Back at the end of January, Bauer Radio – one of the UK’s biggest radio groups – announced the closure of its studios in St Paul’s Square, Preston (home of Rock FM) and the transfer of broadcast operations to their studio centre in Manchester.
In many ways the story is just another small step in the consolidation of UK radio. Increasing shared programming and networking allows radio station owners to create the kind of big, modern radio brand you need to stand out in 2020 without the costs of maintaining lots of studio locations. It was reported that, in recent years, the only programme to originate in Preston was Rock FM’s breakfast show, fronted Joel and Gemma. The rest came from other locations in the Bauer group.
But this isn’t just another studio move. Red Rose Radio was unusual because the founders commissioned a broadcast complex in an old church, where thick walls could help with soundproofing. Apparently, Red Rose Radio Limited paid £35,000 for the St Paul’s church and brought the conversion project in for £778,000. From my time at SMS, I have a very grainy scan of a photo of the company’s satellite dish outside the church. There’s a documentary on YouTube going behind the scenes of the station in 1993 where you can very clearly see the church architecture in the offices.
The whole story may have passed me by had I not been searching for some recordings that I have on cassette, stored in an old box at the back of a cupboard, on which I discovered a snippet of Red Rose’s closedown audio from the early years and decided to have a look what was the station was like today.
Back in the early years of UK commercial radio, stations would often launch with a broadcast schedule that did not operate around the clock.
On that tape, the station’s first Programme Controller, Keith Macklin, is delivering the ‘goodnight’ announcement that was played each evening. The audio fades a little in the middle but remains audible. From memory, I would have recorded it when the station used to closedown after the news at midnight. Back then I was a big fan of late night phone-ins on Piccadilly Radio, listening under the covers when I should have been asleep. On the same tape was another piece of audio, the engineering announcement that played every few minutes through the night. This was obviously later in the year because the broadcasting hours had been extended to 2am. Who knows what I was doing to get that recording; I can only imagine there was no school the next day.
I thought the closedown audio and the closedown of the studios seemed correlated. So, I upload that audio in memory of St Paul’s church, Preston.