How Independent Radio came to Dorset

The Centre for Broadcasting History Research, hosted a series of six public talks on broadcasting themes at the Study Gallery in Poole. Two of the talks were on topics relating to Independent Radio. Tony Stoller, former Chief Executive of The Radio Authority talked about relationship between Independent Radio and the music industry (we hope to post the text of this talk at a later date) and Emma Wray, Lecturer at Bournemouth University Media School and researcher in Independent Radio talked about the history of Independent Radio in Dorset.

Histories of Independent Radio stations are rare, although a few of stations published pamphlets about themselves, most of this information resides with those who worked in the industry, Emma Wray also worked in Independent radio in Dorset. Emma’s presentation, How Independent Radio came to Dorset, is avaiable here as a PowerPoint.

What did you do in the recession …

Economic bad news is not new. Economic crises have been a theme in the reproting of LBC/IRN, form the early 1980’s and early 1990’s. These are also the reference points in contemporary news broadcasts, will the coming recession be as bad as the 1980’s or 1990’s?

In 1981, the main economic story was the level of unemployment (audio clip) with each news broadcast reporting the growing number of redundancies and factory closures. Banking failures are not new either. The 1990’s saw the first banking failure of recent times with the collapse of Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), with the loss of 10 billion pounds (audio clip) and consequent losses to account holders (audio clip).

What’s in a name

One of the challenges of the LBC/IRN Digitisation Project is to aurally transcribe personal names without supporting documentary evidence to help in checking difficult or unusual spellings. They fall roughly into three areas:

  • prominent personalities in international affairs. Just to take one example, the Rhodesia / Zimbabwe Independence struggle. Key players frequently referred to in the news included Abel Muzorewa, Joshua Nkomo and Robert Mugabe – who course remains in the news today;
  • less easy to check are minor personalities – famous for 15 minutes, trades union officials, MP’s, local government officials, celebrities and sports persons;
  • and staff working for LBC/IRN as reporters, presenters and journalists.

The LBC/IRN team has access to good reference tools, Keesings Contemporary Archives, The Oxford Dictionaries of National Biography, The Times Digital Archive, a number of reference databases and the internet. Where electronic sources are not available they have created lists of names from contemporary directories, for example list of MP’s from the early 1970’s. The team have been able to use contacts with LBC/IRN to create authority lists of LBC/IRN staff working from 1973-1990.

Next time you listen to the news – see if you can summarise and transcribe names accurately.

Hard times and the launch of LBC/IRN

LBC/IRN launched at possibly the worst moment (1973) to start a new commercial venture, depending as it did on advertising revenue at a time when the British economy was in difficulties. This list of economic troubles included:

“The Middle East war, which led to a quadrupling of oil prices, had just begun, and the Prime Minister Edward Heath launched his controversial Phase Three prices and incomes policy. Shortly afterward, a miners strike led to widespread power blackouts, and to the country’s being put on a three day week.” (Rudin 2004, p876)

The economic pressure did not let up during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s with a balance of payments crisis (1976), strikes during the Winter of Discontent (1978-79) and mass unemployment. LBC/IRN as a company faced a constant financial struggle with difficult industrial relations. Not unsurprisingly LBC/IRN had an interest in reporting on economic conditions [ audio clip ], industrial conflicts [ audio clip ] and the growing unemployment statistics [ audio clip ]. The reporter in the last clip, John Perkins, then LBC’s industrial correspondent, went on to become Managing Editor of LBC/IRN in 1982, Editor in 1986 and Managing Director of IRN in 1989. A period that coincided with an a general economic improvement and financial success for IRN. John Perkins has also voiced his support for the LBC/IRN Digitisation Project.

References

Rudin, R., 2004. London Broadcasting Company. First British Commercial Radio Station. IN: Sterling, C.H. ed. Museum of Broadcasting Communications Encyclopedia of Radio. Vol. 2., 876-877.

Meet the LBC/IRN Project Team

LBC/IRN Team Photo

LBC/IRN Team Photo

The LBC/IRN Project Team is based at Bournemouth University. Led by Stanley Peters the team is processing digital audio from c3800 reel-to-reel tapes generating c40,000 individual clips. From left to right Colin, Fiona, Ann, Robert, Stanley, Paul and Madeleine (and  Alva missing from the photo).

Information sources for the study of the history of Independent Radio in Britain.

One of the challenges of the Independent Radio projects is to create a historical context for student and research users of the digitised material audio. The literature in this area is thin compared for example to books and journal articles on broadcasting in general, and the history of Independent Television or the BBC. There are notable exceptions, Sean Street’s A concise history of British radio (2002), Tim Crook’s History and Development of Independent Radio Journalism in Britain (1999) and Meg Carters brief history of the first 30 years of independent radio (2003). It posses a question, is it possible to research from secondary (printed material, documents and multimedia) sources a history of Independent Radio?

The answer is thankfully yes. Any researcher could start with Barrie Macdonald’s Broadcasting in the United Kingdom (1993) a comprehensive guide to the literature which includes independent radio. The other key publication which covers almost exactly the period of interest is Langham and Chrichley’s bibliography Radio Research (1989). The following is a ‘bare bones’ structure with some additional notes particular to independent radio.

Official Publications These include: Bills and Acts, White Papers, Green Papers, reports of committees and parliamentary debates. There is an exhaustive list in MacDonald (1993) and with advances in technology a significant proportion are now available online. Harder to locate are public responses to government by the broadcasting industry and the IBA. Some were issued as publications and pamphlets or published in the IBA magazines Independent Broadcasting and Airwaves.

Corporate Archives These include the archives of Independent Local Radio (ILR) Companies and those of the regulators with responsibility for radio the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) 1972 – 1990 and the Radio Authority (RA) 1991 – 2003. Unfortunately it is hard to say to what extent any archival material from ILR Companies survives. The consolidation in the ILR companies from many to a very few owners probably means that a lot of material is lost. However, in a heavily regulated industry a significant amount of material will reside in the IBA archives in the form of license applications and other types of reporting. The IBA corporate archives is complete, with a generous commitment from OFCOM to seek ways to make it accessible for research.

Publications of the regulator Annual Reports from the IBA 1973 – 1990, and the annual IBA handbooks. ITV75 is the first handbook to include information on independent radio which was fully integrated into Television & Radio 1976 – 1990. The IBA magazines Independent Broadcasting Aug.1974-Sep.1984 and Airwaves 1984 – 1990. Each issue had one or two articles on radio and included radio in articles on the general debates of the day. The two magazines had a very distinctive style, Independent Broadcasting for example included the text of lectures given by members of the IBA, Airwaves had more features and factual information.

Press and Magazine Publications Independent radio was covered by Admap – 1964 – , Broadcast 1960 – , Now Radio 1986 – ceased publication sometime in the early 1990’s and the Radio Academy’s magazine Radio 1984 – . The IBA newspaper clippings archive for independent radio, is currently deposited with Bournemouth University Library.

Audience Research Audience research data was produced by the Joint Industry Committee for Radio Audience Research (JICRAR) 1974 – 1992. The IBA Audience Research Department also conducted audience research on audience attitudes and patterns of listening.

Audio Access to audio recordings is essential to get a true understanding of Independent Radio. The three projects covered by this blog will make available online 1000’s of recordings from the beginning of Independent Radio (1973) to 1990.

Bournemouth University Library has made a concerted effort to collect publications associated with the history of Independent Radio. Although a search of COPAC shows that many publications remain in national libraries and libraries in the HE sector.

Reference

Crook, T., 1999. History and Development of Independent Radio Journalism in Britain. In: Crook, T. ed. International Radio Journalism. London: Routledge, 261 – 280.
Carter, M., 2003. Independent Radio: The First 30 years. London: Radio Authority.
Langham, J. & Chrichley, J., 1989. Radio Research: an annotated Bibliography 1975 – 1988. 2nd ed. London: Radio Academy and IBA.
MacDonald, B., 1993. Broadcasting in the United Kingdom. A guide to information sources. 2nd ed. London: Mansell.
Street, S., 2002. A concise history of British radio, 1922-2002. Tiverton: Kelly Publications.
________________________________________________________________

Felicity Wells Memorial Archive

Felicity Wells was an employee of the Association of Independent Radio Contractors [AIRC] in charge of organising the Programme Sharing Scheme. Sadly she died prematurely in the 1990s. The archive is named after her in recognition of her contribution.The scheme, organised initially by the Independent Broadcasting Authority [IBA] and subsequently by the AIRC, encompassed a concept which enabled features, drama, music and news producers working in commercial radio around Britain to offer material – including a significant body of speech-based programming produced locally – to other stations.

The information was circulated via a ‘Programme Sharing Sheet’ and programmes were copied and distributed to interested stations by the AIRC. No moneys exchanged hands and programming was thus available to less prosperous stations on a ‘quality only’ basis.

The scheme also enabled many producers on small stations to gain national recognition for their work. As a result, many subsequently progressed to distinguished broadcasting careers.

Felicity Wells wrote an article – Recent Development in ILR Programme – in Independent Broadcasting, the magazine of the IBA, describing the work of the archive. The article was written in 1984, fairly early the life of the AIRC Programme Sharing Scheme which ran from 1983 – 1990. It gives some insight into the motivations for starting the scheme, and the contributions from ILR which were considered important at the time.

The tapes from the Programme Sharing Scheme were digitised with a grant from the AHRC and are availble from the BUFVC Radio.  Requires an ATHENS Login.

Note

Copyright for the article resides with OFCOM.

What did Independent Local Radio look like?

LBC Breakfast Show c1985 - Douglas Cameron, Bob Holness and guestToday you might pick up a webcam based in a studio relaying live pictures of the presenters at work. Take a look at the Radio 5 Live web cam. An appropriate choice as the broadcasting style of Radio 5 Live owes much to techniques pioneered by LBC/IRN. In the 1970’s and 1980’s listeners would not have had such immediate access to a ‘behind the scenes’ view radio programmes in the making.

The picture reproduced from Sean Street’s history of British radio (2002) was taken in c1985. It features Bob Holness, Douglas Cameron and an unidentified guest presenting the LBC’s AM show which pioneered the use of two presenters in a partnership which ran from 1975-1985. The AM show was a key part of LBC’s output and regularly featured in LBC and IBA’s publicity together with a picture of Holness and Cameron.

“AM is the pacemaker every day. Presented by Douglas Cameron and Bob Holness on the five weekdays, its ranges from the tide times at London’s seaside resorts, through information on Heathrow flights, to national and international weather reports. These are some of the fixed points in a fast moving presentation of news and information , 6-10 a.m. Monday to Friday and 7-10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.” (IBA 1978, 153).

Another thing that helps date the photograph, at least to the right decade, is the poster with LBC’s logo and strapline News Radio in use from c1982 – 1988.

Reference and sources

Independent Broadcasting Authority, 1978. Television & Radio 1978. London: IBA.

Street, S., 2002. A concise history of British radio, 1922-2002. Tiverton: Kelly Publications.

What did IRN sound like?

The following clips are taken from the IRN Reviews of the year*. The first clip is a News bulletin and weather (audio**) from 1977.

The second clip is a collection of news items from 1991 covering the break up of the former Soviet Union (audio), focusing on the death of protesters in Lithuania, the attempted coup in Russia (Wikipedia) and the election of Boris Yeltsin (Wikipedia).

Libyan Embassy siege

These clips follow the events surrounding the siege of the Libyan Embassy (Wikipedia) in which PC Yvonne Fletcher was murdered. The first clip in the series is from the IRN Review describing the events of the seige (audio). Antonia Higgs reports from St James’ Square (audio), the report includes a recording of gunfire originating from the Embassy. The government statement (audio) announces the expulsion of Libyan diplomats from London and the withdrawal of diplomatic representation in Tripoli. Antonia Higgs reports live on the conclusion of the siege (audio). The final clip from the concudes the story of the Libyan gunman in London (audio).

*Published with the permission of LBC/IRN
**Click on links to play audio.

What’s the story …

Independent Radio News had a distinctive take on the news in the 20 years from the start of Independent Radio in 1973 to the 1990 Broadcasting Act, the time period covered by the LBC/IRN archive. One of the questions raised by the LBC/IRN Digitisation project is what news coverage were considered particularly representative of the IRN style or important to LBC/IRN journalists.

The project has access to two sources, annual reviews of the year which picked the best if IRN output and reviews produced at the various milestones for IRN. The project has just completed an incremental update of the Timeline based on a 20 year review produced in 1993 (Rose & Crook). To give a flavour of key stories:

  • The six-day siege of the Iranian Embassy in Knightsbridge – 1980 – ends dramatically as officers of the SAS conduct a spectacularly successful raid on the building. LBC reporters Malcolm Brabant and Peter Dealey capture the moment in an extraordinary ‘live’ broadcast using a mobile phone. The Guardian’s Val Arnold-Foster comments on “LBC’s  excellent, excited reports”.
  • A wave of civil disorder hits British cities. LBC/IRN reporters cover the Toxteth riots in Liverpool – 1981.
  • PC Yvonne Fletcher is shot dead by a gunman firing from the Libyan embassy in St James’s Square. She was on duty during a demonstration against Colonel Gaddafi. Antonia Higgs covered the event ‘live’ for IRN – 1984.

There are of course many others which the project hopes to identify by  talking with former LBC/IRN staff.

References

Rose, C. and Crook, T., [1993]. LBC News 1973-1993. (audio tape). London : Independent Radio Drama Productions.