Straight from the heart of Manchester, forty reasons to celebrate Greater Manchester’s once foremost independent local radio station.
Who’d have thought forty years would have passed since the soundtrack of Leyland Atlantean diesel fumes and Phil Wood was the sound of Greater Manchester? Back in 1974, I was still five years and two and a half months away from listening to Piccadilly Radio. In my formative years, it formed a great part of my radio listening habits. Not only at home, but also in the taxi to The Ewing School. I hold Piccadilly Radio solely responsible for a lifelong interest in radio jingles.
I miss the old Piccadilly Radio; the only thing I had found close enough to the greatest independent local radio station to have graced our airwaves was the first five years of Tameside Radio. How I wish I could dial ‘261’ and hear the dulcet tones of James Stannage or Roger Day.
Now for our Piccadilly Hit 40 chart of Forty Iconic Moments and Icons of Piccadilly Radio. There will also be some references to the Key 103 and Piccadilly Gold eras:
- Philip Birch: the father of Greater Manchester Independent Radio – known to infinitely more people as Piccadilly Radio. He began his radio career on the pirate stations, most notably Radio London.
- Good Vibrations, The Beach Boys: the first song ever to be played by Piccadilly Radio, played by…
- Roger Day: known as Twiggy Day since the Radio Caroline era, he had previously worked for Swinging Radio England as well as Radio Caroline.
- Their Piccadilly Plaza studios: the modernist masterpiece/monstrosity (cross out where appropriate) was completed in 1965, comprising of the Piccadilly Hotel, Sunley Tower and Bernard House. For many listeners, the first floor overlooking County Hall on Portland Street aroused the greatest of interest, with giant pictures of the DJs adorning its windows. For many, the escalators halfway along Piccadilly Plaza itself meant…
- The Piccadilly Radio Reception: which as well as being a first point of contact also meant goodies. Particularly audio cassettes, The Piccadilly Radio football book edited by Tom Tyrrell, the unsuccessful pendant radio, and the more successful…
- Piccadilly Radio car stickers: even now, the odd house, car or factory throughout Greater Manchester can be seen with a Piccadilly Radio sticker. Most ubiquitous today remain the 1981 ‘Nobody Does It Better’ stickers with the earlier 1974 logo next numerous. Even more elusive is the sticker featuring the 1986 logo, with a fragmented ‘261’ and ‘Piccadilly Radio’ on top using the Gill Sans typeface. On returning to my old school for the first time in 23 years on a recent visit, I noticed that the 1986 Piccadilly Radio sticker was still on my one time classroom window!
- The Jingles: Piccadilly Radio’s first jingle package was created by the Collective Consciousness Society (better known as CCS) of Whole Lotta Love fame. In the late 1970s, they came from Alfasound, a Sale based company owned by fellow Piccadilly Radio DJ Steve England and Alan Fawkes. Later packages would be created by Sue Manning, Airforce and JAM Productions.
- Dialling 261: at one time, you could listen to Piccadilly Radio through a telephone line by dialling the station’s AM wavelength.
- Talent spotting: today, it always amazes me to see how many Piccadilly Radio presenters of old have moved onto national stations. Most notably Chris Evans on BBC Radio Two, whose first job was a general dogsbody for Timmy Mallett (he did pretty well too). Scott Mills, Gary Davies and Andy Peebles would join BBC Radio One, as would JK and Joel from the Key 103 era. The late Sue Carroll would have a column in the Daily Mirror, whereas Stuart Pyke and John Gwynne would see further employment with Sky Sports.
- News Coverage: unlike today’s local stations, Piccadilly Radio’s news coverage best befitted the sort of journalism needed for the UK’s Second City. Though best known for its music, there was sufficient room for current affairs broadcasting and its own news service. Besides its hourly bulletins, there was also The Week in View, a roundup of the previous week’s news stories. Jim Hancock and Martin Henfield would later move to the BBC’s Northwest Tonight programme.
- Piccadilly Sport: Saturday afternoon wasn’t always the preserve of Soccer Saturday in a certain part of the UK. For listeners unable to get to a football match in the area, or an away game, Piccadilly’s sports coverage was a godsend in the pre-Sky era. Manchester City fans had Brian Clarke for their commentary whereas the legendary Tom Tyrrell covered Manchester United’s fixtures. Given the restrictions for most of the time (up to 1991 B.S.) they were unable to broadcast live commentary till the second half, nor announce which game till a minute before then (this being a Football League measure to avoid hitting gate receipts).
- Goal Flashes: analogous to the above were Piccadilly Radio’s legendary goal flashes. If one of the transmission area’s teams scored, we would hear ‘It’s A Goal!‘. If anyone scored against City, United, Latics, Rochdale, or Altrincham for instance, would be greeted with a facepalmtastic ‘Oh No!’.
- Phil Wood: ‘put some more wood on the wireless, will you…’ Piccadilly Radio’s first star of the breakfast slot would remain at the station for nearly twenty years, and later do the drivetime slot. He introduced surreal characters to his programme and – ably helped by his sound engineer Buzz Hawkins – introduced The Bradshaws to our airwaves. In his breakfast shows, listeners would take part in oddball challenges or ring in to do impressions of, for example, Frank Spencer.
- James Stannage: long before James Whale’s show and Talk Radio was ever thought of, Piccadilly Radio’s outspoken presenter attracted the most listeners for his phone-in show outside London. Furthermore, he also gave Bob Williamson and Jasper Carrott a break showcasing their comedy and folk music. Today, he has a regular show on Manchester Radio Online.
- The On-Air Marathon: one stunt included an on-air marathon, where DJs would try to stay on air for as long as possible. One participant stayed on for 76 hours continuously, without sleep breaks.
- The Best Disco in Town: using a snatch of The Ritchie Family’s song in their advertising jingle, Piccadilly Radio DJs would man the decks at a number of nightclubs including Quaffers in Bredbury and Poco Poco in Heaton Moor. Sometimes, well known musical acts would appear.
- Mike Shaft: known by his Sunday name as Mike Gordon, he adopted the name ‘Mike Shaft’ from his choice of signature tune at Rafters which was Isaac Hayes’ Theme from Shaft. He took over the Soul Music slot vacated by Andy Peebles in 1978 (who left for BBC Radio One). His programme on Piccadilly Radio would be known as Takin’ Care of Business. He would leave the ‘Dilly to form Sunset Radio.
- Steve Penk: Piccadilly Radio had a number of DJs and presenters who went on to join the national radio stations, and little did we think back in 1978 that Steve Penk would be one of many. He started out doing the Saturday night Magic Music slot, had his own mid-evening show and became famous for his wind-ups when he hosted the breakfast show on Key 103. After that, he joined Capital, presented ITV’s TV Nightmares series and… bought a radio station, Revolution 96.2 FM. Of late, he has sold the radio station to Matt Ramsbottom’s company Credible Media.
- Mike Sweeney: now a Greater Mancunian radio legend in his own right, having joined the station in 1978, staying beyond the split of Piccadilly Radio into two separate stations. By the late 1990s he would appear on the Granada Men and Motors quiz Elvis Has Just Left The Building as its host and later join Capital Radio in London and Manchester. Today, he has a show on BBC Radio Manchester every weekday from 0900 to 1200. He is also one of a handful of DJs with a chart single to their name: Who You Looking At? by The Salford Jets (UK #72 chart single, 1980), and he still performs as a musician today.
- The Piccadilly Radio Attackers: believe it or not, but on charity events, Piccadilly Radio DJs would form an amateur footballing side with an XI comprising of its DJs and presenters. They would embark on fundraising efforts for local charities and play against other similar outfits or, for example, Manchester League footballing sides. Mike Sweeney, who often turned out for them, would also train with – and appear in a friendly match for – Stalybridge Celtic.
- Paul Lockitt: now the last surviving link of the old Piccadilly Radio era, having joined the station in 1979. He is now the longest serving newscaster on a UK radio station and works for Key 103.
- Dave Ward: or Curly Shirley as he was also known as, came to Piccadilly Radio in 1979 after being a hairdresser in Moorside Road, Urmston (hence his nickname). In the mid-1980s, he would team up with James H. Reeve and co-present the weekday breakfast show.
- Susie Mathis: after being a member of one-hit wonders The Paper Dolls, Susie would join Piccadilly Radio in 1981 as the first female presenter of a daytime independent local radio show. Immediately beforehand, she was vocal coach for St. Winifred’s School Choir (also fellow presenter Eamonn O’Neal’s school where he taught prior to being on Piccadilly). She has been a key fundraiser for the Francis House cancer hospice in Didsbury.
- The Bradshaws: the brainchild of Piccadilly Radio sound engineer Buzz Hawkins, the adventures of Alf, Audrey and Billy were first aired in between Phil Wood’s shows, set in a part of Manchester stuck in the 1950s. Their immediate success led to cassettes being sold with each title starting with ‘In Our…’ and live shows – still a popular crowd draw today. Some of his more recent work can be heard on Tameside Radio with two adverts for Albion Mill Carpets, Ashton-under-Lyne being mini Bradshaws episodes.
- Henry Matthews’ pipe: as well as being an iconic newscaster and football commentator, it was a stint in the latter walk which led to this mishap. Henry Matthews’ pipe set off the fire alarms at Gigg Lane, Bury.
- The Piccadilly Radio Marathon: in 1981, the Piccadilly Radio Marathon was inaugurated thanks to the sterling work of Brian Beech and Tom Tyrrell. The premise of which involved fundraising for a local charity and an outside broadcast on the event.
- Nightbeat: in the small hours prior to James H. Reeve’s and Curly Shirley’s and Pete Baker’s slots was a cheerful collection of ambient library type music. Sometimes, unknown and unsigned acts would contribute examples of their work, with Howard Jones its most famous one. Shortly after, the Southampton born singer-songwriter – studying at the University of Manchester at the time – would make the Top Ten with New Song and What Is Love.
- Fireworks at Maine Road: in the 1980 – 81 season, they tried a stunt where fireworks would be set off at Maine Road if Manchester City scored a goal. Their actions, in spite of trying to add a bit of pizazz to one leg of a Football League Cup Semi Final tie, attracted the attention of Greater Manchester Police. A dress rehearsal outside the Kippax Street terrace had GMP thinking it was a bomb explosion, with Manchester city centre brought to a standstill.
- Tony ‘The Greek’ Michaelides: another facet of Piccadilly Radio’s greatness was its championing of up and coming acts. Which was all the more important given the rise of Factory Communications, the opening of the Haçienda and the Madchester scene. Manchester’s other Tony (for regular readers, the other Tony needs little introduction) took over from Mark Radcliffe in 1984 and introduced the world to U2, The Stone Roses, Simply Red and R.E.M. He remains a hugely successful promoter to this day and has worked with Simons Cowell and Fuller. After 13 years with Piccadilly Radio and Key 103, he now lives in Florida and his most recent success has involved the promotion of Matchbox 20.
- Umberto: a compassionate and popular presenter, Umberto would often feature with Dave ‘Curly Shirley’ Ward and later have a programme of his own on weekends. He is also known for his charitable work
- Stu Allan: for many regular listeners, their first experience of the Chicago house music scene came from his Saturday night jams. He also introduced listeners to Hip Hop and became a permanent fixture after his hugely successful stand-in stint. His remixes would also be heard on Timmy Mallett’s and Tim Grundy’s programmes. Another one of his creations was the 1990s dance music act Clock, whose biggest chart hit was Whoomph There It Is.
- Frank Sidebottom: the late great Chris Sievey’s comic creation had his own show known as Radio Timperley, where our papier mache hero and his cardboard friend (Little Frank) would take over Paul Carrington’s show for five minutes.
- Dodgy Dave the ‘Phone Box Man: Phil Wood didn’t have the monopoly on daft characters; Paul Carrington did the same on his evening show in the late 1980s. One of his characters was Dodgy Dave the ‘Phone Box Man, and he would turn up outside a phone box, anywhere within the Piccadilly Radio transmission area. People would also do daft things in the proximity of this fellow. Most memorably, outside The Albion Hotel ‘phone box (yes, the one in Dukinfield!), they would reenact the Glade Shake’n’Vac advertisement!
- Tom Tyrrell’s Exile from Stamford Bridge: in the early 1990s, Chelsea chairman Ken Bates had banned the Manchester United commentator and walking encyclopaedia from the press box. To enable him to carry on with his commentary, Alex Ferguson gave him a ticket for the main stand, but he was ejected and had to report on Manchester United’s league match from a mobile telephone!
- Stuart Pyke: there is one game he commentated on which would go down in radio history as one of the most seminal moments of radio commentary. Ever. 1990 – 91 season: Oldham Athletic versus Sheffield Wednesday (1991), Latics were 2-0 down at half time. By the end of 90 minutes, it was 2-2, but the real climax came in injury time in the form of a penalty. Stuart Pyke, being a Latics fan himself was ecstatic to say the very least when they won 3-1 in stoppage time. Here’s further proof of this legendary moment.
- Steve Penk’s Wind-Ups: required listening among Mancunians in the early 1990s was Steve Penk’s breakfast show on Key 103. A key element of which was his telephone wind-ups, a bit like Beadle’s About, though on radio at twenty past seven each weekday. A listener would nominate another one to be ribbed by Penky. Or he would sometimes try and do a celebrity wind-up, telephoning The White House or a hotel where a popular pop group was staying in. With for example, The Bee Gees, his conversation with the receptionist would be peppered with Bee Gees song titles.
- ‘Good Eveeennning James…’: as well as James Stannage himself, the wealth of callers were just as interesting. There was one caller who would greet James with an elongated ‘evening’ and come out with the most surreal stories. Most memorable was the tale of the Gay Ostriches close to Christmas. There was often reference to ‘the lovely Debbie’ with Mr Stannage and his listeners well and truly in stitches at the surreal twists and turns.
- Tremendous Knowledge Dave: an occasional Bank Holiday treat to listeners of James Stannage’s show was the appearance of David Rainford. Dubbed as ‘Tremendous Knowledge Dave’, he would prove to be unstoppable on all things Manchester United and chart music. Sometimes, listeners would ask daft questions like ‘What is the most common owl?’ (Caller’s answer: The Teat Owl) or ‘Which Manchester City player was a go-go dancer called Vanessa?’. Today, David Rainford can be seen on Eggheads, having won £250,000 on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? His day job is a researcher, with some of his questions being seen on today’s quiz shows.
- The Top Ten at Ten: whereas Piccadilly Radio’s retrospective programme was Piccadilly Magic, Key 103’s equivalent was a Mancunian take of BBC Radio One’s The Golden Hour or Pick of the Pops. The premise, a Top Ten singles chart from a given year just after 10 o’clock. AM and PM, with the latter a repeat of the former from a previous transmission date.
- The Quiet Storm: Key 103’s take on the Nightbeat slot with original artistes, this programme, during the mid-1990s would go out on weekdays at 2300 hours and play quieter music. In place of Black Sabbath, for arguments sake, would be Judie Tzuke or Kenny G instead of Deep Purple.
Forty icons or iconic moments? Is that all?
Feel free to elaborate on the existing forty or add some memories of Piccadilly Radio. We particularly welcome memories of the station, be it in the 1970s, or anything from the Key 103 and Magic 1152 eras.
I’m about to dust down the transistor radio or find the Can I Have A Budgie episode on my Bradshaws tape. Here’s to 40 years since the launch of Piccadilly Radio!
S.V., 02 April 2014.