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The West Midlands and Warwickshire

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Xtra AM
  XTRA am
   Classic Hit Radio For The West Midlands and Warwickshire

In February 1989 the Birmingham Evening Mail announced, with the eye-grabbing headline -

"BRMB's Ross to quit"

"BRMB's Ross To Quit".  Of course this was really a bit of great publicity preceding the launch of a new radio station in the Midlands.  Les Ross had worked for Birmingham's commercial radio station, BRMB, since 1976 and had become somewhat of a household name in the Midlands.

Recent Government legislation stipulated that commercial radio stations, such as BRMB, that currently broadcast on both Medium Wave (AM) and VHF (FM), would now have to either relinquish one of the wavebands for use by other radio operators, or provide separate radio services via their AM and FM outlets.  This move, to prevent 'simulcasting', as it was called, was a measure to make much more efficient use of the limited radio spectrum (space) available for broadcasting, especially as the demand for new stations was now being recognised by the authorities.

BRMB along with all other ILR stations had a difficult choice - either close down one of their transmitters and hand the frequency to a competitor, or set up their own new service.  Nearly all ILR stations opted to hold on to all their frequencies and set up their own separate radio service.  One exception to this general rule was Leicester Sound who eventually  lost their AM licence on 238 meters (1260 kHz) to Sabras Sound which provided a distinctive Asian radio service rather than the more usual 'golden oldies' format - not such a bad thing for distinctive alternative radio.

Surrey based radio station County Sound had already made the split in 1988 by separating their station in to two services: "County Sound The Premier FM" on 96.4 and "County Sound Gold" (later named "First Gold Radio") on 1476 AM (203 meters); Capital Radio split into "95.8 Capital FM" and "Capital Gold 1548 AM".  Other stations were to follow such as Radio Trent FM / GEM AM (Great East Midlands);  GWR FM / Brunel Radio in the Avon and Wiltshire areas.  Radio City in Liverpool made the brave move of setting up a talk station on their 1548 AM frequency, but this was a costly move and Radio City had to change format to the more widely adopted format of an oldies station after a period of time.

Soon after Les Ross quit BRMB, the Birmingham Evening Mail ran this headline as a new station for the Midlands prepared for launch:

Xtra AM
    "XTRA, XTRA:  hear all about it"

             On - Air April 1989 . . . . .

Xtra Am
Pre-launch:  The XTRA AM team
Left to right:  Boss - Phil Riley, Annie Othen, Les Ross, Dave Hickman and Adrian Stewart

BRMB Radio was part of Midlands Radio Ltd at this time, and was linked to Mercia Sound in Coventry.  BRMB and Mercia Sound would hand over their AM frequencies to a new sister station to be called "XTRA AM".  XTRA AM would use 1152 kHz (261 meters) previously used BRMB, and also 1359 KHz (220 meters) previously used by Mercia Sound in Coventry and Warwickshire.   Mercia Sound became "Mercia FM" and were given permission to add a new FM relay transmitter for Leamington and Warwick on 102.9, to supplement their main 2 kilowatt transmitter on 97.0 from Shilton which was weak in some parts of these towns, now that reception via 1359 had gone.  BRMB became "BRMB FM Music Power" on 96.4 continuing with 9.8 kilowatts from Sutton Coldfield.

For XTRA AM the same programmes would be broadcast on both 1152 and 1359, although separate news were to be produced for each area along with separate local commercials for each transmitter.  The 1152 service was from the 0.8 kW transmitter, providing 3 kW e.m.r.p. directional, from Langley Mill, north east of Birmingham, while the 1359 transmitter was  0.27 kW e.m.r.p. from Shilton, north east of Coventry.


Phil Riley was to be the new station's Programme Controller.  The cost of setting up a new radio station from scratch was said to be in the region of £500,000, including new building work and engineering.  However Midlands Radio Holdings, which made a profit of £440,000 in the year ending 1987, were able to set up the new AM service on a lower budget .  The new station would be located at the existing premises used by BRMB at 'Radio House' in Aston, Birmingham.  Additional room was available in the building since a photographic company that had previously taken space had recently moved out - rather fortuitous for the station.

This meant that the launch costs would be reduced to around £250,000 running costs for the start up, £150,000 for promotion and £100,000 for a new computer system that would handle everything from accounts to travel reports.  The new XTRA AM studio was to be built on the fifth floor of Radio House and had a light and airy feel compared to the somewhat more 'worn-in' feel that the  BRMB area had. 

Since the new station would be providing Midlands listeners with extra choice on the AM band, the name XTRA AM was settled on.  The station had an ace up its sleeve for attracting listeners to its schedules - Les Ross. In fact it was Les who had suggested the name 'XTRA AM'.  Les, The household name from BRMB, would switch sides and launch the XTRA AM Breakfast show.

Also See : Hitting The Target at XTRA AM > > >


Les's breakfast show would start at 8am on the big launch day, but it would normally run from 6am to 9.30 am.  Les bought three new pair of glasses - I guess to put him in the right 'frame of mind' for the launch of the bright new radio station.

After leaving BRMB Les explained that he took a week off to re-read a book called 'Personality Radio' which he read from cover to cover again "just to remind myself of what you are supposed to do on the radio." " I have treated XTRA AM like I am starting again.  I think it is the right way to approach it."  "I am really excited, and a bit nervous and apprehensive - I haven't changed radio stations for 13 years!  I will be so glad when the first day is gone."

Les' popular slots such as 'Yesterday Never Comes' would go, to be replaced by a new 'Mr and Mrs' feature , the weekly prize was to be a free night of entertainment at the Strathallan Hotel.

XTRA AM was to be aimed at the 35 to 50 year old audience and as well as playing Classic Hits (oldies) the station would have a mini-playlist of 12 songs from the current top 40 so long as they were of good enough quality to fit in with the station's motto of "Non Stop Classic Hits".  Although XTRA AM was essentially a classic hits or 'oldies' station, the fact that the station always included some of the best new music in its output was a real plus and did make it sound fresher than some of the other gold stations that were born of this era and no doubt this helped its overwhelming popularity.

It took Phil Riley and his team six months to prepare XTRA AM for launch, and the station would go on air for the first time at 8am on 4th April 1989.

BRMB stopped broadcasting on 1152 and Mercia Sound stopped broadcasting on 1359 shortly before XTRA AM was due to go on air, during this these last few minutes a mixture of records and announcements were played during the build up to the launch of the new station XTRA AM.

Les Ross kicked it all off with a rather odd interview with Elvis Presley and then went straight into playing the Non Stop Classic Hits along with Les's trade mark jolly banter.  Local news was on the half hour and was split by frequency; 1152 in Birmingham area (read by John Hawkins) and a separate bulletin for Coventry and Warwickshire on 1359.  National and international news came from IRN on the hour.  You can download this audio from the link below:

     Xtra AM Audio   XTRA am   -   The Audio Files   Xtra AM Audio

Pre - Launch  - The build up to the start of Xtra-am - 40kbps

The Launch of Xtra-am  -  with the The Les Ross Breakfast Show  -  40kbps

XTRA AM Celebrates its first year on air with Les Ross  -  64kbps

Les Ross on XTRA AM in 1990 - Various clips of funny stuff with Les Ross in 1990  -  64kbps

Les Ross with more organised chaos on the surreal XTRAam Breakfast Show - several days in October 1990  -  NEW! November 2012
Includes Les celebrating twenty years on air and also Jim with his Caledonian Comment.
(Cassette recording courtesy Graham Hyde)

Night Beat - the overnight programme on BRMB and XTRAam 1993 -  64kbps  NEW! November 2012
(Cassette recording courtesy Graham Hyde)

Les Ross with the last Around The World Phone Call show in 1993 plus extracts of the last week of Les Ross Breakfast Show - 64kbps   NEW! November 2012
(Cassette recording courtesy Graham Hyde)

Les Ross  - extracts of the last week of Les Ross Breakfast Show on XTRAam  -  64kbps   NEW! November 2012
(Cassette recording courtesy Graham Hyde

Les Ross - Final XTRA-am Breakfast Show August 1993 - Final hour    NEW! December 2012
(Cassette recording courtesy Graham Hyde - updates my own slightly shorter version)

Annie Othen's final XTRA-am mid morning show, before moving to afternoons   NEW! December 2012
(Cassette recording courtesy Graham Hyde)

"   EX   -   TEE   -   ARR   -   AYE  .........  X - TRA - - A - M  "



Xtra AM Team
The XTRA-am presentation team, left to right:
Adrian Stewart, Dave Jamieson, Les Ross, Ted Elliott, Annie Othen, Phil Brice,  Noddy Holder and Dave Hickman

As it happened Xtra AM turned out to be a massive hit with the audience - key to this immediate success was no doubt helped the appointment of Les Ross to the breakfast show slot and the station's bright, slick and professional sound.  The presentation team was a very strong line-up.  Annie Othen was well known and respected for work on Mercia Sound and presented a very interesting morning show.  Dave Jamieson was also well known in the area, again for work on Mercia Sound in the early 1980's before he went off to launch Viking Radio in Humberside in 1984 as programme controller.  Ted Elliott was also another Mercia Sound regular and presented the XTRA AM late show from 10pm.  Noddy Holder, of course, was well known for being the front man of the hit making band of the 1970's - Slade.  Noddy presented the Sunday request show on XTRA AM.  Adrian Stewart presented the afternoon show on weekdays from 2pm followed by Dave Hickman at 6pm. 

BRMB's famous and well respected sports coverage moved over from FM to the new XTRA AM station, where Tom Ross continued to do an excellent job of local sports coverage with commentaries and his famous and unmissable post match phone-ins.

Les Ross
Les Ross with his Sony award in The Birmingham Evening Mail

After just three weeks on the air on XTRA am, Les Ross had champagne for breakfast for a second time, this time Les was celebrating winning The Best Breakfast Show Sony Award - the radio industry's  'Oscars'.   Mike Owen, the controller of BRMB, had entered Les's BRMB breakfast show, and Les received his award from fellow D.J. Alan Freeman.

The Sony Award ceremony of 1989 was hosted by Michael Aspel in the presence of The Duchess of York.  That year BRMB also won Local Station Of The Year.  Les said  "You don't get many people who receive an award who then say they don't work there anymore." The photograph above shows Les Ross as pictured in the Birmingham Evening Mail, while the photograph below is a photo card that I picked up from the XTRAam reception in Aston in 1989.

Over On BRMB FM....

Simon and Deborah
BRMB's Simon and Deborah in the Birmingham Evening Mail newspaper

XTRA AM was, in fact, such a success that it competed strongly for the audience for its FM counterparts, BRMB FM and MERCIA FM.  With the loss of Les Ross, the BRMB breakfast show required fresh new talent and BRMB's programme controller, Mike Owen, signed the relative youngsters Simon Davies from Marcher Sound in Wrexham, and Deborah Kinch, formerly of Steve Wright's Radio One show where she was affectionately know as "Delightful Deborah".  Mr Owen's choice of the bright new 'double-header' on BRMB would provide the station with the new younger audience that the newly rejuvenated 'BRMB FM Music Power' was aiming for.  Simon and Deborah were compared with the partnership of Simon Mayo and Sybil Ruscoe on BBC Radio One.  

The recruitment of Simon and Deborah to the BRMB Breakfast Show proved a good match for the station and BRMB competed very well with the BBC and its new rival sibling XTRA AM.  Although Les Ross took many of his listeners from BRMB across to XTRA AM,  BRMB did in fact retain the greater proportion of the audience according to JICRAR in its part of the overall TSA (Total Survey Area).  It was a surprise, therefore, that approximately a year later BRMB decided to move Simon Davies to a different programme slot and brought back Brendan Kearney to take over the breakfast show.  That is to take nothing away from Brendan, who was certainly welcomed back to the station as a very popular former broadcaster on BRMB from the 1980's.  Unfortunately Deborah left the station at this point, but Simon remained with BRMB until 1995.

On his website, radio industry expert Robin Valk explains: "Background:  In the late 80s, UK radio operators split their FM and AM frequencies. The Midlands Radio Group, then owners of BRMB, created a Gold service, carried on the AM frequencies of BRMB in Birmingham and Mercia Sound in Coventry, leaving the FM services to carry the existing CHR services. As Head of Music at BRMB, I took on programming at Xtra-AM, as Selector was rolled out.

Objective: BRMB was a conversion; Xtra was new build. At BRMB, the first goal was to first replicate existing programming, then introduce presenters to new methods, and finally to define new structures, working with the programme director. At Xtra, the programme structure was closely defined by the programme director, with a core repertoire tested in research. This gave a much more precise brief. From midnight to 6 am, the services shared programming output, using a mix of material that was already common to both stations, along with the most appealing repertoire from both libraries.

Approach: At BRMB there was resistance to centrally imposed schedules. This was not unusual at the time. Xtra-AM’s brand new Selector implementation was straightforward. At BRMB, the approach was to have an answer for every question or doubt. This meant an early and deep immersion in Selector. Every step was taken in exhaustive consultation with presenters. This was in fairness to the presenters, whose entire way of operating was being turned upside down. But a direct consequence was that the BRMB schedule developed more slowly as a result. Developments accelerated after Xtra’s first listening figures, which outstripped BRMB’s: this showed that well-planned programming generally appeals more that improvised output, assuming equally appealing repertoire. However, it’s worth looking at RTÉ lyric fm to see how a collaborative approach can work successfully.

Result: Xtra maintained its success for its entire existence (the station was later replaced by Capital Gold). But BRMB did catch up, as its programming was steadily overhauled to reflect listener tastes, using audience research (BP&R software). By the time Capital Radio bought BRMB and Xtra, BRMB was, for the first time, locally outdoing then national market leaders Radio 1 both in audience numbers and audience satisfaction. However, BRMB could have got there sooner."

Robin Valk was a legend at BRMB in the 1970's and 1980' and has track record of over 40 years in the industry. His consultancy company is called Radio To Go. Radio To Go offers radio production, advice, analysis and guidance from one of the most experienced programmers and consultants in Europe.
Find out more here: http://www.radiotogo.com

was a run away success for several years, it was amazing to find so many people tuned to music radio on the AM band.  The listening figures released by JICRAR (the Joint Industry Committee for Radio Audience Research) in 1990 showed that the audience reach was 500,000 listeners, an amazing total for new AM only radio station.

The overnight programme (usually 1am to 5am) was shared across the Midlands Radio group of stations; BRMB FM, XTRA AM, Mercia FM and Leicester Sound - (Trent FM, GEM AM in Nottingham & Derby were also part of Midlands Radio but I am not sure if they carried this shared programme output).  Radio Wyvern in Hereford and Worcester did carry this overnight programme, but Wyvern was not part of the Midlands Radio group.

Xtra Area
The map above shows the official coverage area for XTRA AM, though in reality the station could be heard over a much wider area including a good part of Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, North Oxfordshire, North Gloucestershire and East Worcestershire.  1152 kHz covered the west, while 1359 kHz covered the east.


It was in 1993 that Capital Radio plc took control of the Midlands Radio group, which now included Radio Trent in Nottingham and Derby, and Leicester Sound in its portfolio.  Capital, however, only wanted the Birmingham station BRMB for its Capital Cities branding, within a year it disposed of the rest to the GWR group. GWR also bought Beacon Radio in Wolverhampton and Shropshire in 1993.  GWR and Capital could no longer jointly run XTRA AM as it was split across the two ILR areas - Birmingham run by Capital and the Coventry/Warwickshire area run by GWR.  GWR would have to make their own arrangements since XTRA AM originated from Birmingham.  XTRA AM 1359 would be closed and Coventry and Warwickshire would lose their service. 

Things were looking a bit grim for XTRA AM.

A new national AM music radio station was to arrive on 30th April 1993 in the form of the Radio Authority's 'INR2' licence.  Richard Branson's Independent Music Radio consortium won this licence and launched as 'VIRGIN 1215'.  No doubt some of  XTRA AM's listeners were tempted away by this new radio station.

In a bid to rejuvenate BRMB, in August 1993 the new owners, Capital Radio, decided to move Les Ross from XTRA AM and back to breakfast on BRMB to give a boost to the ratings on their flagship FM station.  Tony Prince was drafted in for the XTRA AM breakfast show, and later the legendary Tony Butler moved back from BBC Radio WM to fulfill the breakfast show role on XTRA in an attempt to enhance the flagging ratings at XTRA.

In April 1994 GWR switched off Xtra AM programmes from the 1359 transmitter.  While still on the air on 1359 the XTRA AM presenters urged listeners to re-tune to 1152 if they still wanted to hear the station.  Unfortunately the 1152 signal came from the highly directional transmitter that beamed south-wast across Birmingham and did not allow for much overspill into Coventry and north Warwickshire - but with careful tuning and siting of the radio it was possible, however I wonder how many listeners could be bothered with this technical frustration.  In any event GWR quickly cut off XTRA AM from their 1359 transmitter when they realised that the presenters in Birmingham were trying to hijack listeners from their 1359 transmitter!

When tuning to 1359 from then on listeners could hear a repeated announcement effectively saying that 'This frequency has been reclaimed for a new radio service for Coventry and Warwickshire.'  The tape loop also proclaimed that the new station will "not be from Birmingham and not from London" - an obvious reference to those horrid XTRA AM people in Birmingham and those dreadful national stations from London.

What the tape did not tell listeners was that the new station coming to 1359 kHz would be mostly from Swindon (or Dunstable or somewhere!) - what a cheek - XTRA AM had been produced wholly from the Midlands!  GWR was to pipe in their Classic Gold network over the 1359 transmitter which included only 4 hours per day of local programming.

XTRA AM continued on 1152 kHz of course,  but to add to XTRA AM's worries another new competitor was on the way: A new concept for commercial radio was set to arrive, in the form of regional commercial radio for the whole of the West Midlands, in September 1994, the new station was "100.7 HEART FM" playing cool, laid back hits across The West Midlands and Warwickshire and in FM stereo.


Listeners were by this time finding the choice of high quality sound on the FM stations more of a lure.  The ratings for XTRA AM were gradually falling away.  Perhaps it is my cynical nature, but I do wonder if XTRA AM could have been sustained given proper management and marketing support, or did the station's owners simply allow the station to run down so that a network of Capital Gold could be put in its place at minimal cost as a relay from London with minimal local production?

Whatever happened in those last few years, the end for XTRA AM came in April 1998.  Apart from the Enduring Tom Ross, everyone else was sacked.  Tony Butler presented his last breakfast show for XTRA and then moved back to the BBC at Pebble Mill to work for BBC Radio WM. 

XTRA AM never made it to its 10th birthday.

Non-Stop Classic Hits - XTRA AM .... Stopped.

From then on 1152 kHz was inhabited by "1152 Capital Gold".  With the exception of sport at the weekend and match nights, and only 4 hours of local programmes each week-day, presented by local favourite Tom Ross, everything else came from Capital's studios located in Leicester Square in London.  The comprehensive sports coverage, including Tom Ross' legendary post match phone-ins, was retained on Capital Gold 1152. In 2004, while Tom Ross' post match phone and Friday night phone-in programmes continued, live match commentaries were quietly dropped from Capital Gold 1152 and virtually all local sports coverage and commentaries were then carried exclusively on BBC Radio WM.

By the 2005/2006 season Capital Gold 1152 and BRMB made a return to sports coverage and again covered local matches with excellent live 'kick by kick' commentaries. Tom Ross' unique and locally unmissable Friday night and post match phone-in debates remain on the Capital Gold 1152 AM schedule.





Some photo cards of the XTRA-am presenters that I collected from the station's reception in 1989:

Adrian Stewart on XTRAam
Adrian Stewart on XTRA-am

Dave Hickman on XTRAam
Dave Hickman on XTRA-am

Dave Jamieson on XTRAam
Dave Jamieson on XTRA-am

Annie Othen on XTRAam
Annie Othen on XTRA-am

Noddy Holder on XTRAam
Noddy Holder on XTRA-am

Phil Riley on XTRAam
Phil Riley on XTRA-am

Ted Elliott on XTRAam
Ted Elliott on XTRA-am

Xtra AM Team

Adrian Stewart, Dave Jamieson, Les Ross, Ted Elliott,
Annie Othen, Phil Brice,  Noddy Holder and Dave Hickman.

Dave Hickman : Well known for being "Travel" in the 1980's when he was a side-kick for Les Ross on the Breakfast Show. The pair always had some hilarious banter in the mornings. Dave went on to be a star in his own right on Xtra AM in 1989.

Sadly, in July 2013, John Slater informed me; "Hi Mike, You may not be aware, we heard the sad news on Thursday that Dave Hickman died after a short illness. We've had no more detail since then but the postings between former BRMB/Xtra folk are full of ... couldn't have known a nicer man .. true gent .. nobody had a bad word .... I refer you to Phil Riley's blog which has pretty much summed it up on behalf of us all: http://www.rileyorionradio.blogspot.co.uk/  For me, it's taken a couple of days to sink in. The memory I'll always hold onto is how happy we were 30+ years ago sitting in The Albion pub, cracked up with laughter, inventing phrases for The Wolfman. Now he's made me cry. And it's still his round. J.S."


In 2005 Capital Radio merged with GWR to form GCap Media which in 2008 itself merged with Global Radio, which also bought Chrysalis Radio in 2007. Capital Gold was later renamed "Gold",  but Orion Media (by now the owners of the Coventry, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Shropshire and Hereford & Worcester licenses) continued to relay the Gold station from Leicester Square in London, with local opt outs for sports coverage in the evening.

In May 2012 it was announced by Orion Media that a new station would be launched entitled FreeRadio 80's. Free Radio 80's would be locally produced and would replace the relay of the Gold station from London.

The service would be carried on the local DAB multiplexes in Coventry, Birmingham, Wolverhampton & Shropshire and later in Hereford and Worcester when MuxCo could launch the very much delayed local DAB multiplex in Hereford and Worcester that was initially intended to go live in 2008 but was put back to 2012/2013.

Free Radio 80's would also be carried on 1359, 1152, 990 and 1017 kHz medium wave (AM), however there would be no medium wave service to Hereford and Worcester. [* see below].

* The Hereford and Worcester transmitters on 954 and 1530 kHz were previously spun off in the mid 1990's by former owners (GWR/Classic Gold) to Murfin Music International which then broadcast a station known as "Classic Hits 1530 and 954". In 2007 Laser Broadcasting bought the station and it was renamed Sunshine Radio alongside Sunshine Radio 855 in south Shropshire and Sunshine FM in Herefordshire and Monmouthshire. Sunshine Radio in Hereford and Worcester closed the medium wave transmitter at Breinton on 954 kHz serving Hereford when their new FM service on 106.2 MHz to Hereford began. The station continued on 1530 kHz in Worcester from the Cotheridge transmitter. Unfortunately Laser Broadcasting soon ran in to financial difficulties and went out of business. Muff Murfin of Murfin Media bought back the Sunshine stations but were forced by Ofcom to close the 1530 kHz service to Worcester in 2010 due to licensing issues; it is understood that the licence was not correctly transferred between owners.
Sunshine Radio continued as normal in South Shropshire, Herefordshire and Monmouthshire.


Free Radio 80's  at  www.freeradio.co.uk/80s

95.6 BBC Radio WM

Thanks to Alan Nicklin of The Severn (formerly Telford FM) (Now Signal 107) for providing some points of detail regarding Midlands Radio and Beacon Radio.

Thank you to Tom Ross of 1152 AM Capital Gold (Now Free Radio 80's)
for additional updates.


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