Thursday, March 13, 2014

EARLY RADIO MEMORIES (7) Radio Centurion Closing Down...

Another cold snap in March 2014 with flurries of snow early this morning, and a chance to conclude this series of rambling radio memories.  Or should I say “sign off?”  There will be further chapters but they will be found on the “55555” blog and only occasionally linked here.  Besides, that highly irregular and illegal radio station in north Worcester was about to come to an abrupt end.

It was Easter Eve 1972.  April Fools’ Day also, and a special Easter weekend programme had been prepared for the following day, recorded on a new seven inch reel of tape that was waiting in its box on the table ready to be threaded into the recorder.  But later that afternoon when I went up to listen to and preview the tape I was concerned to find it already on the spools ready to play.  Who could have done that?  I shrugged it off.  Perhaps my brother.  Or one of my parents out of curiosity.  I powered up the machine, put on a set of headphones, and rotated the “play” switch.  What I heard next chilled me to the bone.

Instead of the introductory music that I had been using for months there was a man’s voice, deep and with a definite air of authority, which repeated this message.  Three times.

“Close this station down.  This station is operating illegally.  We have found you out.  Close this station down!”

The back-story to all of this was very unfortunate. The VHF signal emitted by the transmitter was not only more powerful than I had measured (and I had not measured its east-west range,) it was also, unbeknown to me, producing a harmonic signal which was radiating in the 68-88 MHz band – right in the middle of frequencies used by the West Mercia Constabulary.  Yep!  I was busted!

Yet it was a very gentle “bust.”  This was due to the fact that when the police (who had used the General Post Office detector vans) located the source of the signal(s) and realized that they were emanating from the home of a much respected and highly popular clergyman, it was decided to send the matter upstairs to a certain Chief Inspector.  And Chief Inspector Hunt was not only a friend of the family but a regular worshipper at the parish church.  So a quiet conversation took place; the officer visited the house, a message was left, and that was that.   No fine.  Not even a caution. No confiscation of equipment.  All very fair and sporting. 

I’m not sure if my parents were annoyed or not, for little was said.  I’m sure that my father had an amusing time of it all for there was a twinkle in his eye that weekend.  And my mother’s mood never changed.  But it was the end of clandestine broadcasting from St Stephen’s Vicarage.

Is there an Epilogue to this tale?  If there is then it’s certainly not a cautionary one for it was fun while it lasted and I have no regrets.  The transmitter was dismantled.  The recording equipment remained wired up as from time to time I would record a show and send it to be broadcast on the equally illegal Super Radio station in the next town of Malvern.  I would even record a fifteen minute demonstration tape and send it to Radio Atlantis, an offshore station operating from a ship off the Dutch coast from 1973-74, and I later learned that they had played five minutes of it on air.  What a claim to fame!

But time was moving on, and I was moving on.  It was the end of the care-free and often cavalier free radio days (Radio North Sea closed in 1974,) academic study beckoned with a vengeance, and getting into university was the sole interest and purpose.  Was it the end of radio for me?  No.  But that tale has not yet been written.

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