The seeds of HLR were set several years previous of the stations first broadcast on Sunday 6th November 1988.
In the mid-eighty's a pair of young lads spent much of their spare time, when not at school or work, experimenting with radio transmitters on the FM & MW bands. Although at first they worked separately in their endeavours they soon met and combined their knowledge and experience to launch a small pirate station called R.N.L.
R.N.L (Radio Night Life) broadcast primarily from one location in Crouchfields, Bengeo. These two intrepid radio pirates were Nigel James and Neil Forbes. Between them they gathered a small group of aspiring DJ's and ran a low powered but popular weekly broadcast. At one point it became so popular that Neil Forbes got into trouble with his parents when people kept stopping them in the street to pass on their thanks for requests played on the radio. Unfortunately for Forbes his secret little radio station ran from his bedroom had it's cover blown wide open.
At this time RNL was plagued with transmitter problems due to everything being home built and information on the technicalities of radio broadcasting being hard to come by. Most of the FM transmitters used at the time were crude one transistor oscillators which were highly unstable and required constant nursing. We did, in the latter days of R.N.L, start using a more complicated design with a multi stage output producing up to 3 watts of output signal, but even these were extremely temperamental.
In late 1987 Neil Forbes parents decided that a house move was on the cards. The chosen destination was on the South side of town but nicely positioned on a hill with good broadcast potential. The move happened in September 1988 and a new purpose brought shed was built to house the station.
H.L.R Was Born
With the move to a new location an exciting breakthrough was made. A member had made contact with a prolific rig (transmitter) builder in North London. After a train ride into London and a £50 deposit a deal was struck. A week later and another £135 lighter two members collected what was to be H.L.R's first transmitter. This was a stable multi staged linear amped design with an output of 12 watts.
With the new location and transmitter it was decided to start afresh with a new name, after joint deliberation we christened our new station Hertford Local Radio (HLR for short). Our aim was to provide a bit of everything for everyone, we wanted to be a community focal point, to do some good and make a difference.
So between September and November we set about turning our shed into a studio and producing a jingle package ready for launch day. Initially we decided on fortnightly Sunday broadcasts so as not to attract too much attention from the Radio Investigation Department or what we simply referred to as the DTI. We didn't have expensive studio to transmitter links to keep us safe from arrest, if we got caught we stood to lose everything.
While the studio would be based in our shed at the bottom of the garden we had a good lookout vantage point at the front of the property from a bedroom. An intercom link between the two was established so if necessary the DJ could be warned of an impending raid and then it was their responsibility to shut down the studio and race across the garden to where the transmitter was install in an old outhouse. There they had to disconnect the power and aerial then hide our precious rig as best as possible.
Our new location had an added bonus, next door was an abandoned bungalow, the people who lived there had divorced and just walked away from the property in the late 1970's. It was overgrown and very creepy, looking through the window, you could still see the table laid out for dinner and kiddies toys strewn about the floor, but to us it was a God send.
The garage next door was very close to our boundary and conveniently had a hole in the roof within easy reach of our side of the fence. We craftily mounted our aerial mast so it was sticking out from said hole with the coaxial feed to the transmitter draped over the fence. From the outside world it was obvious that the aerial mast was not in our property. In the event of a raid our plan was to disconnect the aerial lead from the rig, throw it over the fence, hide the transmitter and deny all knowledge of pirate radio. As it happened years later the plan did actually work!
Launch day arrived on a bitterly cold day that was November 6th 1988. The rig was switched on at 4am to give it a chance to warm up before shows began at 6am.
Neil Forbes opened the station with his breakfast show running til 9am. The first track played was The Commodores with "Easy". The broadcast progressed smoothly without a hitch, 9am-12pm was Leigh Davis, 12pm-3pm was Nigel James. From 3pm was non-stop music as we were short on DJ's then Gus kicked the evening entertainment off at 7pm with the house show til 10pm where Jammin M done the Hip Hop show til close down at 1am.
The first day was deemed a success with plenty of good feedback making the effort involved all worthwhile. Two weeks later the second broadcast was another success with other potential DJ's making contact enabling us to fill the gap in the schedule with our latest recruit "Rusky on the Radio".
Despite the popularity of the broadcast many of the DJ's felt we should be on air every week, it made sense but of course it doubled the risk of a bust. After much discussion it was decided that we would indeed go on air every week but running a reduced schedule with shorter shows between 4pm and 1am. This worked well with an action packed evening of shows covering all types of music from 60's to Hip Hop.
After a massive poster campaign in the town centre our popularity was at an all time high until our first scrape with the law which put pay to our ever growing egos.
We knew we were on borrowed time, due to a transmitter fault we were forced to use a higher powered rig (40watts) over the Christmas period of 1988 which, of course, drew more attention to our presence. One weekend we even moved the transmitter to another location and pre-recorded all shows in an attempt to put the DTI off the scent.
One weekend in early January 1989 before programmes started at 4pm we carried out a few audio tests, during these tests we also played some white noise (radio hiss) to give the impression we were using a studio to transmitter radio link rather then running hot (rig & studio at same location). That little action may very well of saved our bacon that day.
Leigh Davis kicked off the programmes at 4pm while Forbes & James took on the job of surveillance from the front bedroom. Having prior knowledge of what car was currently being used by our regional DTI inspector it was still a surprise to see two DTI officers drive up the road and then circle the green outside of our property with one officer holding a hand held direction finding device. Nigel immediately ran to the transmitter while Forbes warned his bemused parents not to answer the door. After disconnecting and hiding the rig Forbes and James checked the situation out front only to discover that the DTI had disappeared. It was only then that they remembered poor Leigh Davis was still sitting in the shed doing his programme blissfully unaware as to what had just happened.
Later that day after meeting up with the other DJ's in a local pub we concluded that the DTI were preparing for a raid and finding our location was obviously the first step in preparation. The other thing we concluded that day was that we needed a new method of operation.
We didn't want to sacrifice doing live shows but neither did we want to be arrested, so it was decided that for the time being we would operate from public land, more precisely a wood. We choose a piece of woodland in Bengeo, behind Desbourgh Close. It was hard work but at least we would be reasonable safe. The aerial was mounted up a tree with the transmitter sitting in a nearby bush powered from a car battery. Programmes were recorded onto cassettes in advance and played in the correct order via a personal stereo plugged into the transmitter. The only danger periods for us were switching the transmitter on and off plus doing a tape change every two hours. At the end of a broadcast everything was dismantled and taken to a safe place until the following week.
It soon became public knowledge that we were not broadcasting from the address we gave out on air for correspondence. In fact it appeared that the local police did spend some time watching that address in Wellington Street until they too concluded that we weren't stupid enough to give our location away that easy. However due to an unintentional breech in security it had become known where we were broadcasting from within the local youth circles. For that reason we moved our location again to a great site within Morgans Wood at the top of Queens Road. The signal coverage from our new home was fantastic, we blanket covered Herttford and consistently received signal reports from as far a field as North London and Bishops Stortford. We later changed our broadcasts to Wednesday evenings as we felt the middle of the week lacked entertainment and most other pirate stations were inactive.
The Broadcasting Revolution
It was during one of these woodland broadcasts that we had an unexpected visitor. Legendary radio engineer and DJ from London's R.F.M and Alice's Restaurant Phil Thomas, had recently moved into the area and decided to meet the local pirates. He tracked us down and made his friendly presence felt, later becoming one of the main engineers of the station.
Quite by chance a few months later one of the crew happened upon a disused sports pavilion not a million miles away from Morgans Wood. Returning under the cover of darkness we found the back entrance to the boiler room was open and best of all it had mains power, so along with our new engineer we hatched a plan.
A week on from that at 3am one morning four H.L.R members erected a Jay Format broadcast aerial and a Band III receive dipole both mounted on the pavilion chimney stack with the coaxial feeds going through a hole in the roof into the boiler room. Two weeks after this all the aerials were still intact so we decided to install our new modified rig.
Studio To Transmitter Link
The transmitter now had a built in Band III receiver, when said receiver detected a signal it switched on the transmitter which then broadcast whatever audio was being received. This enabled us to have multiple studios in different locations all equipped with Band III link transmitters which could then activate the pavilion broadcast rig sending live programmes out on air. The implications of this system were amazing. It meant that each studio was on air for only one or two programs before switching to another studio for the next DJ to begin his show. Throughout a broadcast nobody ever needed to go near the main transmitter and no studio was on air long enough to be tracked.
For the next few months the system worked a dream. On Wednesday nights we broadcast pop, commercial dance and Hip Hop. Friday nights was H.L.R Gold playing hits from the 60's and 70's and Bank Holidays we done everything. As you can imagine our popularity grew once again, but as with all good things it must come to an end.
Things were getting a little heated. Our signal was doing well and in the process had upset another pirate station using the same frequency in Essex. Apparently they made an attempt to remove our transmitter but failed to gain access to the boiler room thinking that the rig was inside the main pavilion. When they found it wasn't there they gave up and went back to Essex.
Luckily for us we had acquired an inside contact within the DTI. We were aware that we had rattled some cages but prior to a Wednesday broadcast in early September 89 we received notification that they were coming to get us that night.
In the true spirit of pirate radio we decided to continue with the broadcast regardless. Normal programs commenced and apart from a few on air digs at the DTI nothing unusual happened. It got late and Jammin M was on the air so Forbes and James decided to pay a visit to the transmitter site to see if anything was occurring. They carefully approached the site on foot observing from a distance that all seemed well. Confident that nobody was around they made their way round the back of the pavilion to the boiler room where all was found to be intacted. The broadcast ended at 1 am without incident.
The next evening upon testing the transmitter failed to work, after trying from two different studios, and still no sign of life, we feared the worse. After a few phone calls and some hastily made arrangements three members met up and visited the pavilion. From a distance it could be seen that the aerials were still there but arriving at the boiler room we found all was not well. Our transmitter was gone the aerial feeds were cut and all that remained was the mains plug which was once attached to the power supply, it was now lying on the ground outside the door.
A few years later when being held in custody the DTI informed one of our members that they had asked the headmaster of whom the pavilion belonged if he wanted us found and prosecuted. The headmaster declined their offer stating that he admired our ingenuity and enthusiasm towards what he considered to be a worthwhile cause.
Rig-less in Hertford
After the bust the station was left with a network of studios but no transmitter site. It wasn't long before a new transmitter was constructed along with another Band III studio link receiver, we just had to find a new location.
After being spoilt with the pavilion we set about trying to find a new site with power. We drove around on and off for weeks looking for the perfect place and at times it seemed hopeless. Christmas 1989 H.L.R made a return for the holiday period with recorded shows broadcast from Morgans Wood as a temporary solution and to maintain an on air presence.
After Christmas we thought we had found the solution. In Bengeo we found a tree with a nearby lamp post. The plan involved mounting the aerial as high as possible in the tree, the transmitter and receive aerial would be lower down but above head height and then a mains cable run through the undergrowth to the lamp post where it would be connected to the lamps fuse. It wasn't the best setup being surrounded by houses and it took a little persuasion and a lot of beer to convince the chief engineer of it's viability.
The install was done during the early hours, it was tough going being bitterly cold and the tree covered in ice. We parked a car in front of the lamp post to give us some cover from prying eyes but unfortunately it didn't stop use being spotted by a resident who saw enough to know we were up to no good. They didn't say anything but we had a bad feeling about the situation.
The next day a short test was conducted, it didn't last much more then half an hour before the fuse in the lamp post blew blacking out the entire road. That evening the crew returned and fixed the fuse only for the rig to fail when tested later on.
A few days later it was noted that the Police were in the area making enquiries regarding the recent activity. Everyone decided it was best to abandon the equipment for the moment and see what happened.
On the morning of Saturday 24th February 1990 Rusky was rudely awakened by two Police officers at the front door. He was taken into custody and shortly afterwards Nigel James wiped the sleep from his eyes to find Police officers standing beside his bed. Soon Nigel found himself in the Police cell next door to Rusky. Phil Thomas was next and also had to suffer the indignity of having his house searched for radio equipment. He then ended up completing the hat trick of radio pirates occupying Hertford Police Station with only one suspect still on the loose.
Neil Forbes was, at the time, doing some overtime at work. A message was sent via Rusky that he had to present himself at the Police Station the next day or a warrant would be issued for his arrest.
All four of the crew were interviewed by both the Police and two officers from the DTI over a period of many hours the end result being six charges per person.
One charge of Criminal Damage (to a lamp post)
One charge of Taking Power Without Permission (electric to power rig)
Two charges of Installation of Transmitters (Link rig & main transmitter)
Two charges of Using a Transmitter without a License (link and main rigs)
It wasn't long before the broadcasting begun again. Due to the delicate legal situation the name of Radio Anorak was used more as a defiant stand against the authorities then anything else.
Before too long everyone received a letter from the Police informing them that the two criminal charges regarding the lamp post were being dropped as the electricity board were not interested in taking it further. In-fact later on we found out that Eastern Electricity found the whole escapade extremely amusing.
While the Radio Anorak broadcasts were being made we were contacted by the two arresting Police Officers. They asked for a request , which we duly played, and they informed us that in future should they find any more rigs they would let us know first before informing the DTI. It seemed that to their credit they now understood what we were all about.
Unfortunately it didn't seem that the DTI felt the same way. We were repeatedly raided at our new Stonyhills Woodland transmitter site losing a transmitter every week. On one occasion they took a transmitter off air at 11.57pm one Sunday evening. Two station members decided to venture to the site after allowing an hour for the DTI to go. They arrived at 1am, switched on a torch once at the appropriate tree only to find three DTI officers sitting on the ground waiting. Needless to say they both managed the four minute mile back to the car where they sped off with no lights on to prevent the registration being logged.
Off To Court We Go
Almost six months after the arrests court summons were received via recorded delivery. After several adjournments the day of the trial arrived in November. To mark the occasion Radio Anorak took to the air for the duration of the court appearance. It was so ironic that while waiting to go into court the DTI officers sat with us in the waiting room along with the confiscated transmitter and aerial. At the same time only about 3 miles away Radio Anorak was broadcasting away merrily. Before being called into court we did politely ask for our transmitter back but for some reason they refused.
The outcome between all four members was 11 court appearances and a combined fine and court costs of £3,150.
H.L.R is Back
Christmas Day 1990 H.L.R was back. Both live and recorded programs were broadcast from our original Hornsmill studio on both 101 FM at a power of sixty watts and also simulcast on 105.4 FM from Morgans Wood.
Back to the Woodland
1991 began as a quiet year after the Christmas return. During the majority of the early to middle part of the year broadcasts where sporadic although some experimental Europe wide Short Wave transmissions took place.
Being somewhat cautious, programmes were live from two different studios which were Band III linked to the FM transmitter at Morgans Wood. The Short Wave transmitter was installed in a site near Waterford Heath, it's audio feed was courtesy of the FM rig about 3 miles away.
Our cautious method of broadcast was justified when in early November 1991 the DTI carried out another raid on Morgans Wood confiscating the transmitter and aerial but thankfully no station members were caught.
About this time the rave scene was really taking off so as the end of 1991 approached the station had re-grouped and come Christmas H.L.R Dance was born.
H.L.R Dance was Born
For Christmas Day 91 a temporary studio was set up within the loft space of a previously unused property. This was then linked to a new transmitter in Morgans Wood via Band III, we had by this time changed frequency to 101.6 FM. The transmitter was only of low power due to it having to run off a car battery but the siting of the aerial next to an open field gave a fantastic take off with good reception reports coming in from all over Hertfordshire and North London.
Christmas Day, Boxing Day and over New Year rave music blasted out unhindered always live and with a great public response. After the holiday period the studio was moved to a new location at the bottom of Port Hill. The big old detached house was known locally as the Cottage. It was rented out cheaply to students of whom now made up a large part of H.L.R Dance.
Broadcasts were done live on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. The popularity was such that it even lead to a rave at the La Prision night club in Stoke Newington High Street on the 29th of February.
50 Calls To Many
During one weekends broadcast the station had the use of a pager number. The messages flowed in thick and fast until late on the Sunday evening it suddenly went quiet. The next day we found out from the pager company that we had crashed their computer system with the volume of calls. They told us that in the last 10 minutes, before the crash, we had over 50 calls. They wasn't very impressed and told us we would have to employ a dedicated operator if we wished to continue using their service.
Needless to say with the popularity of the broadcasts another raid took place. On Sunday 23rd of February (a week before the rave) the DTI confiscated the transmitter late that evening. Luckily the studio was left alone but the authorities made their displeasure known by vandalising the aerial and leaving it in some kind of symbolic gesture with the snapped off radiator element embedded in the ground.
With that so came the end of a short lived but popular H.L.R Dance.
And Let There Be Light
After so many busts and the financial fall out of the court case, staying out of the clutches of the law was something that was always at the forefront of our operational methods. The perfect set up involved never being in the presence of a transmitter while it was live and obviously the transmitter being on public property. So it was with this criteria in mind that we came up with a new method of operation.
Using at first a 'light sensitive transistor' then later on a 'light dependent resistor' we developed a design of transmitter which would switch itself on at dusk and off again at dawn. Using this method we would broadcast on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights without ever having to be near the transmitter while it was on-air. Programs were recorded, one for each day, then played via a Walkman at the transmitter site. During the day the tape would be changed while the transmitter was off air, then come the evening the station would be back on with a new show for that evening. On Mondays the car battery would be removed, charged then taken back on Friday ready for the weekends broadcast.
We used this method from multiple sites around Hertford and suffered another two busts in March 1992 one from Morgans Wood and another from Stony Hills.
From Then Til Now
Between 1992 & 2007 H.L.R broadcast from many other sites around Hertford including Archer Springs, Saddlers Field, Blakemore Wood, Lady Hughe's Wood, Ware Park, The Warren and Brookside.
Further shortwave transmission were made using multiple frequencies and many experiments were carried out on medium wave. The low power FM transmitters were developed to the point where they were so small and power efficient they could be powered by two D cells, all of which could be hung below the aerial high up within a tree totally invisible to the passer by.
With the internet and the early days of streaming H.L.R Potion (a mix of Soul & Jazz) used the Destiny Broadcaster software to stream music and programs to the world during the early 2000's. The limitations of the system were always going to be a problem, sometimes reception was not dis-similar to listening to Radio Luxenburg fading in and out on 1440 KHz MW.
H.L.R has never officially closed down, many of the people responsible still live within the town, so maybe, just maybe Hertfords Local Radio might one day be back.
Disclaimer - The written descriptions herein may be pure fiction or pure fact, but whatever they are, they may not be used as evidence either for or against anyone.