The late eighties marked a golden age for UK commercial radio, albeit in terms of formats rather than finances. The then regulator, the Independent Broadcasting Authority, had decided that stations must provide an alternative service on their medium wave transmitters or hand back the frequencies, a policy dubbed “use it or lose it”.
Many stations went down the oldies route, but few did it with as much flair, style and success as Gem AM, run by Radio Trent. And one of the people behind that success is part of a team who are about to bring the name back.
Built around the moniker of the “Great East Midlands”, Gem had everything an oldies station should – resung PAMS jingles from the sixties, a feelgood style of presentation and big names of the day. Back in 1991, I interviewed Len Groat, the man who created the Gem Am brand. At the time, he explained the music policy:
“We concentrate on pop from 1958 to 1969, along with ‘evergreens’ from 1974 to 1985. The music is chosen primarily for its quality rather than chart position. We did experiment with playing contemporary tracks when we started, but they didn’t really fit in with the feel of the station”.
Len’s the best sort of radio person you can get. He’s deeply passionate about the medium, an unashamed anorak who, despite being out of the full time business for some years now, has never quite got away from the industry – most recently hosting shows for Trent Sound, a community online station in Nottingham. From his home in Portugal.
But localness – or a lack of it – isn’t an issue with the latest venture, as Len has been telling Radio Today
“We are a co-operative of highly experienced, ex-radio professionals, working on a world-wide, team basis to launch a new internet station linked to NO other service. Our station will programme music from the 40s to the 80s, with presenters from around Europe and North America and we are delighted to say it is non-commercial.”
Which is just as well, as another station took the Gem name at the start of last year. Orion Radio launched Gem 106 on the East Midlands frequency formerly known as Heart, Century and Radio 106FM. It was a bit of a coup for the boss, David Lloyd, who had worked with Groat at the original Gem AM. Perhaps unbelievably, the Gem name hadn’t been registered by the company’s new owners Global.
Len’s comments continue in Radio Today:
“I must clarify that we are ONLY using the form ‘SolidGoldGEM.AM’ (.am is the Armenian internet registration), our logo makes this very clear. We have agreed our station name after amicable exchanges with Orion Media who own the actual (UK) registered trademarks of ‘GEM’ and ‘GEM106’. As our name clearly shows, we have no connection with that station.”
The station launches this coming Monday, 5th November, and is only available online. The team are keeping their cards pretty close to their chests, but I fully expect a full set of resings from the original Gem AM jingle package (Len was a master of lyrics to fit some of the greatest jingles in the world) and – yes – the feelgood factor.
Being non commercial, it’s impossible to say how the venture os being financed or how successful it’ll be. But in terms of raw nostalgia, it’ll be worth a listen.