How it all began

How it all began

by Keith Skues

Programme Director

Legal land-based commercial radio for South Yorkshire was given the go ahead by the government on June 19th, 1972. Announcing this the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications, Sir John Eden, said that a radio station would service the Sheffield and Rotherham area.

The Programme Department of Radio Hallam was formed some 18 months before the company won its contract from the Independent Broadcasting Authority. A guidance team under Tom Chalmers (formerly Controller of BBC Light Programme) drew up detailed plans.

I was appointed Programme Director on March 14th, 1974.

My first endeavour was to recruit a handful of well-known personalities from national radio and complement them with a number of respected local broadcasters.

Whilst in London I formally approached Roger Moffat, Johnny Moran, and Bill Crozier, and to my amazement they all agreed to leap into the unknown and come with me to Sheffield. The four of us collectively had over 80 years radio experience and had seen service with BBC radios One and Two, British Forces Broadcasting Service, (formerly BFN) and Radio Luxembourg. Individual biographies can be found later in this booklet.

I wanted a personality radio station run by professionals and I knew these presenters had individual styles and were not exploited to the best of their abilities on other radio networks.

In our early days we worked from London operating from the offices of Radio Fleet and Trident Television. This was a temporary measure until a pile of bricks in Hartshead, Sheffield became more like a building. We were to occupy the top two floors — one ostensibly for Sales and Administration staff and the top floor to become two Studios, two Control Rooms, a Reception area, Record Library, News Room, Presentation Area, Workshop, Typing Pool and offices for the Managing Director, Programme Director and Chief Engineer.

In May 1974 the Managing Director and myself moved to Sheffield and joined the Chief Engineer who was already on site. More staff were recruited — News Editor, Sales and Promotions Manager, Company Secretary, Music Producer, who was also to be in charge of the Record Library, and a Secretary.

All the time I was holding auditions for local broadcasters. We received applications from over 700 hopeful Disc Jockeys but I could only take 3, all of whom had worked with BBC local radio. Later a Women’s Editor and Features Editor were appointed to the staff.

Announcers came on strength from August, although Roger Moffat joined a month earlier.

Eventually a General Office was constructed which housed everyone from the Managing Director to the Secretary. Day by day the building began to look more like a radio station — lights were fitted, telephones installed, typewriters and desks assembled.

Keith Skues
Dog

The foreman of the firm building Radio Hallam, Longdens, owned a dog called Mutley who became the station mascot. The dog was a great footballer and enjoyed nothing better than a quick game of soccer with the staff. Mutley was a relief to what were very worrying days. Would equipment arrive on time? Could we work out a detailed music format? We had no Library, no record players, no tape recorders, but during the months of May, June and July we had made useful contacts with record companies in London most of whom had either local or regional salesmen based in Manchester or Leeds.

Record companies have been invaluable since we went “on air” providing us with both new records and an excellent back-catalogue of discs. It was through them we had access to many of today’s top recording artists who visited Radio Hallam.

Countdown

Although we as presenters had worked in radio for many years, some of us upwards of 20, none of us had been in at the birth of a new radio station. There was less than a week when all technical equipment was in place and working and whatever time of day or night, the week preceding our air date one could see announcers rehearsing for their big moment on October 1st.

The building had still not been completed and there were miles of wires and cables scattered over the floor.

Test transmissions had begun on both the Medium wave and VHF stereo on Friday, September 20th at four o’clock in the afternoon and reaction from listeners was quite amazing. The IBA confirmed we could begin transmitting official programmes at 06.00 on Tuesday, October 1st.

The weekend leading up to “Blast Off” we organised a party for all members of staff as this would be the only opportunity of everyone meeting under the same roof. Once a radio station goes on the air it is impossible for every member of staff to be together at any one given time as someone has to be on duty.

Sheffield’s own Tony Christie, a frequent visitor to the Radio Hallam studios

On air

Few of us went to bed on the night of September 30th and remained in the Studio sipping cups of tea and putting the final touches to our programmes. Johnny Moran launched the station without pomp or ceremony and went down in history by saying: “This is Radio Hallam, the first independent local radio station serving South Yorkshire and the North Midlands. From our Studios in the centre of Sheffield we will have music, entertainment and information throughout the day and we will be providing a service of keeping the community in touch with local events and happenings”

“From now on we aim to do our best to please, and we are hoping you are going to find “It’s Nice to Have a Radio Station as a Friend”.

Television cameras from both Yorkshire Television and Sheffield Cablevision took what available space was left.

Reaction from listeners was immediate and the very first ‘phone call a little after 6.00 in the morning came from Mr Neil Furniss of Townend Street, Crookes who said he was listening on his way home from night shift and he was enjoying the show.

National, local and trade press have been most kind in their coverage of Radio Hallam and for this we are grateful. Any mention of our activities in the papers goes a long way to boosting the morale of the staff. Gentlemen, we thank you!

KEITH SKUES with CLIFF RICHARD one of many stars to be featured in “Chat In”

Outside broadcasts

Most of our programmes come from the Studios in Hartshead although I was keen to get local involvement with the help of Outside Broadcasts. Each night we visited local hostelries to talk with both the landlord and the customers and the programmes were an immediate success. 

From this idea our Outside Broadcasts grew. We had disc nights from clubs in the area including the launch of the Oasis Club in Rotherham and Turn Ups in Sheffield. The Top 40 Show came from a record shop. Our lunchtime OB where we would take the complete works, became a regular feature in our programme schedule. Here we visited car showrooms, shops, offices and even a railway station. One lunch show was spent in an aircraft flying over Sheffield, Rotherham and Doncaster.

Magnet recording star ALVIN STARDUST with BIG RAY STUART

Research

The applicant group had done much research into marketing in the Sheffield and Rotherham area which cost thousands of pounds. 

I had worked out a music format styled on both Top 40 records and good quality album material and this format was confirmed by the Committee’s research. In other words listeners did not want continuous pop all day and every day. This format has remained constant to this day, although naturally the records do change.

We are grateful to the local record shops who supply us with sales returns so we can compile our weekly top forty selling singles.

A phrase I use regularly on Radio Hallam is “Radio Hallam leads not follows”, and this has been borne out by the fact that our Top 40 record charts are sometimes up to three weeks ahead of the national hit parade.

Jingles

In June we set about writing and producing our own radio jingles. I had contacted a Ray Martin, well-known Musical Director, to score some 50 jingles which were produced with popular session musicians and singers during the month of July 1974. I still believe that Radio Hallam has the most commercial set of jingles in the entire ILR network.

We had set our target date to begin broadcasting on October 1st which would make us the fastest radio station “on air” from the time we were awarded the franchise to the actual beginning of transmissions. This was achieved. 

On June 10th, 1974 we held a Press Conference to announce the signing of the Disc Jockeys. Within a month our Sales team had been recruited and our broadcasters were visiting local advertisers. Yorkshire businessmen, traditionally canny about claims of a new advertising medium, were delighted to meet the voices of Radio Hallam.

It was our intention to attract the 16-45 years old age group. I was basically against ‘phone-ins and requests all day. It appears that every radio station, both national and local in Great Britain specialises in ‘phone-in programmes. One hears listeners drying up, or stuttering and stammering, quite often expressing banal opinions dressed up with wordy clichés. Quite often the technical equipment is mishandled and telephone calls fail to be connected. How many times do we regularly hear “Hello, can you hear me?” Many is the time an unsuitable question gets through the station’s vetting system of calls. I did not want any of this unprofessionalism.

Similarly with requests one could tune anywhere along the radio dial and hear “name checks” for people all day long. So I decided to introduce one daily request programme in the evening and a two-hour programme at the weekend — otherwise no requests!

Music format

Music from 6.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m. would centre around a Playlist of 100 records — the Top 40 singles, reflected from local sales, 40 selected albums and 20 New Releases. The Playlist would change each week. Non-format music would be broadcast in the evening and the total number of hours “on air” each day was 18.

It is interesting to note that over 100 singles are released each week by record companies and up to 25 albums. It is from this large number that the Disc Jockeys select new releases.

The week before we went “on air” the BBC kindly arranged a Radio Week in Sheffield, which, said a spokesman, was “just coincidence”. This did not upset us — in fact it indirectly helped us draw attention to the existence of radio in Sheffield. The way we looked at it was the national networks were here in the city for less than a week but Radio Hallam was here to stay.

Most of our broadcasts were disc shows although later we did feature groups and bands and perhaps the highlight of our first year was a two-hour broadcast with Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen from a leading Sheffield hotel. We have also linked up with other radio stations both inside and outside Great Britain.

Throughout the summer months our OB’s have paid surprise visits to shopping precincts, schools, parks and even people’s houses, all live. We would have some 500 people arriving at a location displaying their Hallam badges and car stickers. We have broadcast from hospitals and old people’s homes. Total involvement with the community on an entertainment footing.

We had more serious OB’s like the Royal visit to South Yorkshire of Her Majesty the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, Remembrance Sunday, the switching on of the Sheffield Christmas Illuminations, Christmas Children’s Party, an open debate on the Common Market Referendum, local elections, Battle of Britain Day from RAF Finningley, a News Review of the Year and many, many more.

MARC BOLAN
Seen here enjoying the sun and meeting the people of ‘Hallamland’ during one of the popular lunch-time ‘Walkabouts’

Survey

A survey conducted by National Opinion Polls in November 1974 gave Radio Hallam a 25% daily listening figure compared with BBC Radio Two, 26%, Radio One, 24%, and Radio Sheffield 19%.

It was around this time certain senior executives with the BBC criticised commercial radio and said it had no impact whatsoever. I believed that Radio Hallam would be a success due to our broadcasters being totally professional. Most of us have worked with either BBC national or local radio and it is due to the Corporation’s rigorous training we learned how to be professional. At the same time we fully understood the meaning of discipline. My colleagues would agree that we are grateful to the BBC for teaching us so many of the tricks of the trade that we are now putting into practice in Sheffield.

Studio guests Alan Price, Johnny Nash, Elton John, Chip Hawkes & Lyn Paul.

Personalities

Interviews with personalities is a series I particularly wanted to cover — two hours in-depth chat with a particular artist or artistes each week to find out what makes them tick. Names like Dave Berry, Slade, David Essex, Cliff Richard, Alvin Stardust, Lulu, Gilbert O’Sullivan, Des O’Connor, Johnny Nash, Roy Orbison, Gene Pitney, The Four Tops and Neil Sedaka. A more comprehensive list can be found later.

The first six months we experimented by using freelance DJ’s at weekends most of whom were local Yorkshire people. We even invited members of the public to present their own kind of music in an hour long weekly programme.

A local journalist had a go at becoming a disc jockey for an afternoon. Here are edited highlights of what he said in his column. “A Disc Jockey is one of the hero figures of the post war world. He has long since replaced the Fighter Pilot, the Explorer and even the Engine Driver in the pantheon of desirable occupations. To be a DJ is to have made it, man.

“The world seems full of young hopefuls all eager to play with the tinkling toys of the electric village. To try to find out why, I became a DJ for just an hour, then spent a couple of days asking the pros about the cons of the job.

“It seemed so easy — a cinch. It’s basically playing records and making comments. Call that a job?

“My first hard lesson was that the DJ does everything. There is an engineering staff who fiddle with the equipment when something goes wrong, but the running of the transmission is in the hands of the man at the turntable.

“While (Y-Front Up The Nile) is going out on the transmission channel the DJ has to “cue up” the next disc, listening over his headphones for the opening chords so that he can hold the disc still, on a spinning turntable, ready to let it go after a few moments of chat.

“One disc is roaring out over the air, and being reproduced in the Studio on a powerful pair of studio speakers so the DJ can listen for disasters, such as a sticking needle, while at the same time another disc is playing in his headphones.

“This is by no means the only distraction. As soon as the first record has finished, the DJ has to snatch the channel off the air and “fade up” the mike to announce either the record that has just been played, or the next record, or both. All this time he is holding the second record at a standstill.

“Having finished the announcements he uses his free hand to cut the mike and fade up the second turntable letting go the captive record as he does so.

“He then snatches up a miniature tape recorder and notes the details of the first record. The performer, publisher, writer and the exact running time of the record. He then has to tick it off on a checklist.

“I got through my hour but that’s about the size of it. I got through just. I had a lot of help.”

STEPHANIE DE SYKES
Pictured with a smile on her face at Sheffield’s Club Fiesta with Johnny Moran and Keith Skues (front) and members of NEW FACES.

Longer hours

In June 1975 the IBA readily agreed for Radio Hallam to extend its broadcasting hours therefore opening transmissions at 4.55 a.m. and remaining on the air until 1.00 a.m. the following morning, except on Friday and Saturday when the station stays open till 3.00 a.m.

These were the hours of broadcasting, and the basic structure promised in our application to the IBA early in 1974, and for which we were awarded the franchise.

New programmes to be introduced included a three-hour show of either soul or rock music every weekday evening commencing at 8.00 p.m. which was directed towards young adults with particular emphasis on the pleasure of music in the interference free service area of the VHF transmitters radiating from Sheffield and Rotherham.

By public demand a series entitled “20 Years of Rock and Roll” was broadcast twice weekly and other new programmes included country music, brass bands, northern soul, new release records and a special half hour chat feature at 7.30 p.m. on weekdays which was also a component of the original programme proposals by Radio Hallam to the IBA. Sports programmes were extended and extra new bulletins scheduled with the emphasis on local and regional news.

Public response to Radio Hallam’s extended hours was astounding. I had re-scheduled a number of programmes following the careful analysis of listeners, letters over a period of 8 months and confirming research undertaken by our presentation department.

In the summer of 1975 another audience research survey (this time conducted by RSGB) gave Radio Hallam a weekly listenership of 48% of the population in our service area and was the highest of any local station in England. The survey showed our primary audience was 16-45 year olds and proved therefore we were right on target. We are all aware that music is the magnet to attract listeners. However at the same time I believe that commercial radio should have a very broad appeal and have a highly developed sense of social responsibility.

Executives of radio stations are forever looking at BBC listening figures and comparing whether they are beating us or vice versa. One wants to encourage the greatest diversity and expansion to changes in taste. Therefore I believe there are real advantages in having a strong amount of competition with more than one kind of programme to offer listeners on a local basis.

“If Yorkshire is the entertainment centre of the North, then Radio Hallam is, in the same way, the leader in its field.”

Keith Skues

Keith Skues

Richard Keith Skues has always been interested in show business. From the age of 10 he wanted to be a radio announcer. His first public appearance was via a perambulator but his publicity handout assures us that it was in a parish church pantomime. He appeared annually in various productions, and at the age of 16 wrote and produced a full length youth variety show. Keith was Youth Leader of his church club.

About this time he founded and edited the “Youth Fellowship Times” (1956-1958).

He was called up for national service in 1958 and admits there was more to it than marching up and down the parade square. Whilst stationed at RAF Chivenor he wrote “The History of Heanton Punchardon”, one of Britain’s oldest hamlets in the county of Devon.

At the beginning of 1959 Keith was posted to Germany and he secured, wangled, maneuvered (we are not told how) a post to British Forces Network in Cologne. He began as a presentation assistant, moved to production and later became an announcer. It was in 1959 that the now famous “Cardboard Shoes” gimmick was born. Instead of using his own name he tried a pseudonym. It has followed him around the world since.

After his release from the RAF he joined British Forces Network (which later changed its name to British Forces Broadcasting Service) as a civilian announcer and his first assignment was in 1961 posted to the sweltering hot desert of Kuwait during the Iraqi crisis. Here he set up a small station and broadcast to most parts of the world from where service personnel had been sent to Kuwait.

Later that year he was moved to Kenya with Forces radio. Mention the years 1916-1964 [sic: 1956-1964 – Ed] and Keith’s reaction is “those were the good old days”. Busy days, too for as usual he began to look for something completely different to do. In this case we substitute “do” for “conquer”. He successfully reached the summit of Mount Kilamanjaro (19,340 feet) in October 1962 along with a team of RAF personnel, who were the first services expedition not to lose any one on the way up, or down. Asked why he attempted such an exhausting feat Keith replied; “I wanted to get to the top in life!”.

Whilst in Kenya he wrote a pop page for the “Daily Nation”, and edited a features page for the “Sunday Post”.

On radio he picked up awards two years running for his series “Skues Me” and “Skueball Speshall” … climbed yet another mountain — Mount Kenya (17,058 feet) … directed a number of films including “The BFBS Story”, “Kilamanjaro — What a Long Walk”, “Wild Life in East Africa” … and appeared on local television.

In 1963 he returned to London and was attached to the BBC on a three month senior programme training course. It was just after his return to Nairobi that Kenya gained its independence, BFBS was closed down and after a stint in Swaziland, Keith was posted to Aden where he remained for three months.

“Trouble seems to follow me around the world — Kuwait, Zanzibar, Tanzyanika, Uganda and Kenya which had uprisings and mutinies, and I spent a few weeks in Swaziland during some trouble they had down there. In Aden I was up to my neck in it with the Radfan fighting. So I opted for a more peaceful life and packed my numerous kit bags and returned to England.”

Whilst at the BBC the bug for radio in Britain had bitten him and he came back once again to do something completely different. It was in 1964 that pirate radio began broadcasting off the shores of the British Isles and Keith joined Radio Caroline which was anchored off the Essex coast and where he worked two weeks on board and a week ashore. He became a regular presenter of the 9-12 morning show and admits that the highlight of his days with Caroline was when he escorted Prince Richard of Gloucester to the ship and interviewed him on air.

Keith moved to land based commercial radio in January 1966 working for Radio Luxembourg and presenting his own show sponsored by CBS records.

In May 1966 he was back at sea again but this time with Radio London — “I was writing a book about the pirates and wanted to experience as much variety as possible.”

He worked with many disc jockeys who are now broadcasting with ILR stations today.

“The pirates were outlawed by the British Government in August 1967 which was a sad blow. Pirate radio had proved really popular and had created a need for all day music and entertainment with an informal approach. Radio One was set up as a substitute, if you like, but on a national network. It more or less replaced the pirate stations.”

Keith came ashore and was offered a regular job with the BBC and was one of the original disc jockeys on Radio One. He was best known perhaps for his compering of “Saturday Club” but he was also a regular host of “Radio One Club”, “Family Choice”, “Pop Inn”, “Today”, “Disc Jockey Derby”, “Night Ride” and “Coming Home”.

He has appeared on many television shows including “Top Of The Pops”, “Thank Your Lucky Stars”, “Juke Box Jury”, “Pop The Question”, “Rough with the Smooth”, “Pop Quest”, “Calendar” and the “Kenneth Williams Show”.

He remained with the BBC until 1974 having worked on “The Story of Pop”, a radio series which was sold around the world. He co-wrote many of the episodes and was editor of the series. He joined Radio Hallam as Programme Director in March 1974.

Keith was appointed Vice-President of the National Association of Youth Clubs (Patron — HM The Queen Mother) in 1972 and is actively involved in voluntary work for the organisation up and down the country.

Off the air he likes writing and to his credit are “Pop Went The Pirates”, “Radio Onederland” (the story of Radio One) and “The History of the Skues Family”. Keith is a Lord’s Taverner, holds a private pilots licence, writes sleeve notes for LP record covers, has appeared in the film “Sunday Bloody Sunday”, is the voice behind many television and radio commercials, has represented Great Britain as a DJ in South Africa (1971) and in the last three years has been presented to HM the Queen Mother, HRH Duke of Edinburgh, HRH Prince Charles, HRH Princess Alice of Athlone, and HRH Princess Alexandra.

He is sorry that no-one from Radio Hallam met the Queen during her visit to Sheffield. Says Keith “We could quite easily have spoken to Her Majesty during our broadcast, as we were within touching distance, but that would not have been protocol.

Skues is the only Programme Director in Britain who is heard seven days a week with his own show, including “Lunch with a Punch” every weekday 12.00 midday-2.00 p.m. “It’s better than working,” he admits.

The halcyon days of Hallam

The halcyon days of Hallam

by Roger Moffat

I think it was a Friday. I can’t be sure about it being a Friday but I do know it was March, 1974 because the telephone hadn’t rung since the New Year and I was thinking that it was a waste of time paying all that money to the GPO when nobody rang me and I had no friends left to ring. No, I’m wrong. It wasn’t a Friday at all. It was a Tuesday because I remember that I was just off to get my dole money when the call came through.

“A Mr Keith Skues is ringing you from a London call-box. Will you pay for the call?” Although I didn’t realise it at the time, that must have been the first occasion (there have been many more since) that I said “No Way Baby”.

Minutes passed. The phone rang again. Keith Skues — with money. (There haven’t been many occasions since!!)

“Roger, how about having lunch with me next week”, spoke Mr K. In my impecunious state, I would willingly have supped with the Devil, so I agreed.

Monday next I hid in the guards van from Aylesbury en route for London and a free meal.

We shook hands. It was, after all, quite an historic occasion. I hadn’t met Keith since I was fired by the BBC and he hadn’t met me since he parted company with the BBC. It was “Stanley and Livingstone” all over again! “Right then”, I said “How about the lunch offer?”

His countering remark left me somewhat puzzled. “How about SHEFFIELD?”

Now I know quite a bit about the north and I also know that few, if any, people travel from the West End of London to Sheffield — FOR LUNCH. Especially when they are standing outside the Savoy Hotel.

“No, not Sheffield for lunch”, he said. “How about working for me — for RADIO HALLAM in Sheffield”.

It was the soothing voice of the nurse at the Middlesex hospital that I heard next. “You’ll be OK”, she said “You’ve just had a slight shock. Do you know that you’ve just signed for SHEFFIELD HALLAM?” “When do I play?”, I muttered. “Nine till twelve, every morning”. It was not the nurse but Keith who answered. He had never left my side — and he hasn’t since.

The scene changes now to Sheffield, July 1974. It was a Sunday; a drab and damp Sunday as the train drew in. No Station Manager to greet me. No red carpet. No Guard of Honour. Just rain and litter. Just litter and rain. Not even a Keith Skues in attendance. “Taxi?” I enquired, looking helplessly around the completely empty station forecourt. I might just as well have asked for a private helicopter! And then this fella came up. “Roger Moffat?” he enquired. “Yes”, I replied, thinking he was my belated taxi driver. “And I’ll tell you one thing to start with”, I said “Sheffield is a bloody awful place”. He wasn’t a taxi driver at all, he was a reporter from “The Sun” newspaper. What a way to run a railway station. Come to think of it, what a way to launch a Radio Station!

As Keith led me into “my office” the next day, he did comment upon “being cautious” when talking to the press. My “office” hadn’t been completed. One wall was still yet to be built. There was no glass in the windows. How could there have been? There were no window frames! My “chair” was a pile of bricks. My “desk” was also a pile of bricks. Whilst I was “off the ground”, I had serious doubts as to Radio Hallam ever doing the same.

The Radio Hallam dog, which we seemed to have acquired from the builders, used either me or my pile of bricks as a lamp post and I thought, as I hung my socks out of the non existent window to dry, “Yes indeed, Sheffield is a bloody awful place”.

It isn’t. As we began to meet the people and the people met us, we got “the local stuff going”. Thank you, you people of South Yorkshire and North Nottinghamshire, those in Rotherham and on the River Don, Chesterfield and the many other places we’ve yet to visit — “Thank you for having us in your homes”.

ROGER MOFFAT has occasionally been known to ‘Freakout’ – seen here in a Glitter Band Suit.

1975 ● THIS IS TRANSDIFFUSION