LES ROSS M.B.E.
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AIRWAVES BRMB HISTORY THE LAUNCH OF XTRA AM
"WHO IS THE BOSS? - LES ROSS!"
Les Ross M.B.E.
A legend in Midlands radio broadcasting for over 30 Years and multi Sony Radio Award winner!
"The definitive voice of Birmingham" according to Chris Tarrant
Les Ross is Birmingham born and bred and always wanted to become a disc jockey, even making radio programmes at home with a Dansette record player. At the age of eleven he wrote a letter to the manager of Radio Luxembourg asking for some help with his ambition. No response was forthcoming, but never the less at the age of 15 he entered Mecca’s Disc Jockey of the Year competition, and won, beating even Johnny Walker!
Somewhat ironically the competition prize consisted, in part, as an audition for The Great 208 - Radio Luxembourg - strangely this part of the prize did not come to pass. Mecca, however offered him a job at the Mecca ballroom in Birmingham twice a week. After that Les worked for the Birmingham Roller Rink for five nights a week while also working days at IBM (International Business Machines), and later at Witton Park cemetery as an administrator.
His first full time professional job as a DJ was in 1970 when he began working for a night club in Birmingham. Further offers came in and Les was chosen to host the Saturday Morning Show on BBC Radio Birmingham in the same year. BBC local radio was very new at the time, Radio Birmingham having been launched in 1970, and Les's vivacious style was a hit with the listeners. BBC local radio tended to be rather more sober than it is today and news of this popular and up-beat programme reached the BBC Director General at Broadcasting House in London who quickly contacted Radio Birmingham's Station Manager asking 'Is this the sort of programming that BBC local radio should really be doing?' Not being fazed by this communication from HQ, Radio Birmingham's manager retorted 'Yes, in spades!' And Les stayed.
Due this popularity, the contract became a full time post with Les presenting the Breakfast show, starting every morning at the unearthly hour of 5am!
In 1975, he was lured away from the Midlands by an Independent Local Radio Station, Radio Tees in Stockton, who invited him to present their Breakfast show. This was also an enormous success and he became a great favourite so when he was approached by BRMB to return to Birmingham for their breakfast show, it was a very difficult decision to make because Radio Tees was such a great station to work for. However, Les decided to join the two year old BRMB (261 meters medium wave / 1151 kHz and 94.8 VHF Stereo!) and quickly built up a very loyal fan base among the young and old alike.
A great favourite he later presented was the "Round The World Phone Calls" show every Sunday, where BRMB would pick up the costs of allowing Les to ring up listeners' friends and relatives around the globe with sometimes hilarious but often heart-warming results. Don't forget the 1970's and 1980's were times when international calls were often prohibitively expensive and there was no internet e-mail! Great programming.
[See more about BRMB on This Site]
[See more about BRMB at The Windy Corner - an external site]
Les Ross On BRMB Radio in the 1980's
Les would make great audio sketches and mini-comedies including the unforgettable "Yesterday Never Comes", a daily two minute serial that ran in the early 1980's (1981 - 1985 ish) set in the imaginary town of Little Whittle - not far from Wattle! He played all the comedic characters, such as Gravely Hill, the Little Whittle undertaker (a play on the place name Gravelly Hill), Doctor Hamish Blunder, The Maharishi Boggs, The Vicar, Butler the maid and Maid the butler, Dwight D Eisensecond III, and of course what listener could forget about the Little Whittle school mistress and part time SAS group leader Miss Take! Nim Nim Nim!
On Aircheck Gold, Guy Burley notes: "Storylines included: Playing in the World Cup ('82) (Miss Take was sent off) and Wimbledon (Miss Take forfeited the game against John McEnroe for unsportsmanlike conduct), Miss Take messing with magic and burning her house to the ground (when the fire brigade were on strike due to council cuts ... bit of politics!)". On the same webpage Chris Norman noted: "It was broadcast twice during the breakfast show to allow both the early and late commuters the chance to follow the serial. Episode One was played early in the morning [about 0645] and episode 2 later on [about 0745].
The next day would be episode 2 then episode 3, etc., so the hidden joke was that yesterday actually did come again. The show invariably started the following way - "Yesterday Never Comes, the true life story of the ups and downs and ins and outs and sometimes the <insert random object here - "rubber ducks" sticks in my memory> of the people who lived in Little Whittle, a small town not far from Wattle. Lady Lord was famous for her "internationally acclaimed marzipan orange cup cakes".
During his time at BRMB Les was also asked to present an ATV programme called ‘Revolver’ which required extensive cookery and musical knowledge! In February 1986 Les won a SILVER HEART AWARD from THE VARIETY CLUB for the 1985 INDEPENDENT RADIO PERSONALITY OF THE YEAR.
Les Ross on television at the collecting his Silver Heart award
from the Variety Club
In 1988 the commercial broadcasting regulator, the Independent Broadcasting Authority (I.B.A.) was encouraging ILR stations, such as BRMB Radio, to make better use of their VHF/FM and AM/Medium Wave transmitters by splitting frequencies.
In April 1989 BRMB Radio was relaunched as "96.4 FM BRMB", while over on AM an additional 'sister' station on the medium-wave band was created, which Les Ross himself named "XTRA AM" ! He moved from the BRMB breakfast show to launch the new XTRA AM station, where he also presented the breakfast show, and it was still the best breakfast show on the dial.
Les wins the Sony Best Breakfast Show Award in 1989 -
for his BRMB Breakfast Show that he had just left!
XTRA AM was broadcast on 1152kHz AM (261 meters) in the Birmingham and Black Country. The new station was also carried on 1359kHz (220 meters) in Coventry and Warwickshire via the medium wave transmitter previously occupied by Mercia Sound, which had recently merged with BRMB to form part of the 'Midlands Radio Group Ltd'.
XTRA AM played played popular 'classic hits', mostly from the sixties and seventies and especially featuring Elvis Presley, The Beatles and Cliff Richard. Favourites from the eighties were also included as were some of the current, tuneful chart hits. It was probably this wide appeal coupled with the Les Ross breakfast show that made XTRA an instant success.
XTRA AM even gave its sister station, the long established BRMB, a good run for the money in the ratings. Simon Davies, from Marcher Sound, and Deborah Kinch (formerly known for being "Delightful Deborah" on Steve Wright's show on Radio One) were employed by BRMB to give the station a bright new sound to not only compete with BBC radio, but also with Les' breakfast show on the all new XTRA AM
Capital Radio plc took over the Midlands Radio Group in 1993. They held on to the Birmingham stations BRMB and Xtra AM, but sold the other stations in the portfolio (including Mercia Sound and XTRA AM Coventry, Radio Trent and GEM-am in Nottingham and Derby) to GWR Radio, who also acquired Beacon Radio and WABC Wolverhampton in that same year. The Coventry and Warwickshire transmitters of XTRA AM on 1359kHz were eventually taken over by GWR's oldies station Classic Gold which was piped in from GWR's remote studios elsewhere in Swindon.
Les Ross On BRMB In The 1990's
Les's hugely successful breakfast show was moved back to 96.4FM BRMB in August 1993, where all his loyal listeners no doubt followed him since ratings at BRMB once again increased rapidly over the following months. Predictably the ratings at XTRA AM plummeted. Station bosses had to steal Tony Butler (previously of BRMB Sport fame in the 1980's) back from BBC Radio WM to help support the audiences at breakfast on the AM station. Les continued his successful breakfast show on BRMB until he "retired" from BRMB in late 2002.
Les has won many awards including ‘Independent Radio Personality of the year Award for 1985’, ‘Top Breakfast Show’ at the 1986, 1990 and 1994 and 1997 Sony Awards and also an MBE for his services to broadcasting and in 2004 became a member of The Radio Academy.
Les' work at the Birmingham radio stations BRMB and sister service XTRA AM undoubtedly helped make them such great successes between 1976 and 2002. Capital Radio closed XTRA AM in 1998 - Read More HERE - and Les retired from BRMB in 2002 after feeling rather out of touch with the youth programming that BRMB FM now represented.
To celebrate Les' retirement BRMB station bosses decided to name a Virgin Trains locomotive after the Midlands radio legend in a grand ceremony. (Les is a self confessed train-spotter!) I recorded the event, which was broadcast live from Birmingham at 9am on Les' last breakfast show, and Les seemed quite underwhelmed by the carry-on!. I thought that it sounded a little odd at the time that the usually high spirited Les wasn't as perky as usual and seemed to be a little lost for words. The reason, it has been alleged, is that the event was more of a publicity stunt for BRMB / Capital Radio / Virgin Trains, rather than for purely altruistic reasons, and it appears that the locomotive itself was nearing the end of its period of service anyway, so a short time later the locomotive "The Les Ross" was de-commissioned! All in all a rather pointless exercise. Poor old Les Ross - both of them!
Was it mere co-incidence that BRMB's listening figures took a bit of a turn for the worse when Les left the station I wonder?
Les immediately moved Saga Radio in the West Midlands where he presented the breakfast show in his own inimitable style from December 2002 and dramatically increased the station's audience at that time. Well of course! He was initially in good company as past colleagues from the old BRMB Radio, such as news supremo John Hawkins and station boss Brian Savin, were in the employ of SAGA at the time.
Les decided to leave Saga when new management arrived in the summer of 2004 and decided to adopt a more typical current-day commercial radio style of presentation of less talk and chat; Les was, in effect, instructed (by E-mail), to play the records without talking over them and read the 'cue card' announcements. There was to be no more of Les's hallmark impromptu jolly banter on the phone with the listeners or with popular news-reader and sparring partner John Hawkins. See "More" below.
Les is far too witty and creative to be influenced by this nonsense, and he told the the station that he would be leaving at the end of his contract in late December 2004. Unfortunately this was also announced prematurely in the Birmingham Evening Mail and thus the station told him not to do any more shows and showed him the door!
(Fortunately for listeners, SAGA hired the fabulous Roger Day to present several shows on the station).
So much of local commercial radio (ILR) presentation has been handed over to DJ's who are only to willing to be given a chance to get on the air - even if it does mean just reading from cue cards! This suits station bosses and accountants at many group stations as, one presumes, it keeps costs to a minimum! Real local personalities with individual flair and talent are becoming increasingly rare on ILR. The experienced presenters/entertainers having left or been elbowed out are often being snatched up by the BBC local stations who want some experienced local talent. Station managers at BBC Radio WM, including the current incumbent Keith Beech, have taken opportunities of appointing talent deserted by commercial radio. Radio WM has welcomed some well known local ex-commercial radio names in the past.
Legendary sports broadcaster Tony Butler came [back] to BBC WM after Capital Gold dropped most local programming and closed the Birmingham station '1152 XTRA-AM', replacing it with a relay of Capital Gold from London in 1998. Jimmy Franks left Capital owned BRMB to join BBC Radio WM in 2004 to present some excellent local music programmes on the station.
Another local legend in the midlands is Ed Doolan who also joined BBC Radio WM from commercial radio station BRMB, but this was back in 1982 when BRMB was still BROADcasting. Les's signing to BBC WM meant that the a local radio legend had come back home to roost, because BBC WM started out in life being known as 'BBC Radio Birmingham', where Les first started his radio career!
From February 2005 until January 2007 Les presented weekend programmes; Saturday 6am to 9am and Sunday 9am to midday. Then in January 2007 Les moved back to weekday programmes on WM where he presented the afternoon programme from 1pm (later 2pm) until 4pm.
Les admitted on air to BBC WM listeners that he was not especially happy presenting an afternoon show that invloved interviews, and Les decided to leave BBC WM in March 2009. More
YESTERDAY NEVER COMES - Meanwhile at that that very moment a little later on and in same place somewhere else, here comes "Yesterday Never Comes" with Les Ross is the true life story of the ups and downs and the ins and outs - and sometimes the half baked baked beans - of the people of Little Wittle, not far from Wattle:
Meet Lady Lord, the wealthy widow of the late Lord Lord and Maid her butler and Butler her maid; Dwight D Eisensecond III - the American tourist who never goes home; Gravely Hill the Little Wittle undertaker; Doctor Hamish Blunder; The Vicar; Mr Wishy, owner of Wishy's Washy - Little Wittle's Chinese laundry, and nim nim nim Miss Take the Little Wittle school mistress and part time SAS group leader! These tales include the story of Lady Lord's radio station, Lovely Lord Sound, battling for listeners with Wonderful Radio Wattle run by, nim nim nim, Miss Take.
))) LISTEN ((( - Yesterday Never Comes with Les Ross in 1984 on the BRMB RADIO Audio page here >
))) LISTEN ((( - Les Ross Audio from BBC WM and XTRA AM on the AIRWAVES Page - here >
))) LISTEN ((( - More Les Ross Audio on the BRMB RADIO Audio Page - here >
MORE . . . .
This from IC Birmingham February 2005: One of the region's best-known radio DJs is leaving Birmingham's SAGA FM station, claiming management nannying was turning him into a "robo-jock".
The final straw for veteran Les Ross, MBE, was being banned from drinking coffee in his studio during the early bird breakfast show.
Ross, aged 55, said that although he had more than doubled his show's ratings, he was only offered a one-year contract at below half-pay. "If I had been happy and felt that I had support, I might have stayed for half the money," he said.
The winner of three Sony Gold Awards as Britain's top breakfast DJ, Ross was last week inducted into the Radio Academy's Hall of Fame on the same day as BBC Radio WM's Ed Doolan.
Ross, who leaves on December 24, said he had tired of emails telling him when he could talk on air and to whom. He was not allowed to talk over the end of a record or play any rock music.
"I don't think the station knows what its target audience is. I can't play the Rolling Stones, yet if you go to to a Stones gig the crowd is just a sea of white hair!"
Radio director Ron Coles said yesterday: "I would like to thank Les for
his hard work during the last two years with the station"
MORE . . . .
More from IC Birmingham
Les Ross today promised to sign for BBC Radio WM - two days after being sacked by commercial rivals SAGA FM.
Manager Keith Beech said: “I am really pleased because I’ve been keen to get him for years. “We shook hands on the deal after your story broke in the Evening Mail and we just need to sort out the paper work - I’d like to think he’ll be with us for at least a couple of years. “Les will start work for us early in the New Year but I’ve got to work out exactly what he is going to do.
“He will begin on a weekly show, but will be doing a lot more speech than he has in the past. He has a great sense of humour and is passionate about current affairs. “I want him talking to callers and listeners, but there will be some music in his show.”
Les, aged 55, initially worked for the old BBC Radio Birmingham at the start of his career, before later spending 26 years at BRMB. After his two years at Saga were due to end on Christmas Eve, the triple Sony Gold Award winner decided not to accept the station’s offer of a new one-year deal at ‘less than half pay’.
He was then sacked for opening his heart to the Evening Mail about how he had tired of Saga’s ‘management by email’ policy. Les, who said he was stopped from taking coffee into his studio in case he spilt it, added: “If you pay peanuts you get monkeys."February 2005
MORE . . . .
This From A BBC Press Release (5/1/05)
BBC WM announced today that Les Ross will present a new Sunday morning show on the station from 6 February 2005.
Les, who began his career at the former BBC Radio Birmingham, is going back to his roots with his return to BBC WM. He will present the mid morning show on Sundays, from 9.00am to noon.
Les forms part of a brand new Sunday line up for BBC WM, which also saw Ed Doolan take over as presenter of the Sunday Breakfast Show, BBC WM's main religious programme, now hosted by Robert Beckford. Carl Chinn and Bob Brolly will host the afternoon shows and contribute to making Sunday's line-up one of BBC WM's most prestigious, as all four men have been honoured with MBE awards for their services to broadcasting.
Keith Beech, Editor, BBC WM, says: "We feel very proud to be offering such a unique and impressive Sunday schedule to our listeners and we are delighted that Les Ross, a definitive voice of the Midlands, will be joining us. We have been working with Les to create a show that is new and exciting, but that also incorporates variations on some of his most popular features, which many listeners will remember."
Les Ross adds: "I always thought I'd come back to BBC Birmingham. In my opinion, you can't do better than be on local radio in your home area. I'm very much looking forward to it." Les began his radio career at BBC Radio Birmingham in 1970 before moving on to commercial stations Radio Tees, BRMB/XtraAm and Saga FM. He has picked up two prestigious Sony Awards during his 34 year broadcasting career, and was awarded the MBE for services to broadcasting in 1996.
LES ROSS RETIRES FROM BBC RADIO WM - March 2009
After a stint on BBC WM at the weekends from 2005, Les moved back to weekdays in January 2007 where he presented a daily afternoon show from 1pm to 4pm until he retired at the end of March 2009. Les is quoted by The Birmingham Mail as saying “I’ve said it before and you never say never but I’m trying hard to retire! I just fancied doing something at weekends and that opportunity didn’t exist at WM anymore. If I’m being perfectly honest, I don’t think afternoons really suit me... after all those years on breakfasts, broadcasting at that time has never inspired me as much. "Happy Retirement Les! That is unless you find yourself somewhere else one day......
LES ROSS RETURNS TO BREAKFAST ON 89.1 BIG CITY RADIO - 7th December 2009
In 2009 BRMB, along with Mercia, Wyvern and Beacon, was bought from Global Radio by Phil Riley's Orion Media consortium. Les Ross was used by BRMB to provide some pre-relaunch promotional trailers. This created some excitement in the area, some even speculated that Les might be returning to BRMB to present his own show again. However it was not to be.
However, on 7th December 2009 Les Ross returned to broadcasting by joining 89.1 Big City Radio in Birmingham - back on the breakfast show. Les stayed there for a few months, but left the station in early 2010. Had Les finally retired from radio? No.....
In February 2013 Les was back on Big City Radio every Sunday afternoon with Celebrations between 2pm & 4pm. Celebrations is a "this day in history" style show with Les' style and each song or piece of music played is linked to a Birthday or other celebration that's happening in the coming week.
Grateful thanks to Alan Nicklin of 107.4 Telford FM and Wolverhampton's 107.7 The Wolf for ironing out a few 'wrinkles' in our radio pages.
BRMB Radio History | BRMB Schedules | BRMB Presenters | Phile Holden | Les Ross
BRMB Audio Recordings | JOHN RUSSELL's INSIDE STORY | Radio Acocks Green - 261 and a bit
THE END of BRMB RADIO
The MERCIA SOUND Pages
AIRWAVES RADIO, STATIONS & MEMORABILIA
External link to the excellent -
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