The Freedom Radio Story by Craig Benson
Eve Hill was awesome, Old Hill was OK, What next?
After the raid at Old Hill, Sam (the flat owner) got a bit spooked and requested that we leave and find another studio. I was quite happy with that really, because I never really felt comfortable at Old Hill (and nor did the DJ’s I suspect). It had been quite manic over the last 18 months or so, including the raid on LBCR we had been raided 6 times, I had 4 court appearances pending, and it was taking its toll.
I needed a break away from it all so I informed all the DJ’s that I was going to take a couple of months off to recharge, but I intended to come back on as soon as I had located another studio and got a new rig.
It’s always a mistake to have a “voluntary” break from pirate radio, because after about 3 days you get that “withdrawn” feeling. So of course after about a week I was champing at the bit and knocking the door down of the engineer’s house wanting my new rig (100 watt) but I had the same old question, what about a studio?
We had outworn our welcome in Dudley and in Old Hill, they were good times, but Freedom needed to move on. So where next?
I spent days and days driving around the Black Country just looking for a suitable site for the main TX (to link to) I could not find a thing, so I decided to concentrate my efforts on just finding the studio site. Aware of the fact that the longer we were off, the listeners would go somewhere else, and of course I needed advertising.
One day I’m driving from Stourbridge towards Dudley, and of course I have to pass through Brierley Hill, and I know this is going to sound really stupid now, but I had never thought of Brierley Hill as a possible site for a studio. I made a decision to drive down into the flat complex, and I parked outside a tall block called St Johns Court, I sat there for ages smoking a cigarette and staring at the roof, and the longer I sat there, the more comfortable I felt.
The next thing I did still amazes me to this day, I jumped out of my car, ran over to this guy who was walking his dog and said “excuse me mate, do you live here” he said yeah and asked me why I wanted to know. So I just came out with it all explaining that I had a pirate radio station, and did he know anybody that would be interested in renting us a room for a while, I would pay I said. He looked a me a bit weird like, and then invited me up to his flat for a coffee. 2 hours later, to my amazement I emerged from this guys flat on the 9th floor, a very happy man, he had agreed to let us use the flat for a trial period of 1 month. It was going to cost £25 a week and I was to bring the gear in the following Saturday.
He had allocated us the bedroom in his flat for the studio, and when I had originally checked it out, it felt good. And because I knew a guy that had access keys to any flat roof in the West Midlands, the roof on St Johns was no problem.
On the Saturday all the lads turned up with the gear and stuff, and we set up and spent the whole weekend doing tests (direct from here, no link).
The DJ’s were informed that we would be back on the air from Monday, transmitting weekdays 6pm-1am, weekends 24 hours. (This was the beginning of a very successful time for Freedom)
Monday duly arrived and we were back “on air” the studio was looking good. Tony was happy (after I’d paid him) and his friends were hilarious (soon to do shows on the station, remember the Wendy and Tracy late night shows?)
The phone started to ring again, it was like we had never been off. The ads were slowly coming back (generating much needed income)
We lasted at Tony’s flat for about 5 months, we had a bit of coax chopping by the DTI and the usual scares and we were only raided once (this became known as the keystone cops raid). I’ll explain, The day of the raid we were keeping a watchful eye out of the window as ever, when one of the DJ’s shouts it’s the DTI.
Of course we all started to disconnect the gear as fast as we could. One of the DJ’s (who shall remain nameless) had a brilliant idea, why not wait for the DTI to get in the lift on the ground floor, then when its on its way up, stop the lift (we had a key that the fire brigade use when they rescue people from lifts, if you insert into a hole by the lift door it cuts the power).
What a brilliant idea, so we waited for the DTI to get in the lift downstairs by watching the numbers, and the when they were on the way up, we stopped the lift on the 5th floor. They were well and truly stuck (5 burly DTI blokes, 1 policeman).
They were hopping mad, and very hot, they had to wait nearly 1 hour for the firemen to release them, by this time we had cleared all the gear out of the studio, whisked it away and were standing on the car park downstairs watching as a bunch of red-faced officials from the Radio Authority skulking out of the building.
The headlines the next day in the paper read, “department of trade and industry officials bungle in keystone cops raid on pirate station”. How funny is that? They were the butt of “on air” jokes for weeks.
The final day at Tony’s flat came when one of the DJ’s upset one of Tony’s gay friends. Tony switched the TX off halfway through a show, he was so angry! But we were to return to Tony’s later in the year. The dream was still alive though, one of Tony’s friends had agreed to let us use the bedroom in his flat for the same price (again on a trial period).
One more thing I must mention about our stay in Tony’s flat was the .police episode.
This is what happened, A few weeks before, a gay man had been found murdered in Stourbridge, so the police as part of the investigation were interviewing all gay men in the area.
They turned up unannounced at Tony’s flat right bang in the middle of a Simon B show (you know what they were like) Of course the studio was in the bedroom, so when I saw Tony go to the door, I shut the bedroom door and told everybody “keep transmitting but try to be quiet”) you have to imagine this, the studio is full of people, I estimate about a dozen or so, the phone is ringing every 10 seconds, Simon is doing his madcap stuff.
I make my way to the living room, where 2 C.I.D coppers are interviewing Tony, then out of the blue this one copper says “Oh hello, it’s the one and only Craig Benson, how’s Freedom doing Craig? Is it still in Tony’s bedroom? Can I have a look? My kids love it”
I couldn’t believe he said that, so I replied “yeah, come and have look if you want” Simon’s face was a picture when I led this copper into the bedroom in the middle of his show, the cop loved it so much, he even started answering the phone and taking requests, and he insisted that we give a shout out to his 2 kids, bizarre!
When I think about it now, it must have looked a really weird sight. Imagine this: Freedom studio with 12 DJ’s and assorted girlfriends Me and copper taking requests on the phone and handing them to Simon B.
I don’t think for one minute it would ever happen now.
To sum up, the first few months at Brierley Hill became the start of a very successful time for Freedom. Yeah we had the usual trouble, but everybody both sides of the radio were having a good time, and that’s what it’s all about.
Times had been great in Tony’s flat, but because some stupid DJ (mentioning no names) decided to be homophobic, we found ourselves once again without a studio. I was really hacked off, we had enough on our plates keeping the DTI at bay, without internal problems (needless to say that DJ never worked on Freedom again).
I could sit here as I’m writing this and tell you in detail every studio we had in Brierley Hill flats and I could also tell you about all the rubbish things and good things that happened to us while we were there. Far too much to write here.
We were at one time or another in 3 different blocks of flats in Brierley Hill. I know we were in Tony’s flat twice, the middle block once, and the other block (the best one in my opinion) several times. We also had our fare share of DTI induced problems in all of the blocks, TX’s going missing, coax cut most weeks, even fans standing outside the blocks shouting up to the studio.
But I have to say this, Brierley Hill were the best locations Freedom ever had (OK the signal was not as good as Eve Hill) but the “feel good factor” was second to none, and when I say that I think I can quite confidently speak on behalf of all the people that worked on Freedom. I also believe that in that era, the DJs were the best that ever worked on Freedom, who can forget names like…Simon B. Wayne Norris, Trippa, Logan, Paul Warren, Tennants, Steve Kennedy and many many more.
At the time of Brierley Hill Freedom was not really on a sound financial footing (it cost more to run than it made) but this was never a major consideration with me, if I had been in it for money, I would have given up after the Eve Hill bust.
The station was on the air, the listeners loved it and that’s all that mattered.
It was about this time that Scott Davis started Exile Radio, competition yes, but I always had a lot of time for Scott, he ran a good dance station with good DJ’s, (he even worked for Freedom at one time) but the biggest shock was yet to come!
I can’t remember the exact date, but I know that we were off because our rig had gone missing (we suspected DTI, but we never found out) a lot of the DJ’s had enough and decided to go and work for other stations, some even gave it up completely.
It was getting really hard to keep things together and motivate people. I had made 3 more court appearances (fines ranged from £300 -£700) I remember one time when I was in Dudley Magistrates Court, I turned up as usual with my solicitor, had the normal banter with Les Jones (DTI) joking about how big the fine would be this time.
I was called into court, stood in the dock as usual, and I looked towards the back row of seats in the court, what a sight. Sitting there with big grins on their faces were about a dozen Freedom DJ’s all lined up in a row pulling faces, all with exactly the same Freedom T-shirt on. What a brilliant sight that was, the statement had been made, although the magistrate was none too pleased, he fined me £700 that day
Together with all my outstanding Freedom court appearances, I was waiting to be tried in crown court for an unrelated charge of receiving stolen goods.
This appearance was to be on the 6th of December 1990 at Wolverhampton crown court. Its strange really, court stuff, when you go to court, you always think the worst “I’m gonna get sent down today” and it never usually happens. This particular time, I had arranged to meet someone outside the court for a drink after my appearance, and I ended up getting sent to prison for 3 months (I was knocked sideways) Winson Green Prison over Christmas, not very nice I tell you, but a massive respect to Paul Warren and others who kept Freedom running while I was “doing my time”
I was released late January 1991 (6 weeks served) it was rough, and I hated it. On my return I knew in my own heart that I had lost some of the drive for pirate radio, prison had made me think. But true to form the DJs pushed and pushed and we changed the name from FCR back to Freedom, and kicked off again.
It was still good, but at this time I was re-evaluating my life and taking a back seat. I knew that, the summer of 1991 was approaching, I needed to re-think. How much longer could it continue? Freedom had a few good years, but times were changing.