The history of the Radio City Tower

Radio City Tower (also known as St John’s Beacon) is a broadcasting complex and observation structure in the centre of Liverpool. Construction started in 1965 and was completed in 1969.

The original concept of the tower was that it would serve two functions – a restaurant and a ventilation shaft to disperse the fumes from the shopping precinct that surrounds the tower.

The tower was designed by architects James A Roberts Associates from Birmingham. At 138 metres tall, it became Liverpool’s tallest building when built, edging ahead of the Liver Building.

As of 2007, the tallest building in Liverpool is the 140-metre West Tower. However, at the top of the Radio City Tower is a 10 metre antenna. If this is taken into account, then it can be argued that the tower is still Liverpool’s tallest building. In any case, it is the 32nd tallest building in Britain.

Construction

When St John’s Beacon (as the tower was then known) was built in 1969, there was a restaurant near the top. Diners enjoyed spectacular views of Liverpool and the surrounding area as the restaurant slowly revolved. On the roof was an observation platform.

The tower’s function as a ventilation shaft was never realised due to health and safety regulations that were introduced. These prevented the use of the tower’s ventilation technology.

The foundation of the building is a sandstone circle of 60ft in diameter and 17ft in depth, which starts 40ft beneath Haughton Street. The shaft of the tower is tapered and constructed from slip-form concrete.

There are 558 stairs that lead to the top of the tower, which can still be used by fit visitors. Alternatively, there are two lift shafts that allow visitors to make the journey to the top in 30 seconds.

History

The beacon was a prominent feature of the Liverpool skyline and has been the subject of much media attention. In 1977, there was a sponsored abseil down the tower to celebrate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. The abseil was featured on BBC television local news and saw between 10 and 15 people make the descent, which took about 30 minutes.

The restaurant was shut in 1979 after only 18 months in business due to health and safety concerns. These were addressed in 1983 and it briefly reopened as a Buck Rodgers-themed eatery after fire prevention measures were installed. It soon closed again, however, due to shortage of business and Buck Rogers’ waning popularity as a TV programme.

The tower remained unused for a number of years and was regarded by many Liverpudlians as “an eyesore”. In 1994, blue neon strip lighting was introduced to the tower in an attempt to hide its derelict condition and make it look more attractive, but these did little to enhance the reputation of the tower as being a “white elephant” in the city, with some finding the lights garish.

In 1999, £5m was spent on refurbishing the tower. The neon lights were removed and fireproofing was added to the stairs. The new occupant of the tower was the radio station Radio City 96.7, and the building was renamed as the ‘Radio City Tower’. In 2000, another radio station, Magic 1548, also occupied the tower. The tower is now home to Radio City, Radio City 2, Radio City 3 and Radio City Talk, all of which operate from six state-of-the-art digital studios in the tower, broadcasting 24 hours a day.

The radio studios are situated where the restaurant used to be, and offices and conference room were built on top of the studios to replace the observation platform. The weight of these buildings meant that it was unsafe to revolve the structure. The machinery for revolving the studios and offices are still there but locked down so that they cannot be used.

At the top of the tower is digital signage intended for advertising, though it has been used infrequently. In 2008 a digital banner appeared on the tower to celebrate Liverpool being the European Capital of Culture that year.

Visit the tower

In 2010, sections of the tower were opened to the general public. Lifts take visitors to a viewing gallery situated on the top level of the tower, providing stunning 360° views over the city. On clear days it is possible to see up to 40 miles away, across Merseyside to the Wirral, North Wales, Lancashire and Blackpool, as well as both of the city’s cathedrals. The mountains of the Lake District can also be spotted, and occasionally, visitors can see Wales’s largest mountain, Snowdon.

Tickets can be pre-booked or bought at the door. There are guides available to describe what visitors see from the viewing gallery and to answer any questions they have about the tower.

Visitors are able to see into the working Radio City studios to watch live broadcasts. One visitor described his experience of the tower on TripAdvisor as:

“A brilliant day out reasonably priced and with lovely, accommodating staff. Well worth the visit and with some stunning views of our amazing home city!”

In 2017, tickets to visit the tower are priced at £5.50 for adults and £3 for children, while those under five years of age get in for free. There are often special offers that provide reduced price admission for families. The tower is open every day from 10:30 am to 5:30 pm, and visitors can stay as long as they between these hours.

The Radio City Tower has a number of function and meeting rooms, including the luxurious Zoo Room. These are available for hire for social gatherings and business meetings and offer arguably the best views in Liverpool.

Radio City Tower, once regarded as a folly and a waste of money, is now a vibrant part of Liverpool’s cultural life, with the Radio City radio stations playing music and reporting on local Liverpool news.

Locals still often refer to the tower as St John’s Beacon, and in just two years’ time, it will celebrate its 50th anniversary.

Posted by Mark
September 6, 2017
General

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