It was October 8th 1973 when from studios in London’s Gough Square, LBC played out the first commercials to be broadcast from British soil into British ears..
As early as 1925, companies such as Selfridges had lent their support to ad funded stations broadcasting from continental Europe but aimed at the UK market. By the 1940s Radio Luxembourg had come to dominate the continental stations chasing a British audience and by the 1960s the Pirates had demonstrated that the demand for all day music radio could no longer be met solely from the BBC’s output.
The result was twofold: firstly, in order to avoid gross dissatisfaction within the ranks of the Pirates’ audience, the government persuaded the BBC to revamp its networks and introduce the music based stations Radios One and Two. Secondly, the early champions of legitimate UK commercial radio doubled their efforts to lobby for new legislation that would enable the creation of land based commercial radio.
John Whitney who later became the first Managing Director of London’s Capital Radio, was then a well established independent producer of radio shows for Radio Luxembourg. His Ross Radio Productions had come up with entertainment based programmes such as ‘Candid Microphone and ‘People are Funny’ and as sponsored productions they were warmly welcomed by the owners of the 208 metres English service. With an established business behind him, Whitney formed ‘The Local Radio Association’ (LRA) with the avowed intent of persuading government that it was about time Britain had commercial radio alongside the commercial television that had existed since 1955.
The Labour government were less than keen and after one meeting with the Postmaster General Edward Short, Whitney was told “If you’ve come here to persuade me that there’s a future for commercial radio then this meeting might as well end right now”. But in 1970 the general election put the Conservatives into power and the lobbying by others including tv game show host Hughie Green, began to bear fruit.
Christopher Chataway, was appointed Minister for Posts and Telecommunications and by 1971 had introduced a White Paper entitled: ‘An Alternative Service of Radio Broadcasting’. By November it had been republished as ‘The Sound Broadcasting Bill’ which envisaged a revamped ‘Independent Television Authority’ (ITA) would regulate the new stations under its new name of the ‘Independent Broadcasting Authority’ (IBA). More to the point, the Authority was to be the actual broadcaster with the applicants designated merely as Programme Contractors supplying output to the IBA owned transmitters, and they were not happy, Hughie Green even abandoned his ambition to hold a licence.
Listeners who’d grown used to hearing their favourite music tracks played all day were going to have to get used to new stations with only restricted use of what were then called gramophone records. The new stations were granted 9 hours of ‘needletime’ for the 18 hours that most of them were initially expected to stay on air. By the time the Bill became an Act the potential owners were also aware that their output would be heavily regulated and laden with substantial Public service obligations.
The IBA’s plan was to licence 19 stations in the first wave and the two London operators would be appointed first. What became LBC was to be an all-news station for London, coupled with a nationwide service (IRN) providing national and international news to all the other stations. What became Capital was to have a ‘General Entertainment’ licence with a remit that as well as mainstream music, also included Classical, Jazz, Drama, Debate, Phone in, documentary features and religion. It’s hard now to recall that not only did I present a two hour classical music show on Sundays at 6pm, but that the station had its own concert orchestra and a drama department that produced a daily serial and a monthly full length play.
Capital Radio was the brainchild of a Weybridge dentist called Barclay Barclay White. His patients included film director Brian Forbes, who rounded up a team that included David Jacobs and Richard Atttenborough with a view to bidding for the general entertainment licence. Their company was an off the shelf purchase called ‘Dominfast’ and their application impressed the board of the IBA. But their success wasn’t straightforward. The board had also been impressed by Lord Ted Willis’s ‘Network Broadcasting’ and John Whitney’s ‘London Independent Broadcasting Company’ (LIBCO). The IBA’s Director of Radio was deputed to play marriage broker and the legendary Attenborough charm brought about a merger of all three companies under the name ‘Capital Radio Ltd’. It was a role that would be played by the IBA on more than one occasion.
Dickie Attenborough’s bid had taken a huge gamble by refusing to nominate any executives within their application. They argued that with so many applicants and only one winner; they could have the pick of the talent from within any of the other applicant groups. In fact Libco had used the opposite approach and had recruited a stellar team alongside Whitney himself, and it was LIBCO that eventually provided almost all the top layer of Capital’s first management team.
LBC was formed by a group with substantial newspaper expertise including Michael Cudlip as its first Editor but the station’s early weeks were hampered by that very expertise. Few of the management understood radio and the staff who did were seriously under resourced. The result was that its launch was something of a damp squib. Eight days later, Capital was to suffer a similar welcome with its ‘Easy on the ear, companionable mix of music’ largely ignored by listeners and a puzzled music industry. On the very last day of the year, Radio Clyde launched in Glasgow to rave reviews and instant acceptance by its potential audience. The IBA were mightily relieved and by the Spring of 1974 LBC had persuaded the Editor of BBC’s ‘Today’ programme to come and rescue their output, Capital had reinvented its music policy as well as its presenter roster, and the UK’s creation of a commercial radio industry was truly up and running.