Sunday, 23 November 2014

The Victory Roll - The Rise, Fall and resurrection of Radio Victory

Mention the names 'Victory' and generally they will think of Lord Nelson's Flagship with a lot of Portsmuthian residents and radio enthusiasts they will think of it as the name of the radio station that brought commercial radio to the South Hampshire, West Sussex and the Isle of Wight in 1975.

Although with its studios in Fratton, Portsmouth and as the ILR franchise for the city itself. The actual reach of the station took in Southampton as well, making for a pan-Solent approach to programming to cover both cities in news, sport and music as well. With the spread of local radio both via the BBC and Commercially throughout the county, Victory itself was seen to be the competitor to Radio Solent which had started in 1970 finally bringing local radio to the South of England.

In both style and content BBC Radio Solent and ILR's Radio Victory were competing on the same territory, bringing a mixture of music, chat, sport and local personalities. Such with each of them employing staff and DJ's who would go to either station at one time or another. A prime example was Kenny Everett who syndicate a show to Radio Solent at the start of the 1970's, but by the mid-seventies was syndicating one to Radio Victory.

At the time of launch in October 1975, the station had a feeling of want to be part of the community it served and it was little wonder that Victory built up a very loyal audience against Solent and was even topping the BBC's national music stations with the emphasis towards including the community as part of its programming. In particular 'Radio Victory News' looked at all aspects affect local people from planning issues to more deeper debates into local politics. With the area at that time which it served including the Naval Dockyard, never did this come into more deeper focus than in 1982. With job cuts to the workforce at the Naval Base and also the Falklands War as well. So the station during the period of the conflict went to a twenty four hour operation to cover the latest news, keeping locals up to date with breaking stories all the time.

For all its entertainment, Radio Victory was not afraid to try new things in its schedule with 'Navy News' reflecting the city's maritime links, during the first week of broadcasting, presenter Eugene Fraser partook in a live daily reading of Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations. This showed the link between Dickens and the city of Portsmouth where he was born. Alongside high culture sat 'The Wibbly Wobbly Wireless Show' presented by children and aided by focussing on what they liked in their day to day lives, plus for older teenagers '7-teen' looked at the issues effecting them.

In Victory playing pop music, its output reflected all types of music including Country and Western, Rhythm and Blues, Heavy Metal and Rock as well as championing new music with these programmes becoming hugely popular, not least 'Folk-Us' with local artist Shep Woolly looking the local and national folk music scene on a weekly basis. For all this success, the station one by one dropped these programmes to become a pop music station to reflect what other Commercial radio stations were doing in the early to mid-eighties. With pop music being such a big part of the output, this meant that they had their own chart show called 'Victory Roll' based on the sales at the local Co-Op department store years before there was a commercial radio chart show of any kind.

Though for being commercially successful did mean that what Radio Victory had done so well in its early years had simply vanished leaving the new DJ's to come through and form new careers for themselves. But this left the station unpopular with the IBA, with one of the problems, the station serving two major cities where as most ILR contracts served one major town or city and its surrounding area. The problem of what to do had reared its head once again, the feeling was that the IBA thought that Radio Victory was somewhat ignoring Southampton, although Victory was the holder of the contract for Portsmouth and not the Solent area as a whole. Somewhat the West Sussex problem had been solved with the launch of Southern Sound in the early 80's, but in this period rather then keep Radio Victory in place and advertise for a new Southampton contract, it was decided that Victory would be stripped of its contract and have it handed to Ocean Sound who were given a bigger area including the city of Southampton to start in October 1986.

Though where as most people would think that would be the end of the Radio Victory name, but one major world event made the station reborn again.

In 1994, the city of Portsmouth became the major focal point for the commemorations for the 50th anniversary of the D-Day landings and the city's 800th birthday, the new station called Victory FM was set up by Mark Samways and Kevin Huffer to be able to cover these events with the city's then Lord Mayor Alex Bentley gave space in the city's civic offices to allowing the service to go on the air for a twenty-eight day restricted service licence. This sewed the seeds for the service to be broadcast over Christmas 1994 and in June 1995 for the 50th anniversary of D-Day both times with RSL Licences.

The name Radio Victory was re-given to the service when it was broadcast on cable television and for temporary FM licences such as to cover the UK Special Olympics in Portsmouth, with the success each time, six further RSL licences were used between 1994 and 1998. When a new ILR franchise was issued to the Greater Portsmouth area, they won it and started to broadcast from September 1999. Though with the station was taken over by The Local Radio Company in late 1999, many of the original staff who had re-set the new permanent station having left the company meant there was a whole change in personalities at the start of the year 2000.

At the turn of the new millennium in not being able to grab a foothold against more established local rivals, meant that Victory re branded twice in a couple of years before Portsmouth Football Club took a major stake in the station allying it to the club itself allowing the station to have the financial support at that difficult time, but when the football faced financial problems themselves this meant that when the station was sold to Celador's radio arm who took the station and made into to the southern offshoot of its Breeze station combining with stations from Winchester, Southampton and Haselmere.

The name of Radio Victory may have gone from radio dials, but the spirit and enthusiasts will live on for a name which meant radio in the city of Portsmouth.

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