A nostalgic look at the former radio station’s jingles
After a six year hiatus I have, in a professional capacity, returned to my spiritual home. Central Manchester. Back on the bus to Piccadilly Gardens though the train and tram could be suitable alternatives. To pass the time (and conserve battery life on my smartphone), I have rediscovered the joys of radio. In spite of the lure of free WiFi on an Enviro400 double decker bus.
Via Tameside Radio. The joys of its new breakfast show. Very good it is too, not least the fact I can get a clear signal up to Piccadilly Gardens. Good old FM: light on the battery life compared with YouTube. Sometimes better quality sound.
Had I made the journey thirty years earlier, yours truly would have boarded a white, orange and brown Leyland Atlantean. There would have been several more pubs on Ashton Old Road. A portable radio of some description would have been permanently stuck to 261 medium wave or 97.0 FM (103.0 FM from 1986).
But in 1985 there was no internet access; Prestel or Micronet 800 were its equivalents. Tameside Radio’s predecessor started out as Heartbeat Radio in October 1983. Breakfast TV and colour newspapers seemed dangerously new fangled. For many of us in Greater Manchester, there was the legendary Piccadilly Radio.
Besides The Bradshaws, its playlist and presenters, the one thing which had me hooked was its jingles. So much so I have scoured the internet for Piccadilly Radio jingles. It is my quest for the clips which has inspired this post.
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Jingle package creator timeline
- 1974: John Cameron/Mickie Most/CCS;
- 1976: Steve England;
- 1980: Alfasound Tapetrix;
- 1981: David Riley;
- 1984: Sue Manning Music;
- 1986: Muff Murfin/Standard Sound;
- 1986: Airforce;
- 1988 (Key 103): Stowe, Bowdon and Wilson;
- 1989 (Piccadilly 1152): Sound Ideas.
1974: John Cameron – “The Piccadilly Radio Theme”
02 April 1974: a Year Zero for commercial radio to Mancunian ears. Unless you count the pirate stations and Radio Luxembourg as natural predecessors. Piccadilly Radio’s launch had an immediate impact on Greater Manchester’s radio listeners. For its launch jingle package, they turned to the guys who brought us Whole Lotta Love and Tap Turns on the Water.
C.C.S., aided by John Cameron and leading producer Mickie Most, created a soulful brassy package for the emergent station. The high pitched horn fanfare was reserved for its news bulletins. There was also vocals from Sunny (UK one hit wonder with Doctor’s Orders) for the ‘goodnight’ signing off piece.
For your ears we have the full Piccadilly Radio Theme:
1976: Steve England – “Two Sixty Onnnne”
Another set of jingles from 1976 had pirate radio influences and were produced in house at Piccadilly Plaza. The speeded up and slowed down voices and pitch changes were gloriously wacky.
Steve England joined Piccadilly Radio as a DJ after working for Radio Caroline. The jingles have echoes of his experiences on pirate radio. The news ident theme was a throaty two tone high pitch reminiscent of sonar bleeps. Our voiceover fellow would say “Piccadilly” followed by the two note tune then “First With News”.
Shortly after this package, he would form Alfasound Tapetrix in Ashton-on-Mersey with Alan Fawkes. In 1980, they would produce Piccadilly Radio’s next jingle package. One, in the ears of some radio anoraks, among the best loved packages.
1980 Alfasound Tapetrix – “Your Music and your Friend”
In 1979, Steve England’s connections with Piccadilly Radio were maintained upon forming Alfasound Tapetrix with Alan Fawkes. A former schoolhouse with a distinctive clock tower in Ashton-on-Mersey became its studios. Co-founder Alan was also a session musician with jazz and folk leanings. He was also a regular guest performer with The Houghton Weavers and privy to writing the odd limerick. The first four letters in Alfasound are the first two letters of Alan (Al) and Fawkes (Fa), rather than mid-priced Italian cars.
1980 would see Alan Bardsley begin his stint as one of the voices of Piccadilly Radio. During most of the 1980s his dulcet tones were lent to many a radio advert, and the odd regional TV advertisement. By the mid-1980s, Alfasound Tapetrix would work with numerous commercial stations, and the odd BBC local station. Its real breakthrough is undoubtedly Piccadilly’s 1980 package, as seen below:
The leif motif of the Alfasound jingles was the radio being your friend. A comfortable companion, an uplifting medium relaxing to otherwise lonely listeners. Another was the use of space age synthesised effects as well as session musicians. For lovers of the Sonovox and electronic tom-toms, Alfasound’s 1980 package is divine.
Sadly omitted from the clip was the robotic Sonovox effects used to remind listeners of its then telephone number (061 228 6262). Which, if you tried today within the 0161 dialling code, would get you through to The Old Monkey. (Whatever you do, ring to book a table for dinner instead of asking for Curly Shirley and Umberto. The Joey Holts is a pretty decent pint).
The Alfasound news jingle had an air of authority with bombastic music following the initial sting. That comprised of four note fanfare followed by synthesised morse code effects.
1981: David Riley – “Nobody Does It Better”
The 1981 package was more soulful and a polished work all round. Its greater use of saxophone was relaxing and nonintrusive to late night listeners. In some idents, “2-6-1” was uttered by voiceover artist Bill McAllister.
1984: Sue Manning Music – “Straight from the Heart”
By 1984, Piccadilly Radio stood out as one of the UK’s best performing ILR stations. It was second only to Capital Radio and had strong listening figures outside of Greater Manchester. Its powerful transmitters enabled listeners to get their fix of Mike Sweeney or Phil Wood as far as Chester and Southport. Sue Manning’s jingle package emphasised this, and did so very well.
As much as I like the Steve England and Alfasound jingles, my fondest and earliest memories were of the Sue Manning package. It coincided with me starting school and starting to take some sort of interest in popular music.
For me, it is cosiness of the jingles. The homeliness, the sense of love and all round good vibes from its lush arrangement and vocals. The reassuring use of ‘Straight from the Heart’. Not to mention the slightly unsettling yet authoritative sounding news ident. One which I consider to this day as the ultimate radio news ident.
Following a fanfare of horns (which sounded like “Piccadilly Radio”), a set of drums would mimic the beating of a heart – again keeping with the ‘Straight from the Heart’ theme.
For me, 1984 was probably the year when I first displayed tendencies of radio anorakdom. I – as of now – in my formative years was a pretty poor sleeper at times. It wasn’t unusual for me to listen to Pete Baker’s 261am show in the early mornings before going to school.
More than anything I would associate Christmas 1985 with Sue Manning Music’s Christmas package. I always thought the standard package was brilliant but the Christmas one…
Truly divine. Actually superior to the standard package. It reminds me waking up early doors to see if Father Christmas had been. Even now, I’m transported back to 1985; the sight of snow on the streets of Dukinfield; perhaps the odd snow-capped Leyland Atlantean or MCW Metrobus off Whitelands in Tameside Garage. (Greater Manchester Transport’s 1981 livery always looked well in the snow).
1986: Muff Murfin/Standard Sound – “Music Power”
Increasingly, Piccadilly Radio became both my music and my friend. Trying to tune in to 97.0 FM was easier for the young S.V. to do than make proper friends in school.
22 April 1986. To all regular readers of East of the M60, I see no need to elaborate on this momentous date.
O.K. then, I’ve changed my mind, for the benefit of any new readers. That very Tuesday in ’86 marked the first of four days assessment at the magnificent and (now demolished) Ewing School in West Didsbury. Being ferried to and from the school in a taxi with two others (and my mum on some days) meant… more Piccadilly Radio. Yes, the dulcet tones of Curly Shirley on the way there, then Andy Crane on the return leg. And, to my amazement… another set of jingles. How I wish I recorded them for safe keeping and digitising at a later date!
In the Spring of 1986, Piccadilly Radio’s FM service moved from 97.0 to 103.0 MHz. To commemorate this a special series of jingles was created by Muff Murfin’s Standard Sound in Worcestershire. These would sit alongside the cartridges of the Sue Manning jingles package.
Five minutes into this Soundcloud clip you will hear the Sue Manning era Piccadilly News ident followed by a shorter version of Muff Murfin’s sting. Also in the clip, ident jingles for their sports coverage (“Music Power, Sports Action…”), the dulcet tones of Alan Bardsley, another Sue Manning news jingle (followed by Henry Matthews), and a long version of the Muff Murfin jingle.
“Piccadilly Radio, Stereo Power, FM 103/Piccadilly Radio, Music Power, FM 103”
The Standard Sound packages were bombastic, epic in proportion and sounded like the tones of a radio station going skyward.
1986: Airforce – “The Experience”
Airforce’s package would be the last set of jingles used by both its AM and FM frequencies. In 1986, Airforce were a relatively new production company and their synthesised effects set Piccadilly’s jingles apart from the competition’s. Vocal gymnastics and melodic compositions were the order of the day.
Whereas a mix of older jingles were used on odd occasions prior to the Airforce package’s release, most of the old jingles were retired. Exceptions to this included the Muff Murfin “Music Power, Sports Action…” idents used till the AM/FM split and on 1152 MW prior to 1991. In more ways than one, a clean sweep and fresh new sound to Piccadilly Radio. Alas short lived as the split of AM/FM frequencies would mean a set of jingles for each frequency.
The news jingle, more synthesised than its predecessor, was good though lacked the gravitas of the Sue Manning Music version. The final notes sounded like “Piccadilly Radio” set to synth horns. Still it was very much of its time.
1988: Stowe, Bowdon, Wilson – “Music! Not Music”
The start of Key 103 also coincided with me returning to school. For a time my then usual taxi driver flirted with Key 103 before reverting to the AM station. I thought Pete Baker’s show on the new station was listenable enough but the musical variety seemed to have been less eclectic than its AM sister. At Chez Vall we remained loyal to the AM station, till its transition to Magic 1152. I listened to Key 103 and BBC Radio One on odd occasions though Piccadilly 1152 was my core station.
The Stowe, Bowden, Wilson package was classy. In its own right as part of an album track, most definitely. It sounded like something The Art of Noise would have been proud of, but the jingles didn’t exactly gel with 1988 ears.
Perhaps they were some ten years before their time, or they would have been right at home in digital form. It is worth noting that the “Music! Not Music” male voice was Middleton’s very own Steve Coogan.
1989: Sound Ideas
For the third time in this entry we refer to Pete Baker. His jingle company Sound Ideas was behind the 1989 package for Piccadilly 1152. It is a pleasing though less demanding package compared with Airforce’s jingles. Probably an agreeable halfway house between the Airforce and Sue Manning Music package.
The real high point of the sound ideas package was its news ident. There was a slight nod to Airforce and Alfasound eras. Starting with synth toms, it includes Alfasound voiceover legend Alan Bardsley, then a strident downward set of notes before returning to a higher quavered note. This followed by a synthesised effect and – usually at that time as of now on Key 103 – the dulcet tones of Paul Lockitt.
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Before I go…
Feel free to have a good reminisce over the jingles. As always, if there’s any gaps or errors, feel free to pull me up.
Towards Part Two
The second part will commence from 1990 focusing on the later jingles. The nineties saw transitional periods for the Piccadilly stations. Not only a move to Castle Quay but also its acquisition by EMAP Radio (today’s Bauer Radio) and loss of localised programming.
S.V., 13 July 2015.