Going local 

12 September 2016 tbs.pm/9410

From the BBC Handbook for 1968

localradio68 3The BBC is sometimes criticized for daring to take risks. Certainly it would have been safer not to start local radio. We knew that before we began. The difficulties have been as great as we estimated; overcoming them has been fun. We believe the adventure will prove to be worth while.

When our first local station, Radio Leicester, began broadcasting on 8 November 1967, followed shortly afterwards by Radio Sheffield and Radio Merseyside, we had started an exciting public experiment in eight communities. The other five, opening early in 1968, are Nottingham, Stoke-on-Trent, Brighton, Leeds, and Durham.

The Government will decide sometime in 1969 whether the experiment has been a success and whether to extend local radio to a hundred or more other communities. The Government will ask: Has the experiment shown that local radio benefits a community? Has it informed and entertained people about the town in which they live? Has it opened their eyes to the defects, achievements and aspirations of their city ? The only way of getting ‘yes’ to these questions is to broadcast news and other programmes of such compelling interest that people cannot afford to miss them. Local radio must both inform and entertain. It must do all that a local newspaper does and more, for a newspaper cannot print the human voice – the warmest and most expressive medium of communication.

Local radio must be without fear or favour. The fact that a local body may be helping to pay the station’s costs must not affect editorial impartiality. In each of the eight experimental areas, the Station Manager is advised by a Local Radio Council of citizens who represent the main interests and activities of the locality. It is their duty to be frank about the policy and content of the broadcasts. But only one person can take the final editorial decision. That person is the Station Manager or his deputy.

The relationship between the Station Manager and the Local Radio Council is a fascinating feature of the experiment. No constitution regulates this relationship. The experiment will show whether this sort of alliance between the BBC and a community is a success.

An important question to be answered in 1969 will be how local radio should be financed. During the experiment the BBC pays the capital cost of setting up the stations, an average of £35,000 each. The running costs – staff salaries, news services, programme costs, rent, maintenance – are just over £1,000 a week in each station. The bulk of these are paid by the local community. This is just. A community that wants its own radio station should pay for it. A community that does not want it need not have it.

Daily Express, 17 May 1967

Daily Express, 17 May 1967

Who in the community should pay? The local municipal or county authority is the biggest source of revenue, but local industrial firms also contribute. Even the widow’s mite – from educational, cultural and religious organizations – is proof of goodwill.

There will be no revenue from advertisements during the experiment. That is forbidden by the BBC’s Licence. Whether advertisements on local radio should be allowed is a problem to be decided by the Government after the experiment. Most local newspapers have now turned firmly against commercial radio, because it would rob them of advertisement revenue. This is one reason why most of them are actively helping the BBC experiment. But that is not the only reason. A BBC local radio station is a co-operative venture by all who matter in a community, including its newspaper.

One important problem we have to solve is that, owing to congestion of the medium wave band, local radio can be heard only on VHF sets. This is inevitable, whatever certain propaganda says to the contrary. VHF is the radio of the future. The public and manufacturers are realizing this. The local radio experiment should increase the sale of VHF sets – by how much it will be interesting to see.

About five million people live in the areas of the experiment. Roughly half listen at least once a day to radio. About a million people in the experimental areas listen either on VHF or by wired relays. We therefore expect a big audience for local radio, especially at the peak listening times of breakfast, lunch and early evening. Then local news, weather, traffic conditions, every sort of information and advice relevant locally will be broadcast with friendly informality.

The majority of us in this country lives in provincial communities. The BBC must be where people live. What happens in our local community is a big factor in our happiness. Important things have often been done locally without our knowing about them. Local radio will expose these to the light of day. They may be scandals, they may be achievements, they may be proposals that should be known to the public. Local radio is an extension of democracy.

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The Bishop of Leicester, where we opened our first station, called it ‘the biggest change in our local life for many decades’. Its effect, he said, ‘might be not less than the coming of the railways more than a hundred years ago’. Whether he is right depends not merely on the BBC but on the local community. It is their station. They will do most of the talking. The Station Manager is their servant. To a large extent each area will get the local radio it deserves. That is the big test in this adventurous experiment.


Donald Edwards was General Manager, Local Radio Development, at the BBC.

You Say

3 responses to this article

Paul Mason 13 September 2016 at 4:35 am

I never heard Radio Merseyside until 1973 and as indicated by the Daily Express clip most radios had only Medium Wave or Long Wave. Eventually Radio Merseyside got the 1485 KHz frequency (advertised as 202 metres). Only as the 1970s progressed did VHF/FM radios become more common and by 1977/the Mason household succumbed. Local radio both BBC and ILR couldn’t wait for the FM boom so AM was needed. RM is still on 95.8 MHz and still has the 1485 AM but other BBC stations lost their AM frequencies. On RM sometimes Liverpool FC may have a match on FM and Tranmere Rovers on AM for example. Radio Merseyside did do interesting and educational programmes in the 70s and 80s but now only has so-called strip shows, with the now veteran Roger Phillips lunch time phone in. Oddly enough Radio City lost football commentary rights giving RM a monopoly, sometimes via BBC 5 Live.

Paul Mason 14 September 2016 at 6:20 pm

The buzz word used in the late 1960s and 70s.was ,”community” but the areas covered by LR were larger than the word community defined. Radio Blackburn for instance became BBC Radio Lancashire. BBC Radio Stoke covers Staffordshire and SE Cheshire. BBC local radio has always been a poor relation and with BBC finances tightening looks increasingly threatened. There have been calls for a BBC Radio Cheshire but this looks further away than ever now. The county is split between Merseyside, Manchester and Stoke BBC stations.
The BBC did experiment with more localised radio in Greater Manchester with BBC Radio Wigan and Bolton but were not pursued.
So BBC local radio covers regions rather than distinct communities.

garry robin simpson 14 September 2016 at 7:45 pm

I am 51 years of age now,living in The New Forest When I was 7,8,9 years of age on B.B.C. Radio Solent they used to transmit programmes from Radio 1 for 2 hours weekdays and up to 5 hours of B.B.C. Radio 2 at the weekend. Partly to save money but mainly so you could listen to B.B.C. Radio 1 on F.M. during weekdays. HAPPY DAYS! In the garden with a bottle of pop and a bag of blue salt shake and eat crisps. Or sometimes a drink called Splash Down were you would put a powder in to cold water. Orange,Lemonade Strawberry and the like.Thanks for the memories!

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