December 14th 2004
Premier FM’s 14 weekend, 30 day, licensed run comes to an end this weekend. In this special feature Paul Shepherd, one of the station’s management team, talks to Radiowaves.FM about the past, the present, and what the future holds…
It’s the first day of licensed broadcasting for a former Dublin pirate radio station. Naturally the presenter is nervous and mindful of all that’s going on around him. Suddenly, the studio door bursts open and the entrant proceeds to the middle of the room and strips down to his Y-fronts…
Now based in the Russell Court Hotel, Premier FM were having their first bash at being legal. The half-naked man in the middle of the station’s studio wasn’t a kiss-o-gram from a particularly satisfied listener.
The bashful radio presenter, who was broadcasting live to the city, was relieved when it transpired that the studios had doubled as a changing room for the Saturday night cabaret in the Hotel.
Recalling the incident, one of the station’s management team Paul Shepherd laughs: “In true fashion the [cabaret] show was going on whether we were there or not.”
OLD OLDIES STATION
To the uninitiated, Premier FM are an oldies station. They have been broadcasting to the Dublin area in various shapes and forms since 1981. Of all the shapes and forms, only the 2004 version was sanctioned by the authorities. After all those years of operating without a licence, being legal was a nice situation for the station’s operators to be in.
Paul Shepherd agrees: “Broadcasting legally was good from the point of view of not having to constantly look over our shoulders. It also gave us the opportunity to speak to various people who may not in the past have been too keen to associate with us. It all seemed a little surreal but we could get used to it!”
So, back in the early ’80s, did they give any thought about where they might be in 2004? “Given the prevailing winds in 1981 we were happy to get to the end of that year!” Paul laughs. “Seriously though, none of us had any expectation that 23 years on we would still be here with the original line up. Not sure what it says about us besides being just plain bloody minded?”
MEMORIES & MORE
Premier FM’s policy is to play nothing that was released after 1989. Before the ’90s though, anything goes. Sometimes, it seems, the more obscure the record is, the better. Premier could take the easy option and just play a host of chart records but they take pride in the fact that they genuinely offer something different to the token oldies shows that presently air on the full-time services.
There must be a certain satisfaction in playing something that will cause somebody, somewhere, to stop whatever they’re doing in jaw-dropping astonishment at hearing a track they hadn’t heard in years, and thought they’d never hear again, having long ago given up hope that the radio might reach out and serve them on that personal level. But, for the average (none of them are average!- ed) Premier FM presenter, is that the reality? The following dilemma was posed for Paul – you have two records in front of you. One is a well-played classic on other radio stations but it continues to give 99% listener satisfaction. The other is a rarely-heard obscurity to those 99% but will cause the other 1% to sit up and take notice. Which would you choose to play?
He replied: “My heart would tell me to play the obscure song, but despite all the fancy talk there are commercial considerations which apply to all stations, – irrespective of their background. To enable you to provide the service to the hardcore ‘oldie’, you still need to grab a certain number of floating listeners to make it viable. Trying to find that balance is the real challenge, tip it one way or the other and it’s game up.”
So, have Premier FM found that balance? According to Paul, the feedback from week one alone was phenomenal. “And this was considering we had no advance publicity, and very little budget to do anything about it,” he continues. “Even now, in week 13, we are getting calls from large numbers of new listeners.”
The station have also received a good response from the areas outside Dublin where the signal can be received. They even received a call from a guy in his car in the West of Scotland!
30 DAYS TO GO
When Premier FM first heard that they would be awarded a 30 day temporary licence, they had a lot of decisions to make, and a lot of preparation to finalise, all in a short space of time. Considering they had been operating on an automated basis for the past few years, presenters needed to be signed up, and a new studio had to be located and set-up. They also had the option of spreading out the 30 days over a prolonged period, or to take the intensive route and broadcast non-stop.
According to Paul, they chose to split the broadcasts over 14 weekends for two reasons. “The first was to keep the name out there for as long as possible. Secondly, with the best will in the world, it would probably have been impossible to run a 24/7 service over 30 consecutive days. It was important for us that the quality of the service was as good as we could get. Essentially everybody had Monday to Friday to recover and prepare their programmes for the following week.”
CELEBRATING TIMES PAST
Premier FM are a radio station that celebrates the past, so it is no surprise that they didn’t shy away from using methods that are considered ‘of the past’ for delivering the music. Present in the studio are two record decks, and the sight of a presenter struggling with a case full of vinyl was not an uncommon one on Harcourt St (where the Russell Court Hotel is based) over the past few weekends. Paul reckons that as much as 10% of the station’s output actually came from vinyl. “A considerable amount of the music on the studio PC also came from vinyl sources,” he adds. “The main day-to-day usage of the decks would have been for the specialised shows on Sunday evening (‘The New Wave’ and ‘Ray’s Rock Show’) and the Saturday night ‘Studio 45’ which relied on 12″ singles.”
ENOUGH OF THE PAST, WHAT ABOUT THE FUTURE?
So, what does the future hold for Premier FM? For the people behind the station, the goals remain exactly the same as they have done since 1997. In that year, they revamped as a dedicated oldies station with a long-term aspiration to seek a licence to legally provide their service. The massive raids of May 2003 acted as a catalyst in pushing the station further along that road. Out of the darkness…
So, all things considered, would they definitely apply for a full-time licence if one was advertised?
Paul replies: “If a full licence is offered in the future I cannot see a situation arising where we would not apply, either on our own or in partnership with similar-minded people.” He has reservations though: “We still have great difficulty with some of the requirements and obligations imposed on broadcasters by the regulatory bodies, however, you can’t spend the rest of your life swimming against the tide. In all likelihood we will never have the ideal conditions so it’s a case of making the best of it.”
In the meantime Premier FM will be looking at the possibilities of another temporary licence in the new year. The station’s ambitions don’t stop there. They also expect to have streaming audio on their website (premierfm.ie) from January.
But before all that, there is still one weekend of magical memories to come. Premier FM return to 94.9MHz FM at midnight this Friday night (17th December). 48 hours later it will all come to an end – for now. The final two hours will witness all of the presenters in the studio to give their thoughts and play some of their favourite tracks. Then the station’s mast on Three Rock Mountain will fall silent and the station’s dedicated listeners will be jolted back to the present. But hopefully not for long.
Premier FM – thanks for the memories…and more.
Text: Paul Shepherd in conversation with John Fleming. Thanks to Paul for his time.
Photographs: © Radiowaves.FM (except where indicated)