Asian Sound 

15 August 2001 tbs.pm/3192

In 1967, Leicester was the first location in the country to gain its own local radio station, BBC Radio Leicester, which launched on 8 November.

In its 4-5 hours of output per day, the station set out to entertain and inform the people of Leicestershire, with news and features relevant to the local community.

In the early 1970s, the number of Asians living in Leicester underwent a dramatic increase, partially due to the Ugandan expulsion. BBC Radio Leicester, at the time the only local station in the county, saw this potential audience and in 1974 started a weekly programme for Leicester’s Asian Community.

One of the pioneers of this output was Don Kotak, who lobbied for many years for the amount of Asian output to be extended. By 1980, Radio Leicester was now running an hour of Asian output every weekday, with its successful Six o’Clock Show.

In 1981, commercial radio arrived in Leicestershire with the launch of Centre Radio. It too decided that to serve Leicester’s Asian community and recruited Don Kotak from Radio Leicester to put the team together and produce the show.

The first edition of Centre’s Asian show ‘Sabras’ was broadcast on the station’s first day on air, Monday 7 September 1981. The name Sabras was chosen because it means ‘all tastes’ in Hindi, and Sabras set out to cater for everybody.

Sabras was instantly popular within the Asian community in Leicester and over the course of its life on Centre Radio was expanded from two one hour programmes a week to one three hour programme. Unfortunately, the programme came to an end when Centre Radio closed on 6 October 1983. But this was not the end for Sabras.

After the re-awarding of the Leicester ILR licence in April 1984 to the Radio Trent group, the new contractor asked Don and his team to join their station, Leicester Sound, which launched on 7 September 7 1984.

Sabras was now a daily show, on air every weekday between 8pm and 10pm, and on Sundays from 7pm – 10pm. Later in 1986, it was to be one of the first experiments in splitting frequencies, when during the week, Sabras was broadcast on Leicester Sound’s AM frequency (1260khz/238 metres) while specialist music programming ran on FM. However, the Sunday edition of the show was broadcast on AM and FM.

Over at Radio Leicester, they had noted the success of Sabras and had plans to expand their own Asian output. By the mid 80s, the Six o’Clock Show had gained an extra half hour on Fridays, and a new show was launched on Saturday nights, Weekend Bazaar, presented by Mike Allbut (Saturday being the one night when Sabras did not broadcast).

By the end of 1988, both Radio Leicester and Leicester Sound had vastly expanded their Asian output. In Radio Leicester’s case, they used the frequency splitting technique to provide a six hour Asian service (6.00pm – midnight) on their AM frequency while continuing normal programming on FM.

Taking the existing Six o’Clock Show, there were also programmes specialising in the various Asian Languages, as well as Eastern Beat, which showcased new Bhangra and dance music from Asia. This became the Midlands contribution to the original Radio 5, which had a different show at 10pm each night from the various regions of the UK.

Leicester Sound, meanwhile, had split their AM and FM services, following the Government request to stop simulcasting (broadcasting the same programme on FM and AM).

GEM AM, an oldies service also broadcast on the former AM frequencies of Radio Trent in Derby and Nottingham, was launched on 4 October 1988, and with that launch came an expansion in the hours Sabras was on air. The programme was now on 7 days a week, 6.00pm – 10.00pm Monday to Saturday, and 7.00pm – 10.00pm on Sunday.

The pattern of Asian broadcasting in Leicestershire remained mainly unchanged from this point until 1992, when Leicester Sound announced that they would be launching a 24-hour Asian service, something Don Kotak had long campaigned for.

However, the service was not to be run by him, as Leicester Sound had contracted programming out to London-based Sunrise Radio, and removed all of the Sabras staff (and the programme itself) in the process. Sunrise immediately took over Sabras’s slot on GEM AM (which Sunrise was going to replace on GEM’s Leicester frequency).

Following all this upheaval, and a few delays, Sunrise East Midlands finally launched on 15 September 1992, providing Leicester with its first 24-hour Asian radio station.

To take some of the shine off the launch, for one day only, Radio Leicester ran Asian programming on their AM frequency all day as well (lots of people complained to the BBC, demanding to know where Radio Leicester had gone!). They did stress that it was only for one day, but obviously it gave the BBC ideas.

The Leicester ILR AM and FM licences came up for renewal in 1993, and Leicester Sound bid, as expected, to continue their existing services, namely Leicester Sound on FM and Sunrise East Midlands on AM.

There were also new bidders for both licences. Jupiter Radio (backed by Lincs FM) bid for FM, and a new group, Sabras Sound, bid for the AM licence. Don Kotak and others who had worked on the Sabras programme had formed Sabras Sound, and their aim was to run their own radio station and provide 24-hour Asian radio for Leicester, as Don had envisaged and campaigned for since the 1970s.

Late in 1993 the results were announced and Leicester Sound held on to the FM licence, but lost out on AM to Sabras Sound.

The radio station launched from its new home on Melton Road (in the heart of Leicester’s Asian community) at 8.00am on Thursday 7 September 1995, 14 years to the day since the first Sabras show had been heard on Centre Radio.

Over the 7 years it has been on air, Sabras has developed a very loyal listenership (for instance, in terms of numbers of hours listening, it has one of the highest figures for any station in the country).

Over the years Radio Leicester had gradually expanded the hours of its Asian programming on AM, so it was no surprise in 1996 when the BBC announced that it was starting a new service for Asians in the Midlands, the BBC Asian Network, broadcasting on the former AM frequencies of BBC Radio Leicester and BBC Radio WM.

The station was to run 24 hours a day, with general music programmes during the day and programming specific to each Asian language at night, with the South Asian feed of the BBC World Service overnight.

Again, this has proved popular with listeners and has been expanded to other areas on AM, either 24 hours a day or for just a few hours in the evenings.

Our story ends here, but not that of Asian radio in Leicester – both stations having reached some historic goals recently.

The BBC Asian Network has just gone national on DAB and Freeview (it had been available on Digital Satellite for some time).

Sabras Radio (as it is now known) continues to grow and now provides two services on the Leicester DAB multiplex – the existing Sabras Radio and a new service aimed at young Asians in Leicester.

Your comment

Enter it below

Comments are currently disabled on Transdiffusion due to routine system maintenance.