Beacon car crash 

17 August 2015

Note: the document here contains casual racism, racist language and sexual swearing. Proceed with caution.

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When Independent Local Radio (ILR) first began, there was usually only a 24-hour service from the stations serving the biggest cities – London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow and so forth. Further out in places like Wolverhampton, Middlesbrough and Peterborough, your local ILR station was likely to be off air before 2am, and often before midnight. There was not thought to be the money to broadcast into the small hours outside of the metropolitan areas.

But people loved their ILR stations in a way we’d find difficult to imagine now. And they wanted more from them. Beacon, serving the Black Country from Wolverhampton, was on the receiving end of a large listener campaign to switch to a 24/7 service. They did what many of the “second tier” ILR stations did (Radio Tees, Metro Radio and Hereward Radio all did something similar) by extending their hours out with the addition of a phone-in at the end of the day.

Phone-ins are inexplicably popular with listeners and are very very cheap to make, so radio stations love them. Even BBC Radio 4 has phone-ins like Any Answers? for exactly those reasons. But most radio stations put a producer – or at least a broadcasting assistant – between the presenter and the phone bank. The producer’s job is to weed the nutters and the bores out of the callers (it’s pretty easy to do, too – they give themselves away quickly) and leave the interesting, thought-provoking and eccentrics to make it air. The queuing system this causes also helps weed out the weirdos and the pranksters, who are less inclined to hold on the line for 10 minutes or so, or to give their number for a call-back.

If you do a phone-in on the cheap, you get rid of the producer and have the presenter self-op, picking up the phone as it rings and putting the callers on air directly. This is what Beacon appear to have done in April 1979. The result is a complete car crash of a programme. It’s actually very very funny to read (if you can get past the racism, which isn’t) but the Independent Broadcasting Authority were not amused.

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