Auntie's poor relation comes of age

Six Faces Who Emerged From Behind The Radio Mike

Six Faces Who Emerged From Behind The Radio Mike

COMMERCIAL RADIO'S woefully low share of the advertising cake and less than dynamic management meant it was known as the "2 per cent medium with the 1 per cent attitude" in advertising

Commercial radio celebrated its 25th birthday yesterday. It is now a confident, pounds 400m-a-year industry, which can boast of making money while reflecting the diversity of Britain in a way newspapers and television stations cannot match.

Unlike America, where commercial radio was embedded in the culture and largely responsible for soap opera and rock 'n roll music, commercial radio came to Britain desperately late and unbelievably naff.

Listeners were turned off by constant repetitions of advertisements in the style of: "Did you know ... Carpets was having their biggest-ever sale?", employing conversations between increasingly amazed and progressively bad actors. "The only people with radio experience at the beginning were from the BBC," says John Pearson, chief executive of Virgin Radio.

"That's all the radio there was and they had no commercial experience. The advertising departments were treated with some distaste.

"The programmers were from the BBC, and the owners and managers came from local business," Mr Pearson adds. "They were local butchers who were radio enthusiasts with no broadcasting business experience."

The BBC monopoly was supposedly destroyed when Capital Radio and LBC in London and Radio Clyde in Glasgow got their licences in 1973; in fact it took a further five years for commercial radio to crawl to just 19 licences across the country and 21 years more before its audience share overtook that of the BBC.

The slow development of the medium meant that in 1978 the first 19 stations took under pounds 30m a year in advertising and much of that was for local businesses who were responsible for the less-than-creative attitude to producing advertisements for radio.

Yet it was commercial radio that first introduced broadcasting ideas borrowed from America, which in turn were later taken up by the BBC. The phone-in, the on-air competition and the traffic helicopter were all introduced as commercial radio slowly started to steal listeners from "Auntie".

The real revolution came with the 1990 Broadcasting Act which created the first national commercial stations - Classic FM, Talk Radio and Virgin.

The Act also freed up space on the FM spectrum specifically for commercial stations with the result that there are now 204 commercial stations across the country.

In 1994 the increase in stations propelled commercial radio's share of listening above that of the BBC for the first time. Advertising revenues have grown by about a fifth every year since 1992 and the industry will take over pounds 400m this year.

"It went from being a cottage industry that had good audiences but never made any money to being a proper professional business," says Paul Robinson, programming director of Talk Radio.

The growth has been accompanied by big business moving into the sector.

Regardless of the high profile purchase of Virgin Radio by Chris Evans last year, much of the industry is now in the hands of three major companies:

y Publishing group Emap owns the Piccadilly station in Manchester and the Kiss franchises among others;

y Capital has its London station, licences across the country and a market capitalisation of pounds 500m;

y Swindon-based GWR owns Classic FM and local stations, including the Galaxy franchises.

All three companies are near the limits of what they are allowed to own by broadcasting regulations and are lobbying hard to be allowed to grow even bigger.

While the big commercial groups criticise their industry regulator, the Radio Authority, for restricting their growth, listener groups complain that it allows too many music stations playing middle-of-the-road album tracks to proliferate.

Yet commercial radio's local nature has always meant it has had a strength in minority broadcasting. From the start stations in the likes of Glasgow, Liverpool and Belfast succeeded because of their strong sense of local identity.

In the Nineties, commercial stations such as Sunrise, Choice and Spectrum now cater for audiences that range from Bangladeshi, Jewish and Arabic to specifically Gay and West Indian.

"It is a commercial station so we raise money from the businesses in the communities themselves, or from advertisers who want to reach a very specific audience," says Sathari Kan, a director of Spectrum Radio. "But stations like us are the place where commercial reality meets community and public service."

Chris Evans, DJ:

The Ginger Media empire got its start at Piccadilly Radio in Manchester where Evans began life as a general dogsbody for Timmy Mallett. He eventually managed to get himself on air as one of many background voices in Mallett's comedy sketches and studio mayhem pieces. Today he owns Virgin Radio.

Alan Bleasdale, writer:

Before writing the TV award-winning Boys from the Blackstuff and GBH, Alan Bleasdale had his own weekly comedy programme on Liverpool's Radio City. From 1974 onward he wrote and performed as Scully, an archetypal Liverpool character who later appeared in a Bleasdale-written television drama.

Jon Snow, news anchorman:

The Channel 4 News anchor's famously bad ties were acceptable when he began his broadcasting career with the 6am show on Independent Radio News. IRN began life as a subsidiary of LBC and had as its first client, Capital Radio, which was handy, as they were the only two independent radio stations in existence when it started in 1973.

Dave Lee Travis, DJ:

Another Piccadilly Radio in Manchester alumni, DLT later went on to become the quintessential Radio 1 disc jockey of the Seventies and Eighties. The main model for Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse's Smashey and Nicey take-off, Travis had a taste for silly nicknames and all that was wrong with the pre-Matthew Bannister Radio 1.

Bob Holness, game show host:

The generations brought up on the quiz show Blockbusters will find it difficult to believe that Bob Holness was once much more than a sixth- form cult. He started on LBC as Britain's first man reporting on traffic jams from a helicopter and went on to host LBC's award-winning breakfast show with Douglas Cameron for 10 years.

Janet Street-Porter, presenter:

Janet Street-Porter's move from print journalism to broadcasting was less than glorious. LBC gave her its 2am graveyard shift for three months at a time when her studio was unfinished before giving her an afternoon show with a producer who used to cry and hide in the lavatories whenever her guests didn't show up.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksNow available in paperback
Life and Style
The 67P/CG comet as seen from the Philae lander
scienceThe most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Koenig, creator of popular podcast Serial, which is to be broadcast by the BBC
tvReview: The secret to the programme's success is that it allows its audience to play detective
Ruby Wax has previously written about her mental health problems in her book Sane New World
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas