There seems to be some dispute as to when Telstar South made it's first transmission. It was either 1975 or 1976.
The initial tests were made using the name Independent Radio London South or IRLS. Some sources say the tests came from a council block in Downham with a power of 15w, whilst others say it came from Wrotham with a valve amplifier producing 100w. It is likely that the Downham tests led on to the Wrotham broadcasts, but that's supposition. A broadcast was made on Easter Sunday 1976 (April 17th) under the IRLS callsign, but the station had been renamed Telstar South by the end of May. A recording of a broadcast in February 1978 is announced as the second birthday, which would suggest that the first tests were probably made around February 1976.
One thing that is certain is that the transmissions started at 7pm each Sunday night on 92.8 MHz, and this was to be a major part of their success.
At this time Radio 1 did not have it's own VHF frequency, and would borrow the Radio 2 frequency for certain programmes. One of these was the immensely popular Top 40 show which was aired between 5 and 7pm every Sunday. At 7pm the VHF channel would revert to Radio 2, which broadcast light music in those days, and was virtually unlistenable to anyone under the age of 85. To make matters worse, Radio 1 closed down completely at 7pm, even on MW.
As a consequence there were literally thousands of people tuning away from Radio 2, usually in the direction of Capital, or LBC, neither of which were playing music at that time on a Sunday night. A large number of these listeners would stumble upon the tests from IRLS.
The operators of IRLS were astounded by the response to these transmissions, which far exceeded anything they had hoped for. Eventually the reason for the success was realised, and serious plans were made for a new station.
As most of the listeners had just sat through the top 40 chart, it was decided to play only oldies, and Britains first oldies fromat was born. The name was changed to Radio Telstar South and soon the one hour weekly broadcast was a regular feature of the FM band in London.
In the mid 70s, VHF broadcasting was more technically difficult than MW, and only a handful of stations had operated on VHF. Telsar south was the only station on VHF with a weekly broadcast in 1976 and for most of 1977.
Programmes were presented by Dave Reading, Kid Johnson, Horace Cracksman, Kenny Myers and Mark Ashton, and they continued to be extremely popular.
Broadcasts were made from the Kent Downs with a directional aerial beaming the signal into London. Reception in north and west London was not brilliant, but throughout the rest of London Telstar provided a good signal. Equipment was mobile, with the power coming from a car battery.
The station wasn't troubled much by the Post Office in it's early life, however they aroused the suspicions of the Military Police when attempting one broadcast from near to RAF Biggin Hill.
Many of the staff on Telstar South had previously been involved in RFL in 1973/74, and with the tremendous success of Telstar South they decided to re-open RFL. This left a staff shortage at Telstar, so it was decided to close the station in February 1978. Fortunately a large number of listeners flooded the station's phone line when the closure was announced on air, and it was decided to continue the Sunday evening broadcasts.
In the autumn of 1981, the Home Office started raiding London's pirates regularly, but Telstar's one hour broadcasts were often left alone, as the authorities found it easier to raid stations using tower blocks.
In the summer of 1982 Telstar started using a derelict building in Weston Street, Crystal Palace for it's broadcasts, and reception improved throughout London.
Around this time there was a massive growth in the number of pirate stations, with London's club DJs wanting to get on-air to promote their club gigs. The FM band became crammed with identical sounding stations, and soon they would take any frequency, regardless of whether the it was being used by other stations. Consequently the one hour broadcast from Telstar was often troubled by interference on or near to it's frequency. By the beginning of 1984 the situation was out of hand, and it was decided there was little point continuing, and Radio Telstar South sadly closed down.
Throughout it's life Radio Telstar South enjoyed a huge listener response. Their regular listeners remained very loyal to the station. The success of the station undoubtedly led to the large growth in the number of stations using VHF in the late 70s and early 80s.
The Radio Eric archive holds the following recording(s) of this station:
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