It all started: In the early part of 1988, I had just come home from work (I was the car rental manager at Wreck-a Rent, whose premises became the first Freedom site). I decided to do what I normally did after a hard day a work, which was to grab my old battered tranny radio, take it into the bathroom, and have a flick around while the bath was filling up. Usually I would land on radio one or some other crap so called legal station, but this night was different!
I landed on a dead carrier, I could hear nothing, so I left it tuned while I went about my business, then like a voice from outer space I heard the words “is this f***ing mic working Paul?” I rushed back into the bathroom, amazed that I had heard people swearing on radio, and turned my tranny up loud. The next words I heard were “it’s just after 6 o clock you’re tuned into Powerhouse Radio in the Midlands” my interest in pirate radio was born.
I listened to Powerhouse every night for a couple of months, it was a truly mad station, pushing back the boundaries of free radio, playing stuff we wanted to hear, giving “shouts” to normal people like me and you. A couple of months later, I was working as normal at Wreck-A Rent, filling in some paperwork or some other mundane task, and this voice said “alright mate I wanna hire a car for the weekend, how much is it gonna cost me?” I looked up and there is this fairly plumpish geezer standing there, and the very first thing I noticed about him was that he was wearing a T-shirt with the words POWERHOUSE RADIO printed on it. I said to him “Powerhouse Radio, I listen to that station every night” he replied “good on ya mate, what you think of it? Brilliant eh? I own the bloody thing”.
This was PAUL H (started and ran Powerhouse Radio). This was my chance to pick his brains about pirate radio, could I possibly start my own station? How much would it cost? What do I need? Paul agreed to meet me later on and arrange to get a TX for me and show me the ropes (needless to say he got the hire of the car free that weekend).
I met Paul a few days later, by this time I had managed to persuade 3 of my mates to “come in with me” BIG H, SHAUN and BARRY C. We managed to scrape together 2 decks (no pitch control) an old Sony tape deck and a 6 channel mixer (8 quid from a second hand shop in Cradley Heath) and an old mic that Big H found in his shed.
A week later Paul turned up at Shaun’s flat (which was in the maisonettes in Tanhouse) he was clutching this 25-watt TX (by the way he charged me £200 for that, nice one Paul, makes me smile now). He stayed a couple of hours and helped us set everything up, but we were quite lucky because Big H was a bit of an electrician.
We shoved the dipole out of the kitchen window, called the station LBCR (Local Black Country Radio) and started to transmit. The dj’s were SMOOTH OPERATOR, SHAUN, BARRY C and DOCTOR C (me) we were well excited, and it ran for about a month, until Shaun had an argument with his girlfriend and she kicked us out the flat. (As a post script to that story, we had no phone so I remember one night Big H requested over the air that if anyone in Tanhouse flats could hear us, to flick the lights on and off 3 times in their flat, Tanhouse was like a firework display that night (what a buzz, but we were green then about locations, DTI, etc).
After the shutdown of LBCR, things went silent for about a month, but I had got the “pirate bug” (any pirate DJ will tell you about this feeling). I wanted to be bigger and better than Powerhouse, how could I do that? I decided the only way to do that was to get a big rig (TX), top of the range equipment etc so I made some phone calls to London. I managed to find a company called SBS (Sound Broadcasting Systems) TX’s for legal stations. After I explained to the guy there what I was looking for, he eventually agreed to make me a 160 watt TX for a price of £550, providing I did not tell his boss, and I sent half the money up front to his house in London. (A bit risky I know but I really wanted a professional TX). So I got one of the drivers to drive all the way to London to give this guy the cash which was literally in a brown envelope. 2 weeks later the call I had been waiting for arrived, it was Tom the TX guy. Back again went the driver down to London with the rest of the cash.
In the meantime I had a word with my boss at work, told him what I was planning and he agreed to let me build the studio in the brick outhouse at the rear of wreck-a-rent. This time I was going to do it properly. This is a description of the very first ever Freedom studio: The room was about 12ft by 8ft A hardboard wall was built in the middle of the room splitting it in half, the top half of the wall had a perspex screen built into it so the DJ would be in a sound proof room on his own. A “DJ console was built in the studio area, housing 2 Technics decks, 32 channel Soundlab mixer, 2 Panasonic CD players, 2 Sharp auto reverse tape decks, Omni-directional mic and mic boom etc, mobile phone (the old brick type) and a CCTV monitor (the camera was set up at the entrance to wreck-a-rent). The side where the DJ worked from was painted black with ultra violet lights being the studio lighting. The other side of the perspex was an area where people could sit and relax, this consisted of armchairs, 2 large 100-watt speakers and a microwave (for when we got hungry). The TX duly arrived, it was a big baby, 160 watts with an “exciter” built on the top of it. We ran the audio from the outhouse and situated the aerial (5/8th wave DI-pole) on the roof of the church next door. We were ready.
The name FREEDOM was thought of when I was reading an article in the paper about freedom fighters in South Africa fighting for the cause of black people. We started to transmit on 106 FM on a Monday (I can’t remember the exact date) I was the first on the air, and the first record I ever played was FREEDOM by Wham. FREEDOM RADIO was born.
The station lasted 8 days in this location, we were raided by the DTI on a Tuesday afternoon (Claire Robbins a 15 year old schoolgirl was doing a show, she put up a spirited fight and would not let them in the door, wonder where she is now? She has the distinction of being the first ever DJ to be taken off air on Freedom.
I was devastated, i’d spent over £3000 setting the station up, only to have the DTI take us off air before we even got going. Went to court, fined £1500 (£500 for installation of a TX, £500 for operating an illegal station, £500 for procuring others to work on it).
This started a long line of “run ins” with the DTI and 13 more court appearances. Look out Eve Hill flats in Dudley here we come!
Now I’m really p**sed off, but I learnt a valuable lesson, never spend loads of money on studio equipment, spend it on the TX gear, the links, aerials etc. I realized that it was not all about the power of your TX, but about the height you operated from. I started to look for the highest block of flats in the area. I knew a pretty dodgy guy who said he would rent me his top floor flat (19th floor) at a location in Dudley for £20 a week, I went to have a look.
I stood on the balcony of the flat in Dudley and looked down at the whole if Birmingham, I knew that what you could see, you would transmit to, I could see the whole of Birmingham, I nearly wet myself. I checked the roof out, the door was open (unbelievable) even the door was open to the lift room (ok for 240-volt power etc). I gave this guy £80 for the first months “rent”, he gave me the key, and I walked away from the block feeling something big was about to happen.
And it was, FREEDOM at EVE HILL was about to hit the airwaves.
Ok so I had been busted in St Anne’s road and lost a load of gear and money (plus a lot of records) was that going to discourage me? Not on your life, I was angry, very angry and was determined to do it right this time. The DTI said I was interfering with the M.E.B emergency frequencies (what a load of crap) so this time I was going to make sure that I found a clear frequency, and I thought I did, I asked the guy who was making the TX for me to set it on 87.9 FM (I soon found out what a mistake that was).
So here I am, standing in an empty flat in Eve Hill, dreaming of how big I can make this station, I’ve got the TX (100 watts) got all the gear, still got loads of records, I’m ready to go, just one thing..No dj’s. What am I going to do about this, you can’t have a station without dj’s. I thought long and hard, then I had a brainwave, give my old mate Steve Kennedy a call, he knows loads of dj’s, so I did exactly that.
The next day at my flat Steve turns up, I tell him my problem, he says not only will he work on the station himself, but also he then spent the rest of the afternoon contacting every DJ he knew. By the end of that day I had 12 guys ready and willing to do their stuff for free radio. N.B. special thanks should go out to Steve cuz without his help that day, it may not have happened.
Ok I’m ready, I set everything up ready to do some test transmissions, got the aerial nice and high on the roof attached to the TV mast, and the TX was installed in the lift room (audio running up the outside of the building). I stated to do test transmissions on my own for about a week on 87.9, giving out the landline number I had installed. Nothing, not a sniff, not one call, I could not understand it? The signal was brilliant, covering about a 25-mile radius, I started to despair.
Then one day whilst messing about, I thought maybe it’s the frequency? I mean who goes as far down as 87.9 anyway? No one tunes around down there. I decided to re-tune the rig myself (no tuning tool, just an old matchstick) so I turned and turned the tuning pot until I thought i’d found a blank space on the radio band (which happened to be 102 FM, more by luck than judgement) then I started to test again.
Within one hour I had 5 phone calls (reception reports from pirate radio fans) then I switched off and went home satisfied deciding that the station would start for real on the Monday with a full quota of dj’s. (In the meantime by the way the rig went back to the engineer to be re-tuned to 102 FM by a professional after I had messed with it).
Monday 6pm came, I had the rotas all sorted out, we were ready to go, I can’t quite remember who did the first show, it may have been me (I’m sure one of you lot know). From the very start of transmissions on that Monday, the phone started ringing, it was like people had been waiting for us to come on. The funny thing is, we were getting calls from people who wanted to work on the station as dj’s as well (that’s how I met the one and only Simon B).
Pretty soon in a matter of weeks Freedom Radio had a full quota of dj’s, enough to fill in slots for 7 days. And soon after that, with the word getting round and the station fast becoming really big, Freedom was operating 24/7, it got so popular for dj’s to work on Freedom, I even gave up some of my shows to fit them in.
That summer was the start of something really special for Freedom, the sun was shining, the phones were buzzing, advertising was coming in thick and fast (I was running 10/12 adverts at week @ £50/75 per ad). Everybody was happy especially the listeners. Even the DTI left us alone for a long time, I was enjoying every minute of it. The guys were doing great shows, a complete mixture of different styles (does anyone remember the Tony Menza Asian show, and the Tracy and Sharon gay show?)
We all knew that we were breaking new boundaries, even Powerhouse admitted defeat. I had done what I wanted to do, set up one of the biggest pirates in the West Midlands. (But I must mention, none of this could have been achieved without a lot of hard work, blood sweat and tears of all the dj’s and the girls who worked at the station…respect to you all).
So we are in Eve Hill flats in Dudley in the summer of 1989, everything is going fine, the station is running 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, the dj’s are loving every minute of it, and the calls are flooding in to the station. Then I get a call from the Express & Star newspaper, a guy called Pete Sanderson wants to speak to me, and I pick up the phone. “Hello is that Craig Benson”, I reply “yes who’s this”.
t turns out that this guy was a investigative reporter on the paper, and it had come to his attention that Beacon Radio were making an official complaint to the DTI about Freedom because we were nicking all the 15-25 age group listeners off them, and he wanted to know if he could come to the studio and do a “feature” on Freedom. I said there was no possible way I was going to let a stranger who had just called me on the phone, just walk in to our studio unless certain conditions were met. He asked what they might be.
I got him to agree to meet us by a pub called The Pig On The Wall in Gornal, for him and his cameraman to produce some I.D, and then transfer to our car and be blindfolded while we took them right inside the studio (you can imagine the looks we got marching them into Eve Hill blocks and up the lift blindfolded). So this is exactly what we did. When they arrived in the studio, as usual it was a hive of activity (I seem to remember the dj’s present were Brian J, Simon B, Steve Welsh, Steve Kennedy, the girls answering the phones, and some others).
With respect to the Express & Star they did a really good full page feature, it had a picture of Brian J sitting at the decks, you could only see the back of his head (but if you knew him, you could tell it was him). I wish really that I still had a copy of that feature (if anyone knows where I can get a copy, please let me know).
So we carried on, transmitting every day, posters and car stickers were printed and t-shirts were on order. I had two brand new cars given to me by a company in Handsworth called “Cheap Cheap Car Hire” a Volkswagen Jetta (which Simon B drove around for a while) and a Fiat Tipo (this was in exchange for advertising).
8 months had passed, and we had no bother from the DTI at all (it gave me chance to stockpile TX’s and equipment etc). We had the usual coax being cut on the roof by the DTI every 2 or 3 weeks or so (the DTI favourite trick was to cut the coax into dozens of 6″ long pieces, so that we would have to replace the whole co-ax instead of just re-joining two pieces).
I always remember it was a Thursday, I had stayed the night at the studio (I had a bed and TV set up in another room). I woke the next morning about 7am to the sound of DJ Tennants doing his early morning show. I got dressed, made Tennants and myself a cuppa lit a fag and plonked myself down in the studio armchair and started to take calls for Tennants.
At about 8am I heard the station signal fade a bit on the studio monitor (a sure sign someone was walking on the roof). I said to Tennants that I was going to check the roof.
I was just about to get up from my chair, and I heard this almighty bang, I did not think too much of it until 10 seconds later 4 DTI blokes and 3 C.I.D coppers stormed into the studio.
The way the DTI operate on a raid is, that the first thing they do is rush to turn off the TX (this is because they hate having a raid go out “live” on air) then they take the phone off the hook (so no-one can call in). Then they give you all the crap about illegal broadcasting etc. They caution you, ask loads of stupid questions like “did you know this was an illegal pirate station” (derrr !!!). But I had learnt by now not to answer any questions, no comment was my reply to everything.
While the DTI scum were packing the gear up in very large plastic bags, this C.I.D copper came over to me and said “are you **** **** ” (sorry cant put my real name) I said yes I was. He cautioned me and said I was under arrest for receiving. (It’s a long story, but at about the same time I had been selling dodgy office equipment to local businessmen for a few hundred quid).
So a bad day really, not only had the station been raided, I spent the next 9 hours in a cell in Dudley nick. (By the way Tennants was arrested as well, but they released him an hour later) At about 6pm I was released from the nick, I called a few of the dj’s to go and check the studio out.
I could not believe my eyes. They had taken everything, and I mean everything, all the gear had gone, records, everything off the walls, furniture, even the lampshade, and the flat was bare. But I had a plan.
In another block in Eve Hill I knew where there was an empty flat (I had already done a check on the roof etc) so we would set up there tomorrow after a good nights rest.
The next day started with my mate from the Express & Star phoning me for a story, which I duly gave him. Then round up a few of the lads to go to the new studio (at this point I would like to say that in every raid that Freedom has ever had, the dj’s were always there for the station, never getting discouraged, even to the point that sometimes I wanted to give in, they never let me).
We “gained access” to the flat and started to set the gear up (another 100 watt TX, we were not linking in those days). We went on air later that day, and I arranged for the phone to be installed the following day. Everything went ok for about 6 days, then BANG the door was caved in again (our old friends the DTI) someone had grassed us up, we suspected the caretaker.
I got arrested again, this time the charge was “abstracting electricity” (there was no fuse in the fuse box when we moved in, so I shoved a 6″ bolt in there) that charge was later dropped. So we had been on the air over 8 months with no trouble, then 2 raids in less than 2 weeks, but that was not the end for that particular month.
I had to wait about a week for the new TX to be made (100 watt) so it gave me chance to find another flat. This flat was in the same block as the last one, but a floor lower.
So the TX arrived, we set up again, the lads and girls were keen as usual, everybody was buzzing, we had missed the “fix”. Phone line installed, ready to go. We started to transmit night time only (this was because I was trying to contact all the dj’s a major task, there were 38 of them) Bit by bit the calls started to roll in again, things were going ok until BANG, that sound again 7 days after we had started (this time I was not there) the DTI (we found out after the caretaker was the culprit) raided Freedom for the third time in less than a month (hi to Les Jones from the DTI, who I got to know quite well over the years).
It was time to take a break and re-think the situation. We needed to move out of the Dudley area, and start again.
That’s it we had outwore our welcome at Eve Hill in Dudley, it was time to move location and re-do some stuff. After being raided 3 times in 4 weeks, it began to have an effect on the dj’s-quite a few of them got worried that they might end up in court, and although they wanted to carry on, some of the lost the “bottle” to do it.
The dj’s to depart after the Eve Hill fiasco were Steve Walsh, Stan the man, Tony Mendaz, Brian J, Wayne James and a few others (although some of these were to return at a later date).
We had been offered a flat by one of our listeners in Old Hill, Cradley Heath, her name was big Sam. So after a couple of months off the air, with everybody ringing me every day asking when we were going to come back on, it was decided that in the early part of 1990 (I may have some dates wrong so please forgive me) that we would start up again from Old Hill flats. But this time there was to be a difference.
So far we had “gone direct” from our studios and that proved to be quite unsafe. So I decided this time to push the boat out and get a link, this is how it worked.
The main studio was on the 9th floor of the flat in Old Hill, on the outside of the kitchen window of that flat was the link transmitting aerial. This is placed horizontally. The link TX is 5 watts (rough estimate is that on a clear run, that you should be able to link 1 mile for every watt). At the other end (Eve Hill flats lift room) the main TX is situated with the link receiver built on top. Another link aerial is fitted horizontally coming out of the link receiver (to receive the link signal from Old Hill). And the normal dipole aerial is fitted as usual coming out of the main TX (erected as high as we can get it).
The main TX and link receiver are on a timer in the lift room, to start just before 6pm every night. The link TX is switched on manually in the studio about the same time. Wait for the dead carrier (this is a great feeling, as far as I am concerned “the best sound on radio” the silence ahhhh! you know its good then). After a couple of days messing about, trying to get the best link possible (this isn’t as easy as it sounds) we were ready to broadcast to the West Midlands once more.
New dj’s were joining the station, together with the entire old crowd, here is a few names, remember these? Lee Clarke, Paul Warren, DJ Kidd, Pete Lewis, Jules, and many more. Dj’s that joined the station shortly after included: Wayne Norris, Wayne Logan, DJ Trippa, DJ Griff, Nikki D, Steffi C, Jenson, Tony Baxter, DJ Haggis, Andy Young, Steve Wilson and loads more.
We were ready with new equipment, new premises, and new dj’s. But the same format was going to remain, because it had done us proud in the last 12 months. We started transmissions from Old Hill, and after an initial quite start, the calls began to slowly come back, (but if I am to be totally honest the calls in Old Hill never came near to what we had in Eve Hill). We were not transmitting 24/7 now. We started at 6pm closed down at 1am, and did 48 hours through the weekend.
Advertising was down a bit as well, but we still had a massive fan base. I tended to do my shows on most nights between 8 and 10, which gave me chance to do other stuff connected with Freedom, but outside the studio. If I had to be honest, I was never happy with the studio in Old Hill, yeah we had some great times, we had loads of laughs, and the people that worked on the station were some of the most dedicated people you would wish to meet. But I was always looking for that feeling we had in Eve Hill (maybe its because its winter, and the summer always seems better).
I’m not really sure how long we lasted at Old Hill altogether, I know we had the main TX aerial cut a few times, (blowing the rig up, this was cured later by having a cut out switch installed in the rig) but I remember the day we were raided as if it was yesterday.
It was sometime in the afternoon, and the station was “on air” and I had gone to pick up the guy who made our TX’s. We were on our way to Eve Hill because I had been having trouble with the main TX drifting a bit off frequency. My mate (the TX guy) always carried around with him a 200-channel scanner (you know the type you listen to the cops on). He knew the exact frequencies that the DTI transmitted on, so we had it tuned in on our way up to Eve Hill.
Nothing of importance happened, we clambered on the roof, he got his testing gear out, give the TX a once over, everything was ok. So we decided to make our way back to Old Hill to check the other end.
About a mile away from the station we hear this on the scanner “Ok Les we are on the roof at location one now, let us know when location two are ready”
I had a horrible thought. Location 1 could not be Eve Hill, could it? We had only been there 10 mins ago. I put my foot down to race back to the studio.
I am just pulling into the road where the studio is located in Old Hill, and I heard that dreaded sound “hisssssssssss” the main TX was off. I pulled up outside the studio block, where I was met by 5 or 6 dj’s running toward me.
“Get the f**k out of here Craig, the DTI are upstairs in the studio doing a bust, and they are looking for you”. Reverse gear, foot down, off I went. Old Hill had lasted about 3 to 4 months, and the DTI had decided this time, not only to take the main TX, but to take the studio as well.
By now I was wondering if it was all worth it? This was gear I could really not afford to loose at that time, so I went into hibernation for a few weeks, would this be the end of Freedom Radio? Could we ever reproduce the sound and the good times we had at Eve Hill? Things were beginning to get difficult.
I had some very good people around me, a special mention must go to a few of them, Paul Warren, Tennants, Wayne Norris, Steve Kennedy, Simon B, Pete Lewis and a few others.
The above people would not let me get down or give in, they continually called me, pushed me, harassed me, and generally made a nuisance of themselves, to get me to start up again (respect to all of you). Freedom was down, but not dead, the battle had been won, but we would win the war.
Eve Hill was brilliant, Old Hill was ok, but what next for Freedom?
After the raid at Old Hill, Sam (the flat owner) got a bit spooked and requested that we leave and find another studio. I was quite happy with that really, because I never really felt comfortable at Old Hill (and nor did the dj’s I suspect). It had been quite manic over the last 12 months or so, including the raid on LBCR we had been done 6 times, I had 4 court appearances pending, and the station was taking its toll.
I needed a break away from it all so I informed all the dj’s that I was going to take a couple of months off to recharge, but I intended to come back on as soon as I had located another studio and got a new rig.
It’s always a mistake to have a “voluntary” break from pirate radio, because after about 3 days you get that “withdrawn” feeling (you lot know what I mean). So of course after about a week I was champing at the bit and knocking the door down of the engineer’s house wanting my new rig (100 watt) but I had the same old question, what about a studio?
We had outworn our welcome in Dudley and in Old Hill, they were good times, but Freedom needed to move on. So where next?
I spent days and days driving around the Black Country just looking for a suitable site for the main TX (to link to) I could not find a thing, so I decided to concentrate my efforts on just finding the studio site. Aware of the fact that the longer we were off, the listeners would go somewhere else, and of course I needed advertising.
One day I’m driving from Stourbridge towards Dudley, and of course I have to pass through Brierley Hill, and I know this is going to sound really stupid now, but I had never thought of Brierley Hill as a possible site for a studio. I made a decision to drive down into the flat complex, and I parked outside a tall block called St Johns Court, I sat there for ages smoking a fag and staring at the roof, and the longer I sat there, the more comfortable I felt.
The next thing I did still amazes me to this day, I jumped out of my car, ran over to this guy who was walking his dog and said “excuse me mate, do you live here” he said yeah and asked me why I wanted to know. So I just came out with it all explaining that I had a pirate radio station, and did he know anybody that would be interested in renting us a room for a while, I would pay I said. He looked a me a bit weird like, and then invited me up to his flat for a coffee (at this time I did not know he was gay) 2 hours later, to my amazement I emerged from this guys flat on the 9th floor, a very very happy man, he had agreed to let us use the flat for a trial period of 1 month. It was going to cost £25 a week and I was to bring the gear in the following Saturday.
He had allocated us the bedroom in his flat for the studio, and when I had originally checked it out, it felt good. And because I knew a guy that had access keys to any flat roof in the West Midlands, the roof on St Johns was no problem. On the Saturday all the lads turned up with the gear and stuff, and we set up and spent the whole weekend doing tests (direct from here, no link).
The dj’s were informed that we would be back on the air from Monday, transmitting weekdays 6pm-1am, weekends 24 hours. (This was the beginning of a very successful time for Freedom, any DJ you ask will say Brierley Hill was the business).
Monday duly arrived and we were back “on air” the studio was looking good, gay Tony was happy (after I’d paid him) and his gay friends were hilarious (soon to do shows on the station, remember the Wendy and Tracy late night shows?) The phone started to ring again, it was like we had never been off. The ads were slowly coming back (generating much needed income) remember ads like “The Chippy Brierley Hill” or “Skytel Communications” classics!
We lasted at Tony’s flat for about 5 months, we had a bit of co-ax chopping by the DTI and the usual scares and we were only raided once (this became known as the keystone cops raid).
I’ll explain, The day of the raid we were keeping a watchful eye out of the window as ever, when one of the dj’s shouts F**k me it’s the DTI B**tards, of course we all started to disconnect the gear as fast as we could. One of the dj’s (who shall remain nameless) had a brilliant idea, why not wait for the DTI to get in the lift on the ground floor, then when its on its way up, stop the bugger (we had a key that the fire brigade use when they rescue people from lifts, if you insert into a hole by the lift door it cuts the power).
What a brilliant idea, so we waited for the DTI to get in the lift downstairs by watching the numbers, and the when they were on the way up, screeeeeech!!! The buggers were well and truly stuck (5 burly DTI blokes, 1 copper).
They were flaming mad, and very hot, they had to wait nearly 1 hour for the firemen to release them, by this time we had cleared all the gear out of the studio, whisked it away and were standing on the car park downstairs watching as a bunch of red-faced officials from the Radio Authority skulked out of the building. (N.B. they got the 100-watt rig cuz I’d forget my roof keys that day, oh well!! it was worth it).
The headlines the next day in the paper read, DEPARTMENT OF TRADE AND INDUSTERY OFFICALS BUNGLE IN KEYSTONE COPS RAID ON PIRATE STATION. How funny is that? They were the butt of “on air” jokes for weeks.
The final day at Tony’s flat came when one of the dj’s decided he was homophobic and upset one of Tony’s friends. Tony switched the TX off halfway through a show, he was so angry (gave me a heart attack, I thought oops raid!) But we were to return to Tony’s later in the year. The dream was still alive though, one of Tony’s friends had agreed to let us use the bedroom in his flat for the same price (again on a trial period).
One more thing I must mention about our stay in Tony’s flat was the police episode. Here is what happened, A few weeks before, a gay man had been found murdered in Stourbridge, so the police as part of the investigation were interviewing all gay men in the area.
They turned up unannounced at Tony’s flat right bang in the middle of a Simon B show (you know what they were like) Of course the studio was in the bedroom, so when I saw Tony go to the door, I shut the bedroom door and told everybody “keep transmitting but try to be quiet”) you have to imagine this, the studio is full of people, I estimate about a dozen or so, the phone is ringing every 10 seconds, Simon is doing his madcap stuff.
I make my way to the living room, where 2 C.I.D coppers are interviewing Tony, then out of the blue this one copper says “aha it’s the one and only Craig Benson, how’s Freedom doing Craig? Is it still in Tony’s bedroom? Can I have a look? My kids love it”
F**k me I thought, so I replied “ermmm yeah, come and have look if you want” Simon’s face was a picture when I led this copper into the bedroom, the cop loved it so much, he even started answering the phone and taking requests, and he insisted that we give a shout out to his 2 kids, bizarre!!!
When I think about it now, it must have looked a really weird sight. Imagine this: 1 x Freedom studio 12 x dj’s and assorted girlfriends Me 1 x copper taking requests on the phone and handing them to Simon B I don’t think for one minute it would ever happen now.
To sum up, the first few months at Brierley Hill became the start of a very successful time for Freedom. Yeah we had the usual trouble, but everybody both sides of the radio were having a good time, and that’s what it all about.Times had been great in gay Tony’s flat, but because of some prat of a DJ (mentioning no names) who decided to be homophobic, we found ourselves once again without a studio. I was really hacked off, we had enough on our plates keeping the DTI at bay, without internal problems (needless to say that DJ never worked on Freedom again).
I could sit here as I’m writing this and tell you in detail every studio we had in Brierley Hill flats and I could also tell you about all the crap things and good things that happened to us while we were there. But I would have to have the writing skills of a novelist, and a spare 12 months (which I don’t have).But it was a manic 18 months, so I’ll give you the highlights.
We were at one time or another in 3 different blocks of flats in Brierley Hill (excuse me if I cant remember the names of all of them) I know we were in gay Tony’s flat twice, the middle block once, and the other block (the best one in my opinion) several times. We also had our fare share of DTI induced problems in all of the blocks, tx’s going missing, coax cut most weeks, even people standing outside the blocks shouting up to the studio.
But I have to say (and I mean this) Brierley Hill was the best locations Freedom ever had (ok the signal was not as good as Eve Hill) but the “feel good factor” was second to none, and when I say that I think I can quite confidently speak on behalf of all the people that worked on Freedom. I also believe that in that era, the DJs were the best that ever worked on Freedom, who can forget names like…Simon B. Wayne Norris, Trippa, Logan, Paul Warren, Tennants, Steve Kennedy, me (ahem) and many many more.
At the time of Brierley Hill Freedom was not really on a sound financial footing (infact it cost more than it made) but this was never a major consideration with me, if I had been in it for money, I would have given up after the Eve Hill bust. The station was on the air, and that’s all that mattered.
It was about this time as well that Scott Davis started Exile Radio, competition yes, but I always had a lot of time for Scott, he ran a good dance station with good DJ’s, (he even worked for Freedom at one time) but the biggest shock was yet to come.
I can’t remember the exact date, but I know that we were off because our rig had gone missing (we suspected DTI, but we never found out) a lot of the DJ’s had seen enough and decided to go and work for other stations, some even gave it all in completely. It was getting really hard to keep things together and motivate people. I had made 3 more court appearances (fines ranged from £300 -£700) I remember one time when I was in Dudley Magistrates Court, I turned up as usual with my solicitor, had the normal banter with Les Jones (DTI) joking about how big the fine would be this time.
I was called into court, stood in the dock as usual, and I looked towards the back row of seats in the court, what a sight. Sitting there with big grins on their faces were about a dozen Freedom DJ’s all lined up in a row pulling faces, all with exactly the same Freedom T-shirt on. What a brilliant sight that was, the statement had been made, although the magistrate was none too pleased, he fined me £700 that day (who cares).
Together with all my outstanding Freedom court appearances, I was waiting to be tried in crown court for an unrelated charge of receiving stolen office equipment (£25,000 worth they said) This appearance was to be on the 6th of December 1990 at Wolverhampton crown court. Its strange really, court stuff, when you go to court, you always think the worst “I’m gonna get sent down today” and it never usually happens, but this particular time, I had arranged to meet someone outside the court for a drink after my appearance, and I ended up getting 3 months inside (I was knocked sideways),Winson Green over Christmas, not very nice I tell you, but a massive respect to Paul Warren and others who kept Freedom running while I was “doing my time” (even if it was called FCR at the time, crap I know).
I was released late January 1991 (6 weeks served) it was rough, and I hated it. On my return I knew in my own heart that I had lost some of the drive for pirate radio, prison had made me think. But true to form the DJs pushed and pushed and we changed the name back to Freedom, and kicked off again. It was still good, but at this time I was re-evaluating my life and taking a back seat but Brierley Hill was coming to an end, I knew that, the summer of 1991 was approaching, I needed to re-think. How much longer could it continue? Freedom had had 2 and a half-good years, but times were changing, I knew I might have to move area, and I would.
Next: Freedom and NRG join, Benson’s final chapter
It had been a very hard 3 years or so, from the very start with LBCR to the beginning of 1991 in Brierley Hill. A lot of things had happened, 4 different towns, 5 blocks of flats, a house, and an office above a shop. We had constantly been on the move to avoid the DTI, sometimes we managed it, sometimes not. I had been to court a total of 13 times, accumulated fines of over £6000, we had lost in excess of 25 rigs, 4 complete studios and countless records. But still we were on the air.
It all came to a head for me the end of January 1991, I had just spent my time in prison (on an unrelated matter) and when I came back out, things were getting really hard to organize and carry on. Paul Warren and others had done a brilliant job of keeping the station on while I was away, but the change of name to FCR had affected the station, and we were in competition with others like Exile FM and NRG FM.
The listeners were dwindling a bit, and it was time to move from Brierley Hill, we were getting too well known there by the DTI. Myself and all the DJ’s were sorry to move from Eve Hill, because we all knew it would be hard to find a place as good. But it had to be done.
By now some of the DJ’s had gone to work for other stations, Simon B, Steve Marshall and Wayne Norris had set up NRG FM with some others, a couple had gone to work for Exile, but the hardcore Freedom DJ’s were still at Freedom.
It was decided to move to Tanhouse flats in Cradley Heath (sort of strange really, because that’s where it all began) We managed to get a flat on the 10th floor, got all the gear and set up all over again, the phone line was installed in the flat next door after the guy that lived there stumbled into the studio one night drunk, and asked us what we were doing. We told him, and I (never to miss an opportunity) persuaded him to let us install a line in his flat.
This guy became known to you all as Tony Baxter, and thereafter worked on Freedom as a DJ (respect mate you mad nutter) All was going really well, phones ringing etc, DJ’s coming back, but to tell you the truth, my heart just was not in it. I decided that the only way to relieve some of the pressure and the cost was to approach another station and suggest a merger. I did this, and the station was NRG FM.
It was agreed and the joint owners of the new Freedom became Simon B, Steve Marshall, and myself. I could see from the start it was never going to work out, I was used to controlling things myself, and the situation of having to discuss things with others was completely alien to me. So after a relatively short period, and with little argument, we split.
Freedom was back as Freedom again. By now it’s the summer of 1991, and the station is running ok, but not in the day (5 nights a week, and all weekend) and we were still very popular, but was getting increasingly more and more dismayed with the authorities chasing me (police, courts etc for fines) I was continually looking over my shoulder, and moving from house to house to avoid them, and on the occasions they caught me, I ended up in court the next day, wondering if this was “jail time” again.
But the final straw came in September 1991, the police had called at my friend’s house looking for me once again, of course he said he did not know where I was, the police said that they were getting fed up of looking for me, and to tell me that they would be waiting to arrest me in 2 weeks at the job centre where I signed on (incidentally this form of arrest has now been classed as illegal).
That was it! I could no longer move freely in the area, nor could I get any money, I had to move. I decided to flee the country and travel around Europe and over to Spain (so the rumours were right) I had less than 2 weeks to sort everything out, tell the DJ’s, and hand the station over, say my good-byes.
This is exactly what I did. I did my last show ever on Freedom radio in the studio at Tanhouse flats, the day before I went away. It was a sad affair for me, DJ Trippa was in the studio with me, and I played every favourite record of mine that I had played over the years (I still have the show on tape). I had loads of calls wishing me well, but for one time only they were taken “off air”.
The following night I came to the studio to say my good-byes and hand the station over to Wayne Norris and Paul Warren. I knew they would keep the dream alive (and they did for 3 more years).
It was time to leave. If you have ever met me, you will know I’m a big guy with a hardish heart, but I found that rainy night, standing at the bottom of the block in Tanhouse, shaking hands with all my friends, saying my final goodbye forever…very very hard.
Freedom had been my life for 4 years, I ate, drank and slept around the station, for 4 years I thought of nothing else, and I lost rigs, equipment, records and loads of money. Even lost a few girlfriends. But it had all come to an end.
What happened to me in the last 10 years? Where did I go? France, Spain (Barcelona) Greece (Zante) Sheffield, Torquay, and finally America (Georgia and North Carolina) I won’t give you any more detail, or tell you where I am now, but I will say one thing.
PIRATE RADIO HAS ALWAYS BEEN DONE BY THE PEOPLE, FOR THE PEOPLE, AND IT ALWAYS WILL BE, DESPITE THE EFFORTS OF THE DTI AND OTHERS.
And to all you pirates out there keeping the dream alive, respect! Don’t give it up. And if ever you are flicking around one day and you hear the words “this is Freedom Radio” once again. DON’T BE SUPPRISED!
This story was compiled and written by Craig Benson, sod the copyright, print it out and spread it around. All dates may be slightly out, and some persons not mentioned, this was unintentional, it’s just my old age.
FREEDOM RADIO 2001 (THE WAY AHEAD)