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Thorpe Park Radio

A presenter speaks!

Every Saturday during his final year at university, Nik Rawlinson presented Thorpe Park Radio. Today. he presents The Lab on LBC (Thursday, 7-9pm on 1152 AM, London). Here, he tells us about his experiences of Thorpe Park Radio, how it worked, what they played, and why it ended. Thanks Nik!

Why Thorpe Radio ever took me on, I don't know. The demo I sent was totally unsuitable. It was a long chunk of speech, punctuated at regular intervals by hic-ups. Someone liked it, though, and in late spring 1996 I got the job.

Pay was £40 a day. Not much, especially when you take out the cost of travelling 67 miles each way, but enough to give a poor student, which I was at the time, some extra money for the week.

I opted to work on Saturdays, the busiest day of the week, while another presenter did Sunday, and a third handled Monday to Friday. We never met, but wrote notes to each other in a large red log-book book in the studio. 'Don't let levels peak above four in the Fungle Jungle', 'Please note Splashtacular showtimes have changed this week.'

For an in-house station, the set-up was fairly impressive. The mixing desk was a good five feet wide, with more channels, faders and gain and balance controls than you'd find in a professional broadcast station. Into this was fed a single microphone, two CD players and a couple of turntables, one of which ran slightly slow.
Behind where the presenter sat, a large wooden unit, about the size of a filing cabinet, served as a rack-mount for half a dozen tape machines. These played pre-recorded output to some of the queues on the top rides. Loggers Leap and Depth Charge, in particular, opted out of the Thorpe Radio feed, prefering to promote themselves rather than the rest of the park, even though their audiences were already captive.

The studios were located in what is now called Calypso Quay, looking out on the Teacup Twisters, Model World and, if you streched across the desk and craned your neck to the left, Burger King. They were two rooms, fronted by three panes of chunky glazing that weren't quite thick enough to stop you hearing guests bang on the outer window. There was enough of an insulating gap between each piece for you to safely ignore them if you felt unsociable and still get away with it though, especially if you had the music up loud.

And the music was always turned up loud. Very loud.

There was nothing in the way of a playlist. No prescribed set of tracks to be played at a certain time, apart from a general edict that after four we should slow down the pace in an effort to encourage people out of the park. We often brought in music from home, but the studio was stocked with an impressive range of material. To the left of the desk, CD racks mounted onto the wall held a range of compilation discs. A green floor-to-ceiling curtain sectioned off the opposite end of the room, which was filled with spare parts and several hundred 7in singles. Many were scratched, but there were some true classics, among them a dance remix of the Roobarb theme tune.

The most fun was the half hour before the park opened up, though, when all areas except for the entry gates were fed direct from the desk, bypassing the tape machines.

This was a chance to play loud tracks, as the team assembled at their positions and got ready for the day. The theme from the film version of Mission Impossible, practically anything by Bon Jovi, or U2's 'Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me' were common. It was a small audience, but lots of fun, and there was no need to play the jingles or ads.

The jingles themselves were very well made, and all led well into songs. They had definate start and end points, and some had no backing so they could easily be played on top of a track. One in particular, Mr Monkey asking visitors to come and see him in the Fungle Jungle, was exactly 28 seconds long, and fit perfectly into an instrumental half way through Like a Prayer.

I have happy memories of Thorpe Radio. They made me cut my hair, which was long overdue, but warned me to take it no shorter than a number four, and I got away with never wearing a uniform. There was a sticky moment checking in one morning when the people who took the register had changed, and they asked where my uniform was. I spent an anxious few minutes sitting on a bench to one side while the tried to track down my manager, but as time wore on we got closer and closer to opening time and eventually they had to let me go, in my jeans and trainers, without a shred of a Thorpe Park outfit about me.
I walked through the empty park, past the static rides, cutting by the deserted central square, and I felt I had made a lucky escape.
Towards the end of the season the days got longer as the nights drew in and the management saw it as an opportunity for a fireworks display over the lake. There was no need to tone the music down - it could be loud and fast right up until eight, after which I would slip out and join the crowd, free of any uniform, and enjoy the display like a paying guest.

I was sad when the park closed for the winter, and fully intended to return the next year if I was not doing other things by then. But when the call came the following spring it was no longer quite so appealing. The Performing Rights Society had noticed that the station was more than just background music, and as far as they were concerned it was proper radio. The music licensing fees were too high to sustain the station, so the presenters would be reduced to mere button pushers, occasionally permitted to announce a show or the temporary closure of a ride.

And so I never did go back, but the further away I get from it the more I enjoy looking back on the long hours spent locked away in a noisy room all by myself.
Thorpe Radio - the best radio station there never was.-- Nik Rawlinson

Hear The Lab, Thursdays 7 - 9pm, LBC 1152AM

View www.nik.co.uk