As it happened Xtra AM turned out to be a massive hit with the audience
- key to this immediate success was no doubt helped the appointment of
Les Ross to the breakfast show slot and the station's bright, slick and
professional sound. The presentation
team was a very strong line-up. Annie Othen was well known
respected for work on Mercia Sound and presented a very interesting
morning show. Dave Jamieson was also well known in the area,
again for work on Mercia Sound in the early 1980's before he went off
to launch Viking Radio in Humberside in 1984 as programme
controller. Ted Elliott was also another Mercia Sound regular
presented the XTRA AM late show from 10pm. Noddy Holder, of
course, was well known for being the front man of the hit making band
of the 1970's - Slade. Noddy presented the Sunday request
XTRA AM. Adrian Stewart presented the afternoon show on
from 2pm followed by Dave Hickman at 6pm.
BRMB's famous and well respected sports coverage moved over from FM to
the new XTRA AM station, where Tom Ross continued to do an excellent
job of local sports coverage with commentaries and his famous and
unmissable post match phone-ins.
with his Sony
award in The Birmingham Evening Mail
three weeks on
the air on XTRA am, Les Ross had champagne for breakfast for a second
time, this time Les was celebrating winning The Best Breakfast Show
Award - the radio industry's 'Oscars'.
Mike Owen, the
BRMB, had entered Les's BRMB breakfast show, and Les received his award
from fellow D.J. Alan Freeman.
The Sony Award ceremony of
was hosted by Michael Aspel in the presence of The Duchess of
York. That year BRMB also won Local Station Of The
Les said "You don't get many people who receive an award who
say they don't work there anymore." The photograph above shows Les Ross
as pictured in the Birmingham Evening Mail, while the photograph below
is a photo card that I picked up from the XTRAam reception in Aston in
BRMB's Simon and Deborah in the Birmingham Evening Mail newspaper
XTRA AM was, in fact, such a success that it competed strongly for the
its FM counterparts, BRMB FM
and MERCIA FM
With the loss of Les
Ross, the BRMB
breakfast show required fresh new talent and BRMB's programme
Mike Owen, signed the relative youngsters Simon Davies from Marcher
Wrexham, and Deborah Kinch, formerly of Steve Wright's Radio One show
where she was affectionately know as "Delightful Deborah". Mr
Owen's choice of the bright new 'double-header' on BRMB would provide
the station with the new
younger audience that the newly rejuvenated 'BRMB FM Music Power' was
aiming for. Simon and Deborah were compared with the
Simon Mayo and Sybil Ruscoe on BBC Radio One.
The recruitment of Simon and Deborah to the BRMB Breakfast Show proved
a good match for the station and BRMB competed very well with the BBC
and its new rival sibling XTRA AM. Although Les Ross took
his listeners from BRMB across to XTRA AM, BRMB did in fact
retain the greater proportion of the audience according to JICRAR in
its part of the overall TSA (Total Survey Area). It was a
surprise, therefore, that approximately a year later BRMB decided to
move Simon Davies to a different programme slot and brought back
Brendan Kearney to take over the breakfast show. That is to
nothing away from Brendan, who was certainly welcomed back to the
station as a very popular
former broadcaster on BRMB from the 1980's. Unfortunately
left the station at this point, but Simon remained with BRMB until 1995.
On his website, radio industry expert Robin Valk explains: "Background: In the
late 80s, UK radio operators split their FM and AM frequencies. The
Midlands Radio Group, then owners of BRMB, created a Gold service,
carried on the AM frequencies of BRMB in Birmingham and Mercia Sound in
Coventry, leaving the FM services to carry the existing CHR services.
As Head of Music at BRMB, I took on programming at Xtra-AM, as Selector
was rolled out.
Objective: BRMB was a conversion; Xtra was new
build. At BRMB, the first
goal was to first replicate existing programming, then introduce
presenters to new methods, and finally to define new structures,
working with the programme director. At Xtra, the programme structure
was closely defined by the programme director, with a core repertoire
tested in research. This gave a much more precise brief. From midnight
to 6 am, the services shared programming output, using a mix of
material that was already common to both stations, along with the most
appealing repertoire from both libraries.
Approach: At BRMB there was resistance to
centrally imposed schedules. This was not unusual at the time.
Xtra-AM’s brand new Selector implementation was straightforward. At
BRMB, the approach was to have an answer for every question or doubt.
This meant an early and deep immersion in Selector. Every step was
taken in exhaustive consultation with presenters. This was in fairness
to the presenters, whose entire way of operating was being turned
upside down. But a direct consequence was that the BRMB schedule
developed more slowly as a result. Developments accelerated after
Xtra’s first listening figures, which outstripped BRMB’s: this showed
that well-planned programming generally appeals more that improvised
output, assuming equally appealing repertoire. However, it’s worth
looking at RTÉ lyric fm to see how a collaborative approach can
Result: Xtra maintained its success for its
entire existence (the station was later replaced by Capital Gold). But
BRMB did catch up, as its programming was steadily overhauled to
reflect listener tastes, using audience research (BP&R software).
By the time Capital Radio bought BRMB and Xtra, BRMB was, for the first
time, locally outdoing then national market leaders Radio 1 both in
audience numbers and audience satisfaction. However, BRMB could have
got there sooner."
Robin Valk was a legend at BRMB in the 1970's and 1980' and has track
record of over 40 years in the industry. His consultancy company is
called Radio To Go
Radio To Go offers radio production, advice, analysis and guidance from
one of the most experienced programmers and consultants in Europe.
Find out more here: http://www.radiotogo.com
was a run
away success for several years, it was amazing to
find so many people tuned to music radio on the AM band. The
listening figures released by JICRAR (the Joint Industry Committee for
Radio Audience Research) in 1990 showed that the audience reach
was 500,000 listeners, an amazing total for new AM only radio
programme (usually 1am to 5am) was shared across the Midlands Radio
group of stations; BRMB FM, XTRA AM, Mercia FM and Leicester Sound - (Trent FM, GEM AM in Nottingham
were also part of Midlands Radio but I am not sure if they carried this shared programme
Radio Wyvern in Hereford and
Worcester did carry this overnight programme, but Wyvern was not part
of the Midlands Radio group.
the official coverage area for XTRA AM, though in
reality the station could be heard over a much wider area including a
good part of Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, North Oxfordshire, North
Gloucestershire and East Worcestershire. 1152 kHz covered the
west, while 1359 kHz covered the east.
THINGS NEVER LAST
It was in 1993 that Capital Radio plc took
control of the Midlands Radio group, which now included Radio Trent in
Nottingham and Derby, and Leicester Sound in its portfolio.
however, only wanted the Birmingham station BRMB for its Capital Cities
branding, within a year it disposed of the rest to the GWR group. GWR
also bought Beacon Radio in Wolverhampton and Shropshire in
Capital could no longer jointly run XTRA AM as it was split across the
ILR areas - Birmingham run by Capital and the Coventry/Warwickshire
area run by
GWR. GWR would have to make their own arrangements since XTRA
originated from Birmingham. XTRA AM 1359 would be closed and
Coventry and Warwickshire would lose their service.
Things were looking a bit grim for XTRA AM.
A new national AM music radio station was to arrive on 30th April 1993
in the form of the Radio Authority's 'INR2' licence. Richard
Branson's Independent Music Radio consortium won this licence and
launched as 'VIRGIN
AM's listeners were tempted away by this new radio station.
a bid to
rejuvenate BRMB, in August 1993 the new owners, Capital Radio, decided
move Les Ross from XTRA AM and back to breakfast on BRMB to give a
boost to the ratings on
their flagship FM station. Tony Prince was drafted in for the
XTRA AM breakfast show, and later the legendary Tony Butler moved back
from BBC Radio WM to fulfill the breakfast show role on XTRA in an
attempt to enhance the flagging ratings at XTRA.
In April 1994 GWR switched off Xtra AM programmes from the 1359
the air on 1359 the XTRA AM presenters urged listeners to re-tune to
1152 if they still wanted to hear the station. Unfortunately
signal came from the highly directional transmitter that beamed
south-wast across Birmingham and did not allow for much overspill into
Coventry and north Warwickshire - but with careful tuning and
siting of the radio it was possible, however I wonder how many
could be bothered with this technical frustration. In any
GWR quickly cut
AM from their 1359 transmitter when they realised that the presenters
in Birmingham were trying to hijack
listeners from their 1359 transmitter!
When tuning to 1359 from then on listeners could
hear a repeated announcement effectively saying that 'This frequency
been reclaimed for a new radio service for Coventry and
Warwickshire.' The tape loop also proclaimed that the new
station will "not be from Birmingham and not from London" - an obvious
reference to those horrid XTRA AM people in Birmingham and those
dreadful national stations from London.
What the tape did not tell listeners was that the new station coming to
1359 kHz would be mostly from Swindon (or Dunstable or somewhere!) -
what a cheek - XTRA AM had been produced wholly from the
Midlands! GWR was to pipe in their Classic Gold network over
1359 transmitter which included only 4 hours per day of local
XTRA AM continued on 1152 kHz of course, but to
add to XTRA AM's worries another new competitor was on the way: A new
concept for commercial radio was set to arrive, in
the form of regional
commercial radio for the whole of the West Midlands, in September 1994,
the new station was "100.7 HEART FM" playing cool, laid back hits
The West Midlands and Warwickshire and in FM stereo.
IS IN NIGH
Listeners were by this time finding the choice of high quality sound on
the FM stations more of a lure. The ratings for XTRA AM were
gradually falling away. Perhaps it is my cynical nature, but
wonder if XTRA AM could have been sustained given proper management and
marketing support, or did the station's owners simply allow the station
so that a network of Capital Gold could be put in its place at minimal
cost as a
relay from London with minimal local production?
Whatever happened in those last few years, the end for XTRA AM came in
April 1998. Apart from the Enduring Tom Ross, everyone else
sacked. Tony Butler presented his last breakfast show for
moved back to the BBC at Pebble Mill to work for BBC Radio
XTRA AM never made it to its 10th birthday.
Non-Stop Classic Hits - XTRA
From then on 1152 kHz was inhabited by "1152 Capital Gold".
With the exception of sport at the weekend and match nights, and only 4
hours of local programmes each week-day, presented by
local favourite Tom Ross, everything else came from Capital's studios
located in Leicester Square in London.
The comprehensive sports coverage, including Tom Ross' legendary
post match phone-ins, was retained on Capital Gold
1152. In 2004, while Tom Ross' post match phone and Friday night
phone-in programmes continued, live match commentaries were quietly
dropped from Capital Gold 1152 and virtually all local sports coverage
and commentaries were then carried
exclusively on BBC Radio WM.
By the 2005/2006 season Capital Gold 1152 and BRMB made
a return to sports coverage and again covered local matches
with excellent live 'kick by kick' commentaries. Tom Ross' unique and
locally unmissable Friday night and post match phone-in debates remain
on the Capital Gold 1152 AM schedule.
See : HITTING THE TARGET AT XTRA AM >
ILR SPLIT AM and FM BROADCASTING > >
> > >
Some photo cards of the XTRA-am presenters that I collected from the station's reception in 1989:
Adrian Stewart on XTRA-am
Dave Hickman on XTRA-am
Dave Jamieson on XTRA-am
Annie Othen on XTRA-am
Noddy Holder on XTRA-am
Phil Riley on XTRA-am
Ted Elliott on XTRA-am
Annie Othen, Phil
Brice, Noddy Holder and Dave Hickman.
Dave Hickman : Well
known for being "Travel" in the 1980's when he was a side-kick for Les
Ross on the Breakfast Show. The pair always had some hilarious banter in
the mornings. Dave went on to be a star in his own right on Xtra AM in
Sadly, in July 2013, John Slater informed me; "Hi
Mike, You may not be aware, we heard the sad news on Thursday that Dave
Hickman died after a short illness. We've had no more detail since then
but the postings between former BRMB/Xtra folk are full of ... couldn't
have known a nicer man .. true gent .. nobody had a bad word .... I
refer you to Phil Riley's blog which has pretty much summed it up on
behalf of us all: http://www.rileyorionradio.blogspot.co.uk/ For
me, it's taken a couple of days to sink in. The memory I'll always hold
onto is how happy we were 30+ years ago sitting in The Albion pub,
cracked up with laughter, inventing phrases for The Wolfman. Now he's
made me cry. And it's still his round. J.S."
Capital Radio merged with GWR to form GCap Media which in 2008 itself
merged with Global Radio, which also bought Chrysalis Radio in 2007.
Capital Gold was later renamed "Gold", but Orion Media (by now the
owners of the Coventry, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Shropshire and
Hereford & Worcester licenses) continued to relay the Gold station
from Leicester Square in London, with local opt outs for sports coverage
in the evening.
In May 2012 it was announced by Orion Media that
a new station would be launched entitled FreeRadio 80's. Free Radio
80's would be locally produced and would replace the relay of the Gold
station from London.
The service would be carried on the local DAB multiplexes in Coventry,
Birmingham, Wolverhampton & Shropshire and later in Hereford and
Worcester when MuxCo could launch the very much delayed local DAB
multiplex in Hereford and Worcester that was initially intended to go
live in 2008 but was put back to 2012/2013.
Free Radio 80's would also be carried on 1359, 1152, 990 and 1017 kHz
medium wave (AM), however there would be no medium wave service to
Hereford and Worcester.
[* see below]
The Hereford and Worcester
transmitters on 954 and 1530 kHz were previously spun off in the mid
1990's by former owners (GWR/Classic Gold) to Murfin Music
International which then broadcast a station known as "Classic Hits 1530
and 954". In 2007 Laser Broadcasting bought the station and it was
renamed Sunshine Radio alongside Sunshine Radio 855 in south Shropshire
and Sunshine FM in Herefordshire and Monmouthshire. Sunshine Radio in
Hereford and Worcester
closed the medium wave transmitter at Breinton on 954 kHz serving
their new FM service on 106.2 MHz to Hereford began. The station
continued on 1530
kHz in Worcester from the Cotheridge transmitter. Unfortunately Laser
Broadcasting soon ran in to financial difficulties and went out of
business. Muff Murfin of Murfin Media bought back the Sunshine stations
but were forced by Ofcom to close the 1530 kHz service to Worcester in
2010 due to licensing issues; it is understood that the licence was not
correctly transferred between owners.
Sunshine Radio continued as normal in South Shropshire, Herefordshire and Monmouthshire.