Rock FM leaves Preston 'Rockin Church': Past and present stars and staff talk of their memories including Radio 1's Jordan North and BBC Lancashire's John' Gilly' Gilmore

Past and present DJs and staff from Rock FM  including Radio 1’s Jordan North and BBC Radio Lancashire’s John ‘Gilly’ Gilmore reunited for an emotional farewell to a converted Preston church from where they launched many of their careers.

Saturday, 7th March 2020, 12:45 pm

The station, which has broadcast from the city since 1990, will move its sales team to a new office in the city, while its breakfast show presenters will relocate to Castle Quay in Manchester.

Rock FM was based on St Paul’s Square and officially closed on Friday (February 28).

The building is no longer considered “fit for purpose” by the station.

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Former presenter Kev Seed and former Head of News Claire Hannah

Around 25 sales and support staff will move to its new city centre headquarters.

Bauer Media, who owns the station, said the move would provide a “more vibrant working environment” for staff.

More than 50 past and present staff and presenters gathered for a reunion on Friday night, including many familiar names including Jordan North, now a presenter on BBC Radio 1, Darryl Morris (now a presenter on Talk Radio and an columnist) and John 'Gilly' Gillmore and Gemma Dee (now Ray) who are both now presenters on BBC Radio Lancashire.

Familiar names and faces at the reunion, organised by Kirsty Quigley, also included Kev Seed, Simon Ross, Glen Hunt. Steve Saul and Claire Hannah, among others

Former presenters including Darryl Morris, top left, and Jordan North, top right

Derek Webster was one of the first sound engineers at Rock FM and now teaches radio skills at Burnley College.

He said: “Strange to be back among former colleagues at the old St Paul’s Church. I can’t think of another workplace that inspired so much fondness.

“The atmosphere was electric on that last day before the spirit of radio left the building forever.

“Not a sad occasion though, but one in which so many happy radio times were shared”.

Former News Editor John Barnes

SEE THE SLIDESHOW: Rock FM reunionJohn 'Gilly' Gillmore, now a presenter on BBC Radio Lancashire, told the Post: "This is the place that kick started my career in radio.

"It was a lucky break for me when the then programme controller Mike Henfield was looking for someone to cover the graveyard shift of 2-6am one week end in June 1985.

"Derek Webster who I had done Hospital Radio with at Whiston Hospital suggested me …..and the rest is history .

"It was lovely on Friday to catch up with so many different staff from all eras.

Journalist Claire Hannah

"I have very happy memories of St Paul's Square and still to be presenting on radio in Lancashire , well, I have to pinch myself!"

Simon Ross, now breakfast show presenter at Greatest Hits radio, said: "What an event last Friday at the Rocking Church, so many old friends gathering under the one roof

"Where we all met at some point during our time at Rock FM and Red Rose Gold.

"It was a night of mixed emotions, there were a few changes internally since I left Rock FM in Aug 1998 , but on the outside it’s still the same wonderful building I remember from doing my 1st show from in July 1992.

"Rock FM was an amazing period of my career

"I also met some of the funniest most talented people I’ve ever worked with, thank you for having me Rock FM."

Presenter Darryl Morris, now at Talk Radio, said: "The old church is a strange and special beast.

"You can feel the history in the walls.

"And while making a brew in the quiet, dark kitchen over-looking the graveyard at 5am was a creepy experience, for the most part it breathed life and creativity.

"It was an honour to add my name to the roll call of breakfast hosts to have done their show from that great building - having grown up listening to Adam at Breakfast and watching the place produce some of the best talent in the industry.

"It also has a strange tradition of forming relationships - and having met my partner Michaela there, we’re proud to join the long list of Rock FM couples.

"It wasn’t always easy, but I got to make radio with my best friends and was quickly embraced by the classic Lancashire warmth and charm that epitomised the building."

Journalist and presenter Steve Saul, who now works for BBC North West Tonight and Radio Manchester, said: "Very sad to see St Paul's Square close.

While the building may have gone, we'll all have our memories.

"It was the people who made it great and I really appreciate all the help and support I got learning from the best.

"Brilliant to just instantly reconnect with people after all this time."

Former presenter Gemma Dee Ray, was co-presenter on the Rock FM breakfast show between 2001 and 2008.

She famously left the station with a final broadcast on her wedding day at the top of Blackpool Tower and is now a presenter at BBC Radio Lancashire.

She said of the reunion: "We gathered everyone into reception for one last group photo and got everyone to sing the Red Rose radio jingle.

"At the end we all stood there clapping for what seemed like ages.

"Lots of people were quite emotional.

"That place was so special.

"Everyone says it. It wasn't like work. It was one brilliant dysfunctional family and every day at work was so much fun.

"So many amazing memories, careers and lifetime friendships were made there."

DJ Glen Hunt, who was a presenter at the station for five years, was unable to attend the reunion but said: " Farewell St Paul's Square.

"Thanks for the memories, the brilliant people and the opportunities you brought into my life.

Former DJ Mark Freejack said: “Thanks for an amazing 22 years.

"The church of tunes is now gone - thanks for letting me entertain your ears everyone. P.S.Available for other radio stations.”

"I never imagined that after being one of Sally Moon's junior DJs on Red Rose Radio in 1988, I'd end up being a presenter there for five years. I'm forever grateful."

Jordon North, now a Radio 1 presenter, said: "I said goodbye to the old 'rockin' church - I absolutely loved my time at Rock FM, I learnt my trade here, it was such a fun place to work and the people there were just the best!"

Journalist and former Head of News Claire Hannah said: "What a special, special, place and it's so lovely to see all the people who have such treasured memories of the church.

"We all have our own stories of our time there but seeing everyone has made me appreciate how lucky I am to have been a small part of Red Rose/Rock FM's history.

"I loved that place."

Natalie Underwood, who has worked at Rock FM for more than 15 years, even met her husband Jamie Underwood at St Paul's Square.

She said: "They often say your life is mapped out for you and when I entered the Rock FM building at the age of four to pick up a Barbie doll I won on Sally Moon's show, little did I know 18 years later I would become a member of staff at the Rockin' Church.

"The place will always hold a special place in my heart, meeting my husband, friends for life and making memories that will last a lifetime."

Former staff member Helen Clintworth said: "I had a fantastic 13 years working there (2003-2016) and made absolutely wonderful memories too.

"Met amazing people people and even more amazing colleagues someof whom are friend for life.

"Concerts, gigs, nights out, radio award ceremonies, Christmas parties, Friday bar, fish and chip lunches.. boy the stories those walls (and ghost!) could tell.

"Happy times."

(This story and pictures appears in the Lancashire Post newspaper on Saturday March 7, 2020.)