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DOUBLING UP - How ILR Stations Divided Up Their Medium Wave and VHF Transmitters         FM - A New Wave Of Listening


From the inception of Independent Local Radio (ILR) in 1973 the IBA made arrangements to broadcast the stations on two wavebands - Medium Wave (using AM) and VHF (using FM) - this is called 'simulcasting'.  This followed in the footsteps of the BBC which also transmitted many of its stations on both AM and FM.  For example at the time BBC Radio Two principally  used 1500 meters (200kHz) AM Long Wave as well as 88 to 90.1 MHz VHF / FM.  BBC Radio Three used 464 meters (647 kHz) Medium Wave together with 90.2 to 92.3 MHz VHF / FM.  BBC Radio Four used 433, 330 and 285 meters (692, 908 and 1052 kHz) AM Medium Wave together with 92.4 to 94.5 MHz VHF / FM.  The BBC had also begun to transmit its own local radio stations on both VHF and Medium Wave.

This practice remained in place for the IBA's ILR stations for a decade - the government's Home Office actually frowned upon the idea and dismissed the possibility of ILR stations broadcasting different programmes on the Medium Wave and VHF transmitters.  Then, by the mid 1980's the mood changed, the IBA was allowed to encourage some stations a limited number of hours to transmit different programme output on their FM and AM frequencies.

Radio Forth in Edinburgh was one of the first to experiment with separate programmes, as Mike Lloyd, who worked for Radio Forth between 1979 and 1986, explains: "Festival City Radio was the first split frequency experiment in the UK, running during the Edinburgh Festivals of – if memory serves – 1984 an 1985. The station won a Sony gold for the event of which I was one of two production co-ordinators, along with Colin Somerville.  FCR was created by Forth’s imaginative and somewhat whacky programme controller, Tom Steele and all credit to  him. It was sponsored by British Airways."


Every year the Edinburgh International Festival attracts thousands of arts enthusiasts from around the world. In response, Radio Forth launched a new radio service, aimed at promoting Festival activities to both visitors and local people. Festival City Radio was on air for seven and a half hours each day. The magazine based service included recordings of music from the Festival shows and even had its own resident jazz band, the 'Festival Radio Stompers'. In this novel experiment, the special output was carried over the station's VHF frequency, while normal programming continued on medium wave.

The climax of the Festival came with the firework concert and display, watched by a 150,000-strong crowd in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle and broadcast live.

Festival City Radio won the title of Best Magazine Programme at the 1985 Sony Radio Awards. With its financial backing from 'British Airways Super Shuttle' this was the first co-funded project to win a major radio award.

Edinburgh Festival

Sometimes Independent Local Radio stations fill the role of 'sponsors' of the arts themselves. Radio City, for example, has gained an enviable reputation for arts sponsorship on Merseyside. As well as staging and broadcasting the Radio City Proms, now a regular feature of the NorthWest musical calendar, the station has become involved in ambitious projects with leading British dance companies.

The initial approach came from London Contemporary Dance Theatre (LCDT) with whom City had already established a working relationship during their regular visits to Liverpool. A Chance to Dance introduced local youngsters to the world of contemporary dance. A series of afternoon classes held by LCDT staff was promoted by Radio City each morning over the course of a week, and young people were invited to write in and explain why they would like to take part. The response was greater than either LCDT or Radio City had hoped, attracting over 1,200 entries. Eighty successful applicants were encouraged, cajoled and at times bullied by their choreographers, so that no one was left in any doubt about the level of fitness contemporary dance demands!

Radio City sees a number of benefits in supporting arts activities but principally as a valuable source of programme material. Concerts, exhibitions and dance competitions make interesting, participative radio programmes. They also enable the station to extend its own participation within the community and create new opportunities for local people.

[source - IBA]


The IBA explained: The first steps were taken in 1986 when the Home Office permitted six experiments to be run for a limited period of time where stations were allowed to use "split frequency broadcasting".

Leicester Sound was been able to increase its programming specifically for the Asian community from five to seven hours, and from two to three days a week. Scheduling these programmes on AM has enabled the much-requested fuller coverage of rock and disco music on FM.

For Piccadilly Radio, in Manchester, the experiment provided the opportunity to cater for classical music enthusiasts. The station recorded three Hallé Orchestra concerts during its 1986 Promenade Season.

Material in the Hallé programme informed concert-goers of the broadcasts. The audience at the 'Last Night of the Proms' was able to listen again to the concert 30 minutes after it had finished, while driving home from the Free Trade Hall in Manchester. Two more concerts were broadcast on sequential Sundays.

Every Sunday afternoon, between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m., during the Rugby League season, Viking Radio in Humberside split to present country music with Tex Milne on FM, whilst covering Rugby Lea ball particularly Hull Football Club and Hull Kingston Rovers, on AM.

Leicester Sound

Viking Radio
Leicester Sound's Asian programme team.  Left to right are: Chris Taylor, Deedar Bahra, producer Don Kotak and presenter Tochi Singh. (IBA)
The culmination of the season! Viking Radio reporting on the 1986 Challenge Cup final, at Wembley, where Hull Kingston Rovers, disappointingly for supporters, lost by just one point.  (IBA)

GWR - covering Swindon, West Wiltshire and the Bristol provided did split programming on three separate days for different audience interests. On Thursday evenings between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m., folk music featured on the AM service whilst Worldwide music and interviews, primarily for the West Indian and Asian communities, was broadcast on FM Between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. while on Saturdays 'golden oldies' records played juke-box style on AM with country music on the FM frequency. On Sundays, a half an hour of farming news was broadcast on FM in the early afternoon. Later that evening, FM listeners could hear rock'n roll at 8 p.m. or tune into the religious programme "Sunday PM" on the AM frequencies.

Marcher Sound, the local station for Wrexham & Deeside, provided a separate service in Welsh for its listeners on the 1260 AM transmitter each weekday evening at 6 p.m.

Capital Radio in London chose to create a new sound on FM between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. every Sunday, coming together with AM for The Network Chart Show.

Tony Hale, Capital's Head of Music, decided to call the new service "CFM" and it began on 4th May 1986: ' With CFM Capital intended to provide more output to the 'quality music'. No longer was the listener who was ready and able to buy good quality equipment forced to listen to a diet of Top 40, that might as well have been on AM only. All those compact discs of the acts you would love to be able to go and see at Wembley were now available on CFM.

Tony explained '...those disenfranchised radio listeners of the 60s will go for it. They are 20 years on from their first experience of radio ... and people call them yuppies. They are listeners ... and CFM 95.8 in super stereo in London is for them'.


The success of these experimental split frequency broadcasts turned the tide as far as the Home Office was concerned. By 1988, far from being wary of stations providing differing programmes on Am and FM, the government went as far as to declare the end of simulcasting, and unless ILR stations could provide different programming on each of their wavebands they would forfiet permission to broadcast on both FM and AM.  This new policy led to a new breed of ILR service - the "gold" format radio station.

In August 1988 BRMB in Birmingham trialled split frequency broadcasting with 'BRMB GOLD' presented by Robin Valk on 1152 kHz AM from 6pm to 7pm, while Newsday was on 96.4 MHz FM at 6pm for thirty minutes followed by the The John Slater Show at 6.30 pm.  This trial led to the start of a permanent split of BRMB's FM and AM transmitters in April 1989 with opening of a new AM station called XTRA AM.  Read more about XTRA AM HERE.


Not only did ILR have to reconsider its use of AM and FM, but BBC Radio also had to change and adapt.  The government decided that the BBC could not justifiably continue simulcasting all of its radio stations on both FM and AM.  

In 1989 BBC Radio One was in the embryonic stages of opening a full national network of FM transmitters to bring stereo transmissions to the whole of the UK and thereby provide FM coverage equivalent to that of BBC Radios Two, Three and Four.  This large expansion programme would not be complete until the early to mid 1990's, at which point the BBC would have to switch off its Radio One transmitters on 1053 and 1089 kHz Medium Wave to make these frequencies available to a new Radio Authority to licence and Independent (commercial) National Radio station.

Additionally BBC Radio Three would have to relinquish 1215 kHz to another Independent National Radio station.  Radio Two would vacate 693 and 909 kHz and a new BBC radio station would be established - called RADIO FIVE.

The BBC  would be allowed to keep BBC Radio Four on both FM  and 198 kHz Long Wave, presumably because a single Long Wave transmitter could be used to broadcast to the entire UK in the event of a national catastrophe.

A government Green Papaer on the future of broadcasting was published in 1987 and this gave rise to the Broadcasting Act of 1990 which abolished the IBA (the body previously responsible for commercial TV and Radio broadcasting in the UK) and established the ITC (Independent Television Commission) to oversee commercial television licencing and a new 'lighter touch' Radio Authority to oversee a more deregulated commercial radio environment.  The Radio Authority would not only oversee a dramatic expansion in the number of (single waveband) ILR stations coming on air, but also the addition of Independent National Radio (INR) to the UK broadcasting scene.

INR1 was to be FM only and a non-pop station and "CLASSIC FM" won that licence.  INR2 and 3 were to be the stations that would occupy the Medium Wave frequencies relinquished by the BBC.  INR2 would use 1215 kHz and 'Independent Music Radio' won that licence and commenced broadcasts in 1993 as "VIRGIN 1215".  INR 3 was licenced to "TALK RADIO UK" which opened in 1995.

So to be able to receive all the radio services available in the UK today listeners really need to have a radio that tunes all three domestic wavebands; Long Wave, Medium Wave and FM  -  not to mention the new digital medium of DAB Digital Radio.  (More about DAB - HERE )

And as a foot-note it is worth mentioning that the Radio Authority and the ITC , along with Oftel and the Radio Communications Agency, were all  abolished and replaced with a new amalgamated body to oversee the radio spectrum, telecommunications and broadcasting called OFCOM.

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