Hereward awakes 

10 July 2024 tbs.pm/81749

 

Peterborough’s Hereward Radio is on the air. Peterborough journalist RAB ANDERSON reviews the station’s beginning under the auspices of managing director Cecilia Garnett, head of news Ralph Bernard and head of presentation Stewart Francis.

 

Cover of Radio Month

From ‘Radio Month’ for August 1980

In the distant past, the people of the Fens earned a reputation for lying low and then surprising everyone, with Hereward the Wake perhaps the best-known exponent.

Now Hereward Radio, Britain’s 22nd Independent local radio station, has followed in the great tradition. The Peterborough based station, whose headquarters are an extensively converted former pub, went on the air at 6am on July 10 with not one but two voices, because a distinguishing feature of the station is its frequent use of dual presenters. Dave Bowen, ex Swansea Sound, co-hosts the Daybreak show with Jonathan Crayner, formerly features and current affairs editor at Radio Hallam.

Hereward, controlled by a consortium that is heavily newspaper orientated, has laid great stress on its news coverage and on the fact that it shows are hosted by ‘presenters’ and not ‘DJ’s’ in the cliched sense.

Managing director Cecilia Garnett explained: “We are not just another station churning out pop at the rate of 15 records an hour. We are a community service whose emphasis is firstly on news and current affairs.”

Heading the news team is Ralph Bernard, a Londoner who, at 27, has already notched up almost ten years in journalism, five of which were at Radio Hallam, where he won an award last year for Dying for a Drink – a documentary on alcoholism.

The news coverage of a fragmented and economically varied area with a 25 mile radius and a population of over a quarter of a million is never easy, particularly for a new radio station and particularly when the area is at almost saturation level as regards newspapers, but Hereward is already claiming some minor coups.

An appeal by the ambulance service for information about a missing aircraft was broadcast on Hereward within 30 seconds and elicited eight reassuring calls with the news of the plane’s safe landing.

And all this when the station was just 2½ days old.

More lightheartedly, the station has already displaced Capital – not in the ratings but on the ‘piped’ television and radio service operated by a TV rental firm in Peterborough. Radio advertising, an untried medium for the area, is also well above expectation according to Cecilia Garnett, who claims that the half-yearly quota was reached within four days of the station going on the air.

“We have more than answered those critics who wrote us off before we ever started,” she said. “We’re new, but professional with plenty of experience and plenty of talent. The staff are proud to be part of something new and exciting and they feel as if they are building a cup winning team.”

Innovation is often a cover up for forced economy, but Hereward is adamant that a genuinely new approach is being made to local radio. There is no programme controller as such but Stewart Francis, whose career credits include spells at LBC and Pennine Radio, is head of music and entertainment and also presents a weekday morning show.

Not that all the presenters are ‘imports’, geographically. Peter Kingham, head of sport, has returned to Peterborough after some years with BBC Radio Oxford and Radio 210, while Dougie King, who has worked for Radio Forth and Radio Clyde, lives in ‘Little Scotland’, the new town of Corby, well within the Hereward area.

 

 

Hereward, broadcasting on 225m medium wave and 95.7 VHF, would have been the first stereo station in the Peterborough area, but the BBC began stereo transmission from Morborne just two days before the Hereward launch. The ILR station has still claimed a ‘first’, however, with its unusually high 75m mast, more than adequate in the starkly flat Fen country.

Although it is too early to fully appraise Hereward’s impact on the local community, there appears to be little outspoken criticism, perhaps because listeners are only too glad that what they feel was an aural vacuum has been filled.

Like any new station, Hereward has had its share of technical ‘gremlins’ and the occasional lapses by nervous presenters, ‘hiccoughs’ readily pounced upon by those eager to scoff. But the low-key launch, feted by only a small internal party and a modest amount of champagne and birthday cake, meant that the station was spared any ‘fanfare’ embarrassment.

Said Stewart Francis: “We saw the first day as just another day. We didn’t want a big spectacular splash, just to get on with the job.”

 

 

The comparatively large and rural area covered means that extensive use will be made of outside broadcasts and landlines. Installations have already been made at Alwalton, home of the enormous and prestigious East of England Show, and also of the Panthers, Peterborough’s well-attended speedway team, and at the London Road ground of Fourth Division Peterborough United, the ‘Posh’.

Taking charge of the Outside Broadcasts is Simon Cooper, a 22 year-old graduate who helped to set up Cambridge University Radio and who also hosts Hereward’s Daybreak show on Saturdays and Sundays.

The farthest travelled recruit is Martin Woolf, who left his South African home to join Hereward, having worked with his country’s nationally networked Springbok Radio. Paul Veysey, Hereward’s commercial producer, runs a close second. A New Zealander, he has 13 year’s experience in radio and television and keeps his hand in by presenting two evening shows at weekends.

Community action, news and features. An unusual emphasis in ‘established’ commercial radio terms, perhaps, but nevertheless a committed policy from Hereward.

“The station you can really call your own,” says the ID jingle, but only time will tell if such a policy will make the Fenlanders want to wake up to Hereward and stay tuned all day.

 

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