In a deal announced yesterday, ITN bought the 18 per cent stake in Independent Radio News Holdings formerly owned by LBC, the London news-based radio station, and won a three-year contract to supply the service.
ITN will take on most of the 38 staff contracted to Independent Radio News, currently the main news provider to commercial radio, which till now has been based at LBC, and transfer them to its under-used offices in Gray's Inn Road, central London.
Mervyn Hall, an ITN executive who was in charge of ITN's abortive attempt to set up a commercial radio news service two years ago, will become chief editor. ITN is now expected to take part in a consortium to bid for the third national commercial radio franchise, which has to be speech-based.
The outcome of this franchise could be vital to commercial radio's future. There is concern that under recessionary pressure it is turning into the juke box of the air, rather than offering a credible alternative to the BBC, whose local radio stations offer 80 per cent speech output.
John Perkins, editor and managing director of IRN, who will run the new service, said yesterday ITN planned to make few changes to the service, though it would benefit from the extra resources of ITN.
Under the deal, Crown Communications, which runs LBC, has sold all its 40 per cent stake in IRN. The balance, after ITN's stake, has been taken by other commercial radio companies.