Havant’s Angel Radio celebrates two decades of nostalgia
The unmistakable voice of Dame Vera Lynn singing ‘When you’re up to your neck in hot water, be like the kettle and sing!’ trills out from the radio, a 1940s classic from the Forces’ Sweetheart.
Just before that song, DJ Tony Smith plays not one but two versions of the Anniversary Waltz, requested by a couple in Purbrook to mark 60 years of wedded bliss.
It's not the kind of music you’ll hear on any other radio station. And that’s exactly what Tony was aiming for when he set up Angel Radio.
The nostalgia station, which only plays music released before January 1, 1960, (apart from a specialist show) celebrates 20 years on the airwaves next month.
In that time Tony has gone from broadcasting from the top of a block of flats in Somerstown, Portsmouth, to building a small studio in Market Parade, Havant. Keeping it afloat has cost him his marriage, his home and his health.
But does he regret it? ‘Not for a second’ says the 64-year-old with a big grin.
Even a devastating fire in 2015 couldn’t knock the station off air. Within months more than 150,000 records had been cleaned and the studio was rebuilt.
Perhaps it’s because most of the listeners – and all of the presenters and volunteers – are elderly that the station is imbued with the wartime spirit of a hardy generation of Brits.
Angel can be found next to BBC Radio 2 on the radio dial, on the internet and on DAB.
Emails flood in from listeners as far away as New Zealand.
In reception, answering the telephone with a song in her voice is 74-year-old retired librarian Anne Billingsley.
Remarkably, she moved here after falling in love with the station while living in Rhyl, Wales, with her late husband.
They enjoyed the shows so much they bought a house in North End and she now has her own show, the Monday Club, with Pete Cross and Joan Adams.
When she’s not on air she’s answering phone calls from listeners.
She says: ‘In Wales I’d have Angel on permanently in two rooms so I could hear it wherever I went in the house.
‘Every year my late husband and I would go to America on holiday. One day I said to him, “this year I want to go to Havant instead!”
‘We turned up at the station out of the blue and didn’t want to leave.’
The couple moved to Portsmouth four years ago and Anne volunteers at the station daily.
‘The atmosphere here is great’, she says. ‘It’s fantastic to be here. We’re a big family and it makes you feel that you’re part of something very special.’
Working alongside her is Joan, 83. She’s been involved with the station since 2001 and when she’s not answering the phones and looking for records, she is the voice of the Good Morning show from 7.30am until 8am.
‘I play records to wake people up’, says Joan as she sorts through the records looking for a request for the Wireless Waffle show with Pete Cross.
‘My favourites are Doris Day, Frank Sinatra and Glenn Miller.
‘I love the Good Morning show. I think it’s the contact with the listeners I enjoy most. It’s a free phone number so we get lots of callers and you get to know them very well.
‘Most of our listeners are elderly, in fact, some of them are ancient. One is 105!’.
There is a packed 24 hours of programmes and a typical day will see shows such as Coffee Time Exercises, Best in Country Music, Boogie Woogie Greats, Fab 50s and Vintage Comedy.
The presenting styles are perfectly – and at times hilariously – natural. You’ll hear the odd bit of coughing and spluttering, perhaps a little set-to between the presenters, and a technical hitch here and there.
But that’s what makes Angel Radio so charming.
One of the most popular presenters was Audrey Anderson, who died in September, aged 94.
Tony chuckles as he recalls her faux pas. ‘When she was 93, said “dog’s b*llocks" three times live on air – but only because she had no idea what it meant.
‘She said, "I have been sorting through some of my late husband's belongings to take them to the charity shop and I found a bottle of wine called Dog’s B*llocks.
“That's a funny name for wine, Dogs B*llocks. What does Dogs B*llocks mean?"
‘Dear old Audrey often fell asleep mid-programme and her co-host, Mark Ross, would carry on until she woke up.’
Tony’s love of old-time music came from listening to his grandmother’s records.
Once he had hit upon the idea of a nostalgia station he put it before everything else, including his marriage.
Following several strokes – which he believes were caused by the stress of keeping the station running on a shoestring – Tony survives on disability benefit in sheltered housing.
But even that hasn’t persuaded him to give it up. He struggles through, relying on donations – including a couple from The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards – bequests, programme sponsorship and fundraising because the station is so important to him.
He says: ‘It has been a hand-to-mouth existence, constant stress.
‘But I would do it all again. It’s so important to people that I think the struggle is worth it.
‘There is a huge problem with loneliness in this country, especially for older people.
‘For many Angel Radio is a lifeline.
‘I have absolutely no regrets.’
Find Angel Radio at 89.3FM, on DAB radio or listen live online from angelradio.co.uk.
Pop in for a cuppa – the door’s always open
Tony and the volunteers at Angel Radio operate an open door policy.
Listeners are welcome to drop by for a cup of tea and a chat, and a tour around the studios.
Many donate while they are there and can choose a programme to sponsor.
There are regular ‘pay to play’ days where listeners can pledge money to have their favourite song played on the station.
And there are regular live performances from local singers and bands.
As well as songs, the station provides much-needed information to elderly listeners, giving advice on where to get financial and disability support.
There is even a daily exercise programme encouraging listeners to do gentle movements to keep mobile.