DJ Pierre Petrou with ‘Kiko’
ANYONE who has lived in north London over the past 40 years will have heard the strains of Greek music coming from a radio.
Go to any high street and into any tailor, deli, grocer, barber, restaurant, bakers or cab firm with a Greek Cypriot proprietor and you will have caught a Mediterranean melody played by London Greek Radio.
Now approaching its fourth decade, the independent station is a cornerstone of a vibrant and influential community – and its story is an inspiring tale of how the art of communication brings people together.
London’s Cypriot diaspora began to have a sizeable presence from 1955 onwards for reasons ranging from the economic to the political.
Greek families settled and became part of north London’s cultural landscape. One such family was that of Akis Eracleous, who DJ’d under the name George Power.
Described by Soul II Soul’s Jazzy B as “quite hard and a little bit militant, very cutting edge”, Akis played soul, funk, disco and early house music at Soho institution Crackers in the 1980s.
Friends with the likes of DJs Paul “Trouble” Anderson and Gordon Mac, he would become a founding member of Kiss FM.
George Gregoriou, known by his nickname Kiko, was a friend of Power’s and has been with the station since its inception as a pirate radio station in 1983.
“Power was a DJ who played English music and used to do disco nights,” he recalls.
“He was friends with a man called Chris Harmanda, who ran a fish shop in Finsbury Park. Chris said: ‘Why don’t you play some Greek music? Why are you playing only English dance music?’
“He liked the question, but in 1983, George didn’t have a lot of Greek music. I was collecting Greek records because I was learning the bouzouki. I’d go up the Green Lanes and buy 45s.
“We got together and said: ‘Let’s start a pirate Greek radio’.”
At the time, if you wanted to hear Greek language and songs through the ether, you stayed up late to catch a one-hour programme broadcast on long wave from Bulgaria.
“My father would stand by the window trying to get a signal,” George says.
“He’d end up outside in the street, doing anything he could, just to hear Greek music.”
By the 1980s, London’s Greek Cypriot elders had settled and had children. But there was a dislocation between a London-born generation, who spoke little Greek and their parents and grandparents for whom English was a heavily accented language picked up as an adult.
The founders saw a need for a station that would play traditional and contemporary music, had dual-language presenters, and would help stave off isolation.
It was backed by adverts for Greek businesses, and its success was such that by 1987, 85 per cent of London’s Cypriots tuned in.
When the station began, the three called round rag trade factories with big Greek workforces.
It gave them a captive audience.
“We said: ‘Put it on and you’ll hear Greek music to work by’,” says George.
“Factory to factory, the station became known by word of mouth.”
But others were not impressed.
British Telecom had the job of closing down pirates and they waged war on LGR.
“They tried to take down our transmitter every day,” remembers George.
“It would cost us, so listeners would send us letters with £5, £10 tucked in.
“I remember once they raided us three times in 12 hours – they got one transmitter, so we put up another. They came back, removed that, and so we did it again…
“We got to know them. They’d say: ‘Hi George, hi Chris, sorry, but you have to come off air’. And we’d just say no, we aren’t. On and on it went. We reckon it happened 300 times.”
It was an expensive game of cat and mouse. In 1988, an appearance at the Highgate Magistrates’ Court cost them a £13,900 fine and costs of over £10,000.
“We were faced with closure, so we held a LGR night at the Electric Ballroom in Camden Town,” says George.
“It sold out twice over and we did it again the following week for those who had missed out.”
In 1989, they were finally granted a licence.
And while LGR may have started as a voice for Greek Cypriots, it knows no geographical boundaries, says DJ and programmer Pierre Petrou.
The 1974 Turkish invasion caused divisions – but before the conflict, whether you were from the north and south of the island, there was a shared cultural heritage.
“We have had Turkish Cypriot shows,” says Pierre.
Today, LGR is listened to by Arabs and Armenians, Turkish people, Kurds, Israelis as well as the Greek diaspora across the globe.
“The UK is multi-cultural, and LGR has reflected that,” adds Pierre.
“Music unites people – we find common language through it.”
And it has helped build bridges between generations.
“Our elders felt a sense of disconnection through language barriers. LGR recognised this and created a way of dealing with it,” he says. “It gave them a daily soundtrack, stopped them feeling lonely, and brought us together.”
Such a reach has not gone unnoticed.
George recalls how foreign secretary Robin Cook was in Brussels as negotiations to bring Cyprus into the EU played out.
When the deal was done, he got on the phone to LGR’s Finchley HQ.
“I was in the booth and the receptionist said: ‘There is someone calling you from Brussels, George’.
“I had no idea who it was, so I picked up and said ‘Hello…’ a voice on the other end said: ‘Hi, I am the UK’s foreign minister. I am calling with some important news for Cyprus that I’d like to share with you first.’
“He wanted LGR to have the scoop.”