhampton. WCRA made a debut broadcast on June 2nd and 3rd 1989 at Wolverhampton's open weekend at West Park, Wolverhampton. The association has now set up an office in Wolverhampton town centre and its first broadcasts were heard on 196 metres Medium Wave, 1530 KHz, AM.

On January 15th 1989, a meeting took place at Wolverhampton Polytechnic to discuss the future of community radio in Wolverhampton. Representatives from the IBA were in attendance, as well as people from UK Radio and Beacon Radio, and the relatively recently formed Skyline Radio.

Meanwhile 1988 and particularly 1989 saw an explosion in free radio activity in the West Midlands, with new stations appearing from week to week, mostly on FM. Some new stations heard were Powerhouse Radio, Freedom FM, Supreme FM, Rise FM, WKS and Birmingham Weekend Radio just to name a few.

UK Radio members as of July 1989 were Paul Johnson (Station Manager), Mike Harris, Rod Lucas, Mike Wilson, Bob Barton (ex-Sounds Alternative), Steve Merrick and Andy Scott (ex-Wulfrun Sound).


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