THE RADIO 4U STORY
On Wednesday I started the first test transmission. By Friday I’d got so far that only the library needed sorting. That took me until 2am Saturday .
In the meantime, Tom persuaded Marie to do some voiceovers for me: some simple links like ‘420 Watts Music Power – you are listening to Radio 4U’. When she came up to the studio all her friends made jokes and told her that they would listen in on the wireless. After my reassurance that the recording session would not go on air, and with some professional guidance, we managed to get quite a selection to keep the station going for several days.
On Saturday morning, 06 June 1987, at 7am Radio 4U went officially on the air on the frequency 97.4FM .
- 7am – 9am non stop music
- 9am – 9pm music and information (programme with very low scale DJ-talk: me, announcing songs and reading from the infamous Guinness Book of Records. I also played old BBC comedy records and some of Marie’s links or station jingles)
- 9pm – 11pm Stereo Sequence of Featured Artists. Originally designed to kill air time during the dark hours when people usually watch TV. Every evening this programme featured one or two artists exclusively. The scale reached from Koko Taylor via Bruce Springsteen to even Beethoven, and the artists were often requested by the listeners.
- 11pm – midnight Rock Garten. A heavy metal and comedy programme presented by Rock (me with a funny rough voice) who took the mickey out of his co-host (me with normal voice).
‘Rock Garten’ received quite a lot of my efforts and gave me quite a bit of fun as it was the only slot where I actually featured by name as the presenting DJ – and people really believed that there were two different persons in the studio. Even months later somebody asked me about Rock and who he was.
My idea was to advertise radio through radio and by 1pm, on this very first day on air, I already had two people popping into the studio volunteering as helpers. I don’t have to lose a lot of words about them. The brightest ideas and the greatest enthusiasm cools down very quickly after the third stylus goes in the bin.
Within the next few days I realised that there was a need for news. I do not like this system of ‘News On The Hour’, even though there is some convenience for the listener and it’s cheap to pinch. At CLR we were licensed to use IRN (Independent Radio News) which is used by most independent British stations. Unfortunately, Downtown did not subscribe to this service, and IRN was not yet available on the Astra satellite, so there was no way of an easy bit of stealing. Anyway, news in Ireland did not quite meet with my idea of objective and unbiased journalism.
My guidelines were not to report about any violence of any kind. Exempted, only, were international conflicts and revolutions abroad, such as the ousting of General Noriega (Panama). The only time Radio 4U ever reported about terrorism in Ireland was the horrific Enniskillen bomb. Even then we only reported briefly and mainly repeated the condemnations expressed by leading members of both sides of the community.
Radio 4U was criticised for this policy, and listeners openly admitted that they were changing channels to listen to the news, even though the Radio 4U News Service was otherwise the most comprehensive one about. That might be the price to pay for strict and clean journalism but, then again, I found it important to establish some contrast to the warmongering sensationalism of other stations, especially Downtown Radio and Ulster TV.
Reported violence will only lead to further violence.
On the other hand Radio 4U’s channel was always open for any kind of political statements from both sides of the community, however extreme they might have been. We presented anything but a clean shaven, flat american-style journalism either and were sometimes very controversial indeed.
News reflected on Radio 4U was usually taken from, and double checked with, several sources.
A very important part of our policy was never to name the city as ‘Londonderry’ or ‘Derry’. This rule applied to news as well as any other part of our programming. Derry was to be called the ‘City’.
Only in impossible cases, such as some news items, were presenters allowed to say the name, but both versions had to be used in the item; eg: “Today in Londonderry people were late for work because Derry bus drivers went on strike.”
All these policy guidelines were very strictly enforced and were never broken during the whole period that Radio 4U existed. Even though a bit controversial at times, these rules were probably the main reason why Radio 4U was the only station which was popular with both sides of the community.
Coming back to the very first days I decided not to do news on the hour, but to transmit two extended news and information magazines. The first issue was during lunchtime (11 – 12pm); the second was an early evening edition 6:00 – 6:30pm. The programme format was: song; two news items; song; two news items; song; .. etc. Towards the end of the programme the information content got a bit lighter with the weather forecast and, in the mornings, horoscopes.
Before I bought a TV with Teletext it was like the old junior pirate days with news taken from the papers. After I failed twice to come back from the paper shop in time, Marie volunteered to bring the papers up in the mornings and, as it happened, she used to stay on and make us a cuppa while I presented the news. It did not take a lot of persuasion to make her read one news item and then another and after a couple of days Radio 4U had its second permanent newscaster, and probably one of the best you have ever heard.
Marie was a real professional. Half an hour before the programme started, she came up to the studio to prepare the news, usually with the latest updates from her TV’s Teletext. Whilst Mary’s part of the programme was well-edited, the other part contained scruffy Pat’s yobbo-news: preparing the next news item whilst reading the current, not forgetting to line up a record simultaneously. Thereby I was often forced to do some chit-chat with Marie on the air while trying to get my act together.
One can easily imagine how the introduction and the run down of the headlines sounded, especially with my attitude. Then again, Marie’s more organised approach was a good contrast and gave the programme a special flair. Talking less seriously between the news items gave the listeners some breathing space so that we did not lose their attention. Soon those links became more and more of the private kind. To cut a long story short, we had a lot of fun doing the programme and the listeners could certainly hear the result.
We came up with a lot of funny ideas such as inventing a new, 13th, star sign every morning (eg, “Librarian”) and making up a horoscope for it. This mixture of fun and news actually got out of hand on a few occasions: One day Marie’s seven year old son asked Tom: “Dad, why do they only talk about sex…?”
A disaster happened the day Fred Astaire died, when I started playing “I haven’t stopped dancing yet” (Gonzales) right after this news item. (Bad move!) Anyway, our style was probably the most entertaining way to present news, a way only allowed on pirate radio.
This fun-packed, sometimes even raunchy but clear and straight-forward presentation of facts is the style which made Radio 4U. Like the ‘Rock Garten’ late-night programme, which provided comedy for those who don’t like Metal, the news service offered light entertainment for those who had difficulties digesting heavy information.