The Diary of David Heathcote (7)
22 Oct 2016 0 comments. tbs.pm/9951
One of the best features of WHAM Radio was its advertising. This was a try-out, to see how Hucknall would take to its own commercial radio station, so there was no question of employing an advertising agency. But there was no need. It turned out that, in the Jenner brothers, there was a unique blend of talents.
Steve was an English teacher, so was adept at writing advertising copy; Paul, as a DJ on the road, was remarkably gifted at selling – he could judge the mood of a potential advertiser and tailor a package for her or him at the blink of an eye.
Several adverts still stick in my memory two decades later.
Imagine the audio scenario where a young male is being thrashed in what is evidently a sado-masochistic ritual. The sound of the “whip” and the shrieks of “protest” are riveting. The advert is for a local wood yard! The voice-over delivers the punch-line: “[Wood yard’s name] prices cannot be beaten, unlike Jason… who LOVES it!” It was all done, to coin a phrase, “in the best possible taste” and listeners chuckled each time the advert was run. Twenty years on, I doubt that a message would be tolerated on air for an instant.
The owner of the local DIY store, it turned out, had been in commercial radio sales himself before moving to Hucknall and setting up shop. He understood the power of a good jingle and commissioned the recording of professional artists singing “Hucknall Home Improvement Centre” in a variety of arrangements and keys. Everyone who listened to the station could sing the jingles then, and I bet if I took a tape recorder out onto Hucknall Market Place the tunes would still be recognised today.
From the playlist that Paul and Steve drew up, the presenters had some choice over what they played and when, but there were certain tracks that were perfect to be played after News Out and others that just begged to be played before News In. One such track was Oasis’ “Don’t Look Back In Anger”. For me, it epitomised the latter half of the 1990s. But it would often be playing as I took my seat in front of mike B, checked my script, cleared my throat and prepared my opening line: “The LOCAL news from W-H-A-M: I’m David Heathcote.” To this day, if that song comes on the radio, I still feel butterflies in my stomach. Good times.
In 1996, before Google arrived, I knew that the internet was A Good Thing. I surfed, and discovered we were not the first radio station to call itself WHAM.
There was another WHAM, on the shores of Lake Ontario, in Rochester, NY. At that time, it was a music station, commercial of course. Well, I thought, if towns can twin – why not radio stations? So, before we went on air, I fired off a letter to them, asking if they could send me some of their WHAM jingles and other audio material!
To my delight, and I think everyone else’s amazement, a DJ at WHAM responded generously and mailed me a cassette with a WHAM sung jingle and a number of “You’re listening to David Heathcote on WHAM Hucknall” announcements delivered in a rich American accent!
On a roll, I then discovered there was a chew bar called WHAM made in the UK. Another letter, begging this time for free sweets. Again, to my surprise, the makers sent me a couple of boxes, 100 chew bars in total. They made excellent little prizes for school children who entered our on-air competitions.
My family’s reaction to my on-air work on WHAM perplexed me. The logical announcement at the front end of my bulletins began: “The LOCAL news from W-H-A-M…” “Local” needed to be emphasised, because that’s what we were – indeed, it was our only reason for existing. But my wife and two children fell about with laughter at the way I said “local”, and I was the target of impersonations and parody over the meal table.
To me, as a news journalist, even on a tiny station like WHAM, I felt I had an important job to do, and I’d expected my family to support me. It was not to be. However, such satire kept me “grounded”: I would never be allowed to get ideas above my (radio) station.
But what was to be the future of WHAM in Hucknall? It had undoubtedly been a success in terms of audience. Whether the station had turned a profit was a matter between Paul and Steve, but they were definitely up for another licence application. The terms of the Radio Authority RSL licence were that we could broadcast for 28 days, but then could not apply for another licence for 4 months – this was to give other groups a chance of getting on air.
No other group made an application, but when the brothers approached the Radio Authority 4 months later they found there was no frequency available for us until the following year. We would miss the period just before Christmas in 1996, a lucrative time to be on air.
Nevertheless, in the Spring of 1997 we were back! And, in total, WHAM took to the airwaves four times. All this was to prove to the Radio Authority that the Jenner brothers, and the team they had assembled, were a credible broadcast unit. But we also needed to show that the success in Hucknall was not unique: we could use our talents in other areas. So, over the following years, sometimes more than once, we broadcast Fair FM (celebrating the annual Ilkeston Fair), Moor Green Show FM (from the annual show ground just outside Hucknall), and Newark FM (from a workman’s hut in Newark Cemetery!)
In my last teaching job, I was Deputy Head in a Church of England school, and therefore had experience of delivering Christian school assemblies. (In fact, I’d lost my faith, but still had enough knowledge of religion to retain credibility.) With this in mind, while setting up the 4-week Newark FM broadcasts, I was invited to present the Sunday Morning show, with the expectation that I would deliver religiously-themed messages during the programmes. I had enough assembly material stashed away that this was not too much of a challenge.
Then Paul and Steve let it be known that the Radio Authority was accepting bids for full-time commercial stations in the East Midlands. Our time had come! The brothers judged we had earned ourselves sufficient credibility with all the RSLs we had done, so we could now make an application – not, as I had expected, for the Mansfield licence (Mansfield being just up the road from Hucknall), but for the Chesterfield one. Their reasoning was that there were already groups in Mansfield who would make a strong application, and we might not succeed. The brothers felt the field for the Chesterfield licence was more open.
In the coming months, Paul and Steve had two main objectives: to raise local awareness that we were making a bid for the commercial radio licence, and then to measure the degree of support that we had from Chesterfield people for that bid. The team was in a “whatever it takes” frame of mind, so I wasn’t surprised that I was asked to put on a dinner jacket and be master of ceremonies for a personal appearance event at a Chesterfield night club. I think I used too strident a “teacher voice”, because when I took over the microphone the entire night club audience was stunned to silence!
Later, I found myself outside Tesco Chesterfield, clipboard in hand, asking shoppers if they would welcome a local commercial radio station, and inviting them to suggest features the station should run. I’d previously worked for the agency that compiled RAJAR audience ratings, so I’d had some experience of how to sweet-talk the public into giving an opinion.
Which reminds me. As a field operative, collecting radio listening diaries, I knew how important it was to deliver and collect diaries from every household on my list: I couldn’t pick and choose addresses, because then the selection would be biased. The closer I could get to a 100% return, the more money I would earn. Also, there was an extra bonus if I could get children’s diaries filled in, because they were especially difficult to obtain. So it was, one dark November afternoon, that I knocked on a front door and was pleased to hear children’s voices from within! The door was opened by a man dressed just in shorts, I showed my ID, launched into my scripted introduction, and was invited in to meet the family.
All of whom were stark naked! I had chanced upon a naturist household. The man had put on shorts only to answer the door.
I can tell you, trying to deliver an upbeat message about the importance of carefully filling in diaries is no easy task in the presence of so much genitalia. It would have made a perfect “Candid Camera” stunt.