Free Radio Shropshire & Black Country
|Broadcast area||Shropshire, Wolverhampton and Black Country|
|Slogan||"Let The Music Set You Free"|
103.1 & 97.2 MHz|
RDS: Free SHR & Free WLV
|First air date||12 April 1976|
|Audience share||5% (August 2011, )|
|ERP||2.00 kW, 2.70 kW|
|Owner||Bauer Media Group|
Free Radio Shropshire & Black Country (previously known as Beacon Radio), is an Independent Local Radio station serving Shropshire and the Black Country in the West Midlands region of England. The station, owned and operated by the Bauer Media Group, broadcasts from studios in Oldbury as part of the Free Radio network.
Beacon Radio began broadcasting to Wolverhampton and the Black Country from studios at 267 Tettenhall Road in Wolverhampton on mediumwave 303 metres, and 97.2 MHz (from Turner's Hill) at 6 a.m. on 12 April 1976.
The first presenter was Mike Baker and the first song to be played was Eric Carmen's "Sunrise". The station originally set out to broadcast Beautiful Music including soul and country rock with a heavy bias towards American chart music with artists like Linda Ronstadt and The Eagles.
The station's original Managing Director was Jay Oliver, an American who, with his Programme Controller Allen McKenzie (a Scot/Canadian), was responsible for the Mid-Atlantic sound that flooded the West Midlands for three years (including a US-style jingle package).
As with other UK commercial stations at the time, the station's commitment to news and speech broadcasting under news editor Mike Stewart in its opening year, particularly in the evenings, was extensive; and its late-evening music programmes appeared to offer the presenters a freedom to enlighten, with a wide choice of recordings, as well as to entertain.
The station became successful, although facing competition from the already established commercial station, BRMB in nearby Birmingham. However, the station came in for criticism from the UK licensing authority (then, the Independent Broadcasting Authority) for being too American sounding and not wide ranging enough in its programming. Due to this, the senior management and output changed in mid-1979.
Its licence was later expanded in 1987 to cover Shropshire, ostensibly broadcasting from its offices in Shrewsbury on 103.1 MHz. Actually, only local news was produced in Shrewsbury, with programmes emanating from the Wolverhampton studios — although entirely separate programming for the two areas was provided during daytime hours (this was from time to time slimmed down or expanded as finances allowed).
Since January 1989, the station has been FM-only, with Beacon's former AM frequencies of 990 and 1017 kHz becoming branded as a separate service "Nice 'n' Easy Radio WABC". WABC stood for Wolverhampton And Black Country, and presumably was not meant to be confused with, or identified with, New York City's WABC (AM), former radio flagship of the American Broadcasting Company, or its one-time sister station, current Disney/ABC Television Network flagship station and New York City production center, WABC-TV Channel 7. Nevertheless, the station used the same musical logo as the New York station in its jingles. The British station was shortened to "Radio WABC" in 1992.
In 1997 the local service essentially closed, and the service was networked (bar afternoon drive time and News bulletins) under the banner of "WABC Classic Gold". This service is currently owned and operated by Orion Media as Free Radio 80s.
The company had been reorganised in the late 1990s into "Beacon Broadcasting and Communications Ltd" (BBCL) — a holding company for the company's various activities. In 1995 GWR Group plc bought Beacon Broadcasting Ltd from BBCL (leaving BBCL as a dormant company). The FM licences transferred to GCap Media following the GWR Group's Merger with Capital Radio Group. GWR re-branded the FM service as Beacon FM in 1997, before reverting to Beacon Radio 1 April 2005. The thinking behind this reversion to the 'radio' title had been floating around for a number of years within the company — new digital radios do not promote a frequency on 'FM' therefore as a 'radio' station it should be branded as such.
On 8 August 2008 it was confirmed that due to competition 'conflict of interests' in the West Midlands (and in other areas), both Beacon Radio stations would be sold by Global Radio, along with other West Midlands owned GCap/Global stations — BRMB, Mercia FM, Wyvern FM and Heart 106. In July 2009, the stations were sold officially to a company backed by Lloyds Development Capital and Phil Riley called Orion Media.
From Monday 5 July 2010, the two Beacon stations merged to form one station with the loss of separate programming and local news bulletins for Shropshire and The Black Country. Separate travel bulletins for Shropshire and the Black Country have been retained at peak times alongside advertising.
On 9 January 2012, Orion Media announced that Beacon would be rebranded as Free Radio Shropshire & Black Country, along with its sister West Midlands stations BRMB, Mercia and Wyvern. The Beacon brand was phased out on Wednesday 21 March 2012 in preparation for the rebrand, which took place at 7pm on Monday 26 March 2012. The station's live football commentaries on West Bromwich Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers matches continued to broadcast on sister station Free Radio 80s on AM and DAB until the end of the 2014-15 season.
In October 2013, the station left its Wolverhampton studios and moved to new smaller studios at Black Country House in nearby Oldbury.
In 2003, two presenters, Mark Peters and Lisa Freame, left the station after discussing the testimony of the subsequently-convicted murderer, Ian Huntley, during his trial, despite the matter being sub judice.
Local programming is produced and broadcast from Free Radio's Oldbury studios from 6-9am and 3-7pm on weekdays and from 7-11am at weekends, with the majority of networked programming broadcast from Free Radio's Birmingham studios. The Vodafone Big Top 40 is produced by Global Radio at its Capital studios in London for broadcast on 145 commercial radio stations in the UK.
Notable past presenters
- Radio Today
- Beacon Radio becomes one, RadioToday, 1 July 2010
- Beacon Radio public file
- to-be-free/ BRMB, Mercia, Beacon, Wyvern to be Free, Radio Today, 9 January 2012
- Feature: Orion's Phil Riley on Free Radio, RadioToday, 11 January 2012
- The new season on Free Radio 80s, Free Radio, 4 August 2015
- Free Radio opens new studios in Oldbury, RadioToday, 24 October 2013
- "DJs leave after Soham comments". BBC Online. 24 December 2003. Retrieved 30 December 2010.
- Official Black Country website
- Official Shropshire website
- Alan Nicklin's History of Beacon Radio
- Beacon Radio Memories tribute website
- Beacon Radio jingles
- Free Radio jingles