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The Voice Of Oldham

Personal Reflections on the broadcast

I played a varied role at the station and here you can read in full my personal thoughts on how the broadcast went and what is going to happen next. It is quite extensive, feel free to save it to disc or print it out to save your phone bill.

"The Voice Of Oldham"
1st to 28th June 1997. 1566 kHz AM
Personal Reflections on the broadcast.

'The Voice Of Oldham' broadcast in June, building on the previous broadcasts, both December's 'Voice Of Oldham' and the original 'Heartbeat Radio' back in 1995 surely fulfilled it's plan to be new and inventive. It was successful on many counts, of course there were things that could be improved, but the aim was to be 'different' and 'unique.'

On the run up to the broadcast I was only on the sidelines, coming to the end of the first year on my degree course at Salford.The timing of the broadcast couldn't have been better, the end of term straight into the broadcast. This time did have a down side as far as 'The Voice' was concerned, half term holidays and exam time meant schools and the 'Sixth Form College' was not involved as much as we would have liked to.

Unsurprisingly there were teething problems operating from two different studio sites. I found my self in the town centre studio at half past midnight on a Saturday night tuning in a satellite receiver for the news. Technical problems with the FM links equipment caused us headaches getting the signal from the Town Centre Studio back to the hospital studio and transmitter, resulting in me climbing about on the top of the portacabin that is our office at the hospital with a massive three element aerial trying to pick up a radio signal that wasn't there. This wasn't helped by less than top notch service from the company we had bought the equipment from. I also found out just how popular the 'mini-disc' system is, apparently as soon as one comes in stock in the 'Sony Centre' in Oldham it is whipped up instantly, but the two decks came in extremely useful.

Friday night 30th May one of our eagerly awaited mini-disc machines arrived, and Saturday saw extensive pre-production work, general checking of our jingles and 'carting up,' that is recording onto jingle cartridges, new material and advertisements. I was also responsible for the selection of a rather catchy breakfast show theme music which you couldn't get out of your head. I will be the first to admit that previously I had been skeptical about 'mini-disc' systems until I actually used it, they knock the socks off carts! In our base studios in the hospital the current studio set up has been in place in present form for several years now. Used properly carts can produce just as professional results, but the shear convenience in the town centre studio to program the mini-disc deck and with one button have the whole advert break plays automatically - no more shuffling cartridges. However the hard work put in didn't go unnoticed in an amazing turn of fate, station boss Dave McGealy even bought me a drink.

Our 'Town Centre Studio' was situated in a prime position, a double shop unit on the side of the Indoor Tommyfield market. The actual broadcast equipment was fitted in the first weekend. The desk Radio Cavell's old console which was decommissioned at the hospital studios ten years ago though basic fitted the job perfectly. Add microphones, CD Players, Cassette, Turntable, telephone interface and the mini-disc decks proved a system easy to use, attractive space and cost effective over a cartridge based system. I think the simple but effective approach worked well, and show how with no overly complex equipment a successful broadcast can be made, by the combined efforts of many including Gerry Dignan, Alan Gale and Arthur Chorley our techy and aerial people. The only down side was the delay in getting the remote studio on-air due to technical problems with the FM link.

The Town Centre Studio gave us an up front public image and let people drop in which was especially good on the 'Oldham Events' days to promote events or get involved with events the station instigated such a s the Brass Band playing outside providing free entertainment for shoppers. Fred Fielder often described as 'larger than life local DJ' certainly took to being in the full public view, he also had the contacts to bring in them celebrity names, if often on the phone line to complement the local and at times unplanned inserts. A woman who came in to promote the work of the 'Frank Sinatra appreciation society' later came back to help with a request we had broadcast for an home needed for an extensive collection of big band records. People could use the radio as a vital tool, more over we could connect people of all age groups even to the extent of having a group of teenage girls coming in and singing the Spice Girls song 'Wannabee' live on air!

The Town Centre Studio was the site of many a memorable moment off air. Upstairs we had tea and coffee making facilities, John Mann went to make the coffee, and unwittingly used salt instead of sugar much to peoples disgust apon tasting it. Then there is the story of how one day I go upstairs to find the station boss Dave McGealy, sleeves rolled up, fishing about in the cistern of the toilet. It had stopped flushing and inspection revealed a small plastic lever had broken off. Then ever helpful John Mann sets of to the 'builder centre' to get a replacement part. On his return Fred Fielder offers to repair it. About a minute later he returns downstairs and tells us it is fixed. Later in the day we looked to find the original part had magically reappeared - Fred had had it in his pocket all along! They say that revenge is sweet and a plot was made to get back at Fred Fielder, now Fred is a professional broadcaster in all senses of the word, what ever madness and mayhem is happening in the studio, the second he opens his mike you'd never know, however we had been stumbling for word when we had our Barbara Dignan come in half way through a link with her pinny on and with vacuum cleaner ask him to move over a second while she cleaned the floor!

Mondays 'Oldham Asian Network' turned out to be what I thought was one of the most successful areas of the station. One of the many things that I discovered was that you can only obtain Bangla music on cassette, a sight to be seen is the studio floor littered with about an hundred cassettes, but the presenters seemed to know exactly where to find what they wanted. I was only pleasantly surprised over the quality of programming both technically and ascetically, although I couldn't understand the majority of it it. There is clearly a demand for this type of programming as the telephone lines were literally red hot, especially during the Bangla programmes in the evenings. It is surprising to know that the BBC in Manchester don't produce any programmes in Bangla, but they do on Radio Lancashire where there is very few listeners of Bagladeshi origins. Additionally Manchester's commercial station 'Asian Sound' lacks Bangla programming.

'Heartbeat Radio' was one of the specialist slots which went down well within the audience. Targeting the over 55's with appropriate music and guests of interest to that age group. Feedback from the listeners was good and it also allowed us to further the 'health related' message featuring interviews with specialists which got vital information across to the audience within an entertainment format. 'The Voice' on Sundays to an extent widened its remit from its first broadcast, of particular note the broadcast of 'Chris Mylett Sunday Spectacular' the long running hospital radio programme especially for the children in the Royal Oldham. The broadcast allowed patients friends and family to get involved in he programme to a much greater extent than the hard wired system on its own would allow. The under 18 age group is an hard audience to build with competition from the like of kids TV and video games, but again the involvement of people in the age group was a positive advantage.

The third weekend again saw us working closely with Radio Cavell in that the Saturday was turned over to the 25th Anniversary celebrations of Oldham's Hospital Radio. The use of the Town Centre studio as a base for displays and a site for old members of the station to drop in gave the Cavell celebrations an up front public image. This was a very enjoyable day and the programmes continued into the evening from the studios in the hospital with the regular 'Saturday Night Requests' programme broadcast on the transmitter, in an extend form with many of the stations presenters taking their turn to play a few requests. Added to this a party in the station offices I concluded the days programmes with a special review programme until the early hours and who was it who said that you shouldn't drink and drive a mixing desk'?

The 'Voice Of Oldham' I feel must be viewed not as simply a set of radio presenters but as a combination of station staff and the people of Oldham who provide the subject matter and the the knowledge of what the audience want because they are the audience. For example some one such as me couldn't go into the studio and produce a credible Asian programme,but by the station acting as a coordinator and a technical base groups from within the Asian community plan and produce a valuable radio resource of relevance to the community. It is hard to forget the message on our answer phone the Monday after the broadcast asking "can you tell me what's wrong, why I can't hear the Asian Network on my radio." The Restricted Service License allowing only four weeks on air means as soon as you have built up an audience and start playing a role in fostering a true community spirit you have to go off air. A music orientated format can easily merge into the music of other stations when the listener tunes back once the broadcast has finished. The 'Voice Of Oldham's larger speech content and distinctive programming strands targeting audiences that are truly uncatered for by other commercial radio station arguably leaves a lasting impression and is of greater community significance, after all where do people such as the over 60's tune into after the broadcast ended, not to 'Piccidilly' or 'Kiss' that's for sure.

The next stage is the application for the 'full time' license, it is the 'Radio Authority' who is responsible for adverting and issuing the licence to a station to broadcast for eight years somewhere in The North East Greater Manchester area, not just Oldham, and not necessarily a local group. On a simplistic level the criteria used is as follows: does the station widen listener choice in the area and will it still be here up to eight years down the line, is it financially sound. Support from the community can also play an important role, added to this many groups are working closely with local newspaper groups, to as far as the law allows.

'The Voice Of Oldham' widens listener choice by targeting people who are not catered for by local commercial radio, Asian and Bangladeshi community, over 55's, brass band and other specialist music fans, the under 18's. 'Oldham Events' has the potential for more than a 'What's On' guide, outside broadcasts and interviews allowing the wider community to get involved and also station instigated events that wouldn't happen with out the station. Instant and open access helps bring the people of Oldham together and develops an audience. We live in a commercial world and 'The Voice Of Oldham' can offer advertisers a changing audience demographic for each of the specialist strands enabling a message to be sent directly to the target audience, which widens potential advertisers.

There is extensive competition from other groups who have equally convincing arguments for being awarded the license and established radio groups with vast financial clout could put a bid in. Outside Oldham there are half a dozen or more radio groups and of course there is 'Oldham Fm' with their adult soft rock music format. As is the case in Bolton with 'Radio Bolton' and 'Variety Gold' there is the problem of getting across to people that we are different stations and more over decide which they would rather see on a full time.

'The Voice Of Oldham' with extensive speech content pitches its self as 'community radio' with open access and targeting more of the community with it's distinctive stranded schedule. The question is which is better in the eyes of the radio authority. 'The Voice Of Oldham' says it's a 'unique broadcasting experience' and that it truly is. No other radio station, outside the BBC, says 'tune in today and we've got just what you want but tomorrow someone else will get what they want, but you can listen again next week.' It seems really obvious really, but is it a case of being just to radical, just too unique.

© Phil Edmonds 1997. May not be reproduced without permission.

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