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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Steve proud of the way old North Staffs Poly has scrubbed up

Few are better qualified to comment on the momentous changes taking place within the city’s University Quarter (UniQ) than Dr Steve Wyn Williams.

He’s a man who talks my language. A language that acknowledges that there was life before email and mobile telephones.

Earlier this week The Sentinel produced a special 16-page supplement updating people on the multi-million pound UniQ development.

It coincided with the official opening of the new £30m Science and Technology Centre on Leek Road – the UniQ’s latest piece of education-led regeneration which is transforming Hanley west, Shelton and Stoke.

The UniQ project is a partnership between Staffordshire University, Stoke-on-Trent College, the City of Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form College and Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

It aims to raise aspirations and levels of educational attainment among the people of North Staffordshire in order to make them more employable and while, at the same time, improving the area between Stoke Railway Station and the city centre.

It’s the most significant, focused regeneration project the city has seen since the 1986 Garden Festival and the results, thus far, are spectacular.

The UniQ is creating a distinct, ‘one-campus’ feel for university and college students alike and impressing visitors (and the locals) with stunning new architecture.

It is a far cry from when Steve first joined the staff at was the old North Staffs Polytechnic back in 1988.

He said: “It’s amazing really. These new buildings are making a statement. They are cutting-edge facilities and are really enhancing the learning experience for students.”

Steve, originally from North Wales, first moved to North Staffordshire 34 years ago when he took up a post at Keele University.

A geographer, he worked as a demonstrator for students at Keele – teaching them everything from map reading to data inspection skills.

Eight years later he joined North Staffs Poly as a lecturer in Geography.

He said: “I think it was a more relaxed time. Because the place was much smaller and had fewer students (5,000 to 7,000) there was also very much a community feel to it.

“I recall that everyone seemed to smoke back then – in the corridors, the bars and even the lecture theatres.

“You’d see lecturers puffing away as they taught. Indeed, the whole place seemed to be under a constant fog.”

Now aged 59, Steve has risen through the ranks to become first Head of Geography and is now Dean of Academic Policy and Development.

However, he recalls his early days at the old Poly, which became Staffordshire University in 1992, with fondness.

He said: “When I came here in the late 1980s we are talking about the very early days of computing. We’d write memos to colleagues and students and stick them in pigeon-holes and then wait a week for a response.

“The students themselves would carry around bags containing big, heavy text books which they would actually have to read.

“Students received grants, of course, and there was a sense that they felt privileged to be at studying at the Poly university because only a minority went on to higher education at that time.

“Nowadays, of course, around 40 per cent of school and college leavers go on to receive a university education which, in itself, presents different challenges.”

Nowadays Staffordshire University is a truly international place of study, looking after around 20,000 students, 2,850 of whom at the Stoke campus are from overseas.

Steve said: “We are acutely aware that students are now our customers. We like to view them as customer-partners because while they are paying to come here and study it can only be a success for them if they are prepared to put the work in.

“The university has always had a reputation for delivering courses which give students skills which are perhaps more vocational-based and enhance their employability skills and, given the current climate, that has never been more important.”

Steve added: “I’m very passionate about the university and our students and I’ve been lucky enough to have been involved with the UniQ project for several years now.

“Seeing the changes taking place, it makes me incredibly proud to have contributed in some small way and that the university I work for has such wonderful facilities and ambition.”

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

We’d all feel the same if travellers showed up on our doorstep

Some people are reluctant to express their reservations against travellers’ sites for fear of being labelled prejudiced or worse.
But the fact that almost 400 people turned out at the weekend to protest against plans to create a gypsy camp near their homes shows the strength of feeling against such developments.
Saturday’s meeting was held in a field adjacent to the White Lion pub near Crewe, but I reckon it could just as easily have been any neighbourhood within The Sentinel’s circulation area.
The campaigners in this instance are vehemently opposed to a planning application by Cheshire East Council to create a plot in Coppenhall to house 24 trailers, 24 vehicles and an amenity block.
In fairness to the local authority, it is simply discharging its statutory duty to provide sites and amenities for the travelling community.
The problem that Cheshire East, and I dare say all other councils have, is that finding a suitable location for such facilities is nigh on impossible because of the level of opposition from local residents.
Those who support the travellers’ unusual way of life rail against what they see as persecution of a minority.
They view objections as little more than NIMBYism and blame it on a lack of education and understanding of this unique ethnic group.
But the truth is that, faced with the spectre of a gypsy camp appearing on our doorstep, I’m damn sure most of us would react in the same way as good folk of Coppenhall.
You see, it has very little to do with the fact that this proposed site would spoil a picturesque bit of the countryside.
Neither does it have anything to do with the ecology of the area or whether or not there may be a colony of great crested newts lurking on the site.
These arguments may well be heard in the coming months but the crux of the matter is that families and traders simply don’t want gypsy sites anywhere near their homes or businesses.
The people of Coppenhall have quite legitimate concerns about the detrimental effect any such development would have on their lives.
They are afraid of the potential affect on their livelihoods and on house prices.
They are concerned about the ability of local schools to cope with an influx of children and the effect a significant increase in traffic would have on an area already dubbed an accident blackspot.
Rightly or wrongly, the public perception of travellers’ sites is that they spell trouble.
In North Staffordshire this reputation has not been helped in recent years by numerous incidents where travellers have set up illegal camps and caused a nuisance.
For example, in May 2009 a charity event in aid of the Staffordshire Regimental Museum had to be cancelled when a group of travellers parked their caravans on land where a re-enactment was to take place. You may remember they used a second World War pillbox as a toilet.
A quick trawl through The Sentinel’s archives in the last couple of years also throws up stories of problems caused by travellers pitching up illegally in Shelton, Fegg Hayes, Fenton and Tunstall among others.
In every case they left behind a mess which cost the taxpayers of this city tens of thousands of pounds to clean up.
However, in this country’s nonsensical rush to appear tolerant and inclusive of all minorities, groups such as the travelling community are often accorded special treatment.
Just think of the way in which the Dale Farm traveller site saga unfolded.
In truth, mistakes were made on both sides of the argument surrounding the UK’s largest illegal traveller encampment in Essex. But it cost more than £20 million, numerous appeals, and we had to endure hippies chaining themselves to railings and nauseating pleas by showbiz types who should know better before common sense prevailed.
Had it been Joe Bloggs from Sneyd Green who had built a home without planning permission then I get the feeling the law of the land may have been enforced a little quicker.
The fact is that the traveller way of life is so at odds with how the majority of us live that it is bound to lead to resentment.
Is it any wonder the people of Coppenhall are up in arms?
Just like the other 11 communities before them who fought off plans for this particular gypsy amenity, I wish them every success in their battle to preserve the Coppenhall way of life.

Bare-faced cheek of travellers killed off museum fund-raiser

That’s another Bank Holiday break gone – another weekend chock-full of events for families to enjoy.

Did anyone attend the re-enactment event at the Staffordshire Regimental Museum yesterday or Sunday?

No, you didn’t… because you couldn’t. Because the annual event, which raises much-needed funds for the museum dedicated to honouring the memory of those who have served with our county regiment, had to be cancelled.

Why? Because a week before the show, a group of travellers turned up out of the blue and parked their caravans on land where the re-enactment was due to take place.

They refused to move until yesterday, forcing officials at the venue near Lichfield to cancel the show – costing the museum about £3,000.

That’s the cost, of course, before the operation begins to tidy up the mess left by these uninvited guests.

This will involve cleaning up a Second World War pillbox they were using as a toilet.
Charming.

When asked when they would be moving on, a spokesman for the travellers said: “If the museum will provide us with another patch of land – a bit of wasteland will do – we will move before Saturday (the re-enactment was due to take place on Sunday and Monday).

“Otherwise we will probably go on Monday.”

The barefaced cheek of this statement leaves me speechless. Why should the museum lift a finger to assist such a bunch of ignoramuses?

I’m not sure what makes me more angry – the inconsiderate behaviour of this bloke and his clan or the inability of local authorities to tackle the nuisance that such travelling bands represent.

I bet if you and I turned up with a few friends and parked up illegally in a field ahead of a major public event the boys in blue would be paying us a visit pretty sharpish.

Of course, we wouldn’t do that, would we?

Because we wouldn’t dream of spoiling the fun for thousands of visitors or depriving the museum of thousands of pounds in lost revenue.

The frustrating thing is that this isn’t a one-off.

Every couple of weeks in The Sentinel you can read stories of convoys of caravans arriving on waste land or in a field somewhere, using it as a base for several days, then vanishing and leaving local taxpayers or private landowners to bear the financial burden of cleaning up the mess.

Last week there were groups of travellers parked in Shelton and off Westbourne Drive near the Tunstall Northern Bypass.

Last month, another group descended on the former Chatterley Whitfield sports centre at Fegg Hayes – much to the annoyance of locals.

And so it goes on.

Some will argue that those who kick up a stink about travellers are simply NIMBYs who should be more tolerant.

But, given the associated noise nuisance and mess, should anyone really have to put up with a bunch of cars and caravans turning up unannounced and parking up on a patch of land near their homes for days or even weeks at a time? Of course not.

Should taxpayers or private landlords have to foot the bill because these unwelcome visitors can’t be bothered to find a toilet or put their rubbish in a bin? No they shouldn’t.

It’s not bloody Glastonbury. There are permanent sites for the traveller community all around the country and, following the Housing Act of 2006, all local authorities have to assess the accommodation needs for gipsies and travellers.

Councils employ traveller co-ordinators to ensure the community gains access to health care and educational support.

This is all well and good and, in this day and age, it is only right that all ethnic and cultural groups are given access to basic services.

However, I can’t help but think that there is something very wrong with a system under which I can be fined for dropping a crisp packet but which allows scores of people to get away with parking illegally for weeks on end, churning up fields and creating thousands of pounds of damage and mess which others then have to pay for.

Read my Personally Speaking columns in The Sentinel every Tuesday