local radio

local radio
   The first local radio service was set up by the BBC in Leicester in 1967. This was followed by stations in other centres of population, and the local radio movement became successful at creating a local identity and a community experience for its listeners. The potential success proved attractive to various interests starting up in the mid-1970s, who sought to combine the intimacy and extreme portability of the radio experience with the chance to bring freer commercial attitudes to a new market. Both BBC and the commercial stations rely strongly on phone-ins as a way of involving their listeners and reinforcing the sense of local community. BBC stations often have daily two-hour or three-hour phone-in programmes on a variety of current national and local topics. Moreover, BBC stations tend to cater more for various local community groups, since these stations do not have the same commercial imperatives driving them as do their independent competitors, and they happily put on weekly thirty-minute programmes for local ethnic minorities. Only the London area could support a commercial enterprise like London Greek, which has a comparatively small but highly concentrated audience.
   The commercial stations in general have a bigger share of local audience than the BBC stations. Driven by market forces, they will try to maximize potential and often have an output on FM of standard chart material, while an AM sister channel will play ‘golden oldies’ to capture an older audience of equal interest to advertisers. Manchester’s Piccadilly Radio follows this policy. The FM version (Key 103) has a 23.6 percent share of listeners, while its AM twin (1152 AM) claims 8.7 percent, with a sizeable 18.3 percent of the 35–44 age group. BBC GMR Talk’s weekly share is 3.4 percent.
   The popularity of local radio can be seen by the number of organizations wishing to apply for the very limited number of franchises becoming officially available from time to time. At time of writing, there are twenty-four special interest groups planning applications for the new London franchise over the crowded metropolitan airwaves, including a proposed Gay FM station with much high-profile support. This phenomenon is part of the general buoyancy of radio, owing as much to the very wide choice available as to the intimacy of the medium.
   Indeed, the strength of interest in providing a local service for local people can also be gauged by the multiplicity of pirate radio stations, tending to operate clandestinely in inner city areas and generally providing a fare of local ethnic music. Because the government has a policy of allowing only very few licences, such stations are marginalized and de facto criminalized. On the whole, these stations would prefer to go legitimate and ‘narrowcast’ legally to their small but strongly defined local constituency, than be quasi-outlaws. This will need to be addressed as a fundamental issue in the next round of franchising.
   Further reading
    Crisell, A. (1994) Understanding Radio, London: Methuen.
    Scannell, P. (1991) Broadcast Talk, London: Sage.

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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