Radio launches 1 

15 August 2001 tbs.pm/3181

The earliest launch I can remember was that of Radio Caroline in 1964. I was only 8-years-old at the time but my father told me that a new radio station was starting and got me out of bed before 6.00am to listen. We had a respectable Murphy radio with ‘Bandspread’ which expanded the top end of medium wave from 187-210m which made tuning in to Radio Luxembourg very easy so we had no trouble finding 199m. I clearly remember the stations signature – a ship’s bell – and the announcement: “This is Radio Caroline on 199 – your all-day music station.” but beyond that my memory fails me.

Back in 1964 we would have found it incredible that just three years later the BBC would not only relaunch all three of their existing radio stations but create a fourth: ‘Wonderful Radio 1’ on 247m. Perversely there was little enthusiasm from the public for the new stations – the younger generations were still extremely resentful at the enforced loss of the offshore pirates. The reasons given by the government for the introduction of the Marine Offences (Broadcasting) Act seemed like unbelievably flimsy and petty excuses, quite at odds with the ‘Swinging Sixties culture. Naturally the older generations were also resistant to the changes assuming that a decline in standards would be the inevitable result.

Radio 2 started first at 5.30am. on 30-Sept-1967. Paul Hollingdale was presenting Breakfast Special, which was just the same as it would have been if it had still been the Light Programme and it was almost as if nothing had happened, which is probably why very few people recall this side of the double-headed coin. What everyone does remember is that just before 7.00am that Saturday morning the controller of R1/2 Robin Scott said a few anodyne words, they played George Martin’s wonderful new theme for Wonderful Radio 1 which he’d called ‘Theme One’ and then at 7.00am ex-Radio Caroline DJ Tony Blackburn started on 247m, playing The Move’s ‘Flowers In the Rain’ as his first record.

Listen to a Light Programme trail for R1 by Kenny Everett

Listen to Paul Hollingdale opening R2 for the first time

Listen to Robin Scott introducing George Martin’s Theme One

Listen to Robin Scott introducing Tony Blackburn who then opens R1

Blackburn was a sad choice of presenter, I thought. One of his trade marks was cracking irritatingly dreadful jokes but he was obviously the kind of public-school educated chap whom the BBC establishment regarded as sound and and safely uncontroversial. Blackburn’s show ran for an hour and a half before the two networks rejoined and Leslie Crowther took over as the presenter of Junior Choice.

The inhabitants of Leicester did not have to wait long for the chance to hear another station opening. On 8-Nov-1967 BBC Radio Leicester was the first of a group of eight ‘experimental’ FM-only BBC local stations which were to open. The stations trade test transmissions probably consisted at first of a relay of BBC R2 followed, nearer launch date, by a pre-recorded mix of music jingles and trailers.

Listen to BBC Radio Sheffield’s signature tune, composed and realised by John Baker of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop

Listen to two short extracts from BBC Radio Leicester’s opening which clearly demonstrate the ‘1950s formality’ which was still the norm

The BBC local radio experiment was always going to be a success and, after the first group of eight, more stations were gradually brought on air. BBC Radio London launched on 6-Oct-1970. Test transmissions on 95.3MHz consisted of relays of BBC network radio – mainly R2.

Essentially BBC Radio London was little different from any other BBC local station. They regarded London as one big community and broadcast an even-handed mix of public service information, features and music until they closed on 7-Oct-1988.

Listen to The Radio London Song written and sung by Tom Vernon and featured in the station’s first programme

Listen to Tom Vernon remembering the early days of BBC Radio London and their studios in Hanover Square

The next major launch was that of the first Independent Local Radio stations. The first to launch were the two which had been awarded franchises for London by the Independent Broadcasting Authority. The IBA determined that London’s news station, the London Broadcasting Company, would launch on Tuesday 8-Oct-1973, followed a week later by London’s general entertainment station, Capital Radio.

Both stations ran trade test transmissions for several weeks before launch under the auspices of the IBA. These consisted of a repeating cycle of pre-recorded pop music. the music selection was very appealing, establishing a tradition that local radio stations would invariably turn out to be a great disappointment compared with the trade test transmissions which preceded them. Unfortunatelely the quality of the tapes degraded markedly with the repeated playings and got very dull and fluttery towards the end!

LBC opened unfussily with the experienced voice of David Jessell, with Ken Guy reading their first news bulletin and their first commercial spot being taken by Birds Eye.

Capital Radio’s opening, at 5am on Wednesday 16-Oct-1973 was, by contrast, quite a grand affair. The first voice we heard was that of the station’s chairman Richard Attenborough and this was immediately followed by Malcolm Arnold’s majestic arrangement of the National Anthem. This in turn led into Capital Radio’s own signature tune.

Listen to the opening of Capital Radio as described above

Listen to a Capital Radio trail, voiced by David Symonds promoting their opening daytime schedule

The first presenter on Capital Radio was David Symonds, who later went on to work as an announcer on BBC R4.

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