The History of
Music Radio 97.1 FM
THE BIRTH OF MUSIC RADIO 97
by Peter Ames
(Written on the 15th Anniversary of Music Radio 97 in 2007)
The year is 1990 and the NAR government has made good on its campaign promise to ‘open up’ the broadcast media. More than twenty (20) radio and television broadcast licenses have been granted. The licenses have been granted by the President, on the advice of the Minister because there is as yet no Telecommunications Authority. No new broadcast licenses have been granted since 1957.
Telerentals Ltd., via a wholly owned subsidiary Telemedia Limited, is one of the many companies who have applied for a radio broadcast license. Telerentals, who pioneered the rental of television receivers in Trinidad, has its beginnings in the year of our Independence, 1962. Its main shareholders in 1989 are Clico, who will eventually take over the company, Sports & Games Ltd., who formed Telerentals and now manage it, and Furness Ltd.
Telemedia Limited, along with many others, is granted a radio broadcast license in 1990. We immediately set off to the NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) Show to look at and purchase equipment. We settle on buying our transmissions and studio equipment from Broadcast Electronics. Broadcast Electronics make only transmitters but they can source our studio requirements at very attractive prices and consolidate everything in one shipment, which will make reduced complexity when we make an application for tax-free entry. Our contract at BE is John McDonald who is now back at BE selling digital radio equipment. Our most important hardware/software decision is to use music programming software and a computer-controlled on-air music product. This will allow management complete control of our on-air product. This is truly a leap of faith because computerized music play systems are only being used in a few American stations and there are only two vendors of the product at the NAB Show. To guarantee on-air quality and to further tighten control of our chosen music format, we buy a CD music library as our music base. All functions of the station will be computerized-traffic, accounting, news, music programming, music play and production. All traffic and accounting software runs in UNIX.
We select transmitter sites at Cumberland Hill above Fort George and French Fort Tobago. The Cumberland Hill site is just a steep slope of shale so we move a tractor on site and start to level the ridge. Our tower is an oil derrick we get out of the jungle in Guayaguayare for which we pay two thousand dollars ($2000). CCN, a new broadcast company, is looking for a site at Cumberland Hill and suggest that we share the site we are developing. We readily agree and we form a new company - Cumberland Communications. The shareholders are CCN and Telemedia. The site of the Music Radio 97 studio is to be at the Long Circular Mall, which has excellent sight lines to Cumberland Hill, good parking and security and which is owned by our principal shareholder, Clico.
In 1990 there are only two local FM stations on air, both with very loose formats and no limit on the number of commercials they will run in an hour and it is not therefore surprising that with a captive audience the advertiser and not the listener is the focus of their attention. The situation with television is worse with only a single station. Our intention is to focus on a clearly defined audience segment as determined by the American radio experience where in a competitive environment stations must make a decision about which audience is available and addressable. In Trinidad & Tobago, no broadcaster is addressing the Eurocentric audience segment, which later polls will suggest amounts to maybe 20% of the total radio audience but which must be further divided by age. This will be a music station and in order to emphasis that, we choose the name Music Radio 97 and our slogan is "More Music, Less Talk".
Music Radio 97 begins testing in September 1991 and officially goes on air on 8th January 1992. We immediately know from public reaction that we are doing something right but there are also complaints and criticisms. Agencies complain that we have no right to turn away some types of advertising; we explain that we cannot take advertising that will negatively affect our on-air sound. Advertisers are shocked that we will not take their advertising money and run their commercials after we have sold all advertising time, which station policy has set as “no more than ten minutes of advertising in an hour”. We explain that this policy ensures that the advertiser’s message gets heard and his investment in advertising pays dividends. Our policy is More Music Less Talk so we will not do talk shows even if sponsored. On-air presenters ask: “You expect me to play music that you have selected?”
The first station in Trinidad that takes the position that our most important asset is the listener is Music Radio 97. Radio stations, we believe, have two classes of customers – the listener and the advertiser but you cannot get the latter without first attracting the former. Music Radio 97 is the only local station that has targeted a particular audience, an audience that the advertiser will soon refer to as “97 people”. The very first audience poll shows Music Radio 97 as being the second most popular station but of greater importance it shows that Radio 97 can deliver a clearly defined audience segment.
None of this could have happened without people and at the risk of losing friends because we cannot include everyone, here are the persons who made a significant contribution before and immediately after Music Radio 97 went on air. David Martin and Kenrick Attale of Lonsdale Advertising Ltd. who provided the market information for our original proposal. Jean de Meillac, the station’s first Manager, who brought commercial sense to all that was done and to whom local radio owes a debt for showing that radio could get a fair price for its advertising product. And it was Jean who protected the listener by refusing advertising money after the advertising inventory of en minutes an hour sold. Archie Henry, already a legend in local radio when he joined Music radio, and who gave all newcomers a daily lesson in every aspect of radio and who assisted in developing our original proposal. The first Music Radio 97 presenter, Wade Wattley, who coached all newcomers who worked in front of a microphone and who still sounds fresh today. Allan Roffey, our first News Manager and on-air News presenter who every morning, offered a most unusual mix of news and commentary and who the audience either loved or hated. Robert Boos, who worked the early morning shift weekdays and on public holidays and who contributed so much to our on-air personality, Annette Telfer, new to radio, who learned so very quickly and who always very well prepared with information and advice. Smooth Tony Harford in the chair on Sunday nights and whose very expressive voice did almost all the Music Radio 97 promos and who shared his knowledge so generously. Vik Persaud, our Engineer, who put the equipment together and quickly, learned how our on-air play software worked in spite of the instructions coming on a single sheet of paper. And it was Vik who practically lived at the station when we first went on air. Phillip Samuel, the station’s first Sales Representative. Rehana Mohammed who set up the station’s accounts. Fazilette Farrick, Administrative Assistant and everything else that there was no one to do. Gail Grell, the telephone voice of Music Radio 97 and Faye Williams who did Traffic.
And so, on to today, fifteen years later, with thirty plus radio stations, six local television stations and over sixty channels of cable and Direct TV. How will Music Radio 97 fare in this new environment? Very well indeed, it will continue to be a big mirror where it’s clearly targeted audience can see reflected their values and lifestyles.