Station M - Detailed History Part 2
The Station M Story - Part 2
By Dave Wilson
The running of Station M is handed over to Dave Wilson and Roger Dee
Because of his commitments with NCR, Tom Lodge decided to end has involvement with Station M. He called myself and Roger Dee to a meeting in "The Twenty Row" pub in Wallasey, and told us of his decision to quit. He then asked us to carry on with Station M, and appointed me as "station manager", and Roger Dee as "engineer". We inherited the DJ's who were not required on NCR, this obviously included ourselves! However, we lost the location, as it was now to be used exclusively by NCR, which was to operate 7 days a week. The Station M transmitter was to be used as a back up by NCR, so we were to use Roger Dee's Tx.
The presenters who were left on Station M at this time, around September 1983, were :
Dave Wilson (station manager)
Roger Dee (engineer)
The New Era - The First Transmissions
Roger Dee and I decided to get on the air as soon as possible. We were back the very next Sunday, using Roger's 120 watt transmitter and a high rise location about a quarter of a mile from the old one! My sister happened to live in the flat, and she and her boyfriend begrudgingly agreed to let us broadcast from there for a couple of weeks. We went to the site on the Saturday, and with the help of my father put up a long wire from the flat to a nearby tree, which Roger Dee climbed. It was quite hazardous dropping the wire down from the flat window, as there was an electricity sub station between the block of flats and the tree! Another problem with this particular flat was that we could not see the entrance to the tower block from any of the windows, so we could not keep a look out for the DTI.
We were still using 1413 kHz, also announced as 212 Metres. The signal from our new location was fantastic, and seemed to take NCR by surprise. Kevin Palmer had joined NCR, and he told me that they were having problems with "Station M RF" getting into their equipment! They were none too pleased about this, and later went on to slag us off on air. Tom Lodge claimed that he had told us not to use the name "Station M", as it was his name. I never received payment for the 1512 kHz crystal which I supplied to NCR. Tom Lodge said it was the "wrong frequency", although NCR continued to use 1512 until they closed. Our differences were sorted out amicably a couple of weeks later.
Another New Location
After a couple of weeks in the high rise flat, we had to move on, as my sister's boyfriend was not too happy about us using the flat on a permanent basis. We moved to my parents' house in Moreton. Obviously, the signal suffered. Several aerials were tried over the coming weeks. We eventually developed a good antenna system which was attached to the tops of two houses and a disused telegraph pole, and with a decent ground plane system, we managed to put out a good signal and build up a good listener base. I used to receive around 5 or more letters per week from listeners at this time. I remember Kevin Palmer coming around to my house one night, and in conversation he said that we must be making up letters to read out on air. Without saying a word, I went over to the chest of drawers in my room, removed a draw and emptied the contents out onto his knee. The whole draw was full of the 50 or so listeners letters which I had received over the last few weeks, all still with the franked envelopes. Kevin couldn't believe it as he had only received 3 or 4 letters in all his time in pirate radio.
Ray Rochford had joined the station by now, and we used his car to get to phone boxes in order to conduct phone in's. These were always successful, and we would normally receive 10 or 12 calls in a half hour phone in. Ray Rochford worked as a mobile DJ, and we normally had all of the records requested on the phone ins. Ray would do the request show live, using his extensive record collection.
We were even on the air on Christmas Day 1983. Roger Dee took the transmitter home to Seacombe and did the broadcast from there. All shows except his were taped. On New Years Day 1984, we were back at my parents' house in Moreton. As was nearly always the case, the programmes were a mixture of taped and live. The Dave Wilson and Roger Dee shows tended to be a taped hour followed by a live hour each. We would open up the day's transmissions around 11 am. There would be live announcements and chat from the start of the transmission until 12 noon, followed by 2 hours of Dave Wilson, 2 hours of Roger Dee, followed by the other 4 DJ's. Roger Dee and I would then go live until we'd had enough for the day. We had stopped using "Pop Music" by now, and would always play tracks from the instrumental album "Love and Dancing" by "The Human League" to open up the station, and I suppose the instrumental version of "Don't You Want Me" became the station theme by default.
Joe Connelly joined the station as a presenter around this time.
The Authorities Take An Interest!
At the end of January 1984, the DTI were in the area, presumably to silence North Coast Radio and Storeton Community Radio, and paid us a visit. They never gained entrance to the transmitter site, and went away empty handed. We had obviously spotted them while they were just finding our location, before they got the search warrant which was required in those days. In fact, we were not keeping a lookout, and somebody connected with the station saw them quite by chance. When we clocked the DTI, the house turned into a hive of activity. I was on the air live at the time, and set about frantically trying to hide some of the studio equipment. I disconnected the audio lead from the transmitter as Roger Dee pulled the crystal out of the Tx and shut it down.
The DTI knocked at the door of a house which one end of a long wire was attached to. Someone went to the door, and entered into a conversation with the DTI men. They said that the fundamental frequency was "not the problem", but "it's your harmonics which are causing interference". As the person who spoke to them had nothing to do with the station and knew nothing about it, and as the DTI had no warrant, they went away saying that they would be "back with a warrant". It is interesting that they mentioned harmonics, though. At the time SCR were transmitting on 1296 kHz, and were putting out a massive harmonic on 2592 kHz. They were raided by the DTI, possibly on the same day we got the visit. We had checked our second harmonic out previously, and as the transmitter was filtered, the harmonic was very weak just a couple of hundred yards from the transmitter.
Several presenters were present at the time of our visit, including Joe Connelly and John Freeman. I remember a funny thing which happened as we all ran around panicking, John Freeman was running around frantically shouting "where is my bobble hat!", over and over again. He used to travel down from Southport to do his show on a Sunday, doing a bit of train spotting on the way, and must have been worried that he would be cold on the way back if he had to "do a runner" without his hat. At the crucial time, he was clutching his bobble hat in one hand and his packed lunch in the other, gibbering nonsense. John Freeman and Joe Connolly left the station after this incident. Pete Heaton and Phil James had just left the site when the DTI arrived, and we never saw either of them again. Presumably all four of them were scared of being present if we were raided. I was sorry to see Pete Heaton go, as he was always very enthusiastic about the station, and likened it to his days on Radio Wombat. Ray Rochford also left the station to join NCR, which was a bit of a blow.
As soon as the DTI had left the area, my dad gave us a lift to Roger Dee's house with the transmitter. When he'd gone, we decided to go back on the air from there. The only problem was that Roger Dee had left the 1413 kHz crystal hidden in a waste paper bin at my house!
We went to the bus stop, intent on catching a bus back to my house to get the crystal. After a few minutes, Tom Lodge pulled up in his car. He was on his way to Roger Dee's house to see why we had gone off the air suddenly, saw us and stopped the car. (Some listeners had realised what was happening, as I had the microphone open when the panic started, and my mum ran into the room shouting my real name!) Tom offered us a lift back to my house, but on the way made us see sense, and we decided not to go back on the air.
We all went back to Tom's house for a coffee, and discussed the days events. From our descriptions of the DTI men, Tom identified one as Eric Gotts. According to Tom, he had been sent up from London to take North Coast Radio off the air. In fact, the DTI had been hanging around the NCR location, but NCR stayed on the air. They had a dozen or so long wire aerials strung between three high rise blocks of flats, and were using a 12 valve Tx, anode mod, for around 480 watts of power. It was hard for the DTI to tell which aerial was in use with all that RF flying around! Eventually they began to take down the long wires which were attached to the roofs of the flats. NCR were putting more up as the DTI were taking them down! If my memory serves me correctly, NCR was eventually raided around this time and closed down.
Yet Another New Location!
Tom Lodge advised us to stay off the air for a few weeks, but we came back from a new location the very next week after the attempted raid. The station was now at its fifth transmission site, Roger Dee's home in a ground floor maisonette in Seacombe. The problem was once again that we couldn't erect a high enough aerial. We had built up a good listener base around the Moreton / Upton area, and our signal in that area was now considerably weaker. I received several letters from loyal listeners complaining of a poor signal, especially at night, but all I could do was tell them that there was nothing we could do until we found another location.
There were now only two presenters, Roger Dee and myself Dave Wilson. We were both presenting around 4 hours each every Sunday, from around midday until 8 pm. The poor signal and lack of variety meant that the letters began to trail off. As neither of us had a car, phone ins were difficult, and when we did manage a phone in we were only getting a couple of calls. Our location was right on the banks of the River Mersey, and we would sometimes use a very low powered FM transmitter in parallel with the medium wave transmitter. The FM was only intended to cover the centre of Liverpool, which we could see from our studio window. If nothing else, we had a nice view while we were doing our programmes! I can remember listening to Central Radio from Liverpool as I presented my show, if I remember correctly Steven Bishop was on Central at that time. We would also listen to the other Wallasey based pirates while we were on the air, these were Channel 5 on 1242 kHz and Radio Eleanor on 1449 kHz. Eleanor were only a mile or so away from us, and a very upset Paul Rogers from Eleanor paid us a visit one day, just after Roger Dee had referred to his station as "Radio 'ell of a bore"! (In my opinion Eleanor was excellent).
I was having to get the bus from Moreton to Seacombe and back every Sunday, usually carrying a hi-fi amp, a cassette deck or two, an audio mixer, microphone, headphones and tapes, and lugging that lot around whilst trying to get on and off buses on a Sunday morning was not my idea of fun.
We did, however, pick up some new listeners in Wallasey. The word had got around my school, and some of the kids from Wallasey were listening to the station which was "blasting out" there! We were, however, on the lookout for a new location, and I persuaded one lad from school to let me use his house in Wallasey. At the last minute he changed his mind, but instead set it up for us to use his friend's house. Thus, we did one broadcast from our sixth location; a house in the Poulton area of Wallasey.
Questioned By The Police!
We got the bus from Roger Dee's house to the site in Poulton. I had been to the site on the Saturday and put up an aerial with the help of my friend. This ran from the upstairs window of the house to a balcony on a block of maisonettes opposite. As with most of our transmission sites, there was the potential for a good aerial but we had no way of getting to the top of the block of maisonettes. However, the signal we got out from that site was much improved, especially around the Moreton area. Tom Lodge came out and tracked us down to see where we were.
After the broadcast, Roger and I decided to walk back the mile or so to his house with the equipment. We had just gone around the corner when a police car screeched to a halt. Two police officers got out and questioned us. When one of them looked at the transmitter he actually said "You're not one of those illegal radio stations that are operating in Wallasey, are you?". Putting on his best voice, Roger Dee replied "Good god no! We're Radio Amateures! I'm G3XO79A3B, and this is my home built top band triple duplex transceiver!" , or something very similar. The other policeman took me to one side and asked me what I was carrying, covered by a bin liner. I replied "An amplifier, a tape deck, a mixer, headphones, a microphone, some tapes and some letters." He had a look, but didn't seem interested. They apologised for holding us up, explaining that they had to be on the look out for stolen videos etc., and let us go on our way!
Interestingly enough, I had been stopped by the police in the street only a couple of weeks earlier. On that occasion, I had just got off the last bus home from Roger's house. I was taking a little FM transmitter home to have a play with, and also had some tapes with "Dave Wilson" and "Roger Dee" written on them, along with a few letters addressed to "Dave Wilson". Again, a police car screeched to a halt and two policemen got out. One of them asked me what was in the bag I was carrying. I replied "A disco sound to light unit". He made me take the box out of the bag, and shone his torch onto it. I cringed as the words "3 Watt FM Transmitter" clearly came into view. The other officer asked his colleague what it was, and the guy looking at the transmitter shouted back "It's a sound to light unit, for a disco!" I was asked what else I was carrying in the bag, and I replied "Tapes and letters". One of the policemen informed me that they were looking for stolen alcohol from the off licence up the road, and as I was obviously not carrying alcohol they let me continue on my way.
Perhaps Merseyside Police realised that they had more important fish to fry.
Station M moves into Ford Towers
We made another broadcast from my sister's flat in Moreton, then we luckily managed to obtain the use of a flat in one of the "Ford Towers", a group of high rise blocks on Birkenhead's Ford Estate. (These tower blocks have now all been demolished). Steven Bishop used to live in "The Towers", and had been broadcasting his many transitory stations from there for years. MFR had also used his flat as a location at times. Steve actually moved out of the flats at almost exactly the same time we got our location, so the estate lost one pirate radio station and gained another.
This site had two problems, one was that like the Moreton flat we could not see the entrance to the block from any of the windows, and so once again could not keep a look out. The other problem we faced was finding somewhere suitable to run the aerial to. Although there were 4 blocks of flats that made up Ford Towers, the flat we were in was in one of the end blocks, on the side facing away from the other blocks. This made for a nicer view, but made it impossible to run a wire to the top of another block! Nevertheless, we ran an aerial from the window down to a tree at the back of the flats. We spent a lot of time putting up aerials at this site, but they nearly always disappeared before the next week's broadcast! We presumed the local kids were to blame. We couldn't get the wire high enough up a tree that was hard for the kids to climb, as the area behind the flats was full of loads of trees, and the wire kept snagging as we tried to put it up!
For the first couple of weeks, we persevered with these aerials, although I was told that the signal at my house was not as good as you would expect from a high rise site. I put this down to the fact that the signal was being blocked by the tower block on one side and Bidston Hill on the other! We actually resorted to knocking on the doors of houses nearby, and asking if we could attach our pirate radio aerial to the house! Of course nobody agreed, although everyone was well aware that there was a pirate radio station in the flats, as I mentioned Steven Bishop had been on air from there for years.
Eventually, we decided to use an aerial strung out of another window to a lamp post. We had no ladders, however, and never managed to get the wire high enough up the lamp post to prevent it being pulled down during the week.
We were now doing a taped hour followed by about 3 hours live each. I began to lose interest at this time. I had to do my "O" levels in a month or so, and wanted to spend the next few weekends studying, rather than putting aerials up and sitting in a flat. So I decided to leave Roger to it for a while.
Dave Wilson Leaves Station M
Easter Sunday 1984 was coming up, and I told Roger I was going to leave Station M to him for a while, and spend Easter at home studying. He talked me into going on the air, although I was only going to stay for an hour or two. The problem was that getting to the location and back took time, especially on a Sunday. During this period, we were giving Tom Lodge the petrol money to go to Seacombe to pick up Roger Dee, then come to Moreton to pick me up and take us both to the Ford to broadcast. Then he would come back and run us back home when we went off the air. All the time I had been doing pirate radio, I had been financing it from my paper round delivering the local free paper. I was still only 16 years old at this time. I was getting a bit fed up of spending two nights of the week delivering papers to fund the station, and often all weekend preparing shows and putting up aerials.
Anyway, Tom picked me up as usual on Easter Sunday, and we were due to do a live link up with his new station ABC FM, which was normally on Sunday evenings on 96.25 stereo. All was well when we got to the flat, as the aerial was still up for once. When we were telling Tom what time we wanted picking up, Roger Dee and I had an argument as Roger wanted to stay on late that night, and I went home and didn't bother with Station M again. It was a pity really, as the link up should have been good. Also, North Coast Radio had folded after a raid so Tom had time on his hands again. I think that he would have eventually taken over the reigns of Station M again, and we would have had a better run station with more presenters (Kevin Palmer, amongst others, was on ABC FM), possibly on AM and FM Stereo from a high rise location. I would have been more than happy for this to happen. Tom Lodge continued with ABC FM for a while.
Roger Dee Continues Alone
Roger Dee lost the location at Ford Towers, as this was my then girlfriends flat. He continued with medium wave transmissions on 1413 kHz until around August 1984, from his maisonette in Seacombe. Obviously, he could not be on air continuously for 8 hours, so he began playing old tapes of offshore stations. The signal in Moreton was weak, and I didn't listen that often, so I can't comment on the station around this time. Inevitably, Roger got tired of messing about with aerials on his own, and gave up medium wave broadcasting.
Some time later, the Station M transmitter was sold to Martin C of Storeton Community Radio, who had now moved to 1026 kHz following their harmonic problem and raid whilst using 1296 kHz. SCR had been raided again since, more than once I think, and Martin C needed all the transmitters and parts he could get. He also ended up with a part built Station M "8 valve" transmitter which I had been building, a sale which I later came to regret as I started a station called "Radio Suburbia" in 1986, and had to get Roger Dee to build me a complete new transmitter. Apparently, both the Station M Tx and the part built rig were taken in a raid on SCR premises before they had even been switched on.
Station M - FM
Roger Dee had been playing with FM transmitters for some time, and as stated previously we had used very low powered FM transmitters to simulcast Station M in the past. Before he sold the MW Tx, Roger had perfected a high powered FM stereo rig. This was unusual in that it used a valve in the amplifier section, as opposed to transistors. It produced around 100 watts output.
Roger continued with Station M - FM on his own until around the end of 1985. He now lived in Leasowe, and broadcasts were made from his house. I was back on good terms with him by then, and he asked me to rejoin the station, but I wasn't interested at the time. I feel that FM does not work to best effect from a low site such as a house. You really need to get the Tx in a high rise tower block to get a good signal out. Part of the problem is that most listeners seem to use fairly cheap portable radios. These tend to be quite sensitive on medium wave, but poor on FM. Most of the listeners of the many FM stations which sprung up in the late 1980's appeared to be using external aerials, so the potential listener base is obviously more limited.
Eventually, the DTI paid Roger a visit. He told me that two cars pulled up, and he heard the DTI officials talking to each other on their radios, as their transmissions were breaking through on the portable radio he was using as a monitor for his live transmission. He claims the phrase "Lets go in and get the little b*stard!" was used. Roger immediately switched off the Tx, and avoided a raid. He later complained to everyone that the DTI had interfered with his radio listening by breaking in on his radio! Soon after, Roger moved house again, and persevered with Station M - FM from there. (This was before the legal Wirral station "MFM" came on air!) I last saw Roger Dee around 1989, and I have absolutely no idea what he has been doing since then, although I wouldn't be surprised if he was still making transmitters.
As I mentioned previously, I began a new station called "Radio Suburbia" in 1986, and ran that alone for several months on 1449 kHz, using the very same crystal that Radio Eleanor had used! Station M nearly returned at that time, but Radio Suburbia is, as they say, another story. After that, I ran an FM stereo station called "Q98". I gave up pirate radio in 1990.
A Final Word
Looking back over the history of Station M, what I think is worthy of mention is the fact that we only missed one or two Sundays on the air in over 2 years of continuous broadcasts. The same frequency was used throughout this period, and this added to the continuity of service provided by the station. Other pirate radio stations were coming and going and changing frequency by the week in the early 1980's. Also, nobody involved in the running of Station M was particularly well off financially, and the whole thing was run on a shoestring. We never took ourselves seriously, and we always had a laugh and a good time. I think that was not the case for many other pirate radio operators.
A few months ago, in September 1998, I bumped into Tom Lodge in the street. We chatted for a few minutes about work, marriage, kids and cars. We never mentioned pirate radio. We shook hands and went our separate ways.
UPDATE- Station M 1999
Sadly, Tom Lodge passed away in July 1999. Station M was brought back by Roger Dee for a special one off tribute broadcast on bank holiday Monday 30/8/99. This was on 90.3 stereo from 1.00pm until 11.30pm. Presenters were : Roger Dee, Mike Doyle, Dave Wilson and Mike Ross.
Roger Dee has also recently built a MW transmitter and a SW transmitter. It is not clear at this time if the name Station M will be used again.