Stray FM founding figure 'gobsmacked' at rebranding of Harrogate radio station

One of the founding figures of Stray FM said he is "gobsmacked" by the rebranding of Harrogate's radio station as Greatest Hits Radio.

Friday, 29th May 2020, 5:52 pm
Supporting the community - The Stray FM team at a past Harrogate At Christmas event.

Martin Newton said it was hard to believe what had started as a labour of love and community project had ended up in the situation where its national owner Bauer Media Group had announced the Harrogate station will now be among those joining its national Hits Radio Brand Network and renamed Greatest Hits Radio.

And the pioneering radio presenter said he feared that one of Stray FM's greatest achievements - local knowledge - may now be at risk.

Bauer Media have said they are fully committed to local news and local advertising.

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Although some roles would be put into consultation and freelance contracts reviewed, Bauer would be supporting any affected employees in Harrogate and would be working closely with them over the months ahead.

Bauer say, for advertisers, the move will provide significant scale whilst also retaining local advertising windows for clients.

Dee Ford CBE, group managing director of Bauer Radio said: "Audiences love and trust radio.

"Expanding the Hits Radio Brand Network will ensure listeners to these acquired stations benefit from multi-platform digital distribution meaning they can continue to broadcast in an increasingly competitive, digital and voice-activated world.

"This ensures the provision of local news and information, traffic and travel as well as access for advertisers to highly-valued audiences."

Mr Newton, one of Stray FM's earliest presenters told the Harrogate Advertiser the radio station has been full of adventure in his day, full of triumph and adversity, laughter and tragedy,

He said "From 1991 doing the annual month long RSL (Restricted Service Licence) broadcasts from St Aidan’s School in a portakabin in search of a full time licence it now feels it has been 26 years washed away by big business.

"I was one of the founding presenters and in the early days opened up the daily broadcasting with the Early Riser show from Mondays through Saturdays.

"I then returned on Monday evenings to ‘drive’ the Country Show with Alan Potter and the Folk Music show with Andy Ingle(?) on Thursday evenings both from 7pm until 10pm.

"There was an enthusiastic group of us from Harrogate presenting the shows. Chris Parkin, who I met at ICI Fibres, approached me though Ken Welford and Phil Pearson to come on board as I hosted quiz and pub music nights.

"My first shows from St Aidan’s started at 11pm on Friday and Saturday nights and went through to 7am the next morning – two eight hour shifts for the weekend! I have fond memories of those days working with the likes of Steve Pexton, Ian Wighton, Mike Long and many more as well as that trio of sadly departed presenters, the aforementioned Ken Welford and Phil Pearson, and more recently James Wilson.

"When eventually we started broadcasting with a ‘full licence’ on Monday 4th July 1994 it was for many of us a Red Letter Day.

"Mark Brooks opened at 7am with the Breakfast Show and the broadcasts went in 3 hour shows through to 10pm when the night time music was locked into Solid Gold Radio (I think that’s what it was called).

"It was during this first week of broadcasting that the management realised that we were broadcasting one hour less than we should have been so I was recruited to present the Early Riser – and as we had either little or no Stray FM owned CD media I loaned some of my CD collection to the team!

"I felt that one of our greatest achievements as local presenters – full of local knowledge – was when a heavy snow storm one afternoon meant that main roads, side roads and country lanes were closed due to the snow.

"It was exciting and entertaining listening to the Stray FM gang relaying messages of open roads, closed roads and diverted traffic so that motorists could negotiate the trips to Harrogate in the evening and then thoughout the night with updates from Phil Pearson and Tim Hargreaves aka Tim Paul.

"Life was not always exciting whilst broadcasting. I was on air after the Knight Air flight crashed at Dunkeswick soon after taking off from Leeds Bradford airport.

"I had been so busy preparing the show that I had not heard the news from earlier in the evening and was completely overwhelmed by the circumstances that greeted me at the Stray Studio.

"Only with the guidance of news editor Steve Parsley did I make it through to the end of the show without calamity.

"It was so strange having to play scheduled upbeat music between the sombre news updates from the news team."

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