Remembering the halcyon days of Greater Manchester’s foremost independent local radio station.
In the most part of my formative years, Piccadilly Radio formed a great part of my radio listening habits. From my recollections in the 1980s I can remember listening to The Bradshaws at about five in the morning before setting off for school. The soundtrack to Saturday nights would be Magic Music with Steve Penk instead of some film after the 8.45 pm ITN News bulletin.
Chez Vallantine (and the people which make up the happy home) were heavy Piccadilly Radio listeners since the start. For example, Dad spent many a happy morning roaring with laughter to Phil Wood’s programme. I could remember the night when Dodgy Dave parked outside a ‘phone box at The Albion Hotel (Dukinfield) one night in 1988 (as part of Paul Carrington’s late night show).
1988 was also the year when Piccadilly Radio was split into two, leading to today’s situation where the original commercial stations have been taken over by conglomerates with interests in other media, such as newspapers and satellite television channels.
Greater Manchester’s Piccadilly Radio was obviously no exception with its stations being taken over by EMAP and Bauer Media (German owners of Take a Break magazine). Key 103 would retain its moniker with Piccadilly 1152 being renamed ‘Magic 1152’ then ‘Piccadilly Magic 1152’.Almost from that moment, we switched over to Capital Gold on 1458AM. In 2007, we started listening to Tameside Radio on 103.6FM, and not looked back since.
Today, East of the M60 will take you back to a time when Phil Wood cajoled listeners to squash inside ‘phone boxes, when James Stannage introduced us to Jasper Carrott, and towards a time when ringing 261 got you the dulcet tones of Ray Teret.
The dawn of Piccadilly Radio
Most radio stations prior to 1974 was London-centric, with the exception of the pirate stations. Local stations were the sole preserve of the BBC till LBC and Capital Radio changed all that in 1973. North of the M25, BRMB became the first ILR station outside London.
The 2 April 1974 saw the start of Piccadilly Radio. Roger Day (aka Twiggy from Pirate radio days) was the first DJ, playing ‘Good Vibrations’ by The Beach Boys. Its early jingles were recorded by CCS, famed for the Top of the Pops signature tune used between 1971 – 1981. Formed by Philip Birch, the station took its name from the Piccadilly Gardens area of Manchester, and its base at Piccadilly Plaza.
As well as playing the latest chart hits, Piccadilly’s remit covered local factual programming and sports coverage. This included an early phone-in programme ‘The Piccadilly Line’, Sunday morning religious programmes (Square One) and in-depth news programmes as well as daily bulletins. News bulletins at the top of the hour were accompanied by headlines of the main stories on the half hour. Though the station had a few teething problems to begin with (mainly technical gremlins), the station was an instant hit with Mancunians seeking a local alternative to the BBC’s service from the opposite end of Piccadilly Gardens.
Almost instantaneously, Piccadilly Radio’s DJs became personalities in their own right:
James Stannage as well cementing his reputation as an outspoken talk show host brought Bob Williamson and Jasper Carrott to national attention;
Steve Penk, after starting out in 1978 became a television presenter in the late 1990s after moving to Capital FM via Key 103. He now owns and broadcasts on Revolution 96.2FM;
Roger Day, prior to joining Piccadilly Radio, had already been famed as a DJ for pirate stations Radio England, Radio Caroline South and Radio Northsea International. He was known as ‘Twiggy’, due to his build and the popular 1960s model with the same name;
Both Gary Davies and Andy Kershaw moved from Piccadilly Radio to become successful BBC Radio One disc jockeys in their own right;
Chris Evans has since moved on from being Timmy Mallett’s right-hand man to at one point owning Virgin Radio and taking over from Terry Wogan’s BBC Radio Two breakfast slot.
The Great (Radio) Schism
By Government diktat, independent local radio stations were obliged to offer a second competing station, offering the listener more choice. Piccadilly, like several other stations, decided to use the 103 FM frequency for contemporary music, with ‘golden oldies’ being played on 1152 AM. On the 03 September 1988, Key 103 was formed, taking the bold step of attracting the Yuppie audience. Programmes would attract the young affluent listener living in Salford Quays, and audience sector which would prove fruitful for its advertisers.
Alas this didn’t materialise. 1990 saw Key 103 refocus its audience towards the mainstream. It paid off, and Key 103 shortly became Greater Manchester’s most popular independent radio station. Also in the same year, Piccadilly 1152 was renamed Piccadilly Gold. After failing to purchase BRMB, Transworld Radio Group was sold to EMAP Radio in 1994. Five years later, Piccadilly Gold, in line with similar stations adopted the Magic moniker, being known as Piccadilly Magic 1152.
Today, Piccadilly Magic 1152, has seen a rapid decline in the number of listeners, who have since defected to other commercial stations such as XFM and Rock FM. Also having an effect was the launch of smaller scale local stations such as Tameside Radio, Revolution 96.2 FM (owned by ex-Piccadilly DJ Steve Penk) and Tower FM. Key 103 however has continued to hold its own, though again lost listeners to the younger local stations. Both stations broadcast from Castle Quay in Castleford, Manchester, having moved from the cramped Piccadilly Plaza studios which gave the station its birthright.
As with the pirate stations, DJs became personalities in their own right, went out on the road to see its listeners and even spawned merchandise. 1975 saw the station offer a pendant radio. Worn like a medallion, the AM radio included the station’s ‘261’ logo and was reputed to be quite heavy around the neck (due to the transistors used). Subsequent merchandise included the Piccadilly Radio Football Annual, edited by Tom Tyrell, who joined Piccadilly Radio from BBC Radio Manchester. All of which were available from the Piccadilly Radio reception. As with most independent radio stations were the usual car stickers.
If like myself you used to listen to Piccadilly Radio, feel free to share your memories. Whether you took place in the Manchester Run, rang James Stannage or owned a Piccadilly Radio 261 pendant radio, East of the M60 would like to hear from you.
S.V., 21 June 2010.
This article is dedicated to the memory of Chris Sievey, better known as comic creation Frank Sidebottom who passed away early this morning. His contribution to Piccadilly Radio was the ‘Radio Timperley’ show, a weekly 10 minute slot within Paul Carrington’s show in 1988.
RIP Chris Sievey (1956 – 2010).