The Signal for a new era in broadcasting locally

Signal Radio DJ, the late Mel Scholes.

Signal Radio DJ, the late Mel Scholes.

As someone who grew up with the BBC Radio Stoke on in the background, September 5, 1983 was quite a momentous day.

That’s the date that a new commercial radio station took to the air and, for the first time, gave the people of North Staffordshire and South Cheshire a choice.

DJ John Evington uttered the first words around 6am and chose Neil Diamond’s Beautiful Noise as the station’s first track.

Signal Radio was named after newspaper The Signal in the novels of Potteries author Arnold Bennett which, of course, was based on the then Evening Sentinel.

I well recall the early days of Signal, 30 years old this year, because – as an 11-year-old it provided a more ‘trendy’ alternative to the BBC station I had listened to every morning before school for years.

Radio Stoke was where I always hoped to find out at 8am that my school was closed because the boiler wasn’t working and there had been a couple of inches of snow.

Signal Radio, however, was different. In fact, I remember listening one Saturday morning and entering a trivia quiz against a bloke from Alsager.

I managed to win and the DJ promised to send me a single!

I waited for several days, the excitement building, until at last the parcel arrived.

I ripped it open to discover I’d been sent a copy of We’ve Got A Good Fire Goin’ by Don Williams.

I could have cried. I didn’t even know who he was.

Despite the crushing disappointment for me personally, Signal Radio’s appeal continued to grow.

The station, based in Stoke Road, Shelton, was one of the last in the country to split its frequencies.

It initially broadcast on 104.3 and 1170 – changing to 102.6 FM later.

Like any commercial station, in the early days it didn’t have the greatest budget but the dedication and enthusiasm of its staff and a bit of creative thinking more than made up for that.

In 1986, for example, it secured the UK’s first Restrictive Service Licence to cover the National Garden Festival in Etruria.

The station – now broadcasting as Signal 1 and Signal 2 – has been instrumental in staging many shows including the Battle of the Bands, a Young DJ contest and the annual Live in the City pop concert – as well as raising tens of thousands of pounds for various charities.

Over the years a number of stars who have gone on to make household names for themselves gained invaluable experience presenting shows or working for Signal.

They include comedienne Caroline Aherne, DJ Chris Moyles (formerly of Radio One), BBC NorthWest Tonight’s Annabel Tiffin, the late Potteries entertainment legend Mel Scholes, of Jollees nightclub fame, and even a certain Robbie Williams.

Showbiz sisters Anthea Turner and Wendy Turner-Webster also cut their teeth at the station.

Pick up a copy of The Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia.

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Royal mix-up a real missed opportunity to mark 100 years

My picture of Princess Diana on the log flume at Alton Towers. Picture copyright Smith Davis Press.

My picture of Princess Diana on the log flume at Alton Towers. Picture copyright Smith Davis Press.

Through my work I’ve been very fortunate (if you like this sort of thing) over the last 20 years to have met several members of our royal family in the flesh.

I’ve chatted to Prince Charles, Prince Edward and Prince Andrew and – here’s my trump card for use against people who like to name-drop – met the late Princess Diana.

Back in my days as a cub reporter I was tipped off by a national newspaper that Princess Di would be taking her boys to Alton Towers one Sunday afternoon.

I raced over to the theme park in my little yellow Metro, paid to get in as any punter would, and then set about trying to find the royal party.

Alton Towers is a surprisingly big place, you know. After half an hour of me running around like a headless chicken, Diana, William and Harry sailed past me on the Log Flume.

I caught up with them, said hello, ignored the withering looks from their minders and snapped them all as they walked past me.

My story and pictures of them on various rides were used in The Sun and the Daily Express the following day and I was chuffed to bits.

However, as a proud Englishman, I have to say that nothing can top seeing the Queen up close and personal.

I first saw Her Majesty at the National Garden Festival here at Etruria in 1986.

I also met Grotbags the TV witch and Central News anchorman Bob Warman on the day.

No offence to either but, for me, seeing Liz just shaded it.

I was 14 at the time and I remember standing in the rain amid the throng and doing my level best to attract the Queen’s attention by waving and shouting – all to no avail, of course.

Despite the bizarre nature of some of the exhibits – a fountain made of toilets springs to mind – the Garden Festival was, for Stoke-on-Trent, an unmitigated success.

It kickstarted the regeneration of a huge parcel of land close to the city centre which is now the thriving retail and business park we all take for granted.

Indeed, where do you think yours truly is sitting while typing this? (The Sentinel’s HQ moved from Hanley to Festival Park in 1986)

What a shame it is then that Her Majesty won’t be coming up in March to help us celebrate the centenary of the federation of the Six Towns.

I can’t help but think that this is something of an own goal.

The word was that the Queen was definitely coming up in the New Year but someone, somewhere seems to have dropped a right royal clanger.

I mean, it’s not like we didn’t know the centenary was coming up, is it?

You would have thought that the Lord Lieutenant, the city council and Buck House could have got their collective act together to make sure the Queen was in town to give the royal seal of approval to a special day for Burslem, Fenton, Hanley, Longton, Stoke and Tunstall.

Is anyone prepared to hold their hand up and take responsibility? No, I thought not.

We may well get a visit from another member of the royal family but if any occasion merited a visit from the Queen it was our centenary, don’t you think?

What a great lift it would have given to Potters to have Her Majesty drop in and say hello as we struggle through the worst recession in living memory.

Despite what the anti-monarchy brigade might say, I’m a huge fan of the Windsors and of royal visits.

Having the Queen here in 1986 and again when the refurbished Regent Theatre opened its doors in 1999 created a huge buzz.

There’s no politics to such an event – just flag-waving, happy faces and a moment in the sun for a city that has suffered more than most during the current economic downturn.

These occasions remind the rest of the country that there’s more to Stoke-on-Trent than ailing potbanks, ill-health and council cock-ups.

At least, we all think there is.

It’s just a shame we won’t be able to remind our wonderful monarch at a time when it really matters.