||This article possibly contains original research. (September 2010)|
|Broadcast area||Warrington, Widnes & Runcorn|
|First air date||1 September 1998|
|Audience share||6.4% (March 2010, )|
Wire FM is a British Independent Local Radio station that serves the Warrington, Widnes and Runcorn areas of Cheshire (the latter two towns belong to the local government area known as Halton), with strong commitment to local news and information. Its sports coverage is heavily influenced by carrying match commentaries on local rugby league teams Warrington Wolves and Widnes Vikings. The transmitter is at High Warren reservoir, near the A49 and Warrington Golf Club south of Warrington.
The roots of Wire FM lie in 1990 when two presenters at Warrington's Hospital Radio Station, Stephen Cooper and Philip Houltby, decided to run an RSL station for Warrington. Stephen had had previous experience of this having been involved with a Special Event Station Waves AM in Peterhead. The station was duly organised and took to the air as Warrington Festival of Music Radio (WFMR) for two weeks in May 1991. The station broadcast from a borrowed portable cabin located behind the Warrington Town Hall Gates on 1602 kHz AM.
The station was successful in both audience response and commercial respects, and further broadcasts were made in the spring of 1992 and 1993. Stephen Armstrong-Smith and David Duffy joined the management team for these broadcasts, and a 14' touring caravan was converted into a mobile studio.
During 1994, the attraction of the caravan had waned. Also, funding for the Warrington Festival of Music had decreased with its main supporter, the Warrington & Runcorn Development Corporation, having reached the end of its life. In the 1994 broadcast presenters were also heard to refer to WFMR as Warrington's Favourite Music Radio not Warrington's Festival of Music Radio anymore. The decision was made to move 'indoors', sever the link with the Festival, and move to FM. This had significant risks, as costs for FM licences were higher, and new transmitters and studio equipment had to be bought. However, the broadcast went ahead during June 1994 from a 'Community House' on Nora street in the Howley Area of Warrington, borrowed from Warrington Borough Council.
Birth of Wire FM
The move to FM saw a step change in the popularity of the station with the audience and advertisers. It was decided to repeat the broadcast during November 1994, and the decision was made to change the station name from WFMR to Wire FM, to reflect Warrington's wire manufacturing heritage. At the beginning of 1995, Cheshire was added to the Radio Authority's list of locations where 'Sally' (Small Scale Alternative Location Licences) were to be advertised. This brought new impetuous and further RSLs were run in June and November 1995. Throughout this period, programming followed an unashamedly commercial format but with regular community features and with local news supplied by the Warrington Guardian.
During 1995, with the licence application pending, the Wire FM management team had initially formed an alliance with Marcher Group to bid for Warrington. However, Marcher were dropped in favour of the Independent Radio Group PLC (IRG) following their formation and subsequent successful bid for Wigan and St. Helens as Wish FM by Tony Dewhurst and Jeff Graham, who also authored this license application. By this point Stephen Cooper had left the team, and Stephen Armstrong-Smith had joined IRG as their Regional Engineer.
During 1996, Cheshire was advertised as the location for two potential radio stations. The remaining members of Wire FM's management team, Philip Houltby and David Duffy, assembled the bid in conjunction with IRG's licence bid team consisting of New Zealanders Kris Burford and Ande McPherson. Competition for the licence was expected to be strong and significant resources were allocated to the bid resulting in 250+ letters of support being received and comprehensive research being undertaken and analysed by the most respected research organisations.
Widened coverage area
Following review of the coverage pattern predicted for the High Warren Reservoir transmitter site, the strategic decision was made to include the Borough of Halton (Widnes and Runcorn) in the intended coverage area. To strengthen the bid in Halton, John Grindley (known on air as Phil Johnson) was invited to join the bid and bring his experience of the Halton FM RSL's to the team.
There was much discussion on Widnes and Runcorn's acceptance of the name 'Wire', however the Radio Authority later indicated this was a key factor in awarding the licence. Application documents were submitted during May 1997 and the Radio Authority awarded the licence to Wire FM during November 1997.
Competing applications were :
Warrington – Warrington FM (Local Consortium with David Rodgers of Orchard FM) Warrington – Radio Warrington (Warrington Colligiate Institute lead bid backed by The Wireless Group) Halton – Fun FM (backed by The Bay)
Following the licence award, problems with securing an antenna site caused a six-month delay in getting on-air. The original space secured on the High Warren tower operated by Mercury Communications has been given to another user. By massive good fortune, Orange were in the process of securing planning permission for a new, higher tower on close by land owned by Warrington Golf Course. A deal was struck and Orange were able to offer the station the prime antenna location at the top of the tower.
The station launched under Programme Director Simon Wynne, who at the time was also PD of 1458 Lite AM in Manchester and Sales Director Mark Collins. Phil Johnson was the first voice on the station presenting the Breakfast Show. Quite aptly the first track to be played on the station was Lisa Stansfield's hit "The Real Thing". Other launch presenters included Pete Pinnington (drive) Lee McGrath (evenings), Bobby Prior, John Seddon (sport) and Tony Johnson (Sunday night).
Although Wire FM was started by the Independent Radio Group, it is currently part of UTV Media after IRG was bought by The Wireless Group in 1999, with TWG then taken over in 2005 by Ulster Television plc.
In early 2007, the station's owners approached UK media regulator OFCOM to ask permission to move the station's base from Warrington to the Haydock or Newton Le Willows area of Merseyside as part of a plan to house it in a single building with two other stations from the UTV Radio group: Wish FM (Wigan and St Helens) and Tower FM (Bolton and Bury).
The station has since moved, Wire, Wish and Tower are now all based at studios in Orrell Road, in Orrell, Wigan.