Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A Tale Of Suits, Consultants and Dinosaurs ~ Metro Radio 'seeds' 40 years later...



Lightning knocked out my computer for 6 days last week.... so having caught up with an email back-log.. here I am 9 minutes before July 15 starts.... and I have not written my "I was on Metro Radio on its launch day 40 years ago" blog.

Of course, it seems impossible that it was 40 years ago... and at the time I was the most surprised one, as any show on 'Metropolitan' would have been superb. But Peter Lewis (famous in London in the 70s as an LWT continuity announcer) had faith in me. He gave me THE spot I wanted - the morning show - 9-11am. Even more amazingly my (radio) name 'Len Groat' proved invaluable as in the centre of Newcastle is THE 'Groat Market' so it was easy to choose the show's title.

A few years ago a radio 'futurologist' called me a 'dinosaur'; a comment I now take as a compliment. Because the fact was that at Metro having been given our shows we were trusted to do what we felt right. So every show had a theme tune - ALL the music was chosen the dj team - free choice - we created our own features - and my only 'guidance' was to 'sound like Pete Murray'! 

Even before I went up to Newcastle I'd had an embryonic jingle company in Poynton record me some 'Groat Market' jingles, and by launch day my rack of jingles, 'stabs' pads and promos numbered over 60. All clues to the fact that I was actually going to sound (a little) like Alan Freeman rather than Pete Murray!

But the early days on 'the North East sound' were not halycon. The original breakfast dj was replaced within a few months, and my show extended to 9-12. The 15 minute serials, and assorted quizzes were dropped as were some of the team of producers employed to do these, and a new Programme Controller brought in. A three-strong night time team (for a 2 hour show) was cut to one, but a very special 'one' - James Whale - an amazing communicator, thoroughly nice guy and now a (radio) lifetime mate. 

When I was on university radio in Swansea from 1968 to 1974 I had made myself 'Programme Controller', and amazingly in September 1974 I was asked by one of the former quiz producers to work on a new jingle package - (he had worked on Andy Pandy for BBC tv for decades). Having collected PAMS jingles since the 1960s I was delighted that Emison quoted an 8 week delivery period but PAMS said 3-4 ... the rest became early ILR history as we were the first ILR station to air Dallas jingles. 

I don't need to insert a link to the package as anyone who is interested either has it or knows it very well. My re-lyric of a song first done for 13KOL Seattle was  "Driving down the A1 on a weekend trip to Whitley Bayyy" ~ sung in a Dallas accent of course! These dynamic jingles stunned the local people, got us noticed and the mentions of 'Metropolitan' or 'MBC' went to be replaced with just METRO RADIO.

I was also asked to help find and train some dj's to replace the BBC types who left, so just 3 months into my radio career, I was focussing less and less on my morning show. But I loved it! It was not long before the second person to do breakfast was replaced (sensibly) by someone who was 'local' and knew the area from long-term experience. Bill Steele was continuity at Tyne Tee TV and his cheeky warm personality wrapped in a great radio voice meant that  by the middle of 1975 we were 'on a roll', and my show was again extended to run 9am to 1pm.

What could go wrong? Well nothing really? But firstly I came back from a short holiday  in 1976 to be told by another of the former 'quiz producers' (who always ran around carrying a clipboard to make himself look essential)  that he had removed some of my jingle carts as they were unsuitable. He was ex-BBC and had never even been a dj. 

I realise 40 years later this man was the very first 'suit' I ever encountered.

Then in Spring 1976 a Canadian consultant was brought-in. It was clear things were to change - and this man had NO idea about either the area or how to relate a station to a British audience. He presented an hour of my show to demonstrate to everyone 'how to do it'. Unfortunately he forgot to fade up his mic for his first link...

I realise 40 years later this man was the very first 'consultant' I ever encountered.

Impetuously/intuitively I knew the time was right to move on as radio HAD to be better....  I LOVED my show but my passion for American style radio (and desire to live somewhere less windy and rainy) meant I resigned at the end of a week, But the pc (who was previously a history teacher) asked me to do a final show that Sunday. How things have changed when dj's leave! Of course as ILR was new and 'trendy' in 1976 my leaving was covered on the front page of the Chronicle.

I always felt I was a reasonable dj but would be better suited to running a station (+ although I'd been voted No.1 dj on Metro I knew James Whale would soon assume that title!) 

The rest is history - after joining Piccadilly briefly in 1977 I joined Radio Trent in Nottingham as it 'cleared out' many of the original team. By 1978 I was fortunate to have the 'dream career' - the 9-12 morning show, and 18 months later the hands-on creative responsibility for station sound, dj recruitment and training. And yes the jingles! I already hear shouts of 'anorak' and 'dinosaur'. 

By 1982 I took myself off a regular show and had a GREAT team to run. Despite having to run 9 minutes of commercials an hour, limited 'needle-time' and IBA 'meaningful speech' rules in the early years our team included natural talent so we shone! Talent such as John Peters, Dale Winton, Peter Tait, Pete Wagstaff, Tony Lyman. Guy Morris, Steve Merike, was joined by locally 'discovered' talent such as David Lloyd, Anne Marie Minhall, Andy Marriott, Paul Robey, Rob Wagstaff, Andy Miller, Gary Burton, Erica Hughes, Craig Strong, Jenni Costello, Paul Burbank, Krissi Carpenter..... and later over 17 years too many others to mention. It meant we had a winning sound. And it continued unabated as I later looked after 25 dj's working on 4 stations (the truly wonderful GEM-AM was 'my baby' from 1988 onwards) . 

In th late 80s I welcomed Selector to rotate our music, but erased the 'research' programme from the computers as I believed in intuition not research or 'training'. Does that make me a Dinosaur? But going back to 15 July 1974 and that first day on Metro, I have to thank the station for my first 'break' that opened the door to 17 most rewarding years with Radio Trent, and then from 1988, GEM-AM. The latter 2 stations will always be closest to my heart, but without the Metro morning show, they would never have happened. 

Sadly, radio today is a reflection of how the UK radio industry is littered with 'suits' and research but NOT 'policed' properly by Ofcom. A German company now owns Metro Radio and they send the same shows to Teeside on what was one of our competitors transmitters from 1975 - Radio Tees - an area that is distinctly different and desperately needs a 'heritage' style station.

So, forty years on - although I say "thank you Metro", that goes to people, a riverside building ,and a station that has long since disappeared.  

But all was not in vain. 

What I learned from those early years now serves me well on www.solidgoldgem.am where I present the '1960s Cafe' each day at noon. Amazingly, we are 'trusted to do what we feel right'! and 'ALL the music is chosen the dj team - and we have PAMS (and JAM) jingles. And, this is the best bit...

....not a research person or 'suit' to be seen!

5 comments:

  1. I would and could probably write a long post but you have said it all. If that makes me a dinosaur listener so be it. Of course everything changes but not always for the better. You can take the audience with you with changes but these days, often listeners are alienated by the changes. And those born later who have nothing to compare with know nothing else so probably wonder what we're going on about. They were good times but long gone :-( And are now memories.

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    1. Thanks for the reply - it's 'better' for the suits' but far worse for the dj's nowadays... good to meet a fellow 'dinosaur'!

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  2. I would like to thank you for making Metro so magical in the early days. I wish that the station management had never brought that idiotic Canadian consultant over. In my view he killed a station which had so much sparkle stone dead. It was as if, almost overnight, Metro was being run purely as a cynical money making business rather than something intended to entertain. Metro may as well have been in Outer Mongolia from that point, as it had no relevance to the North East at all.
    It was extremely upsetting when you left Metro and I often wonder how the station might have evolved if you had stayed on.
    I know you have been successful throughout your career, however, 1974 and 1975 were extremely special years in my life and Metro was a huge part of that.

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  3. You will know that I agree with your views Len. From a listener's point of view, radio is the most personal of mediums and stations that remove the 'people' and variety element from their output literally lose their souls. In every business the customer's interests should be included at least (even if they are not put first). Sadly in the majority of commercial radio the bean counters and consultants aren't interested in the listeners at all, just maximising profits from advertisers and maximising dividends for shareholders. There are pockets of resistance. I hope that as these grow commercial radio starts to realise that without variety and personality we may as well just listen to our favourite music minus adverts on our iPods. Keep the flag flying Len!

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