So you want an ILR station? 

7 August 2017 tbs.pm/13122

From Television & Radio 1979, published by the Independent Broadcasting Authority

At the moment there are nineteen ILR stations in the United Kingdom. Between them they provide a full-time, genuinely local radio service to over half the population on vhf, and to getting on for two-thirds at some times of the day on medium waves. The IBA hopes there will soon be more.

It is the IBA’s intention to bring ILR in time to over 90 per cent of the country. This will mean opening dozens of new stations in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, so that virtually all towns, cities and counties can have their own ILR service.

For the IBA this means finding sites for transmitting stations; building transmitters and aerials; and providing the lines and links needed by a broadcasting operation. But that is only half the story. The other half of ILR is the efforts and skills put in by those who make up the programme companies, including broadcasters, shareholders, managers, advertisers and listeners.

Without this input the new ILR stations cannot happen. If people want an ILR station, to listen to or to work in, there’s a great deal they can do to bring it into being.

There are lots of places which have not got an ILR service. How does the IBA choose where it is to go next? And how can the public influence that choice?

It is an accepted principle of broadcasting in Britain that a new service should be brought to the largest number of people as quickly as possible. At the same time, the IBA recognises that a local radio system needs to include from the beginning as much diversity as possible if it is to reflect the range of tastes and needs of listeners. The ILR system is also self-financing, which means that the larger rentals paid by companies in major urban centres arc necessary to help cross-finance stations in smaller, more rural locations.

For these reasons, the IBA included a wide range of stations – in all the four Home Countries – and in the first stage of nineteen. As well as the franchises for large cities like London, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow and Liverpool, there are small areas such as Plymouth and Swansea, and stations including extensive rural coverages in Suffolk (around Ipswich) and Cleveland and North Yorkshire (from Teesside).

It is expected that future phases of ILR expansion will show a similar diversity. The IBA will look for large areas currently unserved by ILR and for smaller locations where an ILR service would be a valued and socially useful addition to the local community. Although the final decision rests with the Home Office, the IBA is steadily examining needs and developing plans for many areas.

One of the main factors in helping to decide which area should be given priority will be local demand. Already people in many places have written to the IBA demanding an ILR station. Some have organised petitions, public meetings and have campaigned to press their claims. The IBA is pleased to hear from any person or group who wants an ILR station.

I know that ILR stations get their money from selling advertising and have to pay their own way. What about small places which could not perhaps support a self-financing company?

Obviously, most of the new services will have to be viable in their own right. However, in many areas it may be possible in time to serve smaller towns by linking them with nearby major centres. These ‘associate’ stations would broadcast their own locally originated programming for at least part of the day, but would be able to share the resources of their neighbour, and to relay its programming at some times.

It may also be possible eventually to extend the existing principle of cross-financing to help smaller stations still further. This could mean that some rural community stations would be possible under IBA control, sustained initially by revenue generated by the ILR system as a whole.

Who owns and runs the ILR companies?

To a very considerable extent, each ILR company is owned by local people. That includes companies, individuals, trade unions and local groups and institutions. These get together to form a consortium to apply for the ILR franchise, and they then make up the board of directors who recruit the broadcasting staff. In this way, each station can be firmly rooted in its community: owned by local people; run from the centre of its locality; drawing its revenue from the commercial environment; and therefore providing locally relevant programming on a full-time basis.

The station may have a staff of anything between about 30 and 70, depending among other things on the size of area to be covered geographically, the hours of broadcasting, and the extent to which the still young companies have developed the more specialist aspects of programming.

How does the IBA choose the people to run the ILR programme company?

The Authority’s job to select and appoint programme companies is a fundamental and very thorough one. The selection process can begin as soon as the IBA has settled its own plans for transmitters and links, in particular planning permission for transmitter sites and agreement about the frequencies and power to be used.

The first stage is for the franchise to be advertised in local and national media to invite applications. Prospective applicants and others can ask for the Contract Specification, which sets out details of the franchise and explains the information which the IBA needs to know about those applying. This is accompanied by explanatory notes. At about the same time, the IBA offers a further opportunity for anyone with views about the service to be provided, to make these known. The closing date for applications is usually about nine to ten weeks after the advertisement. The applications are then analysed in detail.

A number of Members of the Authority, together with IBA staff, then visit the area where the new station is planned. They meet groups, particularly local authorities, and hold a public meeting at which they hope to learn more about what local people want from ILR. After this, they interview in private each of the applicant groups.

Those groups who remain contenders after the first interviews are then invited to the IBA’s headquarters in London for a further interview with the whole Authority. The contract is then offered to one group on certain conditions. It is then up to the programme company to build and equip its studios and to get ready to provide programmes to be broadcast on the IBA’s new transmitters; this usually takes about another year.

How much does it cost to set up an ILR company?

In setting up an ILR company there are three separate areas of cost to consider: first, the capital expenditure to provide and equip studios; second, the pre-operational costs of employing staff and running the company before broadcasts begin and thus before there is any advertising revenue; and third, a ‘cushion’ of money to keep the company solvent while it goes through its early months since, as with any new business, it may not necessarily trade profitably right from the start.

These items may mean different costs from station to station. For example, one company may decide to rent and convert existing premises and lease the equipment for its studios while another may build brand new studios and buy outright its technical items. The former will need relatively less capital expenditure but will face higher operating costs once it gets going; the latter will be in the reverse position. However, given that the figures can vary a good deal, it seems that a new company in say 1980 would need to be sure of between £350,000 and £500,000 from shareholders’ equity, loan stock, or bank overdraft facility.

How can I find out more ?

The IBA makes public a very large amount of detail about ILR in general and new franchises in particular. This book is only one of a number of publications, and these are augmented by press releases on particular matters. The IBA is also pleased to hear from and advise anyone who is interested in the development of ILR.

NOTE: In October 1978 the Home Secretary named nine stations for the next stage of ILR development. They are, alphabetically: Aberdeen/Inverness, Bournemouth, Cardiff, Chelmsford / Southend, Coventry, Dundee/Perth, Exeter/Torbay, Gloucester and Peterborough.

You Say

2 responses to this article

Westy 7 August 2017 at 12:39 pm

How its all changed since then!

Isnt Ray Terret on the ‘naughty list’ by the way thesedays?

Russ J Graham 7 August 2017 at 4:50 pm

Yeah… but we don’t re-write history and “unperson” people here, no matter what they were later convicted of. (Although some people have asked us to remove references to Chris Denning and Rolf Harris and even to remove photographs of Eric Gill’s statues on the side of Broadcasting House. We haven’t, though!)

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