Who wants to listen to LBC outside London?

The capital's opinionated broadcaster LBC is going national in a digital reincarnation. What will those beyond the M25 make of presenters Boris, Nick et al?
  • @iburrell

In a country so dominated by the incessant noise of its capital city, radio listeners beyond the M25 might not be overly excited by the prospect of tuning in to a network known as "London's Big Conversation". Which explains why LBC goes national on digital radio today in its third incarnation, as "Leading Britain's Conversation". But, despite its latest name change, the station's schedule has long been filled with presenters who have the national profiles to meet the network's ambitions.

This is the station on which the most famous presenter (Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, host of "Ask Boris") goes on air to describe the second most famous presenter (Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister, host of "Call Clegg") as a "prophylactic protection device". It is the station where that same most famous presenter stepped into the building's lift to deliver a four-letter tirade to his mayoral predecessor (Ken Livingstone, another LBC presenter).

With Boris and Nick using LBC as a platform, the Prime Minister, of course, needs to have an ear on the output. Indeed, David Cameron did appear on the station at the time of last year's Conservative Party conference – only to embarrass himself by overestimating the price of a loaf of bread. Under questioning from LBC breakfast host Nick Ferrari, who told him that a value supermarket loaf cost 47p, Mr Cameron explained his guess of "well north of a pound" by saying he baked his own using Cotswold Crunch flour from his constituency.

Politics is a strong suit of a talk station that is a taxi ride from Westminster and not bound by the BBC's strict rules on balance. Rather than weighing the content of each programme and every debate on the political scales, LBC seeks equilibrium by filling the schedule with hosts who have markedly different world views. The result is a unique voice and opinionated broadcasting, which – with a national footprint – makes LBC a dangerous competitor for the BBC talk station, Radio 5 Live.

Those wanting to criticise LBC could say that its middle-aged presenting line-up is hardly representative of one of the most cosmopolitan and ethnically diverse cities on the planet. But Global, the station's owner and the largest of Britain's commercial radio groups, has probably looked at the talent roster and realised that broadcasters such as former Tory minister David Mellor and former Wimbledon tennis player Andrew Castle will not be shunned in the provinces as "London" voices.

LBC was the UK's first commercial station when it launched as the London Broadcasting Company in 1973. In the days before rolling television news and the internet, it was often first to break stories. A young Jon Snow reported from the Balcombe Street siege in 1974. The station's biggest scoop was probably in 1980, when reporter Malcolm Brabant was live on the scene as the Special Air Service tackled the Iranian Embassy siege in South Kensington.

It will not rival TalkSport, although its archive contains a young Jeff Stelling reporting from the 1984 Olympics. Chelsea's Frank Lampard once phoned the station to challenge presenter James O'Brien's criticism of the footballer's parenting.

Throughout its history, LBC has attracted big-name presenters who would be known to a national audience. Simon Bates, Anne Diamond, Carol Thatcher, Matthew Wright, Mariella Frostrup and James Whale have all donned the station's headphones.

More recently, the station has tried to collect the audio clip equivalent of viral YouTube hits. Most involve Boris (going to verbal war with RMT union boss Bob Crow, or campaigning for cyclists) or Clegg (defending his party over the Lord Rennard scandal, or fielding a call from White Dee of Channel 4 show Benefits Street).

From today, the rest of the country will have the chance to join LBC's conversation, whether or not they can remember what its initials now stand for.