The Freedom Radio Story by Craig Benson
How it all started
It all started: In the early part of 1988, I had just come home from work (I was the car rental manager at Wreck-a Rent car hire In Cradley Heath, West Midlands (these premises became the first Freedom Radio site).
I decided to do what I normally did after a hard day a work, which was to grab my old battered radio, take it into the bathroom, and have a tune around while my bath was running. Usually it would tune in to so called legal station, but this night was different!
I landed on a silent dead carrier, I could hear nothing! so I left it tuned while I went about my business, then like a voice from outer space I heard the words “is this f***ing microphone working Paul?” I rushed back into the bathroom, amazed that I had heard people swearing on radio, and turned my radio up loud. The next words I heard were “it’s just after 6pm you’re tuned into Powerhouse Radio in the Midlands” my interest in pirate radio was born.
I listened to Powerhouse Radio almost every night for a couple of months, it was a truly mad station, pushing back the boundaries of free radio, playing stuff people wanted to hear, giving “shouts” to normal people like me and you.
A couple of months later, I was working as normal at Wreck-A Rent car hire and this voice said “alright mate I wanna hire a car for the weekend”, “how much is it going to cost me?” I looked up and there is this fairly plumpish geezer standing there, and the very first thing I noticed about him was that he was wearing a T-shirt with the words ‘POWERHOUSE RADIO’ printed on it. I said to him “Powerhouse Radio?, I listen to your station every night” he replied “good on ya mate, what you think of it, brilliant eh? I own the bloody thing”.
This was PAUL H (the owner of Powerhouse Radio).
This was my chance to pick his brains about pirate radio, could I possibly start my own station? How much would it cost? What do I need? Paul agreed to meet me later on and arrange to get an illegal transmitter for me and show me the ropes in exchange for a free weekend car hire.
I met Paul a few days later, by this time I had managed to persuade 3 of my mates to join me on my pirate radio adventure, they were Big H, Shaun and Barry C.
We managed to scrape together 2 decks, an old Sony tape deck and a 6 channel mixer (8 quid from a second hand shop in Cradley Heath) and an old microphone that Big H found in his shed.
A week later Paul turned up at Shaun’s flat located at Tanhouse Cradley. He was clutching this 25-watt transmitter (by the way he charged me £200 for that!). He stayed a couple of hours and helped us set everything up, we were quite lucky because Big H was a bit of an electrician.
We shoved the dipole ariel out of the kitchen window, called the station LBCR (Local Black Country Radio) and started to transmit. The DJ’s names were SMOOTH OPERATOR, SHAUN, BARRY C and DOCTOR C (me) we were well excited to finally be on air
The station ran for about a month until Shaun had an argument with his girlfriend and she kicked us out the flat! The interesting thing was we had no phone, so I remember one night Big H requested on air that if anyone in Tanhouse flats could hear us, to flick the lights on and off 3 times in their flat, Tanhouse was like a firework display that night.
After the shutdown of LBCR, things went silent for about a month, but I had got the “pirate bug” (any pirate DJ will tell you about this feeling). I wanted to be bigger and better than Powerhouse Radio, how could I do that?
I decided the only way to do that was to get a big rig (transmitter), top of the range equipment, so I made some phone calls to London. I managed to find a company called SBS (Sound Broadcasting Systems) transmitters for legal stations.
After I explained to the guy there what I was looking for, he eventually agreed to make me a 160 watt TX for a price of £550, providing I did not tell his boss. I sent one of my drivers with half the money up front to this guys house in London which was literally in a brown envelope.
2 weeks later I had a call from Tom the TX guy. Back again went the driver down to London with the rest of the cash and to collect my brand new professional transmitter.
In the meantime I had a word with my boss at work, told him what I was planning and he agreed to let me build the studio in the brick outhouse at the rear of wreck-a-rent. This time I was going to do it properly.
Here is a description of the very first ever Freedom studio (late 1980’s)
The room was about 12ft by 8ft A hardboard wall was built in the middle of the room splitting it in half, the top half of the wall had a perspex screen built into it so the DJ would be in a sound proof room on his own.
A “DJ console was built in the studio area, housing 2 Technics decks, 32 channel Sound-lab mixer, 2 Panasonic CD players, 2 Sharp auto reverse tape decks, Omni-directional mic and mic boom, mobile phone (the old brick type) and a CCTV monitor (the camera was set up at the entrance to wreck-a-rent).
The side where the DJ worked from was painted black with ultra violet lights being the studio lighting. The other side of the perspex was an area where people could sit and relax, this consisted of armchairs, 2 large 200-watt speakers and a microwave.
The TX duly arrived, it was a big baby, 160 watts with an “exciter” built on the top of it. We ran the audio from the studio and situated the aerial (5/8th wave Dipole) on the roof of the church next door. We were ready to go!
We started to transmit on 106 FM I was the first on the air, and Freedom Radio was born!
The station only lasted 8 days in this location, we were raided by the DTI (Department of Trade & Industry) on a Tuesday afternoon.
I was devastated, I’d spent over £3000 setting the station up, only to have the DTI take us off air before we even got going. I went to court and got fined £1500 (£500 for installation of a TX, £500 for operating an illegal station, £500 for procuring others to work on it).
This started a long line of “run ins” with the DTI and 13 more court appearances.