London's 90's Pirate Radio archive

The Balfron Bungee

The Balfron Bungee

It was summer, the year 2000 and a funny old time.  Pure 94 had just lost its legendary rig site, in the Nightingale Estate.  Seaton Point, the last remaining block in Nightingale, had just had its refurbishment completed and there was no way of accessing the roof after the workman had all packed up and left.  Pure 94 needed a new home and it needed a big one after Nightingale.  Bish Bash, Cleggs and Long john picked me up from my flat in Upper Clapton.  We were on a mission to get Pure 94 back on the air.

We were driving down Homerton High Street.  “Where we gonna try first then?” I said.  “We’re going to do the big-boy tonight, Balfron” said Bish.  “No way!” I replied, “the original Centreforce block; we’re never gonna get up there – iv heard it’s like a fortress!” I said.  “Don’t you worry Andy, I’ve got a magic key!” replied Bish, laughing.

As we approached Balfron Tower, its sheer enormity became apparent to me.  It was a huge, brutal monster of a tower block that dominated the Poplar skyline and in the year 2000 it was extremely run down and in desperate need of repair.

The four of us entered the block and got the lift to the 26th floor.  As we came out of the lift, I realised that the roof part was quite a bit further up.  We entered onto the main stairwell and were confronted by a huge reinforced metal door.  Bish popped two keys into two separate locks, undid the door and we clambered up.

As we walked up the stairs there was graffiti everywhere, stating the names of lots of pirate radio stations that had broadcast from the tower over the years.

A few more floors up there was another metal door.  This one was secured by magnets and had a fob-release panel.  Cleggs pulled out a home-made contraption; a square metal box the size of a packet of fags.  He held it up to the panel and click – the second metal security door opened.

We walked up onto the very small square top of the roof, which was surrounded by high concrete walls all around; resembling a square concrete cage.  The whole of the roof floor was completely covered in chopped up coax cables and snapped dipole aerials; it looked as though the DTI had a right old field day up there over the years! It was like a pirate graveyard; hundreds of radio stations must have previously set up on this block.  I had never seen so much destroyed broadcasting equipment all in one place.

“This is stupid!” said Long john, “we can’t come on from here, there’s nowhere to put the rig”.  There were four steel chimneys that ran up the side of the tower. These were used for the boiler room a few floors below.  Three of them were hot and one of them was cold.  “Let’s stick it down that pipe” said Bish, “it’s not on”.

We climbed up and started putting the rig down the pipe, quickly realising that the jack was too big and wouldn’t fit.  “See, told ya! It’s not gonna work” said Long john.  By now, we were propped up looking over the top wall, down at the chimney pipes.  “You know what?” said Cleggs, “my mate told me he used to set up on here years ago and he used to chain the rig to the metal brackets going around the chimneys right at the bottom.  Fuck it, I’m going over!” he said.  “You what?” I said, “you must be nuts Cleggs, the radio is not worth dying for”.  “Don’t worry Andy” said Cleggs, “I’ve got a harness and some rope.  You guys hold the rope from the inside and then lower me down and I’ll chain it up from the outside”.

Me and Long john stood there in disbelief.  “You’re fucking mad Cleggs” said Long john, “I don’t want any part of this.  One slip of that rope and you’re brown-bread!”  Bish said “look guys there’s nothing to worry about, we’ll tie the rope off so it’s secured from the roof from a metal hook in the concrete on the roof, so even if we can’t hold him, he can’t go anywhere!”.  “Yes” I said “but he’s just gonna be dangling on the side of the block, how the fuck are we gonna get him back up?”

During all this chat, Cleggs had already put his harness on and started attaching the rope to the metal hook.  There was no stopping him.  No matter what we said he had already made his mind up – probably in the car on the way there – he was going over the side of Balfron that night, whatever happened!

“Come on guys take up the slack” he said and before I had time to think, I was holding on to a rope with Cleggs sitting on the tiny rooftop ledge of Balfron Tower, between two metal chimneys.

“Ready? I’m going!’ said Cleggs.  He turned around backwards whilst holding the rope in front and slowly walked down the side of the tower.  Bearing in mind this tower is almost 100 metres high.

I remember there being an eerie silence as the three of us slowly fed the rope out of our hands.  After what was probably only a minute (but felt like a lifetime), the rope became slack.  “I’m on the ledge!” said Cleggs.  He then proceeded to chain the transmitter to the metal bracket holding one of the chimneys in place.  “Ready? Pull me up!” he shouted.  Our hearts were beating a million BPM and the three of us pulled on the rope.  Cleggs appeared over the ledge and jumped down onto the rooftop.  “See? No bother boys, how comes you aint got that aerial up yet?” he said.  We all cracked up laughing.

I remember a huge feeling of relief and disbelief at what had just gone on.  We made up two dipoles and found two scaffold poles that were already on the rooftop, buried amongst the ‘pirate radio graveyard’, on the roof.  We bolted it all together and then mounted a huge 30ft double stack, facing straight towards London City.

We then switched the rig on.  Pure 94 was well and truly back, smashing London and most of the surrounding counties.

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1 Comment

  1. Dev January 8, 2021

    Great story. I remember going to ballroom and seeing the two double stacks in the photo. Any idea who would have been using it at the time?

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