Essex Radio’s History – Making Waves

This page contains a reprint of an article written to commemorate Essex Radio / Essex FM’s 25th birthday in September 2006…

 

Essex Radio LogoTwenty seconds to go, and across the ether, the soft tones of an orchestra tuning up can be heard… then:

"It’s 6am, Saturday September the twelfth, 1981. Welcome to Essex Radio…"

That first voice belonged to John Wellington, and that announcement marked the launch of local radio for the county of Essex, bringing the total number of new commercial radio stations opening up and down the country to just over 30.

Those of you up on your radio history will know that Essex is known as the home of broadcasting, and Marconi’s early pioneering radio broadcasts took place just up the road from Southend, in a little hut in Writtle, Chelmsford. but that’s a story for another day.

Back to September 1981. In those first few exciting minutes of broadcasting, the County of Essex was introduced to the team that were to become household names for the people of Essex. Accompanied by the station’s main theme, called "Listen to Essex" (performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra), we first heard the voices of breakfast show presenter Jon Scragg, daytime show hosts Dave Gregory, Dave Gilbee and Keith Rogers, drivetime presenter Terry Davis, news man Steve Wood, Talkback’s Chris Mann, "The Hairy Eyeball" (Rock presenter Paul Lee), and late night phone-in voice, Tim Lloyd (later to become ‘Timbo’).

Essex Radio Presenters
Essex Radio Day One Presenters

The station’s weekend lineup in those early days included Andrew Marshall’s Country show, Andy Anderson’s Saturday Supergold, sport with Rogers Buxton, Eddie Blackwell’s Jazz show, the Sunday morning religious show with Jeff Bonser and Peter Elvy, Alan Bell’s Essex Top 30 chart countdown, with Lindsay King (later to marry Timbo) hosting the Sunday late-night show.

Introductions done, the first record heard on that September morning set the pace for things to come … Cliff Richard’s appropriately-titled "Wired for Sound".

From 1981, Essex Radio broadcast from a purpose-built studio complex two floors below Clifftown Road in Southend-on-Sea. The building had formerly housed the printing presses of the Southend Standard newspaper, and the basement had to be refitted with high-tech studio equipment, which was floating on special a special concrete base needed to deaden the vibration from the neighbouring Southend Central railway station. This lead to a very slight noticeable ‘bounce’ as you tripped along the corridors in the basement.

Radio House in Clifftown Road
Radio House in 1982

The main transmitters for the station were the FM South transmitter on top of the Benfleet water tower, with a medium-wave transmitter on a site in Rayleigh. At the end of 1981, AM and FM transmitters for North Essex were brought online.

Those few lucky enough to gain admittance to the catacombs below Radio House would hurry down a rather drab staircase into a beige and cream tunnel that lead to the station’s two main on-air studios, the production studio and two production areas. The basement also housed the station’s Engineering team and the well-stocked record library. Other parts of Radio House were home to the busy newsroom’s typewriters and teleprinters, and the sales, production and management areas.

Tweed CR1Eela, CR1
The old Studio 1 Tweed desk in the mid-eighties, and the same studio in 2000

Essex Radio later opened an office and a small broadcasting studio from Duke Street, in Chelmsford. As well as being used for news gathering and selling mugs, some shows were broadcast from the Chelmsford studios

Essex Radio, Chelmsford Essex Radio, Chelmsford
Essex Radio’s old Chelmsford studio in Duke Street (c.1982)

In the early days, the station was owned by local businesses people, including directors from Keddies, Garons, H.W Stone and TOTS nightclub. Since those early days, much has changed. Presenters have come and gone. The station’s medium wave and FM frequencies did the ‘splits’ towards the end of the eighties, when Breeze AM launched, providing music for an older audience. Over the years, the station saw a transition from vinyl and magnetic tape, through the CD era, and now to digital computer systems.

Over the years, Essex Radio’s management and formats changed a number of times. Many may remember the old slogans "Somewhere Special", "We’ll make it a great today", and "Greatest Memories, Latest Hits". If you’d like to hear some of those old jingles from the 1980s and 1990s, please visit our Essex Radio Audio page.

In the nineties, the station renamed from Essex Radio to Essex FM, with Breeze still operating an oldies station on medium wave.

From 2004, Essex FM broadcast from Chelmsford, having vacated Radio House in Clifftown Road. The Chelmsford studio complex is not that far from where UK broadcasting all started. Back in 1922, the first regular broadcasts were made, by an experiential station called "2MT", coming from a small shed in Writtle.

Essex FM Chelmsford
Essex FM’s new building in Chelmsford in October 2004

By 2006, Essex FM was part of the large UK radio group GCap Media, and twenty-five years since those early days of basement broadcasting, it’s still the number one rated station in Essex.

Essex Fm becomes Heart2009 saw the next major change in the station’s history. Parent company Global Radio has decided to rename Essex FM, as well as around 30 other local radio stations, to one single brand – Heart. On June 22nd 2009, Essex FM became "Heart", seeing the end of 28 years of local radio heritage. Essex FM Rebrands.

Through most of the 2000s, the breakfast show on Essex FM has been presented by Martin Day, who now continues to present the morning show on Heart.

To many, the station will be warmly remembered by many locals as "somewhere special", and a part of the history of our county.

Written by Pete Sipple for Radio and Telly. Updated Feb 2011

Key Essex Radio Milestones

Here are some of the milestones in the station’s history:

1981The station launched on September 12th at 6am (extract). Transmitters for North Essex launched in December
1983Essex Radio’s second birthday celebrated with a Royal Philharmonic concert at Southend’s Roots Hall
1984On-air, the station’s jingles now sing "Somewhere Special". Presenters Tim Lloyd and Lindsay King wed in August
1985New presenters Dave Eastwood (6-9am) and Graham Bannerman (drivetime) signed up. Jingle package changes, with a new strapline: "Together, we’ll make it a great today". Towards the end of the year, the station’s FM frequencies change to make room for BBC Essex – 95.3 changes to 96.3 and 96.4 becomes 102.6.
1986 The 1986 on-air lineup includes: Keith Rogers, Roger Buxton, Peter Holmes, Adrian Fox, Dave Eastwood, Graham Bannerman, Geoff Cullen, Dave Gregory, Tony Monson, John Hayes, Steve Wood, John Leech and Romilly Paradine. In September, the annual Helping Hands appeal includes an evening "Soul Appeal" over the weekend.
1987Essex Radio ‘Snowline’ in effect when county covered in 2 and half feet of snow in January.1st April sees Essex Radio relaunch as "Greatest Memories, Latest Hits, after an April Fools stunt where the on-air team staged an on-air walkout (extract). IBA complain about the stunt. Presenters include Adrian Fox, Matthew Jackson. The Greatest Memories Band Magical Mystery Tour performs around Essex. At the end of the year, Chief Executive Eddie Blackwell resigns
1988Programme Controller Craig Denyer leaves to set up Australian station Sea FM in December. Gavin McCoy joins the on-air lineup (extract). Other on-air names include: Robbie Dee, Barry Jones & Terry Ray
1989Essex Radio in the press when Mike Ahern resigns in February, Keith Rogers steps in as acting Programme Controller . In March, courageous presenter Dave Eastwood lost his battle to leukemia. April Fool’s stunt with a hot-air balloon outside broadcast flying through the ozone-layer hole.
16th July sees a launch of Breeze, on the station’s AM frequencies. Presenters include: Keith Rogers, Bill Rennells, David Baker, Ray Clark, Peter Phillips and Greg Bance.
Mark Woodman takes over as Programme Controller at the end of the year
1993The station’s strapline is "The Music Station". Legendary DJ Emperor Rosko starts hosting his "LA Connection" at the start of the year. Chart singer Janey Lee Grace also signs up. Ten-17 launched in Harlow on 1st May, with local broadcasts for three hours a day
1994Essex Radio relaunched as "The Big SX". A new American jingle package, and posters with sumo wrestlers marks the launch
1995New idents Essex (Swoosh-Swoosh) FM compliment "The Big SX" package. A troublesome pigeon knocks out the phone systems, and the station launches it’s first email system on air in August
199631st March sees the launch of Essex FM’s website
1996April Fools stunt – the station’s won £2.2 million in the pools. There’s an on-air relaunch in July 1996
1997Essex Radio acquires 96.6 Classic Hits in St. Albans. Vibe FM (regional dance station) launched in November.
1998Southend relay added on 97.5 to cover the Southend area – 100 watts from the roof of Radio House, Clifftown Road. Daily Mail Group (DGM) acquires a controlling interest in Essex Radio in January. At the end of the year, DMG also acquired Kent station KFM
1999Another image change – Essex FM becomes "Fresh, Fun and Exciting – the Hottest Hits"
2000Daily Mail Group (DGM) sells it’s stake to GWR in June. Paul Chantler quits as Programme Director
2004In October, Essex FM moved from studios in Clifftown Road, Southend, to Glebe Road in Chelmsford. More
2005The 2005 on-air lineup was Martin Day and Su (breakfast), Chris Skinner, AJ, James Bassam (drivetime), Dominic Atkins and Tim Murphy
2008Announcements made by the station’s owners, Global Radio, that Essex FM will be re-branded to the "Heart" brand in 2009/2010… More
2009Essex Fm becomes HeartEssex FM re-branded to the "Heart" brand in June 2009… More

 

 

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