In late 87 or early 88, Paul Hassan and around 4 or 5 of his friends, who enjoyed going out partying on the Bristol underground scene and all enjoyed a lot of varied music, felt that there was a gap not being filled by the current pirates in Bristol. Paul and his friends thought that it would be great if somebody set up an alternative station that played a lot of the music they liked and heard that wasn’t currently being played by stations that perhaps should have been playing it. This thought quickly turned into action. This was the birth of Emergency Radio 99.9FM.
It became a serious operation, with the idea being that they would create a brand identity, this Emergency brand being associated with Bristol’s best DJs playing the best music they could. Whatever the genre, it was to be the best of that genre that you were going to find outside of the area of the world it originally came from. Concentrating on quality rather than quantity, they kept the broadcasts to Sundays. There were practical reasons behind this too; such as there wasn’t enough time to run it all week.
Paul was working as a radio journalist at the time and some of the others had media jobs, or were sound engineers, which meant they all had access to skills and equipment that they needed. They also had good contacts in London. They were something of an anarchist group but with lots of motivation and organisation. They planned the schedule carefully to roll with the time of day, playing Gospel at start-up (they didn’t just want to please the party people), moving on to more soulful or funky sounds, through World music and Jazz, peaking with House and Hip Hop and finishing off with chilled out reggae, dub and roots shows until the early hours.
The transmitter was commissioned from a builder in London and was specifically designed to interfere as little as possible, with filters and so on, as a lot of the pirates in Bristol weren’t so good with this kind of thing and Emergency didn’t want to antagonise the authorities in this way. It was only 10 watts, but this was enough from a good high studio location to cover the city.
Broadcasting direct from the studio meant moving it around a lot. They broadcast from a lot of different locations around the city, including Ashley Hill, St. Pauls, Montpelier, Clifton and even Stoke Bishop. Rumours were spread around as to where the studio was going to be every week. This was partly to do with putting the DTIs Radio Investigation Service off the scent and partly to do with keeping people away who wanted to hang around and chill in the studio. They were always very strict about keeping locations secret in this way. DJs were in the studio to do a job, they had to make sure they were on time and professional as possible.
Advertising was kept to just the amount needed to keep the station on air. This was set up via a mailbox number at the Full Marks bookstore at 37 Stokes Croft (which closed in 1988). This was also where SYT Radio had a mailbox. An Emergency sticker was placed on a lamppost on the junction between Stokes Croft and Jamaica Street in 1988 and managed to survive right up until 2005!
Here’s a closer look at some of the impressive DJ line-up…
Daddy G / Milo – Originally part of Bristol’s ‘Wild Bunch’ sound system. Daddy G went on to form Massive Attack with 3D, Mushroom and Tricky Kidd. Milo worked in Japan and later moved to the USA. He has recorded under the name of Nature Boy, still DJs and mixed a Wild Bunch CD for Strut in 2002.
Def Con – John Stapleton (known as Long John or Dr Jam) and Ian Dark ran a night at the Thekla called Def Con. John now runs another night, Blowpop and compiled the Dope On Plastic series of compilations in the 90’s.
AJ & Karlo – AJ was asked to produce and host the first ever world-music show on provincial radio, “Worldwide”, on Bristol’s GWR. Around this time he was commissioned to make the pre-show tapes for Peter Gabriel’s Secret World tour and he also co-programmed a number of WOMAD festivals. The late eighties and early nineties AJ toured, with partner Karlo Smith, the successful ‘Yu Fe Danse’ Sound System playing at Glastonbury, WOMAD and Bracknell festivals. AJ also became a resident DJ at The Big Chill.
Queen Bee – Paul says she didn’t even have a name until she started her DJing career at Emergency, and she played purely Studio 1 cuts, with the occasional Trojan that slipped in by accident. Later, she DJ’d for SPEC Radio / Respec FM before becoming music programmer for Fem FM, Britain’s first all female RSL radio station, in 1992. Queen Bee now successfully manages ‘Cosies’ bar in Portland Square, a much-loved Bristol institution. She has also been resident on the World Stage at Glastonbury and tour DJ for Massive Attack.
Fresh 4 – This crew included Krust and Suv who later went on to be part of Full Cycle with Roni Size, and Flynn who became part of Drum and Bass team Flynn and Flora. Fresh 4 had a chart hit with ‘Wishing On A Star’, a while before Massive Attack turned the rest of the world’s eyes on Bristol. Along with Roni Size, they also did a bit of the running around behind the scenes of Emergency Radio.
Other DJs involved included Tin Tin (Jazz), Hidden Strength (Dub & Roots), Manfred (Go-Go & P-Funk), Dizzy T from City Rockas (Rare Groove), Dom T, The Don, Joey Jay (Various genres), Louis Lou, Smith & Mighty, West One (House & Acid), DJ Marcus (Replay Record shop – Hip Hop and House), ICS, Take 5 (now known as Baby Malc), Seymour (70s DJ – odd guest slots), Jazzy B (Soul II Soul – Christmas show), Some of the LWR London guys (guest slots), Trevor ‘Madhatter’ Nelson (guest slot), Benjamin Zephaniah (poetry guest slot), and Justin Berkman one of the founders of Ministry Of Sound – then just a night at Heaven in London (guest slot).
Local singer Carlton, who sang on the original version of ‘Any Love’ by Massive Attack, sung a jingle for them. There were also jingles from the legendary deep voice, Bill Mitchell (“It has to be said, Emergency leaves the rest for dead”).
Despite the attempts to keep interference to a minimum, Emergency had chosen to use a frequency occupied by the authorities by accident, and so had to move to 97.9 as soon as they realised this. This transmitter was sold to another station later on, probably Black FM. Some of the Emergency DJs also ended up on Black FM, such as Joey Jay and The Don.
Emergency was never raided during its existence and Paul reckons they never missed a Sunday once they got going. Towards the end of the life of the station, Paul was introduced to the idea of microwave link systems at a party in Bath by an employee of the Radio Authority, one of their engineers who himself had run pirates in Bath during the 50s! He’d built a microwave system and offered it to Paul. So, they had this added to their setup, but Paul feels they never really got the best from it as it was getting close to the end of 1988.
With the government about to introduce the Broadcasting Act (meaning things such as advertising on pirate radio were becoming illegal) and offering licenses to pirates, and also the worries about the growing rave scene, the Emergency team decided it was time to shut down. They were also pretty tired as they were working non-stop for the whole of 1988. In the early hours of Boxing Day 1988, they disappeared. They then teamed up with Venue Magazine to try and get the license for Bristol, but in the end FTP got the license and that was it.
More information and artwork related to Emergency Radio, it’s DJs and the scene it was part of can be found in the book ‘Art and Sound of the Bristol Underground’, by Chris Burton and Gary Thompson, published by Tangent Books.
Thanks to Paul Hassan for the information & recordings.
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