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Popular misconceptions 1: looking back at "Broadcasting in the Seventies"

Just for a short while, it is time to turn the clock back and look at some of the documents that have changed the direction of broadcasting in the UK. Today, I am starting to look at a document that set in place the BBC radio services are we still largely know them today.

Just for a short while, it is time to turn the clock back and l
published on UK Free TV

Having read your comments on my recent series of posts about the move to all-digital radio, I thought it would be instructive to look at some of the documents that have lead to the broadcasting world we have today.

In the coming days I will be looking at Greg Dyke's "Making It Happen" from a 2002, the John Birt-era "Extending Choice". Today, we start with "Broadcasting in the Seventies".

As I can't find a copy anywhere else online for you to read it yourself, you can read the whole thing here Broadcasting in the Seventies - Digital radio -

Broadcasting in the Seventies was published by the BBC as an insert to the internal newspaper Aerial back in 1969. I came after a long period of decline for radio: the number of "radio only" licences had fallen back to the level of 1927. Pirate pop-music radio, playing "gramophone records" had forced the BBC into launching Radio 1, but Radio 2 and 4 were still the mixed-genre Light Programme and Home Service and Radio 3 was half the "Music Programme" and partly "The Third".

For those who believe that management consultants are a new thing, it is instructive to know the report was compiled assisted by McKinsey & Co, and somewhat alarming to know that the public had to be told The BBC is no more free than the private citizen to live beyond its income. Ends must be tailored to means.. The start point was

...there is the fundamental change in the nature of the radio audience. The millions who once listened of an evening to 'In Town Tonight' and 'Itma' [It's that Man Again] now watch television. Radio's peak hours have moved to breakfast time and lunch time.... In television, the pattern is clear: BBC-1, BBC-2, and the new dimension of colour spreading across both.

But experience, both in this country and abroad, suggests that many listeners now expect radio to be based more on a different principle - that of the specialised network, offering a continuous stream of one particular type of programme, meeting one particular interest. One channel might offer pop, another serious music, another talk programmes, and so on. ... Already BBC radio has moved in this direction, first with the Music Programme, then with the all-pop Radio One.

and so...

convert Radio Two to another all-music network, presenting all that is covered by the umbrella of 'light music' - anything from Sinatra to Lehar. (It is sometimes suggested this should be called the 'sweet' music channel, but light music offers more variety and continuous saccharine.)

Back in 1969, classical music appeared on Radio 4:

Programmes originated on the Third invariably attract bigger audiences when repeated on Radio Four. An evening concert of standard classical music will win more listeners on Radio Four than on the Third.

However, an Arts-only network "for minorities" was costing too much:

We have also had to consider finance. The Third costs much more per hour than any other network, yet it has by far the smallest audience.... On Radio Three the separate labels of Music Programme and Third Programme will disappear and the entire output of the network put under the single heading of Radio Three, which will concentrate wholly on music and the arts.

...the full rationalisation of Radio Four ... to make this largely a speech network. There will be a strong emphasis on news and topical programmes, but remembering those people who rely solely on radio, or prefer it, Radio Four will continue to carry general entertainment programmes.

The BBC didn't think in 1969 an all-news network was ... necessary. Auntie knows best, of course.

... we have decided against a network concentrating entirely on news. We believe that there are two different audience's for radio news, just as there are for newspapers. Some listeners want only brief, capsule news. Others want longer bulletins, followed by programmes amplifying the news and presenting comment.

Schools... programmes could be separated from the national networks ... the vhf network now carrying Radio Four available for education ... we recognise that schools without vhf sets would need time to re-equip, so we would propose to delay the change until the autumn of 1971.

And there is always the new-fangled technology

Stereo: For radio, stereo is potentially as exciting a development as is colour for television. It adds a new dimension to listening. The present limited stereo output on Radio Three is successful, and an increase of standard classical music in the evenings should provide some opportunities for expanding it. There is, however, an insistent demand for stereo to be extended to other networks and to more parts of the country. It would be idle to pretend that at present, there is much chance of this, but it would be relatively simple to equip local radio stations to transmit in stereo and we are studying other ways of doing more to meet one of radio's long-term priorities.

However, local radio is seen as very necessary.

We have put forward to the Postmaster General a provisional scheme for expanding our local network to about forty stations, which would reach nearly 90 per cent of the population of England. These stations would basically have to be vhf services) and this would cut down the number of people able to listen to them until the sale of vhf sets expands.... As local stations develop in the main conurbations, we would propose in England to discontinue 'opt-outs' - periods when a separate region or area opts out of the main Radio Four service in order to transmit programmes just for its own part of the country. Local radio would dovetail with the new pattern for television outside London which will stem from our fresh proposals for the regions.

UHF TV is to bring better TV regions to England, which did happen

The boundaries were drawn some forty years ago not on any basis of community interest but to match the range of the transmitters. These are regions devised by engineers rather than sociologists. The Midland Region stretches from the Welsh border to the North Sea. The North Region has to cover Liverpool and Newcastle, Manchester and Hull, Lincoln and Carlisle. The South and West Region serves an area stretching from Land's End to Brighton ... replace them with eight smaller and more socially logical regions. These will be based on the existing regions and area centres: Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Norwich Plymouth, and Southampton. In the longer term, as money permits, we would hope to set up further centres, with one in the East Midlands as a first priority.

The question of frequencies was an important one. For those who wait for 99% DAB coverage, it is worth noting that in 1969

The medium-wave coverage on Radio One at present 86 per cent of the population by day, reduced by foreign interference to only 33 per cent at night ... reinforce the Radio One transmitter network to bring in another 4.5 million listeners by day and night

The present medium-wave coverage on Radio Four is 98 per cent by day and 70 per cent by night... raise the coverage to 99 per cent by day and 95 per cent by night

One thing that didn't happen was...

leave Radio Three on vhf only. Such a high-quality output is, in fact, best heard on vhf, but we recognise that, in the short term, some listeners would be deprived if it were taken off the medium wave

Back to Finance and I never realised you ever needed a car radio licence...

It is estimated that the BBC is ... a million from failure of people to pay their car radio licence fees.

And it is almost shocking to hear that the BBC has to consider

...seeking agreement to use more gramophone records. We also propose to repeat our own musical broadcasts

And concludes

On one side must be set: the dispersal of the three existing English Regions, the disbandment of several BBC orchestras, and a reduction in the use of outside musicians, some reduction in other radio staff and the possible loss of the medium wave from Radio Three and of part of the vhf from Radio Four; and a few may regret a shift in emphasis in Radio Three in the evening.

But on the credit side can be offered: a Radio Three offering more music while retaining some cultural speech programmes, greater separation of Radios One and Two, a more clearly defined speech network on Radio Four, the creation of eight new, more logical English regions and (we hope) some forty local radio stations, wider medium-wave coverage on Radios One and Four, and possibly a separate channel for education programmes.

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Tuesday, 3 September 2013
11:32 PM

re Music on " R 4" ie Home service.

Third was on 465 metres ... noisy as hell, ok for Talk INFO.
The 1 meg "Home Service" was a much better signal in many parts of the UK ... and could be near so called HiFi, with a bit of care.

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peter's 16 posts GB flag
Wednesday, 4 September 2013

2:02 PM

Radio for Schools that takes me back. I remember the programs with the acompanying books. Many a happy hour spent singing along and listening to the story. Our school had square wooden portable panels with 1 speaker in and a baker light knob underneath, they were plugged into what looked like a round 2 pin socket ad the knob turned to one of the 4 settings with a reassuring click.

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Ian's 497 posts GB flag
Ian's: mapI's Freeview map terrainI's terrain plot wavesI's frequency data I's Freeview Detailed Coverage
Thursday, 5 September 2013
10:10 AM

I could never understand why the BBC wanted to set-up local radio stations. Did anyone ever listen to them? The only time I ever did was the day after the hurricane in 1987 when civilization all-most stopped! Here in the South East three local stations seem to have combined into one. Presumably to save money and boost listener figures.

Back in the day (1970s) I welcomed the start of independent local radio. Used to listen to Capital and later on to Kiss and various other niche music stations.

But they all got taken over by the suits. And now they all sound the same - actually probably are the same.

So for music I now use the internet. Even have an internet radio in the kitchen!

On the other hand, Radio 4 remains probably the best speech radio station in the world - by far.

Only listen to FM in the car.

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John's 7 posts GB flag

3:50 PM

John: It does appear that BBC local radio is listened to a lot, and has been since it was created.….pdf


All BBC Local / Regional Radio:

Weeky Reach: 9,536,000
Share of Hours: 8.3%

Looking back at 1999 using

Weekly Reach: 9,887,000
Share of Hours: 10.10%

And for 2003

Weekly Reach: 9,955,000
Share of Hours: 10.90%

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Briantist's 38,899 posts GB flag

6:40 PM

Ian: My only recollection of Schools Radio was a rather harrowing description of people on the Titanic, aged about 10.

I think we mainly watched Schools TV, and that for only a couple of half-hours a week.

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Briantist's 38,899 posts GB flag

7:44 PM

I remember listening to Schools Radio between 10 and 11 AM in the later fifties. At my school, the two upper years gathered together in the main hall/gym and listened to several interesting programmes, some were dramas and some of historical interest. We didn't have a TV set in the school, those came later. Incidentally, Radio Rentals Contracts used to provide larger screen TVs to schools and we service engineers had to maintain them and often found the problems were 'finger trouble'!

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MikeP's 3,056 posts GB flag

10:09 PM

This was in the infants school so I would be about 7 or 8 and it would be mid to late 70s In junior school we used schools TV but as you said it wasn't all that often, I used to watch more of it when I was off ill at home.

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Ian's 497 posts GB flag
Ian's: mapI's Freeview map terrainI's terrain plot wavesI's frequency data I's Freeview Detailed Coverage
Wednesday, 25 September 2013
5:49 PM

The worst aspect of this plan for those of us living in Scotland was that regional radio - i.e. Radio Scotland had the right to take the FM waveband that was used in the rest of the country by Radio 4. This position remained for a very long time and meant, for example, that while those in England got to hear Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy in wonderful stereo, we in Scotland relied on hearing it on long wave or waiting for the possibility of Radio Scotland to re-transmit it. It took the release of the upper end of the waveband before we got R4 on FM, instead of being stuck with Radio Parochial.

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Thistimemaybe's 11 posts GB flag
Thursday, 1 March 2018
Peter Bye
11:19 AM

Brian..! Thanks for all...

Re Radio Licence for Car Radios
Yes.. ummm ... couldn't actually remember getting one of those...
but then I noticed, the redoubtable GPO... no less,
had Offered the advice that you could use a Portable Radio
in your car, under the Household licence....

Ahrrr yes..

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Peter Bye's 16 posts GB flag
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