Radio in Cornwall 

15 August 2001 tbs.pm/3184

Plymouth Sound first went to air on 19-May-1975, and although targetted exclusively at the city, the signal from the AM transmitter could be received far and wide, across most of the Eastern half of Cornwall, and along most of the south coast until you got to Lizard Point. Because it dealt mainly with Plymouth, very little of their output had anything to do with Cornwall, except perhaps an odd reference to the Torpoint Ferry. It would be almost 8 years before Cornwall got a station that it could truly call its own, from the BBC.

17-Jan-1983, is a very famous day in broadcasting history, as that is the day that the first regular national breakfast programming arrived on TV in the form of BBC Breakfast Time. I remember that very well, I was watching it that morning at 6.30, I was in our living room, and I remember the titles and music very well. But I didn’t just have the TV on at that moment. I also had a radio with me, with headphones, so that I didn’t disturb my parents, because just over half an hour earlier, I had put the radio on to listen to the launch of Cornwall’s first dedicated local radio station, BBC Radio Cornwall.

I remember hearing the station theme for the first time, back then, and I wish now I’d had the foresight to record the launch and hold onto it. But I was a kid of 9 coming towards 10 years old, and all I really cared about was just enjoying the moment. The station theme was very memorable, and as I recall was in use for about the next 8 or 9 years after they launched, and I still remember it pretty well today, even after 8 or more years of disuse, and no recording of it to aid my memory either.

Prior to that, all of our local news had to come from newspapers, television, and a BBC Radio 4 opt-out of Today called Morning Sou’West. For less than an hour a day, during the Today programme the South West of England opted out of network Radio 4 to put on a local news and information service for the South West. Then from lunchtime, regional television picked up the baton, with 4 bulletins during the rest of the day, Lunchtime, Mid-Afternoon, Spotlight in the early evening just before Nationwide, and after the news at 9pm. And that was the South West’s newsday in terms of radio and television prior to the arrival of both BBC Radio Cornwall and BBC Radio Devon on the 17th January 1983.

In those early years, BBC Radio Cornwall and BBC Radio Devon did share some programming, such as Afternoon Sou’West, Devon and Cornwall’s debating forum, Saturday Sou’West, the home of the region’s sports coverage, and later, Late Night Sou’West, which was completely separate from the rest of the output.

Imagine that, a radio station stopping transmission at 7pm. Of course in those days, like the rest of the BBC Local Radio network, BBC Radio Cornwall took Radio 2 when they weren’t broadcasting. But unless you were in the South East of Cornwall, you had no choice in Local Radio. In the South East, you could pick up Plymouth Sound, but elsewhere, there was just Radio Cornwall as the only local station. If you were lucky, like me, you could actually pick up BBC Radio Devon too.

Thankfully, choice in your Local Radio listening was to come about. In 1991, the new Radio Authority decided to licence a commercial radio station for Cornwall. Eight consortia bid for the single licence. Most of the applicants proposed local programmes from 6am to 7pm, a sustaining service outside those hours and local news only at morning, lunch and afternoon drivetime slots, not hourly. Two applicants, though, attracted my attention, but both for very different reasons.

One consortium, calling themselves Cornwall Sound FM, caught my attention first. I wondered if they were anything to do with nearby Plymouth Sound, who at that time were co-owned by GWR and Capital Radio. As it turned out through reading the application document, they were. Now at the time, both Plymouth Sound and Devonair were co-owned by GWR and Capital Radio, with both stations linking together to provide a sustaining service. Under the Cornwall Sound FM plans, Cornwall Sound would broadcast locally produced programmes between 6am and 2pm, then linking up with Plymouth Sound until 7pm, with news and advert opt-outs.

Then it would join the sustaining service from 7pm, overnight. At the time, I felt this devalued the service to effectively the status of an opt-out. Radio in Tavistock provided a Breakfast opt-out, before linking back to Plymouth Sound. Similarly South West 103 was an opt-out of DevonAir at breakfast, before linking up at 10am. So I felt, that this wouldn’t be a good service for Cornwall.

Another consortium that was bidding for the license was Cornwall FM. They were the only consortium proposing hourly local news from 6am to 6pm, and local programmes until 10pm. The consortium went into a lot of detail about the tempo and format of each of their programmes and even presentation style. I still have some stuff I photocopied from that application.

Cornwall FM were just a group of local businessmen who had an idea for a radio station. And their application was, I felt, the best. It didn’t devalue Cornwall for radio, something BBC Radio Cornwall hadn’t done either. Neither was it, to my mind, too ambitious, unlike another consortium I remember which despite only offering local news at morning, lunch and afternoon drivetime slots, proposed 24 hour local programming with a multitude of presenters, something in the recessionary climate of the time I felt was quite desirable, but very impractical, especially for a brand new station.

In late October of 1991, the Radio Authority gave the go ahead to the Cornwall FM consortium and in less than 6 months, on April 3 1992, Pirate FM launched to the waiting world of Cornwall. They initially provided 18 hours of presenter led programming and 6 hours of computer driven programming all locally from its base in Pool, Redruth. These days, they still provide 24 hours of local programming most days, except for 5 hours on Sundays from 2pm to 7pm, which is up on their initial 3 hours a week on Sundays, but nowadays they have presenters for 20 of those 24 hours on weekedays.

It was around the time of Pirate FM’s launch that Radio Cornwall decided that it was going to go after an older audience with talk based programming and very little music. This meant that Pirate FM was going after the 25-54 audience whilst Radio Cornwall were looking at the over 50’s. You might think it was a bit of a cosy duopoly, neither station really looking to compete with the other for audience, just sticking to the audience that they could go for most easily.

But it wasn’t quite that simple. Some people felt that Pirate FM wasn’t commercial enough, not going for the 18-35 audience but a broader 25-54 audience, whilst others felt Pirate was too commercial. Some people felt Radio Cornwall was too boring, whilst others felt it really should be all-talk and no music. To some people, both stations felt like compromises.

I did expect that when laws were passed to allow Restricted Service Licence radio stations, that Cornwall would be one of the areas that suddenly and strongly benefited from it. The range of opinions and ideas about both BBC and commercial radio meant that surely some consortia were going to try for a licence down here to try to influence the current local stations. But for years, nothing. Not one single RSL station started up. I was expecting the first one in 1994, a couple of years after Pirate’s launch, but again, nothing. In 1997, I was beginning to think that all the opinions I’d heard were just that, opinions, with nobody looking to put their money where their mouth was.

Thankfully in 1997, that changed with Live 105. Live 105 was Cornwall’s first RSL station and nobody knew what to expect. What they got in Truro and “Central Cornwall” was a dance music based station with some top 40 stuff in the daytime, and a continuous dance mix every evening and through the night. The organisers considered the station a success but I don’t quite see it that way.

Yes, I could see that to Cornwall’s youth, a dance music station would appeal, but when it had such luminaries as an ex-Pirate FM presenter called Eliot Turner, who, unfortunately for him, had an awfully monotonal voice, presenting on the station, and presenters who were too personality minded to let the music do the talking sometimes, it was never really gonna work properly. But it did introduce RSL’s to Cornwall. I personally felt that Newquay would have been a better area for Live 105, not Truro. But Live 105 was the first RSL in Cornwall and although I was disappointed with it, I felt that more would come and better would be heard.

Progress on the RSL front has been very slow. In 1998, we had our first event RSL, Tall Ships FM, which ran for 28 days around the time of the Tall Ships race start in Falmouth. I wasn’t involved in the station but I was involved in the on-site Public Address for the event, and we quite heavily promoted the station. In 1999, Newquay got its first local RSL with Malibu Surf FM. A service very much aimed at both the tourists and the local people, Malibu Surf FM provided relevant local information, including Tide times, surf conditions and traffic news, and dance music, very much in keeping with a town who’s success is based very much on the local nightclubs.

Indeed it was so successful that the station returned in future years. 2000 also saw a project based RSL, called Red Youth Radio in Redruth, but again it was the wrong type of station for the location. Also it was too much of a mixture of music to be a really viable station idea for Cornwall. In 2001, we have again had 2 RSL’s. Malibu Surf FM in Newquay, and CK-FM in Falmouth. CK-FM was a trial service, playing what they called Pure Gold Music, but with a fair amount of talk as well, not unlike what BBC Radio Cornwall used to do in the 1980’s. Local News was provided at 2 minutes to the hour with IRN on the hour.

There was also a programme called the 7 o’clock Session to provide local bands a chance to have their music played on the radio. Whilst some of the ideas were great, others weren’t and the presentation was at times just a little too relaxed and not professional enough, but all in all, the station actually doesn’t sound bad, and just might get another RSL licence before the Radio Authority would consider applications for a “community” licence in Falmouth. So Falmouth, Truro, Redruth and Newquay have all seen RSL’s since 1997.

A total of 7 licences have been issued since 1997. Considering the mixture of opinions I have heard since Pirate came on air, only 7 short term stations is in fact a little bit disappointing, considering the opportunities that have regularly presented themselves as being suitable for an RSL, and locations such as Truro and Redruth, that would benefit from the right station for the right audience. Falmouth and Newquay seem to have found their niches in my view, Truro, Redruth and other towns need still to find theirs.

Overall, when it comes to Local Radio, Cornwall has in my view faired relatively poorly compared to other places where there have been RSL’s for many more years and plenty of stations that have come about from them. In the south west, both South Hams Radio, and Quay West Radio were originally RSLs, and there are plenty more nationwide.

Also, Cornwall has yet to benefit from DAB, and the increase in stations that brings, although having seen DAB licences awarded in other areas, I do not hold out much hope for a real extension of choice. Cornwall, like the rest of the South West has also yet to benefit from a regional service, unlike our Severn Estuary cousins, who have Galaxy 101.

I also note that at the last check there were no plans for regional DAB for the South West. I do feel that Cornwall and the South West would benefit from regional services. But plans for such services are not forthcoming. I’m afraid that as far as Local Radio in Cornwall goes, overall, it’s a poor C- bordering on a D+. Could definitely do better.

I was just two years old when local radio first arrived in Cornwall, and that radio station wasn’t even targetted at the area.

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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3 responses to this article

Dean Moore 17 January 2012 at 10:33 pm

An interesting article,

In fact it is nice to hear a little positivity towards Malibu Fm the brain child of Andy Laming (over a pint in the Red Lion), to which i presented a show, then over the following years my job was to manage the station (with no media experience) just a local knowledge of what we felt was needed.

Those sunny days of rushing around with kit barely used since WWII dusting down and taking calls, broadcasting from bars and clubs, the beaches and even a clothes shop for the newquay take on “Blind Date”.

All in all, the station was right for the time and could be dug from the grave for a new lease of life soon.

Who knows?

But i will say thanks to everyone for getting on board and having fun in the sun,!!

P Shaw 31 January 2012 at 4:42 pm

Hmm a very interesting article I think.

I’ve been going to Newquay and south west for many years now and was down there in my early twenties when malibu surf fm came about. I thought it was very apt for the area and increased the good vibe in Newquay delivering a feel good factor. Before the station came about I was very surprised at the lack of options for radio listening in the south west particularly Newquay. I still check every now and again on the net to see if the radio station has made a come back either on the net, radio or dab but unfortunately it hasn’t. Even now I think the station would work very well. Just thought id put my point of view in as I return to Newquay at least once a year and would love to hear malibu surf back on the airwaves as I think lots of others would too.

Thanks

Paul S

(Manchester)

Colm Connolly 2 October 2014 at 4:17 pm

Just a correction:-

Before “Morning Sou’West”, radio listeners in Devon, Cornwall and The Channel Islands were served news, current affairs, local topics and music by a Monday-Friday programme called “Midday Parade”. I was its presenter.

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