Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Happy Birthday LBC

The various incarnations of LBC Radio over 40 years.
Waking up this morning felt like being in a timewarp.  Douglas Cameron was once again reading LBC 97.3's news bulletin with his effortless delivery.  It almost made me want to get my satchel on again and head off to primary school with my mother.

LBC is 40 years old today, the first commercial radio station to be launched in the UK (with Capital Radio on October 16th), it's main role to provide speech radio to London.  The business would at the time be viable as they would provide the national news service for commercial radio stations which would be launched gradually throughout the 70s, known as Independent Radio News (IRN).

My early memories of LBC was listening to the late evening phone-ins from the likes of Robbie Vincent and Mike Allen which mixed serious topical discussion with more light hearted discussion, however Clive Bull's show was legendary.  Moving from Through the Night to the late evening slot where callers became as much a listen.  Babs from Bermondsey, Adrian from Tottenham Court Road and others were great radio.

LBC's politics off-air was just as interesting.  Strikes in the 1970s, numerous owners, the business nearly going bust, being sold to a foreign company who moved the station away from the City of London to Hammersmith, being forced to split the FM and AM licences to provide alternative services and then eventually going bust in 1993 when the Radio Authority decided to award the award LBC's two licences for FM and AM to Reuters who then bought the station to maintain the output until the official licence handover in October 1994.

Reuters replaced LBC with two non LBC branded stations, London News (Rolling news) and London News Talk (phone-ins), the latter taking on LBC's heritage in all but name.   However the two formats didn't perform as well as expected and a new consortium which included the Daily Mail and General Trust and upcoming media group GWR relaunched LBC on it's AM frequency and moved output to ITN's then new modern building in Gray's Inn Road, while keeping the rolling news service on FM.

In 2002, LBC was sold by the London News Radio consortium to Chrysalis who owned Heart FM, so once again moved from central London to West London.   The formats were also flipped, rolling news moved to AM while the talk radio format switched back to FM for the first time since 1994.  

The relaunch format was more highbrow, however Chrysalis didn't learn from the mistakes of Crown FM in 1989 which attempted to compete with BBC Radio 4 and then brought in David Lloyd who controversially brought in 'appointment to listen' radio.  This basically meant LBC's heritage format of news talk was axed outside of weekday breakfast and the rest of the output consisted of pub ammo style discussion.  One of the most controversial signings was Iain Lee, who brought with him younger listeners which Chrysalis desired to attract advertisers.  Yet it felt as if the heart of the station had been ripped out in Lloyd's attempt to bring revenue.  However he should be congratulated for the innovative LBC podcast where listeners paid a small fee to listen again to shows listeners missed.

Chrysalis eventually sold their radio business to a new radio group, Global who then acquired GCap Media, so Global moved it to their new broadcast centre in Leicester Square.   Under Global, LBC is at the heart of their newsroom, while a revamped news talk format was introduced which has seen ratings soar to over a million listeners.  Politicians are regulars on the station, with Nick Clegg and Boris Johnson presenting phone-ins and former London Mayor Ken Livingstone with former Tory MP David Mellor on Saturday mornings. 

LBC has finally settled down as an alternative to Radio 4, 5 Live and BBC London, but has returned to it's core values of news and giving Londoners a mouthpiece.

Happy Birthday LBC, it's well deserved.

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