In America local radio is often broadcast to very small communities, sometimes the smaller the better. In the UK this is not the case and the areas covered tend to be much larger. I got to wondering why the Britain never really developed in the same way.
First of all though, wireless in the UK did indeed start out in the early 1920s as local radio with the first areas being Newcastle, Manchester and Birmingham. Lots of cities opened up stations but in a fairly short time they were closed and the BBC was set up as a national broadcasting station broadcasting from London.
In the 1960s Frank Gillard, who had been a well known war correspondent, started a movement to get local radio back onto the airwaves in the UK. He had been to the USA and was impressed with some of the ideas that he had seen there although his vision was more to provide a topical local news and sport variety rather than the music stations which were profligate there.
Around the same time, partly because of the technological advances which allowed for a larger range of frequencies to be available, there were a number of pirate radio stations operating from ships off the shores of the UK. These were more local by their very nature but the BBC did see them as a major threat. Although there was a great deal of reluctance from the BBC hierarchy, BBC local radio started with Radio Leicester on November 8th 1967.
It was not a full on station and only broadcast for a few hours each day. Very early on there were floods in the city centre and the local radio station provided a tremendous service in keeping the local inhabitants up to date with what was happening.
The British Broadcasting Corporation by its very name is a broadcaster and it has always stuck with the values of providing a broad range of subjects to its listeners. Over the last few years a number if independent local radio (ILR) stations have sprung up. They have gone much more down the narrowcasting route.
They tend to provide a more specific range of programs for their audience. This may be in the area of sport, music, politics or whatever.
Very soon the number of stations will increase dramatically. Digital radio has provided the opportunity of many more stations. I am sure that the future will see many stations in each big city and a number covering smaller rural areas throughout the UK. Perhaps each soccer team will have its local station, each orchestra likewise. In this way Britain will be closing the gap up with America.
Image: Noel Edmunds 1960s