ILR at 40: John Simons remembers NE Radio

A commercial for Fish Fingers ushered in the opening of LBC in London and set the seal on what Commercial Radio was to stand for in Great Britain.

Two words “Commercial Radio” and the word “Commercial” come’s first, so some things never change!

Eight days later Capital Radio would debut On Air to the sound of Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge over Troubled Water, which was more than apt as they launched into an economic recession and struggled for several years before going into profit. So much so, that rumour has it that Chairman of Capital, Lord Attenborough had to sell some of his art collection to keep the station afloat.

In the North East of England, where I was brought up, none of this would touch us until September 1974 although Glasgow, Birmingham and Manchester had already burst onto the scene before Metro Radio graced our airwaves, with Radio Tees coming along in 1975.

These were exciting times with huge numbers of staff, compared to today. I didn’t join Radio Tees until 1979 but we still had engineer driven programmes where jocks were only allowed to play jingles and records. An engineer (not a Tech Op) was on the other side of the glass to play out the news and commercials but our levels were exemplary and Radio Tees was commended by the IBA for this.

It was like being part of an elite club when you got a gig on commercial radio and there was a level of celebrity in your local area that would seem unthinkable now. Even as an Overnight Jock you were greeted by autograph hunters (usually young girls) when you came in for your shift.

The daytime jocks were stars and they knew it, but in those days if your station had less than 40% reach it was deemed a failure and most stations had much more.

I don’t want to fall into the trap of looking back with rose coloured glasses at the “Good Old Days” as they were of their time and we were all young and enjoying playing the hits of the day. Well, if you were on a daytime show you played hits. On Overnights you were allowed to play one hit per hour and the rest was Library Music, which was mainly instrumental, and that was a challenge in itself to try and keep the audience engaged.

We had mid morning phone ins and Tradio in the afternoon along with the Pigeon Forecast, with local news playing second fiddle to the national news from IRN and no more than 9 minutes of commercials an hour.

If I’m honest it was all a bit parochial and we were making a lot of it up as we went along. If I dare listen back to some of the tapes I’ve kept I cringe at how effected we sounded (every station seemed to have a Roger Scott sound-a-like) and how little we actually said but it was popular as well as being populist if a little bit amateur. However, this was counterbalanced by great enthusiasm and an energy, which was infectious and the listeners identified that and went with it and encouraged us by listening in their droves.

At 8am Tuesday 8th October 2013, Douglas Cameron once again read the news on LBC and we were momentarily transported back to the birth of Commercial Radio, but the only constant over the past 40 years has been change. That’s what has kept Commercial Radio alive and still listened to by 35 million adults every week.

It’s navigating the journey that is more important than the destination. The arrival is only temporary – resting places are rarely static, and continuous change is constant. What’s important is having fun along the way and enjoying the journey.

What a journey the past 40 years has been, and here’s to the next 40 and what it brings. Embrace it and enjoy the ride!

Posted on Thursday, October 10th, 2013 at 6:00 am by RadioToday UK

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