News in 1973 (Part IV)

[… “News in 1973” continued from part III]

Radio is cleaning up the nation

It’s somewhat incredible to realise that until 1973, the only legal radio broadcasts in the UK came from the BBC.

Yes, there were the overseas broadcasts from Radio Luxembourg and the “pirates” on the sea (Radio Caroline particularly popular), but both major political parties seemed adamant that UK radio should remain entirely in the domain of the government-owned broadcaster.

So much so, that in the late 60’s the then labour-run government went to great lengths to shut down the pirate stations, extending the powers of the Telegraphy Act so that small stations who conducted their business from offshore sandbanks or unmoored ships were forced to stop broadcasting, these areas now falling into the new reference of “territorial waters”

There was then a (retrospectively) ironic turn of events for Harold Wilson‘s Labour government. On January 1st 1970, the voting age in the UK dropped from 21 to 18, six months before a general election. It is generally felt that – as a direct result of Wilson’s heavy-handed stand against radio piracy (especially given the whole boom in pop music culture in the preceeding 6 or 7 years) – the suffrage of the 18-21 year old age group actually helped in booting him – and labour principles – from power.

Ted Heath‘s Conservative government secured a surprise win and, once in control, announced a Bill for the introduction of commercial radio in the UK. In 1972 the IBA (Independent Broadcasting Authority) came into being and began planning the new services, advertising for potential groups interested in becoming broadcasters.

The first territories offered were Glasgow and London, with two contracts offered for the latter.

The London contract for “news/information” went to LBC (London Broadcasting Company), whilst the “entertainment” contract was awarded to Capital Radio. Both stations commenced broadcasting in 1973.

I didn’t hear Capital Radio for years. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to… I actually couldn’t. In something of a major governmental cock-up the station was given a medium wave frequency exactly the same as Radio Veronica, a pirate radio station broadcasting from Holland. The interference between the two stations meant no-one in Southern England (raises hand) could hear either clearly! (The frequency was not changed until 1975)

As time went by more and more independent stations opened up across the UK. Radio Clyde – winner of the Glasgow contract – also began broadcasting in 1973 (albeit on 31st December), but the next year saw Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield and Liverpool all get on the (non-BBC) radio map.

Despite all this ‘new radio’, I stuck with what I knew and had grown to love. BBC’s Radio 1 was always my first choice (the Top 30 chart show and John Peel‘s night-time show particular favourites, Tony Blackburn‘s breakfast show something of a secret “guilty pleasure”) with Radio Luxembourg a distant second in my affections.

[“News in 1973” concludes in Part V]

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