Radio Times at Loughborough cont…
Student broadcasting since the 1970s
A DJ broadcasting on wavelength 312
Adrian Bailey recalls Radio Mule, “the little station with the big kick” which started broadcasting in 1970-1 as “a completely illegal system” on about 1620KHz.
During rag week of that year the campus was able to hear transmissions from “Radio Mule, the little station with the big kick”. This completely illegal system broadcast on about 1620KHz. It was located in Hazlerigg building, in a study bedroom immediately beneath the tower, and wires had been run in both directions from the window to form a simple but very effective dipole aerial.
The transmitter was housed in a suitcase with loosely connected wires so that if anyone from “the authorities” came visiting it would only be necessary to pick up the suitcase and walk out of the room.
As is often the case the election campaigns for important Student Union positions were in full swing during rag week, and many of the candidates used Radio Mule as a soapbox.
Such was the impact of Radio Mule that the successful candidate in the election encouraged those responsible to apply to the Student Union for money to establish a permanent and legal radio system. Money was in relatively short supply – the students of the time had to choose between either a radio station or a properly printed regular newspaper, and they chose to grant £3,000 for the building of the radio system.
Much of the academic year 1971/72 was spent building the system.
Several Electronics Engineering students on their industrial year at Marconi designed and built all the studio equipment (one twelve channel and one six channel audio mixer, both stereo, with full pre-fade listen facilities and talkback systems) and the transmitter (a novel design comprising one low level oscillator and modulator with several power output stages).
There were no provisions in law at the time for private radio transmissions, but negotiations with the “Ministry of Post and Telecommunications” resulted in an agreement that if we could meet certain technical specifications – mostly to do with limiting the strength of our signals at the boundary of University owned land – then we could have a licence.
To comply with these stringent requirements an aerial system using the little known “induction loops” was designed. The theory of these aerials was poorly documented at the time, and we had to develop that theory largely from scratch. (The bad reputation that the loop aerials got in future years was almost certainly because subsequent engineers working on the system did not understand the complex balancing act necessary to prevent interactions between loops in adjacent buildings.)
The Vice Chancellor of the day, Elvyn Richards, was an enthusiastic supporter and he agreed to let us use a former Midland Bank building adjacent to “The Purple Onion” cafe for our studio. He promised to improve the building for us if we could keep going for more than a year. It wasn’t free though – we had to pay a rent of one new penny (currency had just been decimalised) per year, and this was to be paid by lodging £1 with the University’s bursar who would deduct the rent from it each year and look after the balance.
The studio building was greatly modified – all the construction work was done by students including construction of a soundproof wall between two studios and installation of all the ventilation and other basic services, followed by installation of all the radio and audio equipment.
Several long trenches were dug across campus and cables installed, to feed the radio signal from the studio to the various induction loops in halls of residence.
The day came for The Men From The Ministry to come and test the system – they came with virtually no equipment! This shouldn’t have been a surprise since the rules had been devised especially for the Loughborough campus. We were only too happy to loan them our equipment – the same equipment that we had used to set up the system – and the system was approved.
We were the 8th legal student radio station in the UK.
The official opening of the system was in January of 1973, marked by a simple ceremony performed by Vice Chancellor Elvyn Richards and Union President Dave Hagger. The station was known as University Radio Loughborough (“URL”. Those initials mean something very different today!) and it broadcast on 998Khz. (301 metres).
The night of the official opening was marked by a major event involving various famous names including Radio One DJ Johnnie Walker.
Within a couple of years of opening the station was closed down. There had been a major change in the rules for AM broadcast. Every frequency had to be a multiple of 9Khz, and the frequency of 999KHz had been allocated to a powerful new independent local station in the Nottingham area. The Loughborough system was given a new frequency (963Khz, 312 metres), a new name (Loughborough Campus Radio) and the Vice Chancellor kept his promise and doubled the size of the studio building.
After that things stayed pretty much the same for a quarter of a century. In that period the Student’s Union built its own premises, and the third extension to that building was The Media Centre, which houses a new studio. The broadcasting laws have now changed beyond imagination, and the output is no longer required to be confined to the campus boundary. In fact the new LPAM system on 1350KHz is remarkably similar to the original illegal “Radio Mule”, namely one watt of radio power providing reasonable coverage over all of Loughborough town, with reports of reception as far afield as Derby and Nottingham.
Adrian D. Bailey
Co-founder and first Station Manager of University Radio Loughborough
James Flint (Head of the Communications Division in the School of Electronic, Electrical and Systems Engineering) adds:
I was involved as a student in Loughborough Campus Radio between 1992-1999. By this time much of the old equipment was starting to show its age a little and the complexity had ballooned. In the 90s we inherited a spaghetti of wiring both within the station itself and further afield, including an outside broadcast wire which ran right from the student village, down past the athletics track and into the Union building, leased telephone lines which went over to the college and the network of coaxial cables and their associated induction loops which still carried the 963kHz signal to the various halls of residence. Much of the audio signal was distributed within the station itself via a set of Krone wiring panels which carried the balanced audio signals between studios and elsewhere. Engineers which had been there a while could basically patch anything to anything which made for many amusing on-air incidents and general mischief.
The overall editorial policy was quite weak which had the dual effect of making the output very fresh but it also meant that the broadcasters needed reigning in occasionally to stop them going over the top. The output centred around various teams of presenters playing records or CDs and other sorts of conventional output, but it also included interviews with the various bands appearing at the Union and local content such as ‘Campus Reports’- a magazine show with vox-pops and other researched and pre-produced pieces specifically about the University and topical issues.
Another staple feature of LCR output were the catered hall food menus which were sent by the University on a regular basis. The reasoning for doing this was perfectly sensible; to inform students what to expect on each day in hall, but I recall they were always a nightmare to present in an interesting way. In the early 90s there was the Beef crisis where variant-CJD was a trigger for many institutions such as schools to remove beef from the menus overnight. The University was no different and it created an issue because beef was a main staple of those menus. As a consequence ‘Turkey’ became a very common feature on the menus- creating much amusement and output from LCR such as the daily ‘Turkey Count’ and similar features.