Keith Rogers first moved into the pirate radio world with shortwave station Empire Radio in 1978, using the name Mike Thomas. He was also sometimes known as Paul Kent on Radio 242 and Radio Free Birmingham. However, in 1980 he decided to start his own station, so in December of that year Sounds Alternative was born.
The first test transmissions came from Bartley Green Birmingham on 255 and 94.2 FM simultaneously, and also from the Yew Tree Estate in Walsall. There was a three hour broadcast on Xmas day 1980 on FM, but it was February 1981 that the first regular high power broadcast took place on 255/1179kHz from Bartley Green. Throughout 1981 broadcasts came mostly from tower blocks in Northfield, Lee Bank, Rubery, Castle Vale, West Bromwich and Smethwick. Letters were soon coming in to the famous 190 Monument Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham address, which was also home to Big Bear records and Brum Beat magazine.
While most stations of that era used home made transmitters of around 25 Watts, Sounds Alternative obtained a professionally built TX of 80 Watts. Couple this with the fact that they were able to achieve end fed half wave antenna between two tower blocks (sometimes referred to as a washing line aerial), you can imagine how good their signal was. They could be heard in Norfolk, Derby & into Wales on a normal day. They also had reports from Burnley, Leeds, East Anglia, Scotland and even West Germany.
They usually operated on Sundays and Bank Holidays and had a varied music format. Keith Rogers was very much into rock music so, not surprisingly, the station had its fair share of rock shows but they featured other sorts of music as well. In 1981 there was always two hours of reggae presented by Rankin Jacko and Music Master (later, in 1982, they founded Radio Star and then Music Master later formed PCRL). Norman Nelson played mostly Rock ‘n’ Roll and oldies. Other DJs in the earlier days included Roger Dee, Dave King, Jon Tayler and Dave Anderson. From 1983 DJs included Steve Dunne, Rick Marks, Norman Nelson, Mike Richards, Bob Barton, Keith Rogers, Andy Duncan and Dave Marshall.
S/A/255, as it was often known, also became adept at cutting other peoples jingles and incorporating them into the existing Sounds Alternative package. The old Caroline 259 more music became 255 more music and from the Irish Pirate, South Coast Radio, the Tony Allen “music leader” phrases and American “being the best is everything the only thing” etc became a regular part of the West Midland airwaves and no one could tell the difference within the existing indents. One of their presenters, Mick Richards, even borrowed the Nick Richards id to use as his own.
Generally S/A were, surprisingly, left alone and even broadcast live programmes. There was one August bank holiday though. Late in the broadcast a well known Home Office pest was followed by motor bike to a nearby local police station, no doubt attempting to seek police assistance.
Bad weather in December 1981 made broadcasts impossible but low key broadcasts were made over Xmas, aimed mostly to the Walsall area. The regular 255 broadcasts in 1982 were mostly Bank holidays from Blades House in West Bromwich, some with live programming. However, in September 1982 an attempt to restart regular Sunday broadcasts from Bartley Green was made. An FM relay system to the 1179 kHz TX was used for the first (and only time), but unfortunately the broadcast was halted when it was discovered by the Fire Brigade in the lift room. Presenter Rankin Jacko gave them our mailing address, reclaimed the rig and ran down the stairs………
A few weeks later FM pirate station EST cheekily decided to use the same broadcast site where they were raided.
In the early days there were also separate transmissions on Sunday evenings on 94.2 FM, mostly for the Walsall area. In early 1982 the station received lots of local media attention, and an approach was made by a political party near to the time of the local council elections to either hire airtime, or use the 94.2 TX separately. This was refused. The FM service with DJs Keith Rogers, Dave Anderson and Tony King closed around August 1982.
Xmas 1982 arrived with several days of day and evening broadcasts on 255 from West Bromwich, with one of the strongest signals ever heard from a land based pirate in the U.K. In June 1983 several DJs joined the station from County Radio, and S/A/255 gained another excellent broadcast site at Kipling House, Colley Gate. Nearly every broadcast now came from this site or Blades House West Bromwich.
In late 1983 there was a slight frequency change to adjacent channel 1188 kHz, after they were wrongly informed that interference was being caused in fringe areas to Signal Radio from Stoke who had recently started broadcasting on 1170 kHz. Once it was confirmed that there was no interference they moved back to 1179 kHz and another marathon broadcast was made over Xmas 1983. It was around this time that they began to produce a magazine about West Midland free radio called Birmingham Sound waves, which would be sent out to any S/A listeners who wrote in.
Other pirates in the Midlands were now getting raided and Sounds Alternative was one of several stations mentioned in the House of Commons during a debate about radio pirates that were still on air. The 1984 telecommunications act that gave the authorities more power to raid pirates, and increased the maximum fines was on the horizon, so the station initially decided to close on Easter Monday 23rd April 1984. They invited listeners and authorities for a pint in West Bromwich after the closedown! Two weeks before that the Home Office/DTI raided the base of County Radio in Rowley Regis, thinking that Sounds Alternative were operating from that site. The station was in fact operating from a flat owned by Mick Richards, the brother of County Radio’s operator, several miles away. It was a lucky escape and also proved that the authorities at the time were clueless.
Many S/A/255 presenters missed the airwaves, and a broadcast using the call sign WIBC took place to Walsall on 255 in May 1984 without a contact address. Sounds Alternative then returned to the air once monthly plus Bank Holidays from August 1984. However, due to other commitments, Sounds Alternative once again decided to call it a day. On 4th August 1985 it made its last ever broadcast and closed down.
Following the closure many staff joined (or in some cases rejoined) County Radio and Steve Dunne bought the 80 Watt Medium Wave transmitter. He then lent it County Radio and, eventually, UK Radio. Some staff went out to the Voice of Peace and then Radio Caroline, while others worked for RSL stations and even BBC local radio.
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Birmingham Soundwaves – Issue 2 – Winter 1983
Birmingham Soundwaves – Issue 3 – March 1984
Birmingham Soundwaves – Issue 4 – Autumn 1984
Birmingham Soundwaves – Issue 5 – Winter 1984
Birmingham Soundwaves – Issue 6 – January 1985
Birmingham Soundwaves – Issue 7 – April 1985