The Freedom Radio Story by Craig Benson
The Eve Hill years
I was really F***ed off about the raid, but I had learnt a valuable lesson, never spend loads of money on studio equipment, spend it on the TX gear, the links, aerials etc. I realized that it was not all about the power of your TX, but about the height you operated from. I started to look for the highest block of flats in the area.
I knew a guy who said he would rent me his top floor flat (19th floor) at a location in Dudley for £20 a week, I went to have a look at it.
I stood on the balcony of the flat in Dudley and looked down at the whole if Birmingham, I knew that what you could see, you would transmit to …. and I could see the whole of Birmingham!
I checked the roof out, the door was open (unbelievable) also the door was open to the lift room (OK for 240-volt power). I gave this guy £80 for the first months “rent”, he gave me the key, and I walked away from the block feeling something big was about to happen.
And it was, Freedom Radio at Eve Hill Dudley was about to hit the airwaves.
OK so I had been busted in the studio at the back of the car hire company, lost a lot of money and a load of records and equipment, was that going to discourage me? Not on your life, I was very angry and was determined to do it right this time.
The DTI said I was interfering with the Electricity Board emergency frequencies, so this time I was going to make sure that I found a clear frequency, and I thought I did, I asked the guy who was making the new TX for me to set it on 87.9 FM (I soon found out what a mistake that was).
So here I am, standing in an empty flat in Eve Hill, dreaming of how big I can make this station, I’ve got the TX (100 watts) got all the gear, still got loads of records, I’m ready to go, just one thing..No DJ’s. What am I going to do about this, you can’t have a station without DJ’s. I thought long and hard, then I had a brainwave, give my old mate Steve Kennedy a call, he knows loads of DJ’s, so I did exactly that.
The next day at my flat Steve turns up, I told him my problem, he says not only will he work on the station himself, he also spent the rest of the afternoon contacting every DJ he knew. By the end of that day I had 12 guys ready and willing to work on the station.
OK I’m ready, I set everything up ready to do some test transmissions, got the ariel nice and high on the roof attached to the TV mast, and the TX installed in the lift room (audio running up the outside of the building). I stated to do test transmissions on my own for about a week on 87.9, giving out the telephone number I had installed. Nothing! not one call, I could not understand it? The signal was brilliant, covering about a 25-mile radius, I started to despair.
Then one day whilst messing about, I thought maybe it’s the frequency? I mean who goes as far down as 87.9 anyway? No one tunes around down there. I decided to re-tune the rig myself with a matchstick (big mistake) so I turned the tuning pot until I thought I’d found a blank space on the radio band (which happened to be 102 FM, more by luck than judgement) then I started to test again.
Within one hour I had 5 phone calls and reception reports from pirate radio geeks, then I switched off and went home satisfied deciding that the station would start for real on the Monday with a full quota of DJ’s. (In the meantime by the way the rig went back to the engineer to be re-tuned to 102 FM by a professional after I had messed with it).
Monday 6pm came, I had the rotas all sorted out, we were ready to go, I can’t quite remember who did the first show, it may have been me!
From the very start of transmissions on that Monday, the phone started ringing, it was like people had been waiting for us to come on. The funny thing is, we were getting calls from people who wanted to work on the station as DJ’s as well.
Pretty soon in a matter of a few weeks Freedom Radio had a full quota of DJ’s, enough to fill in slots for 7 days. And soon after that, with the word getting round and the station was fast becoming really big, Freedom was operating 24/7.
That summer was the start of something really special for Freedom, the sun was shining, the phones were buzzing, advertising was coming in thick and fast (I was running 10/15 adverts at week at £50/75 per ad).
Everybody was happy, especially the listeners. Even the DTI left us alone for a long time, I was enjoying every minute of it. The guys were doing great shows, a complete mixture of different styles and genre’s
I knew that we were breaking new boundaries . I had done what I wanted to do, set up one of the biggest Pirate Radio Stations in the West Midlands.
So we are in Eve Hill flats in Dudley in the summer of 1989, everything is going fine, the station is running 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, the DJ’s are loving every minute of it, and the calls are flooding in to the station. Then I get a call from the Express & Star newspaper, a guy called Pete Sanderson wants to speak to me, and I pick up the phone. “Hello is that Craig Benson”, I reply “how can I help”.
t turns out that this guy was a investigative reporter on the paper, and it had come to his attention that Beacon Radio were making an official complaint to the DTI about Freedom because we were taking all of the 15-25 age group listeners off them, and he wanted to know if he could come to the studio and do a “feature” on Freedom. I said there was no possible way I was going to let a stranger who had just called me on the phone, just walk in to our studio unless certain conditions were met. He asked what they might be?
I got him to agree to meet us on the car park of a pub called The Pig On The Wall in Gornal Dudley and for for him and his cameraman to produce some I.D, and then transfer to our car and be blindfolded while we took them right inside the studio (you can imagine the looks we got marching them into Eve Hill blocks and up the lift blindfolded).
So this is exactly what we did. When they arrived in the studio, as usual it was a hive of activity (I seem to remember the DJ’s present were Brian J, Simon B, Steve Welsh, Steve Kennedy, people answering the phones, and some others just hanging around).
With respect to the Express & Star they did a really good full page feature, it had a picture of Brian J sitting at the decks, you could only see the back of his head.
So we carried on transmitting, posters and car stickers were printed and t-shirts were on order. I had two brand new cars given to me by a company in Handsworth, Birmingham called “Cheap Cheap Car Hire” a Volkswagen Jetta (which Simon B drove around for a while) and a Fiat Tipo for me (these were in exchange for free advertising).
8 months had passed, and we had no trouble from the DTI at all apart from the usual coax being cut on the roof by the DTI every 2 or 3 weeks or so (the DTI favourite trick was to cut the coax into dozens of 6″ long pieces, so that we would have to replace the whole coax instead of just re-joining two pieces).
I always remember it was a Thursday, I had stayed the night at the studio (I had a studio flat set up in another room). I woke the next morning about 7am to the sound of Simon B doing his early morning show. I got dressed, made Simon B and myself a cuppa lit a cigarette and plonked myself down in the studio armchair and started to take calls.
At about 8am I heard the station signal fade a bit on the studio monitor (a sure sign someone was walking on the roof). I said to Simon that I was going to check the roof.
I was just about to get up from my chair, and I heard this almighty bang and a matter of seconds later 4 DTI blokes and 3 C.I.D coppers stormed into the studio.
The way the DTI operate on a raid is, that the first thing they do is rush to turn off the TX (this is because they hate having a raid go out “live” on air) then they take the phone off the hook (so no-one can call in). Then they give you all the crap about illegal broadcasting They caution you, ask loads of stupid questions like “did you know this was an illegal pirate station?” But I had learnt by now not to answer any questions, no comment was my reply to everything.
While the DTI were packing the gear up in very large plastic bags, this C.I.D copper came over to me and said “are you **** **** ” I said yes I was. He cautioned me and said I was under arrest for receiving stolen property (It’s a long story)
So it was a bad day really, not only had the station been raided, I spent the next 9 hours in a cell in Dudley police station with Simon B in the next cell shouting “don’t tell em nothing Benson”.
At about 6pm I was released on bail from the police station, I called a few of the DJ’s so that we could go and check the studio out. I could not believe my eyes. They had taken everything, and I mean everything, all the gear had gone, records, everything off the walls, furniture, even the lampshade! the flat was bare. But I had a plan.
In another block in Eve Hill I knew where there was an empty flat (I had already done a check on the roof) so we would set up there tomorrow after a good nights rest.
The next day started with my mate from the Express & Star phoning me for a story, which I duly gave him. Then I went to round up a few of the lads to go to the new studio (at this point I would like to say that in every raid that Freedom has ever had, the DJ’s were always there for the station, never getting discouraged, even to the point that sometimes I wanted to give in, they never let me).
We “gained access” to the flat and started to set the gear up (another 100 watt TX, we were not linking in those days). We went on air later that day, and I arranged for the phone to be installed the following day.
Everything went OK for about 6 days, then BANG the door was caved in again (our old friends the DTI) someone had grassed us up, we suspected the caretaker.
I got arrested again, this time the charge was “abstracting electricity” (there was no fuse in the fuse box when we moved in, so I shoved a 6″ bolt in there) that charge was later dropped.
So we had been on the air over 8 months with no trouble, then 2 raids in less than 2 weeks, but that was not the end for that particular month.
I had to wait about a week for the new TX to be made (100 watt) so it gave me chance to find another flat. This flat was in the same block as the last one, but a floor lower.
When the TX arrived, we set up again, everyone was keen as usual, all buzzing, we had missed the “fix”. Phone line installed, ready to go. We started to transmit night time and weekends only.
Bit by bit the calls started to roll in again, things were going OK until BANG!, that dreadful sound again just 7 days after we had gone on air (this time I was not there) we found out after that the caretaker was the culprit reporting us. The DTI raided Freedom for the third time in less than a month.
It was time to take a break and re-think the situation. We needed to move out of the Dudley area, and start again.