Ocean Sound and me 

15 July 2022 tbs.pm/76371

 

My Ocean Sound journey began with the Iranian Embassy siege in 1980 (30 April – 5 May 1980) and three of us, Ian Ward, Adam Mitchell-Christy and myself, sat in Ian’s studio watching the TV and remarking how links for the broadcasters must have been difficult in the centre of London. These were the days before mobile phones, and TV was relayed back to the studio down co-ax cables thicker than your thumb or microwave dishes, and those were line of sight. With all the roofs around getting a link to the BT Tower may be obstructed. What they needed was a truck that ABC, CBS, DW or Kol Yisrael could plug into and get their links sorted. We started to research this and visited several ILR stations to see if there was a market for a rental operation.

These visits amazed us. The errors people had made were hard to miss and we said, “We can do a better job than these people”. At that point the IBA brought out a new list of towns and cities it thought should have a station. Southampton was on that list – just Southampton.

When ILR started the IBA had not wanted to go head-to-head with BBC Local radio in most places and to extend local radio into areas so far untouched by non-network radio. That put a station into Portsmouth.

Radio Victory, launched on 14 October 1975

Two groups applied for the Pompey franchise. Harbour Radio was well financed and mostly broadcasting people, but they fell down on their programming plans and the contract went to Radio Victory. The board really did not know a lot about radio and, at the time, had to have the local newspaper onboard to wreck the whole operation.

They appointed Guy Payne who was the recent head of sales at Rediffusion, which had merged operations and staff with ABC Weekend to form Thames Television. ABC already had a head of sales, so out went Guy. That was a good start. They got David Symonds to be head of programmes. David had worked in New Zealand radio, then the BBC Light Programme, launch team DJ for BBC Radio 1, read the news on BBC Radio 4, launch breakfast jock on Capital, and worked at Radio Luxembourg. He got together a great team of presenters including Dave Christian, Kenny Everrett (on tape), and Don Moss. They got 70% reach and were a big hit on Portsea Island.

 

Courtesy of John Stringer

 

But the chairman did not like the station. Portsmouth & Sunderland Newspapers objected to a advertising promo, “You can’t afford TV, today’s newspapers wrap tomorrow’s fish & chips, you need radio”, and then splashed “Radio Victory is a load of rubbish – The Chairman” across its front page after the chairman, a former mayor John Patrick Newton Brogden had been sounding off to his mates in the yacht club. He really did not like the station, but then he was maybe not the target audience.

The station was put on tape and they had a big staff meeting and Brogden offered to resign if the staff wanted it. But he did such a good apologetic act that they made the deadly mistake of letting him stay. After a year David Symonds gave up the unequal fight and left and Eugene Frazier took over for a year and held the audience at 60% before going back to Radio 4.

The board then got “Jumping” Jack McLaughlin to take over. The audience fell to 23% and held there. The moves, like an under-resourced 4-hour breakfast show, did not help with the impression of the station in the eyes of the public and advertisers. The shape of the audience graph normally stays the same, so raising the 8am peak moves the rest of the graph up in sympathy.

The area Victory claimed for listening figures and advertising shrunk. The VHF listening area was small, and could be driven through in 10 minutes and going towards Southampton along the M27 ended as you dropped down the hill towards Fareham, about 8 miles short of Southampton. The medium wave transmitter was supposed to match the VHF and was just for “in fill” according to the IBA, although most stations marketed on their AM wavelength. But Victory had started by claiming an area including most of the New Forest, the other side of Southampton and where almost no one could hear them. The boundary was later pulled back to run down the centre of Southampton. But they still sold ads to Southampton businesses.

The advertisers saw little or no response. When we went to them to gauge potential, we were met with “Commercial radio? That does not work, not interested”. Not only had they queered the pitch for themselves but for others too. The poor programming and audience, with asterisks in the listening figures on Sunday afternoons, meaning the audience was so small it could not be measured, lead to the board being read the riot act by the IBA and given a warning. Jack McLaughlin left and Paul Brown came in. The programming and quality changed out of all recognition, but the damage had been done. No one would think about tuning in to give it a try. The managing director left and the finance director was promoted into his job. They made a profit due to the saving of one salary. In fact, for 10 years of broadcasting I was told that the accumulated profits were £647 when all the losses were accounted for.

Meanwhile we beavered away and the first meeting of the group was six people sat around Ian’s dining table, five of whom were in some way broadcasters. The three from the Iranian Embassy siege were joined by Bill Hammerton who then ran a photographic business, but also did TV sound work on productions like BBC-2’s Horizon series. Also we had roped in Sarah Kennedy, ex-BFBS, then on ITV doing Game for a Laugh. The sixth person was Norman Best, leader of Southampton Council, who ran a hotel and really was there just to get the best for Southampton.

 

 

We formed the Southampton Independent Broadcasting Company (SIBCO). To apply for the contract we would need money, maybe £10,000 to £14,000, so we approached Dudley Brazier, a local builder and pitched the plan to him and told him we needed money to apply, would he give us £1,000, and he would never see it again. He wrote out a cheque. This was a good game so we went to Southampton Football Club. They stumped up £1,000 and agreed to subscribe for one fourteenth of the stations capital when we won. The football club also brought us Guy Askham, their financial director, a local accountant and very sage advisor. We also gained Jack Clarfelt who was instrumental in creating the Fatstock Marketing Corporation and was its first managing director, who lived not far from Guy near Romsey.

But we needed a chairman. Ian had kept newspaper cuttings from back when commercial radio was being promoted by the Conservative Party and Union Castle Radio was talked about by their then MD, Brigadier John Antony Hunter, DSO, OBE, MC. We “interviewed” him for our chairman. Well, really, we had him for drinks at Jack Clarfelt’s home in Braishfield. We talked about all sorts of things and Tony’s enthusiasm for radio was still there. As was said at the time, he was not perfect but we could waste years finding someone better. Tony did, however, turn out to be perfect, and a great leader.

The group’s meetings moved to the Chamber of Commerce and we grew through contacts including the Honorary Danish Consul in Southampton, Michael Ackerman, and the programme controller of 2CR in Bournemouth, Richard Gwynn. We also joined the Local Radio Association and attended their meetings in London.

We were not the only ones eyeing the contract and manoeuvring around Southampton. At one point there were 6 or 7 groups forming. But then someone had the bright idea to bring the Tall Ships Race to the city. The previous race was held around Boston, Massachusetts, and attracted millions of spectators and the harbour and out on the cape was thronged with people watching the ships sail off at the end of the event. It was said this could happen in Southampton and there would be gridlock. So, no one came. Three of the group’s sponsors lost so much money on the event that they pulled out of the radio race too.

That left three groups still standing. SIBCO, Ocean Sound – a group based on people from TVS with some heavyweight money, and Southern Independent Radio – a group based on another bunch of people from TVS and with Lord Montague of Beaulieu and of the Montague motor museum (now the National Motor Museum).

We carried on researching and preparing. I went on a trip to stations in the north, Radio Aire in Leeds, and Centre Radio in Leicester. Centre was managed by Ken Warburton who had been at BBC Radio Solent. He explained how the group had set aside part of the capital to come from the Asian community, but that money was never raised. That had left them under funded. The capital raised is not just to buy equipment and fund the time before income rolls in, but also to even out problems with cash flow in the first few years. The shortfall was their downfall, and they went off-air in October 1983.

Guy and myself drove up to Bristol to see Radio West and talk with them, and buy a copy of their application. It was very gratifying to hear their MD say just what I had been saying to Guy in the car on the way up. We had previously approached Peat Marwick and managed a draft business plan and come up with the estimate of selling 30% of our airtime. As other areas were advertised we got copies of the IBA specifications and began to prepare answers for the 54 or so questions in the back that would need to be tackled in our application.

“How will you satisfy the religious needs of your area?” “First convince them that they have religious needs” was one bit of advice we got from a Radio 1- and Radio 3-listening vicar. We also became aware of where the IBA might put the transmitters and what the reach would be so we were able to gauge potential audience and income.

 

IBA logo

 

We also needed local support to show the IBA. We held two public meetings, one in Newport on the Isle of Wight, and one in Southampton. Ian and I made a Slide Tape presentation in two parts and we had the local IBA talk between the two parts. Then we took questions. On the island we were told in no uncertain terms that we had to cover the whole island. The plan at that stage had the FM transmitter on the roof of a block of apartments at the top of The Avenue in Southampton. This would only reach the north of the island – Sandown and Ventnor would have no signal. These comments in front of the IBA may have helped move the transmitter when the final advertisement came. The Southampton event also served as an audition for potential board members like Elizabeth Dennis who was invited to join shortly after.

On our trips to the Local Radio Association people would ask the IBA when their area, which was on the same list as us, would be advertised and they would receive the answer, “I don’t know”. As things began to drag on it became evident that Southampton was going to be added on to the Portsmouth franchise when Radio Victory would have to face a re-advertisement. This led to a scurrying of activity and jockeying for position as the Southampton groups were just that – Southampton groups.

Radio Victory then stepped in and said to each of the three remaining groups, “You can’t win. Come in with us and come up with the money for Southampton and we will give you two seats on the board”. We said no, Ocean Sound said no, but Southern Independent Radio said yes. This put Radio Victory in a very strong position and left the two other groups wondering what to do and looking at each other. A crisis meeting at Guy Askham’s offices between SIBCO & Ocean Sound was held and Ocean agreed to a merger. As SIBCO had issued shares for the £1,000 cheques it had received, technically there had to be a takeover bid from Ocean. Also as the area was going to include Portsmouth, Ocean was seen as the better name.

The original Ocean Sound group was led by Phillip Pollack, who was part of the group that started Habitat. There was also Lindsey Masters of Haymarket, which publishes the influential media magazine Campaign, James Montgomery of TVS, Bob Sperring of the conveyance store chain “Sperrings”, and Ednyfed Hudson Davies, former Labour MP, owner of the New Forest butterfly farm, and editor of the welsh edition of the Radio Times.

News of this change was seen in Radio Magazine as “the heavyweight money challengers to Victory”. But the aversion to Radio Victory in its own area and by anyone who had anything to do with them made the widening of the group a less than easy task.

We held a meeting at the Holiday Inn, North Harbour, with some Portsmouth people including the owner of Portsmouth Football club, John Deacon, who was very unhappy with Victory and wondered what we would do to change the image of commercial radio. In the end we were joined by a couple of Portsmouth people. We then set about sizing up Victory and how they would pitch their re-application when it came.

I sat on the top of Portsdown hill for a whole day in my car, next to the FM transmitter, recording the whole day’s broadcasts to analyse their output. I then typed out the whole day so we could look at where their advertising was coming from and listener interaction. They were running an on-air trading programme in the afternoon and we could tell where the calls were coming from. Almost all from the Paulsgrove housing estate, and council housing areas on Portsea Island.

Radio Victory were very arrogant about their position as the incumbent, as was shown by their approaches to the three Southampton groups. This was to the extent that they had no idea who was in the group against them. I used to wander around their studios on a Sunday Afternoon, reading the notice boards and finding out what they were doing. This lack of awareness of the opposition carried on after they lost, to the extent that I made their last IDs as I was recording Bill Mitchell voice overs and liners and offered them to the Programme Controller, saying that they would be on his desk Monday Morning, and they were because I put them there Sunday afternoon, and he still did not know who I was.

As we geared up to write the application we spoke to equipment manufacturers like Clyde Electronics, Calrec Neve and MBI. Clyde would help write the technical aspects of the application but at a high price if we did not award the contract for the studios to them after we won. The Calrec meeting was in an office at Broadcasting House, which was rather strange. Neve made great mixing desks but their radio desks at the time were not that great, so we settled on MBI in Brighton.

 

A man in a radio studio

An MBI studio setup in the mid-1980s

 

We also realised that we needed to be a 24 hours station. Radio Victory played tapes overnight. They had 27 of them on VHS slow speed HiFi machines. But we wanted something better and reached an agreement with 2CR to share an overnight programme.

When the advert was finally made we found out the transmitter arrangements and arranged for an ACORN (A Classification Of Residential Neighbourhoods) survey. With the transmitter service area maps I drew the lines for the West area, East area, and the overlap in the middle. The Portsmouth transmitter was to be re-engineered so it would reach further north. The new transmitter for Southampton had moved to Chillerton Down on the Isle of Wight, so that we would now reach the whole of the island, and there was to be an FM transmitter near Winchester on the towers at Crab Wood. We would also have a new AM transmitter near Marchwood at Veals Farm.

Thus the line for the TSA went north to the M3 junction south of Basingstoke and just south of Petersfield. We could include the parts of the New Forest now too. The area was based on the area we had to serve, where we would still be heard outside of that, and which direction people would go to shop.

Going too far north of Winchester, people would look to Basingstoke and not Winchester, would not listen to a Winchester service or respond to Winchester adverts. The same applied going towards Bournemouth. Too big an area and low audience on the periphery would diminish the overall figures. When the report came back we had 1.27 million people in the area. There were more ABC1’s than the national average and a better “Propensity to listen to ILR”. With this AIR – the radio sales house that ran the Southern Area Rate Card – came up with an income of £1.35m in the first year. When asked they said we would probably sell 30% of our airtime. We asked where they got that from and they said it was the historical average for stations. We had just come up with that on our own earlier.

The new transmitters would be paid for by us. We would lend the IBA the money to build the transmitters and they would repay it over 10 years. Over £300,000 had to be found for this. In all, our total funding would need to be £1.4m, made up of share equity and load stock.

We put forward a plan for a main studio centre in Southampton and an opt-out in Portsmouth. At no point did we consider buying Victory’s studios which we viewed as being badly sited and not at all suitable for the new service.

After the deadline for submission, the applications were put in the local libraries and we all went to have a read. There was a surprise application from Harbour Radio again. Virtually the same application as in 1974, but only about 40 pages. Ours and Victory’s were a good inch thick. Victory had to show their current budget and the new business plan for the enlarged area. This just did not make sense to us. They were not doubling the size of their area but estimated going from £900,000 income to £1,900,000 in the first year of the new service. Knowing the resistance to Radio Victory in the Southampton area we thought this was not achievable.

The IBA arranged its own public meetings, one in Portsmouth and one in Southampton. Philip Pollock spoke at the Portsmouth meeting where Victory had, we think, arranged some loyal listeners to speak in their favour. Tony Hunter spoke in Southampton. Both meetings were very well attended.

The following day came the interviews in London with the full IBA board. They sit along one side of the table and the applicant group sit along the other. The IBA chairman asks the chairman of the applicants a question and he part answers it and then says, “that’s a sales question and James can answer that”. At least that is the accepted way, but we understand for Victory, their chairman did all the talking and the others sat around looking bored.

First the IBA interviewed Harbour Radio, then us. We were asked about the half a million pounds difference in the income estimates. Our answer was that there was no way they would get £1.9 million, we would get £1.35 million, they would not do what they said because they would not have the money to do it. We would get £1.35m and we would be able to do what we said we would do and it was all costed out. The IBA seemed to agree with us and on 16 October 1985 announced that we had been awarded the franchise.

We had 2 days less than a year to get on air. We did it in 4 days less than the year.

 

Service area map

IBA information and service area map from 1987

 

Apart from the public meetings, interviews and close study of the application documents, the IBA did an audience survey. The result for Victory was not good. They scored the lowest of the stations being re-advertised. It appeared that they were not much liked by their audience despite over 50% of those questioned saying they had taken part in a Radio Victory programme. Well, even I had done that. I was on their first phone in with Guy Paine asking why they did no local news at weekends when more people could listen.

The Radio Victory chairman came to our next board meeting and seemed a little shocked at losing and could not understand why we did not want to buy their studios. It was their only asset left.

The rest of October 1985 was spent looking for studio sites. We looked at a building in Bevois Valley, Southampton, and what would have been a great location in the old Docks Labour board building, where Dockers had gone to get daily work. But our acoustic advisors said that it was too close to the flight path into Southampton Airport to be able to meet the code of practice for soundproofing.

Despite having an estate agent on the board who came up with our budget for buying the property, we found we were not able to buy a studio in Southampton for what we had budgeted for both sites. This meant a rethink and we moved to one studio complex in the middle. We drove around western Fareham and Locksheath before settling on a site at Segensworth West and bought a plot of land from Barratts for £75,000. This was a green field site on an industrial estate close to Junction 9 on the M27 and within sight of my home. Literally a green field site, as until a couple of years before, this had been a farm, before being converted into an area of low rise offices and industrial units.

 

Architect's drawing of the south elevation of the studio

Architect’s drawing of the studio before construction

 

Fareham council were very happy to have us on their patch and helped speed the planning permission through, realising the deadline we were facing. MBI introduced us to Eddie Veal, who had built the studios for a number of stations including Centre Radio in Leicester, which I had visited. He lived in Luton but his structural engineers were in Eastleigh and he was a pilot. He would pilot himself down to Eastleigh airport in his plane, and get a taxi up the road.

We met him at the engineer’s offices and sorted out the designs. He had to build a whole building ready to go on-air for 14 October 1986, and it was already December. He came up with a “System Built” (prefab) building with a large concrete block over the four studio areas – the biggest problem being the lead time for the steel for the framework.

In early January 1986 we had an on-site meeting with the IBA local office, Eddie, the council, MBI and some of us. This was to show people the site and introduce each other as we would all be working together.

 

Steel frame of a building

The Ocean Sound building under construction

 

David Lucas

David Lucas in 1987

Once you win a franchise all sorts of opportunities open up for you that you could not attempt while merely applying. One of these is attracting a good managing director. After interviewing some candidates we welcomed David Lucas to the board and set up a temporary office in Kings Park Road, Southampton. David had been MD at County Sound in Guilford with 100% overlap from Capital Radio, where he had started his career.

Although we had MBI looking after the technical equipment and Eddie Veal designing the studios, we still needed a chief engineer. We managed to secure Russ Tolerfield who was Victory’s CE and had a long radio history, including the pirate Radio London. Russ built a studio switcher for us, saving a considerable sum in the process.

With the change of studio location, David and the head of programmes, Mike Betton, also evolved a different programme plan. This took advantage of the new location, and transmitter combinations. The IBA announced that the Winchester transmitter would not be ready for maybe a year after we were due to launch. Also the Portsmouth FM transmitter was to change frequency after we launched too.

We were to have Ocean Sound East on the two, previously Radio Victory, transmitters at Farlington Marshes (AM) and Fort Widley (FM) and Ocean Sound West on the two new transmitters we were paying to have built. We changed from the planned split breakfast and evening drive to having a joint programme for both areas. But the daytime would be split from 9am to 4pm, giving more local feel to the majority of the day. Also the large amount of commuting along the M27 would mean drivers could hear information on the area they were driving to while still at home. We also abandoned the plan to share overnight with 2CR, and do our own night time programme instead. This would later mean the presenter not identifying the station but pressing a button and 4 jingles firing to the correct transmitters to say which service it was.

 

Studio building seen from the car park

Ocean Sound studio in 1987

 

The studio building was to have a nice tall lamppost too. This meant we could mount aerials for communications and monitoring. As we were on reasonably high ground coverage was very good. The new location also helped with phone calls as the local call rate from Fareham reached Southampton, Eastleigh, Winchester, Portsmouth, Havant and the Isle of Wight. Most of our listeners could call cheaply and our calls to advertisers and news were all at local rate.

As the building went up we had to raise the money we needed. This meant issuing a prospectus. These are legal documents and every word has to be gone over to ensure that investors are not misled. It also means that every member of the board must sign a copy of the document on the same day and that it is lodged with Companies House by close of play that same day. This can be a logistical nightmare and lead to anxious moments, but we made it in time.

At noon on 28 June 1986 Radio Victory went off air, just under 4 months early. They were not making money and left on their own time. This meant that we would launch into a vacuum, but the engineering work on the Fort Widley transmitter could be carried out, and its frequency changed. Landlines could be rearranged from us to the Portsmouth sites. We also would be promoting ourselves with no background noise from Fratton Road. Their final programme was a look back at their 11 years of broadcasting. During this programme an outtake from the tape of their Bill Mitchell voice overs was broadcast, as Bill said Chris Carnegie as car-na-gee. A voice prompted Bill that it was Car-knee-gee, and Bill responded, “Like Andrew Carnegie?”, and said the name correctly. The prompting voice was me.

By September the building was up and equipment was being installed as we started holding receptions for local leaders and groups to introduce ourselves, and what we planned to do. On the evening of 30 September we were hosting a visit from local mayors, Chief Executives and council leaders as the IBA finished the code of practice testing in the studios and came out to tell us we had passed and could go on-air.

New Milton Advertiser for Saturday 18 October 1986

New Milton Advertiser, Saturday 18 October 1986

The next day we started test transmissions. These tests had to be changed after a few days as one of the tapes was so depressing to the point of suicidal when heard in full and not tracks in isolation. We also ran a phone-in poll to pick the first record when we launched. Stevie Wonder’s I Just Called to Say I Love You you won. We also had a listen-on-the-phone service with BT. At one point I was listening before we went on air and could hear someone carting commercials in a studio and had to flag this.

We had attracted a range of presenters and reporters from all over the country, so there were two coach tours, one in each direction, to teach them how to say Boarhut (Bore-runt), Warsash, Bursledon and the like. There is nothing like mis-pronouncing a local place name to make you sound not local. There was also Palmerston’s Follies, the New Forest ponies, and King Alfred’s statue to see.

ILR stations had launched mostly before dawn on a working day. Radio Victory had launched at 1pm on a Tuesday. But we did things at a more civilised 10am on Sunday 12 October 1986. It was a relief as we gathered in the un-equipped studio D to look into the two main on-air studios and the news studio between them. As 10 o’clock came, tapes rolled in both studios with a separate launch to each area. Phillip Pollock sat with his back to us in the news studio with Chris Ryder and lip-synced, or rather head nodded, to his recorded speech. But few there were watching the on-air studios where tapes were still playing.

We continued to promote ourselves to local business groups and the evening after the launch I was speaking to a group in Fareham and pointing out that we had already broadcast more than 48 hours of programmes.

 

Courtesy of daviddunninguk

 

Aberdeen Press & Journal article on the launch

Aberdeen Press & Journal article on the opening from 2 December 1986

Ocean’s sales were led by Jo Swale, who ran an efficient team, so much so that there were problems programming the ads. Jo had landed most of the car dealers in the area. When one came onboard they all did. So there were nice problems keeping their ads apart. Jo went on after Ocean to run the UKRD radio group. In the autumn we carried out an audience survey and found that we had a good image with the public and that they perceived Ocean as having more information content than speech-based BBC Radio Solent. They saw the adverts as information.

As we had new studios, there was an opportunity for an opening. Who should do it? “Well we thought you might ask your cousin,” Phillip Pollock said to Norton Romsey at a board meeting… meaning Prince Charles.

A date was put in the diary and on 1 December 1986, after visiting Lord Mountbatten School in Romsey to open a new sports hall, they sped along the M27 to us. This did not make us exactly popular with the other businesses in the industrial estate around us. There were a number of car repair workshops with cars outside, and the Special Branch did not care for that at a time of IRA activity. They all had to be removed and there was no parking on the day of the visit. We all had to park at the Makro down the road and walk in. No admission without your letter. Mind the sniffer dog. There were a number of older ladies sitting on the wall outside waiting for royalty to arrive, and one gave him a kiss on the way out.

Charles met everyone down to the cleaner and Guy Hornsby attempted to teach him how to be a DJ with a Cyndi Lauper 12” 45, resulting in the quote, “Who are these people?” A great morale boost for the team, and it also made the ITN news and both local TV news programmes.

 

 

As Christmas approached we were doing well and David arranged to pay everyone a £50 bonus for their hard work over the launch.

ILR stations also had to spend 3% of income on employing musicians. 1986 was the period of “Hooked on…” and we had the RPO in concert at Portsmouth Guildhall just before Christmas.

The winter of 1986-7 was marked with snow and a big boost for the station as it broadcast daily news of school closures and Ocean Sound became a dependable source for local news. The winter period really made the station. We were making money every month when most of the stations on the network were not.

As the year moved on and as we drew close to September and the end of our financial year, there was a nice problem. We had made a big profit and needed to spend some money to deflate our profit so we could show growth next year. This led to a fun board meeting as we moved expenditure planned for year two into year one. The equipping of studio D was approved and orders placed in August.

At the end of our financial year on 30 September it turned out that we had taken in an embarrassing £1.85m, almost what Victory had said they would earn.

 

 

1987 saw the completion of the Winchester transmitter at Crab Wood. It also resulted in an alliance with the BBC. The tariff for stereo circuits was an agreement between BT, BBC, and IBA. When BT wanted several times over the agreed tariff for a line from Segensworth to the new site, the BBC were just as unhappy as we were. Breaking the agreement would have several problems for them too. They joined in our challenge to the rates quoted. In the end we applied for a radio link and the aerial, looking like a gun mic, can still be seen on the roof to this day.

The government were also making noises about simulcasting of services. We had a view on this and a minister foolishly came down to see us, without a minder. We had Haymarket Publishing as a shareholder and with a seat on the board, so we wheeled out their chairman, Michael Heseltine. He ran rings around the minister and most of our view made it into the final government thinking.

This then gave us a great opportunity to run specialist services on our 5 transmitters, most of which had overlap and so could offer a choice of styles to most listeners.

 

Chart showing the frequencies of each Ocean Sound service in 1990

IBA chart showing the frequencies of each Ocean Sound service in 1990

 

The new Winchester transmitter started out as Ocean Sound North, and became The Light FM. Ocean Sound West FM became Power FM. Ocean Sound East became Ocean Sound FM, and the two AM transmitters became The Gold AM.

Power FM was really the baby of Pete Wardman and was modelled after WPLJ (WABC-FM) in New York after a trip to the states by David Lucas and Mike Betton.

David had been MD of County Sound in Guilford and they had turned their AM into “County Sound, The Gold AM”. Alleging prior knowledge and other things, County Sound brought a Passing Off action against us in the high court over the use of “The Gold AM”. They lost and we carried on.

 

 

There had been some music selection problems in the early days with me hearing an Abba track every day on my drive into work and an Abba track every night on the way home. The Light FM had a similar problem with 3 great tracks in a row and then the fourth was a “Where on earth did that come from?” track. This settled down after a while.

Ocean had been 24 hours a day live from the start, and 4 way splits were a technical marvel. Scott Mills (yes the Radio One Scott Mills) while still too young to be a member of Southampton Hospital Radio did the overnight shift, never naming the station. He could press a split button and the right jingle went to the right transmitter, so each service remained discrete.

Power FM’s impact was very strong. The Isle of Wight 1kW transmitter could be heard over almost all of the area and its youth appeal brought it a strong following. The Light FM could also be heard over most of the old Ocean Sound West area so people there had an alternative style. Power also covered most of the Portsmouth area so listeners there had a choice.

Power did try to give away a car. I mean try, as it was not easy. On a not exactly dry day Power decamped to Fairthorne Manor, a YMCA estate near Botley, and a few thousand listeners came too. The climax was to be the car being won. The contestants were whittled down to two and the sudden death went on and on. They were getting very low on questions when eventually the car was won. But good radio and entertainment for the crowd.

In the end The Gold AM finished up as the most popular service, but that was not found out until it was too late.

Ocean’s success, making money when many on the network were not, led to Ocean buying Southern Sound in Brighton. We had been at the public meeting in Brighton, when the franchise was first being awarded, to see how these things were done. That was on the night Prince William was born. They were dancing in the streets in Arundel on the way back to Southampton.

The Ocean board was told savings could be made. Southern Radio Holdings PLC was formed to own the two stations, which had to have separate books under the IBA rules. However the Southern Sound MD was left in place. This led to some, shall we say, conflict. The Ocean local board started asking where were these savings that were promised?

A massive mistake was then made. The Holdings board told both MDs to come up with a plan for the future and whichever was picked would stay and the other would leave, Despite us being told very firmly when we first started researching the application to “never put a journalist in charge of your station”, Southern Radio Holdings plumped for the Brighton MD, a former journalist. His plan put all the AM’s together as South Coast Radio, scrapping The Gold AM – as mentioned, the most popular service.

Each service was given a manager and Power FM did not go to Pete Wardman, another mistake.

The FM program would come from Brighton, with commercials played in Segensworth. A small logistical nightmare.

The changes were made by the holding board and did not ask or consult with the local board, who held the contract, and were responsible to the IBA. This did not go down well. So the whole Ocean Board resigned, leaving only the members that were on both the local and holding board. We then went outside to the Ocean staff Christmas party, unable to tell anyone what had happened.

One feature of the Ocean Christmas party was that Ocean collected all the Air Miles from the petrol bought by staff over the year and had a draw so that one member of staff would win the lot.

Southern Radio went on to also buy Radio Invicta in Kent. Invicta had had a shaky start, going for the Radio 4 market and losing out to Brian Redhead. They had an audience below that of LBC which had been designed to be the lowest on the network, and could live with that. But Invicta could not overcome that and the financial repercussions of its birth, joining two areas together and two consortia.

I am immensely proud of Ocean during the time I was there. Not just because of its success in programming and financially. We made a profit every month I was a director. But really it was the working environment. I could walk in and joke with the staff around the photocopier and there was no ‘them and us’. I once sat in the Gold AM studio with a DJ I knew while he chatted with the DJ on-air before him. He had some opinions about the management, and his face was a picture when my friend told him who I was. But that did not go any further.

It’s good to see ex-Ocean staff all over broadcasting now, running TV studios in London, on the BBC World Service, BBCtv news, Sky News and more

The demise of ILR into national networks with no regard to what the listeners wanted is, I know, a heartbreaking turn of events to most of us. When Swansea Sound went on the air, it was lapped up by its audience. It was not London, it was not even Cardiff, it was Swansea. Local is still popular but shunned by broadcast groups. Snapping up new successful local stations to turn them into national stations does not expand choice.

For more or less the whole of the 80s I spent pursuing Local Radio for Southern Hampshire and I mourn its passing.

 

Ocean Sound logo

 

You Say

3 responses to this article

Richard Wood 15 July 2022 at 5:09 pm

A fascinating in-depth article!

Graham Hughes 17 July 2022 at 5:26 pm

What a great article and piece of British radio history.

Ocean and it’s offshoots were a great listen, especially the classic hits.

There is a point in the story too which is still valid today. “Don’t put journalist in charge of a radio station”. Ocean’s lessons might explain why BBC Local Radio is still losing its audiences.

Trevor Brook 18 July 2022 at 9:48 am

Thanks for a most enjoyable account.

There are details of my part in the Gold AM court case, as well as memories of Russ Tollerfield, in Radio Oddities on the Radiofax website.

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A member of the Transdiffusion Broadcasting System
Liverpool, Friday 12 August 2022