UK Radio: A Brief History Part 2
Once the war was over the BBC was able to re-organise broadcasting schedules. The General Forces Programme had proved to be very popular with audiences and when the service was closed in July 1945 the BBC decided to replace it with a similarly entertaining service, naming it The Light Programme which commenced using longwave on July 29th 1945. The BBC television service resumed in June 1946 while Radio Luxembourg returned with English programmes in July that same year. At this point the number of radio receiving licences had reached over 10 ½ million at a cost of £1 per licence. The combined television and radio receiving licence was £2 at this time.
The Third Programme
In September 1946 the BBC launched a cultural radio service named the Third Programme. The Third, as it was usually called, initially planned to use a single high powered (150 kW) medium wave transmitter at Droitwich on 514.6 meters (583 kc/s) to provide good coverage around central England, although this wavelength had not actually been sanctioned by international agreement. Unfortunately a legitimate high powered Latvian station commenced transmissions on 583 kc/s shortly before the Third Programme was due to go on air, so the BBC were forced to use lower power, only 30 kW to avoid interference to the Latvian station, and this dramatically reduced coverage. The BBC had to install supplementary low power relays on 203.5 meters (1474 khz) medium wave in many areas where the Droitwich signal was very weak, using the chain of 'Group H' transmitters that had been installed around the country during the war.
The Third Programme aired concerts of classical music together with serious talks and discussions. Although the audience for such programmes was quite small, and some even argued that it a waste of BBC resources, the Third Programme proved enduringly popular with the audiences at which it was aimed.
The broadcasting white paper of 1946, produced by the Labour government, ensured that the BBC should remain editorially independent of government. It stated that: "The Government intend that the Corporation should remain independent in the preparation of programmes for overseas audiences, although it should obtain from the government departments concerned such information about conditions in those countries and the policy of His Majesty’s government towards them as will permit it to plan its programmes in the national interest." On January 1st 1947 the BBC's Royal Charter was renewed for a period of five years and the BBC started the General Overseas Service
In 1949 a new arrangement for the allocation of radio frequencies across Europe was formulated to allocate scarce frequencies to the ever increasing number of radio stations more efficiently. This new 'Copenhagen Plan' came into effect in 1950 and had the effect of moving the frequencies of all BBC stations. The plan was most beneficial to the BBC Third Programme which gained a clear wavelength of 464m (647 kHz) and could use the intended full power. A new 150 kW transmitter was installed at Daventry in April 1951 and after running in, was ready with full power by January 1952. The signal was good over much of central England but supplementary relay stations were still required in the extreme North, West and South and used a new wavelength of 194 meters (1546 kHz).
In 1951 the cost of the combined television and radio receiving licence was increased to £3 while the radio only licence fee remained at only £1.
A Little More About Television And The New BBC VHF Radio Service
In 1949 the BBC expanded the fledgling television service to the Midlands with the opening of the Sutton Coldfield transmitter on December 17th. October 1951 brought television to the North from Holme Moss, to Scotland in March 1952 from Kirk o' Shotts and to South Wales and the West from Wenvoe in August 1952.
The BBCs monopoly which had, until now, only been challenged from the overseas services of Radio Luxembourg (and before the war by Radio Normandie) anticipated the introduction of commercial television as the Television Bill passed through parliament in 1954. This paved the way for the creation of The Independent Television Authortity (ITA) in August. The ITA advertised for contractors to run various regional 'ITV' television companies across the UK.
BBC Launches Network Three and Stereo VHF/FM
The BBC started permanent transmissions in mid 1966 (Peter Adamson recalls listening using a Henry's Radio Decoder in London in 1967).
Eventually stereo radio broadcasting would be very gradually rolled out across the BBC's other radio stations and its network of VHF transmitters from the late 1960's until the 1980's. The reason the national stereo roll-out took so long was the problem of getting a decent analogue signal (with proper phase response) out to the out-lying transmitter sites that were hundreds of miles from London. They effectively gave up with the initial analogue distribution methods and had to start all over again with an early digital PCM distribution - around 1972. Central Scotland did not get stereo until autumn 1974 - the BBC couldn't afford the expensive 13-bit PCM decoders for the transmitters.
"Manx Radio Isle Of Man"
In 1959 the government of The Isle Of Man (The Tynwald) passed a bill to establish an independent commercially funded radio station for the island. It was thought that a radio station based on the island would greatly benefit the community and the economy. Although the Isle of Man is self governing, The Tynwald needed to apply to the UK authorities for a transmitting licence. The British government was (once again) very reluctant to issue such a licence, but eventually the necessary permissions were granted. The station went on air, initially on VHF / FM stereo only in June 1964 on 89.0 MHz from studios in a caravan just outside Douglas and a temporary aerial mast located next to the caravan. In October a medium wave transmitter was established on 188 meters (1594 kHz) using a mast at Foxdale.
In 1965 the station moved to 'Broadcasting House', permanent studios on the Douglas seafront, additionally a second medium wavelength of 232 meters (1295 kHz) was allocated to Manx Radio to improve the coverage, which had been limited by the high frequency of the 188 meters (1595 kHz) service, however the 232m service could only be used during daylight hours, so listeners had to re-tune to 188 meters when darkness fell. The temporary v.h.f. mast was soon replaced with a permanent installation on Snaefell, and a relay station on 91.2 MHz in Douglas was opened in 1969. The programmes from Manx Radio were not only popular on the island but also with listeners across the sea in Northern Britain.
On April 20th 1964 the BBC started the BBC2 television service using a new standard called PAL (Phase Alternate Line) with 625 lines in the new UHF band and initially in black and white. The first programme was Play School, broadcast in the morning, unfortunately there was a power black-out in the afternoon when the station was due to launch officially, so the official launch actually took place the following day! In 1965 the BBC started the World Service, a short-wave radio service that took the place of the BBC Empire / overseas programme, the corporation was also experimenting with PAL colour television.
The Pirate Radio Ships
It was around this time (1964) that a brand new sound came to our radio dials, that of offshore pirate radio. 1960's Britain was "burning with the white heat of technology" to use Prime Minister Harold Wilson's words, and young Britons in their the teens and twenties were shaking off the dour image of the post war¹ ways days and a new swingin' and groovy image was evolving, together with revolutionary new styles in pop and rock music. At the forefront of this swinging' musical revolution were bands such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and young consumers simply could not get enough of this new music but BBC radio, which had remained almost unchanged since the war¹, played very little from the current Hit Parade and had only one programme per week dedicated to such material. The only real outlet for listeners to hear all the new records was Radio Luxembourg, but that was only available in the evenings and the signal would often fade or become distorted as the night time propagation changed.
Radio Luxembourg also operated a system of Payola, whereby only artists who paid a fee to the station would get their records heavily promoted. A young pop group manager, who could not get his bands' records played on Radio Luxembourg or the BBC Light Programme had the idea to set up his own radio station. Ronan O'Rahilly bought a ship called the Frederica and refitted it as a complete floating radio station, he renamed the ship MV Caroline, sailed from Ireland to the North sea and on Easter Saturday, March 28th, 1964 launched Radio Caroline on 199 meters (1520 kHz) with presenters including Keith Skues, Andy Archer, Don Allen, Bob Stewart and Johnnie Walker. Unlike the BBC the station played non stop popular music, tending to play one record from the hit parade followed by a popular oldie or album track. Caroline was a big hit with the listening public.
Radio Caroline did not need a UK broadcasting licence as the ship was anchored just outside the British territorial limit off the coast of Felixstowe. The station was joined by many other offshore stations between 1964 and 1967 including the most successful radio ship Radio London on 266meters (1137 kHz) on December 12th 1964. Many millions of British listeners, who were bored with the BBC's formal style of broadcasting, were entertained around the clock by these swinging new offshore stations with the type of fun record programmes presented by 'zany' disc jockies (DJ's) such as Tony Blackburn and Kenny Everett, that were unavailable on the BBC.
The government was quite unimpressed by these 'pirate' radio stations and closed the loophole in the law which had allowed them to operate by passing The Marine & Broadcasting Offences Act in 1967. The stations were all required to close down by 15th August 1967, and all but one did. The two Radio Caroline stations soldiered on until 1968 when they effectively ran out of money and were closed down. Despite the fact that the offshore pirate stations had only been broadcasting for around four years they changed the face of British broadcasting forever.
BBC Radio 247
Since 1966 the BBC had been planning a new station, "Radio 247", as an answer to the popular offshore stations. Radio 247 was to take over the 247m wavelength (1214 KHz) hitherto used by the Light Programme for a small number of 'filler' relay stations for the parts of Britain that could not receive the longwave transmissions from Droitwich adequately. New medium wave transmitters would be installed at numerous BBC transmitting stations to carry the 247m service to most of the UK. The BBC's new station, unlike the other BBC national radio stations, would be in mono on medium wave only, and not be carried on its own vhf / fm stereo network.
Radio One was for many years a part time station, initially only broadcasting for 5½ hours per day partially due to 'needle-time' restrictions imposed by record companies that limited the number of records that could be played. The station circumvented this restriction somewhat by recording popular bands in their own studios and playing these tapes on air. The remaining air time was filled by relaying the output of Radio Two at various times of the day. The Radio One programmes were gradually expanded in the early 1970's, only to be cut back again a few years later during the economic troubles caused by the energy crisis of 1974/5, and again in 1978. The station did not become truly full time until the 1980's.
As the BBC re-organised its network in response to audience demands for a radio service akin to the offshore stations, Radio Luxembourg altered its schedules away from individually sponsored programmes to a format of personality DJ's , which sounded more like the old Radio London station.
But The Public wanted More, They Wanted....
The introduction of Radio One satisfied the needs of some of the offshore radio audience, but the public wanted more. There was still a great pressure for the introduction of local radio and the BBC, with encouragement from the Labour government, launched eight experimental local radio stations starting with BBC Radio Leicester on 8th November 1967 on 95.05 MHz VHF, quickly followed by Radios Leeds (94.6), Merseyside (95.85), Stoke (94.6), Sheffield on 15th November 1967 (88.6 & 95.05), Nottingham (94.8), Durham (96.8) and Brighton (88.1).
To the local station managers the world seemed against them. There was a huge lobby for the introduction of commercial local radio in the UK, the Conservative opposition supported this and seemed set against the BBC local radio experiment while the national press also derided the idea. Even the BBC did not seem too keen, although all the best technical facilities were provided for their local stations, the management at BBC HQ were initially rather luke warm about the 'back-yard' community programming.
The experiment was also somewhat handicapped by the fact that all the local stations were only to be allowed to broadcast on VHF (FM) frequencies, while this allowed high quality output, the radio set manufacturers produced few VHF equipped sets, consequently very few listeners actually owned a radio set capable of receiving the new stations, or if they did it was probably poorly designed or had no aerial connected to it. Coupled with the fact the listeners were only used to medium and longwaves and many did not know how to use VHF effectively, many of these new local stations were of very low power, Radio Leicester, Leeds and Nottingham had transmitters of only 140 Watts, while Radio Brighton had 75 Watts and Radio Sheffield was allocated a mearge 30 Watt transmitter - this added to the problems of these new stations. Radio Merseyside, the third BBC experimental station with studios in Commerce House in Sir Thomas Street, was the largest and had a 2.5 kW transmitter. Durham and Stoke also benefitted from 2.5 kW transmitters.
The BBC local radio experiment was to last two years until 1969, the year that PAL colour television was launched on UHF with the start of BBC1 and ITV 625 line colour services. BBC2, which had already been on UHF 625 line in black and white since 1964, was also converted to colour. March 1969 is when the tallest transmitting mast in Britain, IBA Emley Moor, collapsed. The mast was constructed as a steel cylinder, rather than a lattice mast or tower, and the structure failed due to the weight of ice and high winds. A new concrete tower was built in 1970 and a full UHF television service restored from it in January 1971. The new mast is still intact! See photograph above. The famous London pirate station Radio Jackie also started life in 1969. On November 10th 1971 the BBC Pebble Mill studios, the BBC's new broadcasting centre in Birmingham was opened by HRH Princess Anne.
When the two year BBC local radio experiment came to an end the current stations were not only allowed to continue broadcasting, but the experiment was seen as so successful that additional stations were added with Radios Birmingham (95.6 MHz v.h.f.), Bristol (95.4), Blackburn (96.4), Derby (96.5), Humberside (95.3), London (95.3), Manchester (95.1), Medway on 18th December 1970 (97.0 MHz), Newcastle (95.4), Oxford (95.0), Solent (96.1) and Teeside (96.6) opening during 1970. Transmitter powers ranged from 1.5 to 16.5 kW mostly with horizontal polarisation and directional aerial patterns, though some used 'slant' polarisation - a new development in British VHF broadcasting which improved reception for listeners using portable sets with telescopic aerials.
All the BBC local stations were later to be allowed to broadcast on medium wave in addition to VHF to improve the potential numbers of listeners that could tune in. BBC Radio London had a powerful 50kW transmitter installed, together with a pair of new masts at Brookmans Park using 206 meters (1457 kHz), whereas BBC Radio Birmingham, also using 206 meters, had to make do with a sloping wire aerial lashed on to the Sutton Coldfield television mast fed by a 10 kW transmitter. Radio Leicester had a new 500 Watt medium wave transmitter installed at Freemens Common using 188 meters (1583 kHz).
[¹ Second World War 1939 - 1945]
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