Calvert... recruited 'Yours Fraternally' on the spot, on the strength of that
one 'first performance' "
Mac Peters recalls his short-lived Radio City career
is the often-told story of my 'Radio Baptism', a nova-like episode that was
over before it was begun, and should never have happened! Now, this really IS
a blur, so forgive a little writer's licence as I piece together the tale from
my own memory and the documentation that has survived through 'The Anorak System'!
It is nice to be able to 'name-SOME-names'... but NOT others! (And this is from
"The Horse's Mouth", not the tale told in the pub of the same name!)
Once-upon-a-time in Coventry, there was a particularly obnoxious disc jockey,
let's call him 'Lee Galaxion', for such was his 'star-quality' and the trouble
I could be asking for! He was young, handsome, knew his records and could work
twin turntables one-handed whilst dancing and squealing. He filled the Locarno
ballroom every night and was very, very popular with the girls. So popular,
in fact, that he 'pulled' a different girl every night, sometimes two. And he
wasn't too fussy if the lassie in question was 'attached'. This made him extremely
unpopular with many boyfriends, and on more than one occasion he was punished
for his randiness.
One Thursday night, 'Lee' turned up late with two lovely black eyes and a very
sore groin. The culprit(s) could have been any one of several jealous spouses,
or irate fathers of teenage ladies. Mr Sullivan, the Manager, took one look
and sent him home for the night. With the "Off The Record" session
about to start, the mike and decks plugged in and the first dancers waiting.
The Trainee Manager was told, "Get up on that stage and take over... Oh,
and wear this tartan tuxedo too!" I didn't need telling twice! Wearing
the jacket was like a dream come true and I'd played the records before, of
course, but I'd never been allowed to use that magical device called a microphone!
Well, folks and folxeses of readerland, I can tell you that I had a ball! I
danced, I squealed, I sang along with the records and I told 'em silly jokes.
There were great records in the charts then and it was very easy to have the
most tremendous fun.
The dancers loved it, the manager loved it and one particular spectator was
more than impressed. Directly after 'God Save The Queen'* he came up to the
stand and offered me a job on his radio station! Yes, I know, fairytale stuff,
but true I assure you! (I can see Leonardo Di Whatsit in the lead role of the
Hollywood movie now!)
The man was Reg Calvert, present by chance, to arrange a booking for a group
he managed, The Fortunes, and 'headhunting' for DJs on Radio City which he'd
recently bought from David 'Screaming Lord' Sutch. He recruited 'Yours Fraternally'
on the spot, on the strength of that one 'first performance' for the princely
sum of £30 per week and all I could eat! I nearly broke his wrist shaking hands
on the deal! (Perhaps he was just desperate to fill the last vacancy?)
I had only two days to; quit Mecca, (the company liked the publicity), say 'bye'
to my pals, who were delighted, explain to my parents, who were disgusted, and
make my way to Westcliffe-On-Sea, to start on Sunday.
'The Tower Of Power - On Two-Nine-Nine' was in reality a dilapidated old WW2
defence fort in The Thames Estuary, part of the North Sea. Abandoned when hostilities
ceased, neglected for two decades and disowned by every branch of the services,
Shivering Sands Towers had been taken over by Sutch and his pals as a pirate
radio station .It was an amazing place, fraught with peril on arrival from a
swaying small boat and departure via a bosun's chair to another boat in the
choppy sea. I only did it once. It was slightly more comfortable and convenient
than its ship-board sisters, Radios Caroline and London, and was lower in power
and not quite in their league. But a radio station it was and a radio presenter
I was NOT.
London Leyland bus engines powered noisy generators and the primitive 1943 boilers
gave sparse heat to the six concrete boxes on rusty iron stilts that comprised
Shivering Sands. The generators could be heard on the air when the microphone
was open. There had been a seventh tower during the war. It had housed some
primitive early radar equipment which, like many WW2 inventions, was ordered
to be destroyed at the end of hostilities. Its remains could still be seen.
Each tower was linked by narrow 'cat-walks', which, although they looked quite
tight, could sway alarmingly. The towers had been constructed to recoil with
the force of heavy guns mounted on each roof, also removed!
The 'earth' side of the transmitter circuitry was the sea, so an effect called
'RF charge' could give the unwary a nasty shock when crossing from one tower
to another. Living quarters took two towers, a kitchen and storerooms another
and a fuel tank had one to itself, as did a 'recreation area'. (Ping pong table
and darts board!) The studio and equipment bay took up most of the last tower
and this had a large opening, badly sealed, with a hoist above it.
Feral cats, interbred over the 20 years as ancestors of the erstwhile Martello's
pets, performed daily feats of acrobatics catching sea birds and eating the
fish the birds had caught. I was amazed that they had survived for so many years.
By the time I got there most were tame and humans were feeding them for the
first time in (cat) generations.
Somehow Lord Sutch's motley crew and Calvert's more organised team managed to
get a transmitter (of dubious ownership) and certain home comforts and broadcasting
equipment 'on-board'. The presenters entertained the housewives, earned a bit
of advertising revenue playing top-twenty hits and sold time to American evangelist
organisations. Deejays hated these shows and would speed-up or slow the tapes
for fun. I managed to bulk-erase one or two by accident in my first week.
We weren't called 'presenters' in those days. In the deejay's line of sight,
above the Gates mixer, was a solitary 7" single, pinned to the wall with
a thumbtack. It was by Reg's group, The Fortunes. We had strict instructions
never to play this unless there was trouble on the fort from 'outside influences'!
On hearing the song, certain influential listeners on shore would know that
something unspeakable was afoot and, hopefully, send assistance of some kind.
The title? 'You've Got Your Troubles'!
I adopted my two sayings, "Peter In The Air-Chair" and "Bucket
Of Water" at Radio City. Like all offshore stations fresh water was at
a premium, kept (and rationed) for drinking and cooking. Those of us who insisted
on washing and shaving had to lower a galvanised bucket into the sea! And that's
where and why I grew my first beard!
I loved it. It didn't love me!
I turned out to be easily the world's worst radio presenter. Without the dancers
and a few pretty girls to look at, I was lost. No excuses, I was CRAP! No matter
what I tried to say on the air it always turned to inane gibberish mumbling,
I miscued records, cocked-up commercials, de-spooled tapes and generally made
a dog's b******s of my opportunity. I was so bad that the seagulls wouldn't
listen and even the cats hissed their contempt. I was equally bad at ping-pong
and darts. It was a relief for everyone concerned when 'Mac Peters' was fired!
I returned to Coventry after only 3 weeks, my tail between my legs. I went back
to The Locarno to beg for my job back and was delighted to find that even an
ex-radio jock of my short-standing was very welcome, not just as trainee manager
but Full-Time Resident Deejay too! 'Lee Galaxion' had just been transferred
to another town... for his own protection.
So, I started to really learn how to do the job properly at last, in case another
entrepreneur came talent spotting, I'd be ready next time! If one ever did,
it must have been my night off. A short while later, the Mecca Trainee Manager
Scheme lifted this 'wireless wannabe' and dumped him at one dancehall after
another, for 'Managerial Experience'!
From being Peter at college, Mac the lowest form of life and 'Mac Peters'
the deejay, suddenly, I was Mister Mac, the new manager and there won't be room
for all the stories!
*Webmaster's note: UK social functions during this era always ended with
the National Anthem, as did cinema programmes. The audience was expected to
stand silently and respectfully till the music finished. (Sometimes, they were
also expected to sing it.) There was generally a stampede for the door during
the end credits of films, as nobody quite had the nerve to move once 'God Save
the Queen' had started. If you were caught halfway to the exit when you heard
that opening drum roll, you would have to freeze on the spot, even if it meant
you missed the last bus.
Many thanks to Mac for sharing his experiences. We
have no photos from his short stay on City, but the recent photo of Mac is
courtesy of the Pirate Radio Hall of Fame.