Keith Richards performing at the Isle of Wight Festival. The Rolling Stone turned out to be a rather generous fan of Angel Radio. Picture by Jennifer Burton.
IT wasn’t until part-time DJ Stephen Hull was driving home one Cowes Week following a gig at the Royal Yacht Squadron that he first came across Angel Radio.
Having played dance music all night, he was twiddling the dial on his car radio trying to find something different to listen to.
"Every station seemed to be playing pop music and I’d had enough of that," he said.
"Then I chanced upon this little station broadcasting music from the 1940s and it was great, it was just what I wanted to hear."
Stephen had stumbled upon one of the best kept secrets on the Island, the nostalgia community station, Angel Radio, and like many other listeners who have tuned in it was a case of once bitten, forever smitten.
But what Stephen, 55, of Ashey, couldn’t have predicted that night was that he would become one of the station’s volunteer presenters and every Monday afternoon he would make his way to the studio in Love Lane, Cowes, to broadcast a two-hour show with his cousin, David Bushell.
David, 66, of Ryde, spent his working life in admin at Southern Electric but harboured a life-long fascination with pirate radio.
"From the moment I heard it, I’d always wanted to go out to Radio Caroline and play records," he said.
Now retired, when the opportunity came up to join Angel Radio’s 30-strong band of volunteers, David jumped at it but, despite being pretty familiar with the music side of things having played keyboards in Island bands since his youth, he was nervous of the technical aspect of operating equipment in a radio studio.
He contacted Stephen, who he thought would know about turntables and playing music from his DJing, and the pair formed a double act to jointly broadcast their pick and mix programme each week.
They trained live on air as the station is run on a shoestring and has no separate training facilities, although that is a long-held ambition of the couple behind the station on the Island, Chris Gutteridge and Bev Webster.
The pair have just celebrated the station’s seventh anniversary of broadcasting on FM full time.
But it was 15 years ago they first got involved when the original founder of Angel Radio, Tony Smith, brought his idea of a nostalgia-based station across The Solent from Portsmouth to the Island in the autumn of 1999.
Tony had conceived the idea of creating a unique station broadcasting music from around 1900 to a cut-off point of 1959 (now raised to 1969), plus documentaries on the artistes and musical styles of the era. In addition, there would be community-related programmes featuring local charities. The station was aimed at the older generation who required relevant information as well as lovers of nostalgia.
Following a successful broadcast in Portsmouth — Angel Radio’s sister station is based in Havant — Tony was allowed to set up in an attic above the Age Concern offices, then in Pyle Street, Newport, to broadcast on a special 28-day licence.
Bev and Chris, being interested in radio, went along to help out.
"I’d been involved with a pirate radio station in East Cowes in the Sixties and originally was just interested in seeing the equipment he had," said Chris, a retired groundsman for English Heritage, who has a long association with the Island music scene as singer for several bands.
| David Bushell and Stephen Hull.
"We only went along to answer the phones and make the tea but ended up doing everything."
Eventually the pair took over the running of Angel Radio on the Island.
The station made several more short broadcasts and drew high audience figures.
Local company Wight Cable, now Wight Fibre, offered Angel Radio a lifeline, allowing it to set up a studio in its Cowes premises broadcasting continuous nostaglic programmes from June 2001.
Negotiations began with Ofcom to try for a permanent full-time licence and a five-year community licence was granted for Angel Radio Isle of Wight in 2006. It was the seventh such licence to be issued in the UK. The terms of the licence mean the station cannot accept advertising or professional sponsorship so the running costs — the licence fees alone costs £5,500 each year — are met entirely by donations and grants. And money is hard to come by in the current economic climate.
Although the station provides a valuable lifeline to many elderly people, often those living alone or housebound, it receives no funding from the local authority.
"Only East Cowes Town Council has ever given us anything towards our running costs," said Bev.
"We estimate we have about 30,000 listeners out there.
"Regulars often just phone the station for a chat and it’s great to hear from them. One lady told us her husband, who has dementia, can’t remember much but when he hears songs that are familiar on Angel Radio he can sing along to them."
Affectionately described by fan and County Press columnist Keith Newbery as "a cross between Dad’s Army and that parish council on the Vicar of Dibley", the quirky nature of Angel Radio appeals to listeners young and old and there is a growing legion of fans both on the Island and abroad, via the internet.
Headed by Bev and Chris, the 30 people who "work" at the station are all volunteers who give their time freely with no-one receiving any payment, not even expenses.
"We are so grateful to Wight Fibre, as it has provided us with our premises free of charge. All we have to pay is the phone bill. Without Wight Fibre there would be no Angel Radio," said Bev.
Funds came from an unlikely source three years ago when the radio station’s receiver was struck by lightning and an appeal was launched on air for the £2,000 needed to replace it.
Listeners donated £1,800 in three weeks then, out of the blue, came a cheque for £3,000 from Keith Richards, of the Rolling Stones.
"We couldn’t believe it. He must have been listening on the internet," said Chris.
"I saw him playing in Ryde in 1964 when I was a young lad."
News of the donation made newspapers around the world, giving the station valuable publicity.
All the music Angel Radio plays is also donated, many from old record collections that would otherwise be gathering dust. Each old 78, 33 or 45 has been put on the turntable and recorded in real time onto mini disc and catalogued by the station’s volunteer librarian. There are about 130,000 songs in the library for presenters to call upon.
Bev, who worked at Russell’s hi-fi shop in Nodehill and then Buywise, Newport, before her retirement hobby took over her life, presents a show on songs from the musicals on Sunday and Chris indulges his passions for old British comics and annuals and the Saturday morning cowboy films of his youth in his broadcasts. They host a show, Bev and Chris’s Evening Antics, three times a week.
Other special programmes include reviews of the Isle of Wight’s news and history, classical programmes, request shows, the A-Z of music, vintage comedy such as The Goon Show, Dick Barton Special Agent and plenty of music from the 1930s, 40s and 50s.
♫ Tune in to find out more.