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The Free Radio Column


In his monthly column on all things free radio, Oscar reprises the theme of ‘images’ in radio He also comments on Love Sport Radio


In his monthly column on all things free radio, Oscar reprises the theme of ‘images’ in radio He also comments on Love Sport Radio, the expansion of Cyber Radio and Radio Britannia.    


It is sometimes said that the pictures are better on the radio. The suggestion here is that because radio is an audio-only medium it allows each individual listener to create images of what is going on in their own mind.

Since the powers of the human imagination are extensive and limitless, this technique has some distinct advantages over other media and entertainment forms such as TV, film and theatre, in which the images fed to the recipient are defined by the producer.

Many people would agree that there is something very special about radio; if asked why, they will often talk about feelings of ‘intimacy’, when listening. Part of this arises from the fact that it is just sound and does not require one’s gaze to be attentively transfixed.


Images and Free Radio – Or Not

This month, among other things, I want to spend a few moments touching on a couple of topics relating to radio broadcasting and visual images.

Those of us who enjoyed the offshore pirate era will have memories of imagining what the DJs looked like. We also used to try to visualise what their lives and surroundings were like, as they spent long periods of time on ships or forts located out at sea several miles from the shore.

I recall examples of land-based pirates that were able to create the illusion that they were broadcasting live from plush studio complexes, with news bulletins and all sorts of sophisticated facilities when, in fact, everything was pre-recorded in a studio, in a garden shed, and the signal emanated from a couple of portable cassette machines and a home-brew transmitter on plastic beer crates in some woods or fields.

In this case, portable generators were sometimes used. However, since these make a lot of noise, car batteries were preferred, even though these would need to be changed every few hours. I remember Radio Jackie giving the station mailing address as simply “Radio Jackie, West Molesey, Surrey” (with no street name or number), when in fact they had no broadcast complex nor any other facilities in that town at all.

The staff at the local Royal Mail sorting office knew to deliver all letters to a local record shop and the station staff would collect them from there. Mail-drops and contact phone numbers used to be a bit of a challenge for free radio stations in the earlier days for obvious reasons. Perhaps you have recollections of famous addresses and other contact methods that were used by free radio stations in years gone by.

I seem to have a memory of a Scarborough phone number, which the offshore station Radio 270 used to give out, I think it was 63638 but after all these years I might, of course, be mistaken.

Anyway, back to pictures and a question I wanted to ask you is whether you think it is better not to have them? These days, of course, it is entirely normal for most stations to have websites with presenter photos and other images. Furthermore, with the ubiquity of the internet and social media, it is rare not to come across radio station pictures, even without making much effort to look for them.

Some of the pure pirate operators will still adopt a policy of avoiding publishing pictures of themselves and their equipment for security reasons or even shyness. This is often true for the short wave hobby stations, for example. Very few people know what Father Time’s Father Terry Phillips of Radio Focus International (heard recently on 6270kHz) looks like or indeed how old he is.

Some pirates who do have a website will adopt the policy of posting spoof comedy pictures of their presenters. One example of this is the Merseyside free radio station Central Radio which was logged recently on 6300kHz. To see what I am talking about, visit this website:

Look for the ‘Who Are We’ link. While you are there, you will probably find a number of live or archived programmes being streamed.


Watching Radio Happen

When we listen to the radio, we do not normally get to see what is actually happening inside the broadcast studio. Continuing a little longer with the theme of radio and pictures, I would like to stay for a little while with the subject of how we can get a different perspective on things if we are granted the privilege of being able to actually watch a live radio presenter (and, perhaps, support staff) at work.

Radio stations have sometimes offered the visiting experience to people in some form, although, once again, free radio stations will tend to be more reluctant to do this, for obvious reasons. Many licensed stations will allow visitors in, but the guests are frequently asked to observe proceedings through a window.

Studio webcams were introduced some years ago, but these can be of poor quality and unreliable.

More recently, we have all had relatively easy access to internet video and audio streaming programs, via our computers and smartphones. This has led to some instances of individual presenters (rather than the stations) choosing to offer us the chance to witness the workings of their radio programmes from inside the studio with both sound and pictures.

To be honest, I am a bit of a ‘radio purist’ and I am not strongly drawn to the temptation of watching these feeds to any great extent. However, I confess I have been dipping into a few of them, just to get a flavour. When a presenter is actually speaking live on air, I find it very interesting to observe their facial expressions and to try to understand their thought processes at the time.

One of the most fascinating aspects of this is that observers get to see and hear what is going on during the times when the microphone is not live. The legendary Tommy Boyd has commented on several occasions that, ironically, this is often when the most interesting and revealing things are said.

You might even say that this is an illustration of why everything might be better – and more of the truth might get out – when people are Off the Record.


Watching 558 kHz

I am still keeping an eye on the early development of the new MW and DAB station Love Sport Radio. On Saturday nights from 10pm to 1am (after the pirate radio favourite, Charlie Wolf) the presenter is Phil Dobbie who has worked for many years in Australian and UK radio stations. He streams his show live on Periscope

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I watched it for the first time the other day, having heard his show in the normal way on several previous occasions. The streams are archived for later viewing. The existence of this feed was mentioned on his show but not promoted extensively, so there were not many viewers. I like the fact that he hosts the show on his own. Even Charlie has a co-host in the form of Rosie Wright from Premier Christian Radio and that is for a two-hour show.

She is very nice, but I feel that some of these newer talk stations are using double-headers far too much. Allow me to defer and say more about this topic at a later date. Regarding the overall progress of Love Sport so far, in my view, the lack of phone-in response is a grave concern, considering the impressive AM signal.

Usually, I just monitor the non-sports shows but the evidence strongly suggests to me that, although they do have some competent presenters, there is, maybe, something about the formula they are not getting right as yet. It is interesting that station boss Kelvin MacKenzie is now hosting weekday mid-mornings.

In the sports talk format, there is a lot of established competition. A split to form one general and one dedicated sports station would help, but I guess they are hesitant to expand, if things are going poorly with just the one service.

By the way, for anyone who has been wondering about the Donald Trump voice announcements, which go in and out of the breaks, I can tell you that these are provided by the comedian Cal Halbert.


Late-Night Alternative

The Iain Lee Show, which is on during weeknights 10pm to 1am on talkRADIO, is also well worth a look, especially for fans of irreverent and unconventional radio. The host usually streams his programmes live on YouTube.

Once again, these are archived for optional later viewing. Ian is an accomplished TV performer. Therefore, he is as comfortable in front of a camera as he is behind a microphone. The show is mostly phone-in and talk, but he tends to avoid the predictable current affairs topics. Music is often discussed and a few tunes will normally be played in every show. Callers are welcome to discuss almost anything and the show is known for its ’clunky gear changes’, from ‘zany’ characters to discussions about serious topics such as mental illness and problems people have in their personal lives.

The presenter does have an exceptional ability to create compelling radio out of a wide range of situations, doing so by interacting with all sorts of different people. Often in the studio and on camera with him is his producer and co-host Katherine Boyle, who is also a delight. These two have been working together for a number of years now and have become best friends. The chemistry between them works remarkably well. This considerably enhances the charm and humour of the show.


Cyber Radio Expansion

You may recall that, at one time, these folks were contemplating using the Radio Caroline name for their project. However, after some consultation and consideration, they decided to create the Cyber Radio brand instead. At the time, I said that I thought this was a good idea.

There are other broadcast stations around the globe using the Caroline name, some of which I have mixed feelings about. Generally speaking, I like to see fresh new projects bearing fresh new names.

After their initial success of Cyber Hot Hits, the station added a Cyber Rock service and now it is launching a new Cyber Gold outlet, which promises great Sixties music, as heard during the offshore pirate heyday and during the ‘summer of love’ – all of which sounds, well, groovy!

I am really pleased to see this radio venture growing. I wish them continued success and look forward to the launch of Cyber Talk at some stage in the not too distant future.


Medium Wave

Before I go, I must give a quick mention of the excellent news that Radio Britannia has been reported on 1476kHz medium wave. For anyone who is not aware already, this is a long-established free radio station that pops up in various bands and on numerous frequencies from time to time.

Main man Kenny Crescendo is known to be a friend of Chuckling Steve St Jhon (with the unorthodox spelling) of Radio Pandora.

The two can sometimes be heard working together. They are true free radio stalwarts, and both are favourites of mine because they are personality DJ’s who know how to present shows that are fun to listen to.

With that little nugget, I will close things for this issue. I will endeavour to return next month with more to chat with you about.

Please remember that if there is anything you would like to see discussed in this magazine you can drop me a line if you wish to interact with me in this column or write to the editor with your thoughts and suggestions.

Enjoy your listening and keep expressing yourself freely. I know I will.


This article was featured in the August 2018 issue of Radio User

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