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Station Biography

In the beginning

Back in 1970 a group of students at the University of Warwick spent their summer vacation installing an induction loop transmission system in the Rootes halls of residence. At the beginning of the '70/'71 academic year "University Radio Warwick" went on air.

The details of the transmission frequency are vague, it could have been 312m (960.87... kHz) or maybe 317m (945.71... kHz). Anyone with any more accurate information, please pass it on. Whilst we are unsure of the frequency, we can be sure that the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications were not too impressed when they found signal levels of 4.5V/m, so they shut us down fairly promptly and insisted on us regulating what we broadcast a bit more. Whether we did or not is unclear...

This is not too surprising given that much of the transmission equipment was DIY, partly being a 3rd year electronic engineering project (a useful source of new equipment - which has continued to be used to great effectiveness ever since).

At this time the studios consisted of a wooden hut at the back of Rootes M block (Meridan House). No records remain of the layout of these studios, so if anyone has any details, please give them to us.

One of the founder members of the station, Tim Clark, has remained at the University ever since, and is now Assistant Director of the University Computing Services department.

A New Home for URW!

After a few years it was apparent that the "Hut" that was being used for the studios was not good enough for the intrepid broadcasters of the time. As the new Students' Union building was being built it seemed the most appropriate place for relocation.

Steve Murdoch, treasurer at the time, headed the negotiation with the powers that be to get some space allocated to us, whilst Graham Sanders formed the general layout and tech-spec. Mick Bursill was charged with designing to make the tech-spec work!

The Timmy Mallett Years

Between 1974 and 1977, University Radio Warwick was graced with the support of the one and only Timmy Mallett.

His first recorded broadcast was on 5/10/1974

Tim's last recorded broadcast for University Radio Warwick was on 23/6/1977 between 08:32 and 10:06

Tim was also responsible for the the relocation into the new studios at the top of the students's union building, although he shouldn't be given too much credit for this as all the hard work was done before him in all the preparation.

What's the Frequency Warwick?

On Thursday 23rd November 1978, University Radio Warwick changed to broadcasting on 963.000kHz Medium Wave

Shortly after this, the people running the station at the time decided they needed a change of name. W963 was decided upon, so as to make it very difficult for anyone in the future who has to cope with a further frequency change!

The name was then displayed using large cut-outs of the individual characters on the large window in Studio 1 (which are still there today), and station idents were made. Apparently the station idents used were a bodge-together of "9", "6" and "3" from the countdown on Radio 1 at the time. Unfortunately there is no evidence of these jingles left at the station, so if anyone has a copy - please forward them to us, and we'll ensure that everyone gets to hear them.

1977 - 1979

The following section is written by Mark Percy, Programme Controller '77 - '79, Treasurer '79 - 80. Big thanks to Mark for this bit!

October 1979. Warwick was about to be treated to a radio rebirth. After a year of false hopes and technical setbacks we were ready to let rip campuswide with new transmitters, a new team and a new name to take us into the eighties... W963.

The name change was hatched a few days before the start of the 1979 Autumn term. Our main problem during the previous academic year had been the station's patchy transmitter coverage. But station volunteers had now dug a trench to take our signal to Tocil after contractors had accidentally chopped through the cable several years earlier. And for the first time we now had a transmitter in Cryfield Village.

It was all coming together on the technical front, but during a series of house-to-house visits on campus residences to tune in students' radios, we were struck by an acute lack of awareness of our dial position. Only by incorporating our frequency, 963, into the station name would we stand a chance of overcoming the tuning problem.

The W in W963 obviously stood for Warwick, but also added a snappy American twist. Many US stations had adopted truncated call letters like Y100, Q95 and Z100, so W963 was a station name of its time. For the full American effect, we could have gone for WUCR Warwick University Campus Radio, WUBS Warwick University Broadcasting Service, or even WCBS, Warwick Campus Broadcasting System (a nice pun, here, although you'd have to be a New Yorker or an anorak to appreciate it). Maybe these names could be reconsidered when the station next needs to change frequency... But with the name W963 students were in no doubt where to find us on the radio.

On our kitchen table, our station secretary Peter McNerney and I duly painted out W 9 6 3 on huge sheets of paper and then stuck them in the studio windows overlooking the busy ring road, bus stops and Senate House. It had to be the best advertising site around and would do more than anything else to raise awareness of the station. We also got hundreds of posters printed, along with stickers and letterhead paper. The publicity machine was in overdrive. (Pete McNerney, incidentally, now runs Yorkshire Television's Calendar South news operation in Sheffield and also sits on the board of Chesterfield's ILR station, Peak 107.)

The "W" was also a gift for our jingles. We could plunder Ws from stations across half the USA. The 9, 6 and 3 were culled from other sources closer to home. It all sounded far less ghastly than you might think. Certainly, Warwick had never heard anything like it. Later in the year we would launch a new package and slogan, "Nobody Does It Better". The voice of Radio 2 presenter Ray Moore added great authority to our top-of-the-hour news ID.

Our approach to programming was copied from established stations, but was probably seen as radical for campus radio. In 1977 we had inherited a programme schedule which looked rather like a squash court booking sheet. It was an intricate timetable of people going into the studio to play their favourite heavy rock tracks and generally amuse themselves for an hour a week. (Typically something like: Wednesday 8:30 - 10pm - Smokey & Pals Play Roots, Rock and Reggae.) Even if the casual listener had been remotely interested in the musical tastes of those DJ wannabees, it's unlikely they would have been able to organise their lives around the byzantine grid of programme slots which would make today's Radio 4 seem like pure simplicity.

The schedule was apparently tailored for the amusement and convenience of the broadcasters. Now it was to be run for the benefit of listeners. There was plenty of room for personalities to develop, but our priority was building the identity of the whole station. Our ego trip would be collective, not individual.

After I won the election for programme controller in Autumn 1977, the old guard were in uproar as the schedule was "stripped and stranded" into daily three-hour blocks reflecting the activities and needs of our listeners. Frankly, there wasn't really much of a choice for voters in that station election. Jon Mandell, my only rival for the post, was a talented American with a great feel for radio He agreed with the shake-up and went on to become head of music, introducing a new playlist system. (Years later Jon Mandell worked on the offshore station, Laser.)

The programming debate was all academic, though. During the winter of 1977 the station was only sporadically on air to a tiny part of Rootes, beset by transmission problems. An outside company, Transmission Developments, was brought in to help get us back on our feet.

For our relaunch we wanted to sound like a professional and popular ILR service for the whole campus. On AM people were never going to listen for music quality. Our selling point was accessible local information which listeners couldn't find anywhere else on the dial. At the heart of the schedule was Outlook, a fast-moving talk, information and music sequence from 4-7pm, which was later renamed Studio One. (Among the Outlook presenters was Les Skipper, former Boar editor, my successor as programme controller in 1979/80 and now a senior editor at BBC Radio News. Also, Chris Jackson - now a reporter at Look North in Newcastle.)

From 7-10pm came Recorded Delivery, an instant phone-in request sequence. It was clear that our best response from listeners came at the very end of the day when people were listening in campus kitchens or in bed. From their calls, it often sounded as though there was a party going on in the background. So our seven-nights-a-week 10pm-12:45am sequence, Pyjamarama, tried to reflect the party atmosphere and quickly became our flagship slot. The staple fare of Pyjamarama was hit music and phone-in competitions. A drama slot was introduced by arts supremo Lorna Dickinson, who became a top light entertainment producer at LWT.

The awkward 12:45am closedown time was a compromise hammered out with the powerful Union porters who wanted us out of the building even though they were paid until 1:00. Overnight we opted into Beacon Radio until our own 8-10am breakfast show, Snap Crackle Pop, presented for much of the time by Kel Palmer. Again, we opted back into Beacon until 4pm. At first, leaving the transmitter on all day and night was considered highly controversial. Some were convinced it would overheat and explode.

The only genuine fire scare came when the station was raided by "terrorists". A spokesman for the extremist campus anarchist group Red Flame had just finished an interview on Outlook when his pals repaid our hospitality by letting off a smoke bomb. When the fumes had cleared, we noticed that the terrorists had felt-penned the slogan "Victory to the IRA" on the wall near the main door. Quick-thinking station wags amended this offensive slogan to the more acceptable, "Victory to the IBA".

Typically, presenters did a couple of three-hour programmes a week. But during the summer term of 1979 we finally filled the daytime gap, with Simon Guettier covering 10am-1pm (before going on to BFBS) and Andrew Marshall following between 1 and 4pm. (He later worked at BRMB and Radio Mercury.) Two Coventry club DJs, Steve Dawson and Eddie O'Shea also heroically took their turn in these lonely daytime slots. Eddie amused his listeners with his bizarre impersonations of police radio messages. When he went on holiday to Ontario he sent back a series of recorded shows, dubbed Eddie in Exile.

The highlight of the weekend was the Campus Countdown from 4-7pm on Sundays, our own top 40 chart presented by Taffy Davies. In later life he would find himself entertaining the troops on BFBS Falklands.

A sports show on Sundays from 2-6pm featured coverage of Coventry City matches. Weekends were also the refuge of specialist programmes, including a Christian rock show from 6-10pm on Saturdays in 1980. It was presented by a shy newcomer. His name: Simon Mayo.

With the station on air nearly 17 hours a day and a transmitter fault accidentally beaming our signal over a rather wider area than intended, the summer of 1979 was a high point for the station. For an annual fee of 1 we took IRN on the hour (via Beacon). We weren't yet allowed to take paid advertising, but free promos for Union clubs, services and activities were played at 20 and 40 past the hour in ad break-style clusters followed by a jingle and back to music. One of the more familiar promos was for the W963 "sunspots" - a list of locations where the station could be received outdoors by sunbathers as they soaked up the rays during the long hot summer of '79. But some of the locations - like the electricity sub-station at Tocil - were only for the most dedicated 963 listeners.

In many ways, the change from the old URW to the new W963 reflected a shift in the University's social and political fabric. As the Conservatives were swept to power in 1979, students became more focused on their careers than on fighting the class war. Disco became the music craze, and campus radio moved from the fringe to the mainstream. It also launched a number of media careers. And above all it was great fun.

The Simon Mayo years

Simon Mayo started at W963 in May 1980, doing a late night show on Sunday evenings. His show is believed to have been a religious show, from 10:00pm to 00:45am. The Programme Controller of the time must be kicking himself now (although, according to him, he isn't!), and should have given him a more prime-time slot! As you may or may not be aware Simon can now be heard on Radio 1 weekdays 9am-12pm, 97-99FM

As anyone who has heard Simon lately on Radio 1 will know, he often refers back to his time at Warwick and W963, although he has been heard to say things like:

"... hi to all the students in Warwick, I know you're listening to Radio 1, because no-one can pick up W963 ... "
But we all love him dearly really!

Please direct all your fan e-mail directly to him: simon.mayo@bc.co.uk.

Studio 1 gets a rebuild!

During 1982-1983, Studio 1 gets a complete overhaul by Tom Harris and Chris Valentine. The main construction was done using 19mm ply, with two technics decks inlaid into the desk. One of the "pedestals" at this time formed a 19" rack for housing other equipment.

According the the union manual from 1982, they took delivery of "one of the most advanced mixing desks in Europe.". This is probably the desk that is still part-used in Studio 2 to this very day! It was identical to one used by Radio Luxembourg, but not actually the desk from radio luxembourg (as had been reported by some).

Mind this Gap too

Unfortunately I have very little information for the years between 1983 and 1990... if you've got any snippets of what's been going on, please tell me and I'll put them on this site.

Another studio rebuild?

At some time around 1990, studio 2 got a complete rebuild. This was performed by Bruce Perrett. The layout must have seemed a good idea at the time but has received criticisms from some presenters. It was an "L" shaped desk, with half the faders in front of you, and half on your right. Unfortunately the positioning of the Microphone, Mic fader, and level meters made it rather difficult to maintain levels without a rubber neck.

The story behind the L

The gory details of the acquisition of this desk, courtesy of Jools

The desk came from LBC courtesy of ex-963-er Steve Sykes, for the princely sum of £100 (it was already L-shaped at this stage, honest guv). It is enhanced with the addition of the board from Bruce Perrett's Whitefield's bed (history does not relate where he was planning to sleep).

In collecting this desk the 3 intrepid broadcasters:

  • Got horribly lost
  • Got one haircut (between all three of them)
  • Were seriously menaced, threatened, and growled at (yes, all at once) by a security dog on returning the hire van (because they were returning the van very late on account of having got horribly lost)
  • Were apprehended by the police (because they were returning the van very late on account of having got horribly lost) - they were initially concerned at seeing a shadowy figure lurking in the van, but decided "don't worry, it's only a female"...

So, for those that suffered in pursuit of your neck stretching L-shaped desk, be ye ever grateful!

The Rob Sanders years

Rob Sanders blessed the station with his presence from 1992, right through until 1997. He managed to spend 5 years doing a 3 year degree course. This isn't too surprising given the amount he's done for W963

Rob was responsible for many great things at W963, probably one of the most notable was convincing the Union to spend 5,000 pounds on 28 days of glorious FM broadcasting, which has continued to this day as the highlight of the year at W963.

Complete overhaul time!

During the summer vacation of '96 a team of mad engineers set about an almost complete overhaul of everything!

Studio 1 got itself a lovely new Soundcraft Series 10 broadcast desk, and ALL the woodwork and wiring was re-done. Bruce Newton single-handedly rebuilt the studio, along with the help of a few beers. Unfortunately, the beers had an effect on his accuracy, which resulted in at least half of the inputs to the desk being wired out of phase!

Meanwhile, Ben Parcell was busy rebuilding the woodwork in the Control Room, to make way for a new Exec cupboard, Music cupboard and an "IT" cupboard. It took another year and a half before the IT cupboard was finished! Ben also rebuilt the woodwork in Studio 2, introducing the first ever curve in the form of a nice rounded finish to the worktop.

Keven Cook, meanwhile, was completely rebuilding studio 2's desk, from scratch! Using a combination of bits from the old studio 2 desk, and the recently replaced studio 1 desk, he managed to create a 16 channel monster, *stereo* desk (using the Aux bus for the Right!).Along with completely rebuilding the desk, he rebuilt/built most of the other electronics in studio 2, including active balancing cards, Distribution Amplifiers, Input switchers....

Around this time (correct me if I'm wrong), W963 entered the information technology revolution with a bunch of 386 PCs networked to allow access to the computer based record library, and allow logging of shows on computer rather than hand-written logs. The people responsible for this were Bruce Newton, Chris Cooper, Damon Naile and Keven Cook.

The Dave Smith years

Dave Smith joined W963 in 1994, on his second day at University. He had 4 years previous experience from Hospital radio.

He progressed on to become Programme Controller, which he took over at probably the worst time ever for a PC - 3 days into the '96 FM RSL. He held this position right through until the end of his term in March '97, making him one of the longest-lasting PCs ever!

Dave didn't restrict himself to PCing alone! He was a member of the Engineering team, but didn't do much on a "regular" basis for it... BUT he DID build the most stunning Transmission Switcher in the world... Ever!
This cool piece of kit will automatically switch to a studio ONLY after it has started working, and allows snatch back if anything goes wrong. Plus, it has lots of great flashy lights on the front!

A digital revolution

W963 is gradually catching up with the rest of the broadcast world, and entering into Digital Audio technology!
Whilst we had been accruing CDs at an ever increasing rate since 1992, the shelving was being stretched to its limits! So the first step towards a "better, more digital, W963" was for Stuart Tomlinson to completely (re)build some CD shelves in Easter '97. Very nice they are too. It's very fortunate he left after his second year, as otherwise he may have had to add to them... it seems that the Head of Music uses the amount of space left as a target for how much music to acquire in their time of office!

Anyway, onto the digital revolution...
Around October '96 we acquired our very first MiniDisc recorder (unfortunately this didn't get installed until Easter '97!)
In September '97 we bought our first two *real* MiniDisc recorders - proper Denon machines with funky "Hot-starts", these didn't take quite so long to get installed, but unfortunately had to be returned for repair & later replaced before the actually *worked* properly.
February '98 saw the arrival of the "Digital Editing Computer". Unfortunately again, this hasn't yet been used for digital editing, as Matt Raines finds it more appropriate to write up the News stories on a rather over-specced PC, preventing anyone doing anything useful on it!
September '98 should see another leap forward for W963, with the purchase of another two Denon MD recorders, similar to the existing ones but hopefully these will work first time!

© 1998 The W963 Alumni Association

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