17 February 2009

Hello, hello, turn your radio on

Have a look at this T shirt. It's the oldest in my drawer and I suspect the most robust and dedicated of radio anorak types would really like to own it. This is because it is for a radio station that only ever existed in somebody's mind and therefore only a handful were ever made.

I acquired it in the idiosyncratic surroundings of Harry Ramsden's Fish and Chip Shop in Guiseley, West Yorkshire. I know, the plot is thickening with the rapidity of Ramsden's own scintillating curry sauce. A T shirt, of a phantom radio station, handed to me at a chain chippy. Hold on, because there's more...

Performing on a makeshift stage at said branch of eatery was Berri. That is the same Berri whom you remember doing a sizzling dance version of Sunshine After The Rain.

Following her on to the stage were Menswear. That is the same drippy, posing Britpop outfit Menswear whom you remember - albeit dimly - having a hit with Daydreamer and one or two others.

It's about time I cut to the chase. When I was a hack in Huddersfield, I was still an amateur DJ on temporary and hospital stations, harbouring ambitions to make my hobby into my living. Knowing this, my boss at the press agency where I worked gave me a day off to attend the media launch of a proposed new radio station for the whole of Yorkshire, for which a licence had been advertised by the Radio Authority a year or so before. We had no professional interest in the press conference as Guiseley wasn't in our patch, so I went there purely to rubberneck.

The station was called YFM - we have a lot of 'initials only' radio stations in this country - and would be positioned as a big-sounding hit music station with a mammoth breakfast show and a very driven focus on the whole of the county.

These words were spoken by one Richard Park. Alongside him was Richard Eyre. The bid was from the Capital Radio Group and these two influential figures had their names put on to the bid to add some extra gravitas, and so each travelled up to Guiseley for the launch at Ramsden's, a venue chosen presumably because it was their notion of an epitome of Yorkshire-ness.

So I toddled along with the media pack and took a seat among the hacks. The two suited dignitaries gave their speeches, and had brought with them Neil Fox, still very much the "Doctor" of his on-air persona whose audience across the commercial sector on the Pepsi Chart in the 1990s was colossal. Foxy himself said a few words, then introduced Berri who mimed her way effervescently through her signature hit. Coffee and fags later, a tape was played of a sample of their potential audio, complete with specially commissioned sweepers (if you think the T shirt is collectible, I know of ultra-nerdy radio people who would dunk their own mothers upside down in a commode full of David Mellor's germ-ridden urine to get their hands on this audio) plus truncated intros and links, all giving the feel of what their radio station would sound like if allocated the licence. Menswear then went on stage and mimed Daydreamer and a single which would be released a few weeks later, Being Brave. I recall thinking they each looked about 12.

I managed a polite word with Richard Park and gave him a demo. I am utterly horrified at this thought now, 13 years later, but in 1996 I had no real idea who he was nor what the business was about. I thought, with naivety and yet some logic which I'll defend to this day, that he was a programmer looking to launch a new station and therefore would be needing good local presenters to work on it. He took the cassette and put it in his suit pocket. I'd like to think it wasn't placed carefully in a Ramsden's pedal bin as soon as I was out of sight.

I didn't expect to hear from him, but I did follow up the conversation by sending another copy to the bloke who ran Capital Radio at the time. I got a polite reply and the inevitable rejection. By the end of the year, however, I was on Hallam FM in Sheffield and my career, were it worthy of such a description, has stuttered and coughed its way to where we sit right now.

The T shirt, bearing the logo of the station which they wanted to launch, still fits me and I still wear it with (arf) some frequency. The hacks at the press conference all got one as part of the media pack, which also included background info on the licence, the bid, the personalities involved and other guff.

The next day in the Yorkshire Evening Post there was a woefully posed picture of Berri, Foxy (with headphones on, even though he is quoted as saying that any photographer who asks a DJ to pose with his cans should be immediately replaced) and the lead singer of Menswear "eating" an enormous fried haddock with the Ramsden's logo behind them. The story had become the picture, really, and it only got a paragraph of copy. I can't remember it being in any other papers, regional or local, and for obvious reasons existing radio stations didn't touch it.

It was all immaterial in the end as the licence was awarded to the Faze FM group, who launched a Yorkshire brand of Kiss FM on Valentines Day 1997. This later transmogrified into Galaxy, the brand which continues to occupy the slot to this day.

I'll let you know if I ever elect to place the T shirt on eBay. Meanwhile, I would be willing to wager that neither Richard Park, Richard Eyre nor Neil Fox have ever been to a Harry Ramsden's since, be it for promotional reasons or just a large skate and chips with scraps and lashings of vinegar. I wouldn't be surprised, however, if the odd member of Menswear was now working in one.

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