Out of the Light 1 

29 November 2003 tbs.pm/3196

In the beginning, of course, the one merged alarmingly into the other. Financial restrictions and the draconian regulations on needletime meant that Radio 1 had to share with Radio 2 for much of the time, after the two networks were born out of the ashes of the Light Programme on 30th September 1967.

On that first day, only 5hrs 35mins consisted of programmes being broadcast on R1 alone, and there was a lingering dissatisfaction from young listeners who had lost the offshore pirate stations (which, operating outside the law, did not have to observe the needletime regulations) and a strong continuing audience for the one that survived, Radio Caroline.

In response to this inadequacy, pirate radio continued to thrive in the late 60s and early 70s, with Radio Northsea International being jammed during the 1970 election campaign, the only time this practice, much used by Eastern European regimes to block out the World Service and Voice of America, has ever been employed in the UK.

But already by this time all the BBC radio networks had been re-organised as a result of the Broadcasting In The Seventies plan, on 6th April 1970, with Radios 1 and 2 seeming much more coherent. It was at this point that the evening programmes – broadcast on both networks, but originated by R2 – started to be listed entirely under the Radio 2 banner in Radio Times – though some newspapers, including The Times, were still listing the likes of Hubert Gregg under Radio 1 as late as 1978!

We also got a nightly hour between 6 – 7 pm on R1 dedicated to the “progressive” music (a general definition including heavy rock and folk-rock as well as what we would now call progressive rock). This musical genre was increasingly gaining a massive youthful following, but selling mostly on albums and therefore hard to fit into R1’s singles-based daytime playlist. With the establishment in October 1971 of a nightly strand dedicated to this style of music called “Sounds of the Seventies” (presenters included John Peel, Bob Harris, Anne Nightingale and Alan Black), broadcast on R2’s FM frequency as well as R1’s AM wavelength 247 metres, the network was gaining in strength.

In January 1975, though, R1 and R2 both suffered a massive setback from serious financial cutbacks at the BBC caused by the energy shortages of the time – the late-night shows were dropped, with Peel et al moving back into the early evening, and Radio 2’s programmes in the early hours were axed nearly a decade after the Light Programme had extended its hours until 2.00am (R2 would extend its transmission hours again on 3rd April 1978, and would become the first national 24-hour network on 27th January 1979).

It took some time for R1 to claw back the hours it had lost – David Hamilton’s afternoon show was broadcast simultaneously on R1 and R2 from January 1975 to November 1977, when he moved to R2 only – and even then, after R1 had launched a full mid-evening service for the first time in November 1978, its hours would be cut back again to save money in 1980.

Some of the stuffier stalwarts of the BBC’s old guard had never much liked the Corporation having to have Radio 1, and suspicions were voiced in this period – not least in the letters page of Radio Times – that it was, in their eyes, expendable – the network that was always cut back first because the management didn’t care for it.

R1 also had to face off competition from the new wave of Independent Local Radio stations, the first set of which opened from 1973-1976, the second through the late 70s and early to mid-80s. But, as the network established transmissions from 6 am – 12 midnight every day in December 1982, with limited use of R2’s FM frequency for shows like John Peel, the Top 40 rundown on Sundays, and Paul Gambaccini’s American chart show, it was seen as a great success.

Back then, in Kevin Greening’s more recent words, R1 was, in the daytime, “like BBC1 – popular mass entertainment”, and its musical credibility would emerge after dark. The ethos of “ratings by day, credibility by night” was driving R1, and few ILR stations cared so much for the credibility by night.

There was, however, a strong overlap between Radios 1 and 2 in this period – David Hamilton, especially, championed the likes of Madness, Culture Club, Spandau Ballet and Shalamar on his R2 afternoon show, while Andy Peebles had gardening tips on his R1 show, and Peter Clayton’s “Sounds of Jazz” was still on R1 in the early 80s.

Shows like Hamilton’s were not so popular among the traditional Light Programme audience, to whose tastes R2 aimed itself in a well-publicised repositioning in the mid-80s, under the controllership of Bryant Marriott, but orchestrated by head of music policy Frances Line, who declared that the network had previously been “trying to entertain everyone, from 25 to dead”, and redefined its music policy to appeal to those over 45, with an ethos of “melody, familiarity, excellence and breadth”.

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