Mike Johns was born in Portsmouth, but had been living in Bradford for 10 years before starting a degree course at Wolverhampton Polytechnic in 1979. During his first year there he joined a group of people who tried to get a student radio station started. This motley crew were collectively known as the WPRS (Wolverhampton Polytechnic Radio Society) with various people including Dave Owen who had just been sacked from Beacon Radio for allowing someone to swear live on-air. Dave had previously worked on Radio Caroline, and on Radio Atlantis, but began his career with London’s Radio Jackie.
Unfortunately, the project died a death as the license costs would have been ridiculous for “multi-site” inductive-loop broadcasting. In the end Dave Owen got an old Radio Jackie crystal, and used his own rig, and they put out a one-off AM station by the side of the canal in 1980. The name of this one-off station was “The Magic Bus”, inspired by the Who’s track of the same name, and no doubt the intake of a recreational herbal product. The working title for the student radio station was WABC (Dave nicked it from Beacon long before they got around to using it).
Around the same time Mike started to operate on shortwave as WEFR (West European Free Radio). Initially transmissions were in the 41m band and later on 48m. The first test transmission was a live broadcast from Brinsford Lodge Hostel, a student accommodation facility which bordered Featherstone Open Prison which took place on the 9th November 1980. At the time, the Home Office were responsible for policing the airwaves, and Mike took great delight in Anchoring part of WEFR’s antenna to a tree within the grounds of the prison. It would have been very amusing if the Home Office discovered the station was broadcasting partially on their own property!
Short-wave pirate stations got a lot of letters from listeners across Europe, but one from a listener in Wolverhampton said “you must have a powerful transmitter as your signal is really strong”. Mike wrote back to the listener and suggested he looked at the Wolverhampton postmark! After the exchange of some more letters, Mike went to the listeners house in nearby Ashmore Park, were he met the listener, and his friend Andy Scott. During this meeting the trio tuned around the dial to see what could be found, and they stumbled across a station broadcasting on approximately 103.5 MHz FM. The word “approximately” is used as the station drifted up and down the band, normally at the end of each programme. So, the trio decided to write a letter to the station, which was none other than UK Radio in its very early days.
Following on from this letter Mike and Andy eventually met with Paul Johnson and David Jarvis of UK Radio and both made guest appearances on UK a few times in 1981-82. Mike moved back to Bradford in the summer of 1981 at the start of his “industrial placement” year, and recorded shows for both UK’s AM and FM services. WEFR continued until the summer of 82 when it closed due to Mike being involved in a nasty car crash, where he split his car in half and broke his leg.
When Mike returned from his industrial placement, he found Dave Owen had returned to Radio Jackie in London and the student radio project had died, so he had to find something to do. Especially as he could now run again!
Plans were made for a new local station to be known as Wulfrun Sound. The start was going to be announced to the press, but the paper got the date wrong so the start had to be brought forward. An article appeared in the Express & Star on 3rd December 1982 and Wulfrun Sound made a brief appearance on 94.2 FM on the following Sunday (5th December) from 2pm.
In January the station then settled into a schedule of broadcasting fortnightly on a Sunday afternoon between 2 and 6pm. They could be heard on 94.2 FM and also 1242 kHz/242m Medium Wave and proved to be very successful. Its programme line-up was 2pm Mike Johns, 3pm Andy Scott, 4pm The Wulfrun local sales chart with David Jarvis, and 5pm Paul Johnson with the Golden Hour until closedown at 6pm. The local sales chart was supposedly based on local record sales and indeed it was to a certain extent, but within the station it was jokingly referred to as “the fixed forty”, as Dave Jarvis was often known to exert his own influence on the chart run-down.
Wulfrun also introduced a news service, along with travel/weather bulletins on the hour and live phone-ins. After each bulletin the station aired the same record which it called the “Wulfrun Winner” where the station picked what it hoped would be a future Number 1 hit. Any similarity with a similar feature on Radio Luxembourg is purely coincidental!
The majority of the programmes were pre-recorded, but the news bulletins were recorded at the last-minute to make them as live as possible. Sometimes the news segment was recorded in a car close to the FM transmitter. So much for keeping a low profile! The station used a small mixer device to allow the main programme tapes and the news tapes to be mixed on-site, which meant the station had no on-air gaps during the tape change-over.
Wulfrun’s studio was reasonably well-equipped and was one of the few pirate stations to use NAB cartridge machines to play its jingles. The only problem with the 3 cart machines were the solenoids which made a very loud clunk when the button was pressed, which could be easily heard on-air!
During the station’s relatively short life, a number of funny incidents occurred. Here are the most memorable.
One of the golden rules of pirate broadcasting is to pick a good location. For FM it needs to be high, with an unobstructed view of your target broadcast area. It also needs to be remote as you don’t want people to see what is going on. Well, one day, Wulfrun was broadcasting as normal, when a large number of runners suddenly appeared. The station had set up it’s FM transmitter right in the path of a local “fun run”. You can imagine the “fun” the station’s on-site crew had that day as thousands of people looked at the antenna and the holdall containing the transmitter and asked “what the hell is that?”.
During one broadcast in the middle of winter, a democratic process began to decide who would have to brave the elements for the next tape change. Andy Scott still to this day reminds Mike that it was Mike who insisted Andy venture out into the snowdrifts that day, by virtue of the fact he had the best footwear suited to the conditions. Mike has no recollection of making such a practical suggestion, neither does he remember forcing Andy to do it….
Another time, Mike and Andy were “doing a tape change”, and when they returned to Mike’s car, they found Dave Jarvis had got out of the car and locked all the doors. The only problem was, Mike had left the keys in the ignition. So there they were, close to the FM transmitter, with monitor radios in hand, locked out of the car, and the next programme tapes were still in the car. Bearing in mind this was long before mobile phones were available, this was a major problem. As Dave was responsible for the lock-out, he was “persuaded” to go across town back to the studio to pick up the spare keys. For persuaded you should read “everyone shouted at him”. While Dave was gone, Andy and Mike became aware of a couple sat in a car close-by. They were a bit concerned, but as it was a man and a woman, they thought it was unlikely to be someone wanting to raid the station. Some time later, the man wound down his window and said: “nice radio station lads”. So much for being inconspicuous – the couple had been listening to the station and noticed the signal got stronger as they drove towards the FM site, then realised Andy and Mike were listening to the same. Finally, they recognised their voices, so decided to say hello. Fortunately for Dave, he got back in time for the next tape change.
Then there was the time when the FM site team were sat monitoring the AM service, when it suddenly disappeared. The FM team often did this as it proved both transmitters were working as the AM service was basically an off-air relay of the FM transmitter, with the audio fed through a dynamic compressor. The AM service was located in Willenhall woods, some distance from the FM transmitter. When the signal disappeared, the FM site team tuned to the FM service to find – nothing! They feared the worst. The AM team were probably also fearing the worst as a sudden disappearance would indicate a raid. So, after considering all options, the team slowly approached the FM transmitter, when they noticed a small boy nearby. Yes, the station had been taken off-air by a four-year old flicking the power switch on the transmitter.
The final and probably funniest on-site incident occurred at the MW transmitter site. Paul Johnson was manning the site that day, and noticed one of the ground plane wires was being pulled by someone. Paul thought it might be a raid, so he slowly followed the path of the wire to a nearby bush where he found a man with his pants around his ankles. He had the ground wire caught on his ankle and was obviously in some distress then embarrassment when Paul had stumbled on him. “I was only having a shit mate. Can you get this wire off me?” the man said. Apparently, the man was well-known by local girls as the “Willenhall Wanker” – and Paul had caught him in the middle of the act for which he was famous, yet again proving pirate radio isn’t at all bad as the station had snared a sex-pest.
In June 1983, Mike’s studies at Wolverhampton Poly came to end so he returned back to Bradford. Everyone involved in the station decided it should close down as a result, and Wulfrun’s last broadcast took place at the end of June by which time the station was also available on Short-wave as well as on AM and FM. The final day’s programmes were broadcast live from a location close to Deans Road in Wolverhampton.
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