The Death of Trent FM

Words: Al Needham
Tuesday 01 February 2011
reading time: min, words

For someone who grew up with Trent, its demise is unthinkable. Once upon a time, it was one of the most important assets the city had


The main commercial radio station in town may be no more, but then again it’d been on Death Row for nearly two decades anyway.  Radio Trent – otherwise known as 96 Trent FM, Trent FM, or, if you were my little sister, ‘Tren-ert’ - died the other week, and hardly anyone cared. There were no mass protests. Nobody queued up outside the Council House to sign a petition. The local forums were beside themselves in a frenzy to find an animated smiley that gave a little shrug. According to the Post, the most important aspect of Nottingham’s main commercial station being killed off by a big London corporation and lumped together with Leicester Sound and Ram FM was the fact that the Arena would have to change its name again.

It didn’t have to be this way. For someone who grew up with Trent, its demise is unthinkable.  Once upon a time, it was one of the most important assets the city had. Seeing that that statement is unimaginable for anyone reading this who’s under the age of 35, a quick history lesson is needed. Although it seems like local radio has been around forever, it wasn’t until 1968 – forty one years after the BBC first started broadcasting – that Notts was granted its own permanent sliver on the dial in the shape of Radio Nottingham (yes, there was a BBC station called 5NG that operated out of Bridlesmith Gate in the 1920s, but this was very quickly folded into the BBC’s regional network). All well and good, but Radio Nottingham rapidly established itself as your Nana’s radio station - the kind of thing you’d listen to during your Sunday dinner, rather than under the covers with a hand-held tranny, or with a radio suspended from the handlebars of your Chopper.

So when Radio Trent commenced broadcasting in July 1975 (as only the 13th commercial radio  station in the country), it was a very big deal indeed. Before too long, it had established itself as not only the dominant radio station (at its peak, one in every two people within the city boundaries were listening at some point during the week), but as one of the most widely admired, professional set-ups in the country. The average Trent playlist of the late 70s and early 80s was unrepentantly popularist, but in a time when ‘popular’ didn’t necessarily mean ‘lowest common denominator R’n’B rammell’. The DJs – which at various points included a pre-Radio One and post-Radio Luxembourg Kid Jensen and a biscuit factory DJ called Dale Winton – were a match for anyone on the national network.

Okay, comparing someone to Dave Lee Travis might sound like damning with faint praise – and it can’t be denied that certain Trent DJs were just as guilty of outright Smashist and Nicerian attitudes as their more famous counterparts – but the difference was that John Peters actually knew what Goose Fair was about and Tony Lyman could pick out Carlton on a map).

For a lot of people my age, Trent was the station you started listening to when you were too old for Radio One (i.e. when you turned twelve). Because make no mistake, when it was at its peak, Trent’s commitment to the city was huge. Not only did they have a dedicated news team, teleprinter and all, based in their Castle Gate offices, but they also had a sports department whose figurehead, the gobby, Clough-hating Chris Ashley, once packed out Broadmarsh centre when he promised to shave his head after another Forest victory. Remember, this is before Central came into being, and ATV’s news services virtually ignored the East Midlands, meaning you knew more about what was happening in Dudley and Droitwich than you did your own hometown. Radio One’s DJs used to be in the papers and on telly. Trent DJs used to get kaylide with Forest players in the Beer Keller. I know who I would have sooner been.

So where did it all go wrong for Trent? I direct you to the Broadcasting Act of 1990, which was pretty much the last successful attempt by the Thatcher government to completely shag up something that was good and actually worked. A basic deregulation of the broadcasting industry, it was described by the government of the time as the opportunity for greater media choice, when in actual fact it was an open invitation for Rupert Murdoch and other beak-wetting arseholes to ruin one of the last things the UK actually did better than anyone else, by instigating a buy-out frenzy. On a national level, it resulted in you flicking through 300 channels (all owned by about three or four companies) and moaning that there was nothing on them, and public opinion being even more swayed at a whim by an ossified Australian bastard who really needs to die soon.

On a local level, the Act was even more destructive. It was directly responsible for the death of ITV regions, resulting in Central being swallowed whole by the vastly inferior Carlton (upon whose board at the time was a certain David Cameron – the prick), who decided that Nottingham wasn’t important enough to have its own TV studios, and that the East and West Midlands were pretty much the same place and needed to be lumped together again. And it wasn’t too long before Trent went the same way – their owners Midland Radio were gobbled up by the GWR Group (owned by the Daily Mail) in 1993, who were merged into GCap in 2003, who were swallowed by Global Radio in 2008 – going from one of the best independent radio stations in the country to part of a bulk purchase who lost its sports broadcasting wing, had its local news team in Leicester Square, and lost its soul long before it lost its name.

Having a ‘local’ radio station with a blatantly Londoncentric name that broadcasts a mere seven hours of actual local content per day, which is actually shared between Notts, Leicester and Derby, four of which are taken up by the shockingly mediocre Twiggy and Emma; this is the monumentally depressing state of local media at the dawn of the 21st century, where the prevailing attitude towards the audience is ‘this’ll do, they’re only provincial’, the BBC are the only major players with a proper presence in Notts and one of the biggest truly independent local media outlets is this mag you’re reading. Which is terrifying.

The TV advert for Capital East Midlands – the one that rolls out a selection of pop gonks who have been paid vast amounts of money to say ‘East Midlands’ – promises non-stop hit music and celebrity gossip. But that’s exactly the kind of aural diarrhoea that Trent FM was squitting out as it wallowed in its death bed. That’s why its demise was so resolutely unmourned last month, and why the new company’s inevitable merging into all the other Capital stations around the country in a few year’s time will be met with equal indifference.

It’s not all gloom and doom for Notts – there’s still Radio Nottingham, Kemet FM and Gem FM – but it’s hard to imagine that one station will ever have the hold on the city that Trent had in its prime.

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