Black FM hit the airwaves on 97.9 MHz on 21st July 1989, defining itself as being “…NOT a community radio station but a privately owned music enterprise which likes to help out in the community.” They managed to cover most of Bristol quite well, although not quite getting a listenable signal out as far as Patchway, just past the northern boundary of the city. The station had exceptional audio quality on the whole, when compared to the past Bristol pirates whose transmissions were often distorted due to a lack of compression and limiting.
Management were obviously aware of the future competition from the now licensed FTP Radio that was to start broadcasting in the New Year. They remained adamant that there was still a place for free radio in Bristol, taking advertisements and broadcasting at least 12 hours every day, with the occasional Monday off air to give the staff a breather. DJ’s included Mr H, DJ HQ, Digi T, Fire, Double J, Daddy Roots, ML Soul and The Bass, playing a mixture of Reggae, Soul, Hip Hop and House.
Soon, Black FM had started to hold children’s discos in Easton and run children’s competitions on air, some involving the children going into local parks and hunting down goodie bags, which I believe also had phone numbers attached for the winners to call and signal that they had found one of the bags. Black FM badges and car stickers were also available from selected outlets, supplies of which were soon exhausted.
Monday 6th November saw Black FM going off air, not only because the studio was found, presumably by accident by certain members of the local community but also to install a new transmitter which was intended to improve reception in time for their Christmas broadcasts. However, the transmitter simply gave them the poorest pirate signal in Bristol for over two years! The audio was still good but the signal strength was very poor. The signal returned to its usual strength by the 16th November when the transmitter finally got up to full power.
Christmas programming began on 5th December after the stations final ‘bank holiday’ (i.e. break in transmission to catch its breath and perform a security check) before the new decade began. The station offered a free advertising week between the 1st and 7th December for local businesses to take advantage of the potential that Christmas brings and the number of adverts on the station became phenomenal. The hotline number was supplemented by 3 new Christmas mailing addresses, one of which was on Stokes Croft next door to the old Emergency Radio and SYT mail drops. Black FM’s first female DJ, Little T, also took to the airwaves for the first time during December. Things seemed to be going well but all of a sudden, disaster struck.
Firstly, competition came on the 9th December in the form of S.P.E.C Radio on 101.25 FM. This might not have been so bad if Black FM’s own transmitter hadn’t gone on the blink and reduced the signal strength for the second time in the space of just over a month. These technical difficulties were soon fixed but then, 8 days later, the BBC fired up its new Radio 1 West Midlands transmitter on 97.9 causing Black FM more problems in the form of direct interference.
Black FM continued to broadcast, although they could barely be heard outside of central Bristol, up until around 10.30pm on New Years Eve when they abruptly signed off with, “See you next year”. On 4th January they returned to the airwaves with a much reduced schedule of programmes from Thursdays to Sundays, although this was supposed to be temporary.
The end of January brought storms which battered the legal stations off the air for a day and a half at one point, yet somehow Black FM remained on air even if on reduced power due to the aerial being blown around and battered in the wind. Even better, on 1st February, Black FM got a power boost and cut through some of the interference caused by the Radio 1 transmitter.
The interference still continued though, so Black FM took more action in the form of a new transmitter and frequency. On 105.2 (well, .25 to be exact), the transmitter was more powerful than the one on 97.9 and finally brought Black FM to outer Bristol areas such as Patchway and Little Stoke but it also kicked out a pretty awful signal audio-wise with a large 50 Hz hum and a lack of sub bass and high tops. Broadcasting simultaneously on 97.9 and 105.2 during a test period at the end of March, Black FM wound up the broadcasts on 97.9 on 8th April 1990 to take a break for Easter.
On 19th April at 1.30pm they started fresh with the new frequency, minus the hum and began asking for reception reports to be phoned in. By this time FTP had started test transmissions on 97.2 FM, so it was for the best that Black FM moved away from that busy section of the dial which was now home to a potentially touchy legal rival, especially as FTP itself was having interference issues with Red Dragon FM on 97.4. Black FM broadcast into the Monday and Tuesday that week, but reverted to the weekends only afterwards.
Despite publicising the new frequency by doing the simultaneous tests and releasing new car stickers, Black FM listeners were still tuning to 97.9 and hearing nothing, so the station suffered from rumours that it had been raided. On the 9th and 10th of June 1990 the engineers put the 97.9 rig back on the air for a couple of days to try and rectify the situation.
Strangely, Black FM was off the air for the weekend of the St. Pauls Carnival in July although the rig was on air broadcasting white noise up until the 12th when normal transmission resumed just in time for their first birthday celebrations.
August was not good for Black FM. The lack of sub and top in the audio signal meant that Black FM just wasn’t sounding as good as it did and it was about to get worse. For some reason, distortion started to kick in during August and although this was reduced eventually, the distortion remained for quite a while. On top of that, they reduced their schedule further, taking Thursdays off the rota. Community work continued though, with the regular children’s discos and even a trip to Madame Tussaud’s Waxworks.
Black FM received a police request that they leave the airwaves for the time being, and in September they complied. However, one last push was given between 11th and 16th December with broadcasts on 105.2 under the banner of “One week of Black FM.” This was a drive to get support for the station from the public with requests that they phone in with their opinions on the return of the station. Either the responses were non-existent or not entirely positive as the station pulled the plug just before the New Year and never returned to the airwaves of Bristol.
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