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Ch. 2: News on local radio

Note taking from Local Journalism and Local Media: Making the Local News by Franklin, Bob (2006); Routledge.


1967 saw the launch of the modern system of local radio in Britain. The technology was of no apparent demand.

Wireless telephony seemed useful during wartime but broadcasting? The latter seemed to have no use.

Back in 1916, David Sarnoff of the American Marconi Company, thought of a plan to make the radio a ‘household utility’ like a radio music box; a medium for entertainment, information and education.

The radio service that developed in America was commercial, envisaging broadcasting as a means of selling products to the public, or, put another way, of delivering audiences to advertisers.

In Britain, broadcasting was perceived as a universal cultural resources, rather like schools and public libraries.

Wireless broadcasting began locally and then turned national under John Reith’s influence. This saw local radio virtually disappear (Gorham 1952: 78; Harvey and Robins 1994: 41).

What persisted were regional variations within what was a networked service controlled, if not originated, from London (Scannell & Cardiff 1991: 15).

In the 50s/60s, VHF/FM technology improved the quality of wireless & afforded low-power transmission. Stations that were a reasonable distance apart could share the same frequency. It made room for many more local stations.

The first local stations, a BBC monopoly, were not launched until 1967. By 1972, only about 40% of the radio audience had FM (Briggs 1995: 842).


Only in the 1980s did most pick up on the FM trend because the four national BBC networks switched to VHF/FM for better sound quality.

With more stations, the public service element was reduced. Previously, it had been justified on the basis of spectrum scarcity.

1973 — launch of a commercial of ‘independent’ local radio (ILR).

The Sound Broadcasting Act required the station to provide the ‘balance of programming’ that was a cardinal feature of public service.

In the 80s/90s there were even newer technologies — cable, satellite, digital transmission and the internet. The main aim of the Broadcasting Acts of 1990 and 1996 was to acknowledge the abundance of new technologies by deregulating them.

With scarcity no longer an issue, public service had to be justified differently.

Since the BBC is funded from a licence fee and not from advertising, it has a general obligation to offer what ‘the market’ cannot deliver to any acceptable standard or extent. including news and current affairs.

The 1990 Broadcasting Act largely divested ILR of its public service obligations; it is not even obliged to provide news. ‘There is no requirement for [independent] local radio to carry local news and insofar as it does so, there is nothing to prevent that local news being bought in from the local newspaper’ (Radio Authority 1995: 13).


Most stations do carry local news for the hard business sense reason that ILR can’t construct itself as local any other way. ILR’s main diet of popular music is nearly entirely non-local.

Organisational Issues

The similarities between ILR and the BBC stem from the competitive environment in which they operate.

Regular listening figures are produced by Radio Joint Audience Research Ltd (RAJAR) (Starkey 2004: 114-18).

  • ILR needs the numbers for advertising
  • The BBC needs the numbers to justify itself in terms of licence fee payers and the decennial charter renewals (BBC 2004: 135).

Local papers are seen as complementary to local news so there’s no need for national or international coverage. Local radio audiences however, seem to expect it.

The first ILR regulator, the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA), would only allow the best-resourced stations to provide their own mix of news. The rest were required to broadcast a live 3-minute bulletin from Independent Radio News (IRN) followed by their own 2-minute local bulletin.

The Radio Authority (1991-2003) and Ofcom provided a lighter touch of regulation. Most stations could do their own.

pp. 19-20

The underlying national structures of BBC News, IRN and Sky News Radio provided the economies of scale to provide such comprehensive bulletins.

Regionalisation of resources threatens the autonomy of local journalism.

The BBC’s internal organisation is essentially metropolitan in nature and, outside of peak times, extensive programme sharing takes place. After deregulation: the original diversity of ownership within ILR was all but destroyed.

The biggest groups often determine programming and editorial policies centrally.


Technological Advances

With relative ease, a central, suitably equipped newsdesk can now create bespoke bulletins for each of the different stations within its area and send them out at once or at a predetermined time. Prerecording bulletins is a well-established practice.

The Chrysalis Group inserts different regional news bulletins and traffic news at predetermined points in the otherwise national programming in each service area.

Reporting remotely has been made easier by digital data transmission technology.


ISDN lines have made transmission cheaper. — Also see the BBC Community Bus.

The internet has made it easier to create even a quite elaborate news package in situ. Reporters no longer need to go back to base.

[[360 degree exploitation => BBCi? I think was the the pre-iPlayers plan. How relevant is this for the BBC these days (2022)? They delete quite a lot.]]

The internet can provide radio stations not available on the frequencies.

The internet has created a ‘technological’ localness in addition to the ‘geographical’ localness.


Radio stations are now streamed live or available as podcasts — anywhere.

Also, there’s diasporic listening.

McLuhan (2001) predicted in the 1960s that geographical displacement will be rendered less significant by the growth of the mass media.

Editorial issues


In some localities, shared identify is so strong that non-indigenous broadcasting is perceived with a scepticism bordering on resentment.

The appetite for local news is at its greatest here. See Merseyside, a very local focused city. Because the tv local news has traditionally been produced in Manchester, BBC Radio Merseyside and EMAP’s Radio City together regularly achieve the top two positions in the market (Boon 2005: 23).

Stations with the lowest audience shares in their regions are almost all around London.


p.25 Technology threatens and facilitates localness. Journalists can get and report stories quicker. Above all, new technology reminds us of how problematic a concept localness is. Where does it begin and end?

Localness is no longer geographical; it is a state of mind.


Published by Joanna

A collection of fleeting thoughts that tend to focus around Bristol, food, movies, music and photography.

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