2005 there is much talk of the fact that commercial local radio's
'localness' has been greatly diminished over the last decade or more by
the constant swallowing of local radio stations into large
groups. Local station identity is often lost and local output
reduced. It is a trend that is only set to continue
handful of huge radio groups control the majority of the commercial
In the 1970's and 1980's most ILR (Independent Local Radio) stations
were considered a great success as far as the audience was
concerned. The big six stations - Capital, Clyde, Piccadilly,
Metro, City and BRMB were the most profitable and whilst most of the
other stations in the ILR network made a profit, times were always
quite tough and some only just managed to keep their heads above water.
ILR was not really a licence to print money. One
or two of
the ILR stations were disastrous financially, and fell by the wayside
and this led to several mergers in the 1980's. Mergers and
take-overs quickly gathered pace in the 1990's and ended up with the
very highly profitable radio groups of the 2000's - but all this is at
the expense of reral grass-roots local programming - aided by the
dramatically relaxed regulatory system.
But where did this all begin? Some of the first signs were
perhaps Centre Radio in Leicester, Radio Aire in Leeds, CBC and Gwent
Broadcasting in South Wales and Radio West in Bristol. RADIO
struggled to survive from day one in October 1981, although programmes
were ambitious, they were less than coherent and the station struggled
to gain an audience in the face of stiff competition from the
enduringly popular BBC Radio Bristol and competition from BBC Radio
Radio West's cost base was large due to the extravagant studio premises
that had been purchased, and the lack of audience made for disastrous
advertising revenue and losses of £300,000 by 1983.
Bradford, who had helped found the extremely successful Mercia Sound in
Coventry, joined the station in 1983. Alongside Dave Cash (ex
Capital Radio), big guns Johnnie
Walker (ex Caroline, BBC) and Roger Day (ex Caroline, Piccadilly,
and latterly BRMB) were wheeled in, but to no avail. The
still slipped and programmes had to be curtailed in October 1983 and
the station closed down each day at 7:30 pm, while the remaining
resources were concentrated on daytime output. After more
tuning of the station's output Radio West became more mainstream and by
late 1984 things were looking more promising and programmes were
extended to a 1am closedown.
Radio West was still not the successful operation it should have been
and eventually neighbouring station Wiltshire Radio ( WR ) eyed the
Bristol franchise area, took control and the merged operation was
renamed GWR in May 1985.
West Car Sticker
|Another station failure was Centre
Leicester which launched an ambitious community style station in 1981
subsequently proved financially unviable. The combination of
poor business plan and the
huge competition from BBC Radio Leicester, the very first BBC local
station which commanded a substantial audience,
proved to be the
station's downfall. Centre Radio was forced to cease trading
October 1983 after only two years on air. There was no
here though, but so that Leicester was not to be without a ILR station
the IBA allowed the
successful neighbouring station, Radio Trent, to provide a more
mainstream sounding service called Leicester Sound the following year.
- Centre Radio Ceases Trading and Closes Down
Sounds Great On 238
and on 97.1 VHF stereo
had seemed likely that CBC - whose
own future was in doubt - would be asked to provide a
on Gwent's transmitters. In the longer run, it had been considered that
CBC's franchise could be extended to cover Newport. Gwent was
second ILR / IBA station to go bust, after. Centre Radio in Leicester,
folded in 1983.
Gwent Broadcasting, the South
commercial radio station based in Newport, went off the air at 11 am on
Wednesday 24th April 1985 after playing "Good Days Sunshine" by The
had been reported elsewhere that it was the Welsh National Anthem that
closed the station, but Colin Briggs who was actually at the station at
the very end corrects this. See below.)
Gwent, founded in June 1983, had been
holding merger talks with neighbouring CBC in Cardiff. But after a
board meeting on Tuesday 23rd, Gwent's chairman Roy Fox said: 'Simply
the company has run out of time and money.' Gwent's managing
Don Moss said that without radical changes to the rules governing local
radio, other small stations would follow Gwent into liquidation.
Owen Oyston, operated a core
business as Britain's fifth largest estate agency also had interests in
|Preston's Red Rose Radio, chaired
millionaire estate agent Owen Oyston, bid for the defunct South Wales
radio station, which closed down owing debts of
succeeding to take over Gwent Broadcasting Red Rose radio would also
gain control of neighbouring CBC in Cardiff, 86 per cent of whose
shareholders had approved a takeover by Gwent before the Newport
station went bust. Because Gwent has not appointed a receiver, that
offer was still technically alive. Following the takeover the
stations raised new capital - estimated at over
Gwent closed after one of the
potential new investors, newspaper group Fleet Holdings, dropped out
when it became the target of a hostile takeover bid from United
Newspapers. Any new investor prepared to underwrite the
issue would thus gain control of up to half of both CBC and Gwent.
acquisitive Red Rose Radio, run by
managing director David Maker, also took control of ailing radio Aire
Leeds in 1984.
The joint station for Cardiff and
Newport emerged as Red Dragon Radio, although in 2005 it is owned by
Capital Radio - or GCap as it is now called after a merger between the
GWR Radio Group and Capital Radio plc.
From Colin Briggs:
As the man
shut Gwent Broadcasting down I can assure you I did not play the Welsh
National Anthem! Welsh we were, but hardcore we were not. The last tune
I played before shutting the station down was the first tune we played
when we went on air just under two years previously ….
'Good Days Sunshine'.
Don Moss was not MD by that time, he'd departed some weeks beforehand.
The decision to close was taken at very short notice. Plans to merge
with CBC - also struggling financially - were at a critical stage, but
GB Radio's backers felt (understandably perhaps) they couldn't take one
last great punt.
I was due
to come in as
News Ed and late news person in the afternoon but received a call from
my colleague Charlotte Evans in the newsroom who suggested I come in
there and then because "something was up". It was. I met the chairman
as I entered the building and he told me the game was up and when would
we like to shut down.
Peter Milburn who was on air at the time and took over the studio while
he cleared his desk. I made the announcement at 10:30 before playing a
further half hour of music and fielding all manner of calls.
the mayhem. Local MEP Llewellyn Smith called with a simple message "I
know you're busy now, but you'll need an office to work out of for a
while. Come and use mine." What a great bloke. It gives me a lump in my
throat now when I think about it.
I went out
11:00. And if memory serves me completely I managed to cock up the last
link into the last record. Professional eh? TV turned up much later and
mocked up the programme end with Peter Milburn in the chair, but trust
me, that's not how it happened, because I was there.
GB Radio -
a great adventure. Enormous fun. Rajar at 42% but eventually no money.
HAPPENED IN NORTHAMPTONSHIRE AND BEDFORDSHIRE IN 1986?
When ILR stations merge, what happens to their local programming?
Chiltern Radio has shown that bigger can mean better at a local level.
After an unsuccessful spell providing programmes to Northampton, the
Peterborough based ILR station Hereward Radio pulled out. In
November 1986 The Chiltern Network took over the franchise and began to
serve Northampton as well as Luton/Bedford. Chiltern Radio already had
studios in Dunstable and Bedford with facilities to broadcast separate
programming to each area, but there was no large scale splitting of
output at that stage. When Chiltern took over responsibility
this area from Hereward it recognised that a separate identity would
need to be maintained. The question was how to achieve this and at the
same time make essential cost savings? Another concern was what effect
the expansion into Northampton would have on the service for
The first step was to give the Northampton station its own name -
'NORTHANTS 96' - after the shorthand version of its FM frequency, 96.6
MHz. Then the Chiltern team examined the news operation and
decided that a day-long news presence in Northampton was
essential. However, as music programming sounds the same
it comes from Dunstable, Bedford or Northampton it was decided to share
most of the daytime output with the exception of the 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
segment. This is locally originated in the Northampton studios and
highlights that 'change of pace' where interviews, features and
audience participation come to the fore. The breakfast show is
networked but, by utilising a whole range of opt-out points, this has
been made into a well rounded programme of local news, views and
information. An umbrella title was introduced for the network
THE HOT FM.
that what was being done for Northampton could
surely be done for Dunstable and Bedford - using the three sets of IBA
transmitters to provide separate information, the three
offer editorial coverage much closer to street level. The 'network'
programmes had already been structured to allow for opt-outs and split
commercial breaks. The point was how quickly could the three stations
develop their programme support units to utilise the opt-outs fully?
The first test came at the end of January 1987 with the snow crisis.
'Northants 96' and the two Chiltern stations began opting out of
'network' programmes to provide round-the-clock Snowline information
specifically for their own areas. This was a success and the concept
was quickly developed to provide individualised sports bulletins, local
newspaper reviews and community billboard features.
The two Chiltern stations emulated their Northampton sister by offering
separate local news bulletins at specific times. On Sundays all three
stations broadcast separate morning shows complete with outside
broadcasts and localised audience participation. In 1987 each
received its own new radio car. The addition of Northampton to the
Luton/ Bedford ILR operation has brought many benefits to radio station
and listeners alike. Not only has it given added zest to the staff and
management but the redistribution of resources, personnel and equipment
has created not a remote 'regional' operation but three highly
professional local radio stations.
You can hear the launch of NORTHANTS 96 by visiting the audio section of our AIRWAVES
The Chiltern Network went on to establish 'Horizon Radio - The Hot FM'
- in Milton Keynes on 15th October 1989 and also took over 'Severn
Goucester around 1990/1991 and continued to employ the networked
programme policy at these stations too. Chiltern also
the golden oldies AM station 'SUPERGOLD' on 15th July 1990 which was
on the Bedfordshire transmitters, 828 and 792 kHz, as CHILTERN RADIO
SUPERGOLD, on 1557 kHz as NORTHANTS RADIO SUPERGOLD, and also on 774
Gloucestershire as SEVERN SOUND SUPERGOLD. SUPERGOLD was also
carried as an external sustaining service for the AM transmitters of
Invicta Radio in Kent after Invicta Radio decided to drop its wholly
locally produced COAST AM, which had been opened on 27th March 1989, in
favour of this networked programme. INVICTA SUPERGOLD was
broadcast on 1242 kHz and 603 kHz medium wave. Since Capital
Radio have taken over Invicta, the Capital Gold service is carried on
SUPERGOLD and THE HOT FM tag disappeared when The Chiltern Radio group
bought by GWR in the mid to late 1990's - GWR itself became merged into
Capital Radio in 2005 to form GCAP.
The Chiltern Radio Network also established the first commercial
regional station for The Severn Estuary - GALAXY RADIO - on 27th
January 1991. Galaxy was a dance station and after the take
by GWR, Galaxy was disposed of to Chrysalis Radio Ltd and it
became part of a small chain of GALAXY stations. By 1999 the Galaxy
chain eventually comprised of GALAXY 102 in Manchester (formerly KISS
102) and GALAXY 105 in Yorkshire (Formerly KISS 105), GALAXY 102.2 in
Birmingham (formerly a licence held by Choice FM) and GALAXY 105 - 106
in the North East. The Severn Estuary licence was then
of by Chrysalis when they bought London News Radio (LBC) in September
2002. VIBE RADIO SERVICES, a GWR and Scottish Radio Holdings
venture, which also ran VIBE FM in East Anglia, bought the station and
it then broadcast
as VIBE 101. The regional licence was (in part) back in the
of GWR! It's a complicated affair in the world of radio
wheelings and dealings!
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