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Clockwork Wireless

 

 

 

In 1986 The Intrepid Birdman was getting creatively frustrated. It was 3 years since the demise of Thameside, and he was overflowing with programme ideas. He met a group who claimed to have a working transmitter, and The Clockwork Wireless Broadcasting Company was born. A test broadcast took place on Boxing Day. Unfortunately the transmitter was extremely unstable, and this broadcast wiped out all radio reception in the vicinity of the transmitter. It was wisely decided not to make any more broadcasts.

Early in 1987 a few members of the Thameside team met to discuss a special broadcast to commemorate Thameside's tenth birthday. It soon became apparent that several old Thamesiders wanted more than just a one-off broadcast, and it was quickly decided to start a new station. The Clockwork Wireless Broadcasting Company lived again.

The team consisted of Dave Birdman, Aleks Wright, Hilly Downes, Buzby Berkley, and Ian the engineer who was to appear on-air occasionally as Lance Boyle. Everyone involved respected Terry Anderson who had broadcast on Uptown Radio, and had joined Thameside for the last few of their broadcasts. Terry was contacted, and he showed a lot of interest in the new project.

Most pirate DJs would just play records, and read out a few dedications, but not Dave and Terry. Here were probably the two most creative broadcasters in the pirate world together on one station. It was a winning combination.

Ian built a 90w transmitter, and a test was planned. It would have been wise to do a low-key test in order to iron out any problems, but Dave produced a highly polished tape. The transmitter was sited in a wood at Old Redding and a low power band IV link provided a degree of safety for the operators. Unfortunately a trivial fault put the station off half way through the broadcast, however reception reports were extremely encouraging.

It should be pointed out that although all the team were keen to broadcast, their memories of sneaking around tower block roofs were not good. Thameside had been heavily targeted by the authorities and now some members of the new station had jobs within legal broadcasting; they did not want to get caught. A plan was hatched to bury a transmitter in a ventilated box and use discreet aerials. To this end a further test was planned. The transmitting aerial was to be hidden within the foliage of an evergreen tree. It was realised that the foliage would attenuate the signal so a high gain stack of 2-element yagis was produced. Dave did an amazing job camouflaging the array, and it was erected in the tree. Yet again Dave produced a high quality programme, but reception of the broadcast was not as good as the first test.

Consideration was then given to having a permanent installation at the top of a tower block. A block was found next to the A41 in Shepherd's Bush. The block had an existing PMR installation in a large metal cabinet (PMR = private mobile radio network). By chance an identical cabinet was found, and this was placed alongside the PMR cabinet. As the TX could now be powered by mains electricity, Ian built a new 175w amplifier for the transmitter which was installed in the cabinet.

By now everyone was keen to get on air, and the first complete broadcast was recorded. In spite of the amplifier design being identical to several Ian had built for Thameside, in the confines of the metal cabinet the transmitter overheated and failed. Over the next few weeks the station suffered terrible technical problems, mostly due to heat problems. A fan was installed, but that failed mid-broadcast, and there was also interference on the link from the PMR equipment. By sheer bad luck it was operating on a frequency which was interferring with the link receiver as an IF image. A filter was installed for the following week, and at last the broadcast was made without a problem.

Clockwork could now get down to the business of producing innovative creative radio. Terry would spend all week researching and scripting his show, whilst Dave spent the time recording complicated multi-track material. Aleks and Buzby produced a weekly news spot, and Hilly provided a celebrity gossip item.

Every Sunday afternoon the team would assemble at Dave & Hilly's flat in West Ealing. Hilly would provide coffee, toast and cakes, and Terry would record his programme. During his time with Uptown, Terry was frustrated by the location of the studio which was under the flight path to Heathrow. The location of the Clockwork studio was not any better, being right next to the main railway line into Paddington and his programme was regularly interrupted by passing high speed trains. Nevertheless, Terry's programmes were outstanding, and now twenty years later provide a wonderful insight into life in 1987. A regular feature on US shock jocks introduced British audiences to this genre, and regular ludicrous items from The Weekly World News provided amusement long before Britain's Daily Sport added similar stories to their dreadful newspaper. The entire team would consume their coffee and cakes, effectively becoming a studio audience - Terry didn't seem to mind the background laughter as he came out with another gem (or groan in the case of some of his jokes!)

Terry Anderson recording a programme for Clockwork

Dave would then record his hour onto the reverse of a specially modified C120, and the recording would be complete. Dave's programme would include the famous Do it yourself spot where listeners could discover the mysteries of home surgery, video nasty production and psychiatry amongst other subjects. Dave's humour and his use of music and sound effects was already legendary.

The team would then head off to a small park near to the tower block. The link transmitter was self contained in one box which included the auto-reverse tape mechanism, stereo coder and rechargable battery. At 7pm the link transmitter acessed the main transmitter and Clockwork Wireless could be heard all across London on 90MHz. The crew usually left the link TX hidden in a bush and would wait for the system to switch itself off at 9pm before retrieving the small box under the cover of darkness.

During over six months of broadcasting the DTI made no attempt to raid the station, however on November 15th some kids stumbled upon the link TX and started to interfere with it. Dave Birdman tried to discourage them but, unbeknown to him, a local resident had already called the police. When the police arrived Dave and Buzby hurriedly made their escape and the broadcast suddenly ended shortly afterwards. Fortunately the main TX site was not raided, and it is probable that the police didn't even know what they had found until they played the cassette later that evening.

The station was back on the air the following week, but for reasons lost in the mist of time, the subsequent week's transmission did not take place, in spite of the programmes having been recorded. The station just fell silent, and was never heard again.

 

The Radio Eric archive holds the following recording(s) of this station:

       

58MB

124:19 Terry Anderson looks at the 1987 election result, plus more do-it-yourself with The Intrepid Birdman. 21st June 1987

  56MB

122:43 Terry Anderson & Aleks Wright who is filling in for Birdman. July 19th 1987

57MB

121:05 Terry Anderson with a topical timecapsule from August 1987 plus the Intrepid Birdman at his very best. A complete 2 hour broadcast
  46:33 Terry Anderson from August 30th 1987
  45:39 more from the above broadcast with Dave Birdman

57MB

121:58 More from Terry Anderson and The Intrepid Birdman. 20th September 1987

 

122:29

This two hour recording was planned to be broadcast on November 29th 1987, however the station had suffered a police raid on their link site two weeks before, and this programme was never transmitted. There were to be no more broadcasts.
    

 

 

If you have any recordings or photographs of this station you can share please get in touch

 

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