Independent Local Radio

Independent Local Radio is the collective name given to commercial radio stations in the United Kingdom. As a result of the buyouts and mergers permitted by the Broadcasting Act 1990, and deregulation resulting from the Communications Act 2003, most commercial stations are now neither independent (although they remain independent from the BBC) nor local. The same name is used for Independent Local Radio in Ireland.

Logo used by the Independent Broadcasting Authority for promoting Independent Local Radio services in the 1980s.


Development of ILR

Until the early 1970s, the BBC had a legal monopoly on radio broadcasting in the UK. Despite competition from the commercial Radio Luxembourg and, for a period in the mid-1960s, the off-shore "pirate" broadcasters, it had remained the policy of both major political parties that radio was to remain under the BBC.

Upon the election of Edward Heath's government in 1970, this policy changed. It is possible that Heath's victory was partly due to younger voters upset by the UK government closing down the popular pirate radio stations.[1][2]

The new Minister of Post and Telecommunications and former ITN newscaster, Christopher Chataway, announced a bill to allow for the introduction of commercial radio in the United Kingdom. This service would be planned and regulated in a similar manner to the existing ITV service and would compete with the recently developed BBC Local Radio services (rather than the four national BBC services).

The Sound Broadcasting Act[3] received royal assent on 12 July 1972 and the Independent Television Authority (ITA) accordingly changed its name to the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) that same day.[4]

The IBA immediately began to plan the new service, placing advertisements encouraging interested groups to apply for medium-term contracts to provide programmes in given areas. The first major areas to be advertised were London and Glasgow, with two contracts available in London, one for "news and information", one for "general and entertainment".[5]

The London news contract was awarded to London Broadcasting Company (LBC) and they began broadcasting on 8 October 1973. The London general contract went to Capital Radio, who began broadcasting on 16 October 1973. In total, 19 contracts were awarded between 1973 and 1976. Due to government limits on capital expenditure and turbulence in the broadcasting field (mainly due to the Annan Report), no further contracts were awarded until 1980, when a second tranche of contracts were awarded. All stations were awarded an AM and an FM frequency, on which they broadcast the same service.

First and second tranche contracts

First tranche contracts
Airdate[6] City Station name
8 October 1973 London LBC
16 October 1973 London Capital Radio
31 December 1973 Glasgow Radio Clyde
19 February 1974 Birmingham BRMB
2 April 1974 Manchester Piccadilly Radio
15 July 1974 Newcastle-upon-Tyne Metro Radio
30 September 1974 Swansea Swansea Sound
1 October 1974 Sheffield Radio Hallam
21 October 1974 Liverpool Radio City
22 January 1975 Edinburgh Radio Forth
19 May 1975 Plymouth Plymouth Sound
24 June 1975 Stockton-on-Tees Radio Tees
3 July 1975 Nottingham Radio Trent
16 September 1975 Bradford Pennine Radio
14 October 1975 Portsmouth Radio Victory
28 October 1975 Ipswich Radio Orwell
8 March 1976 Reading Radio 210
16 March 1976 Belfast Downtown Radio
12 April 1976 Wolverhampton Beacon Radio
Second tranche contracts
Airdate[6] City Station name
11 April 1980 Cardiff CBC (Cardiff Broadcasting Company)
23 May 1980 Coventry Mercia Sound
10 July 1980 Peterborough Hereward Radio
15 September 1980 Bournemouth 2CR (Two Counties Radio)
17 October 1980 Dundee Radio Tay
23 October 1980 Gloucester Severn Sound
7 November 1980 Exeter DevonAir Radio
14 November 1980 Perth Radio Tay
12 December 1980 Torbay DevonAir Radio
27 July 1981 Aberdeen Northsound Radio
1 September 1981 Leeds Radio Aire
7 September 1981 Leicester Centre Radio
12 September 1981 Southend-on-Sea Essex Radio
15 October 1981 Luton Chiltern Radio
27 October 1981 Bristol Radio West
4 December 1981 Ayr and Girvan West Sound Radio
10 December 1981 Chelmsford Essex Radio
23 February 1982 Inverness Moray Firth Radio
1 March 1982 Bedford Chiltern Radio
4 October 1982 Worcester Radio Wyvern
5 October 1982 Preston Red Rose Radio
12 October 1982 Swindon Wiltshire Radio
6 November 1982 Bury St Edmunds Saxon Radio
4 April 1983 Guildford County Sound
13 June 1983 Newport Gwent Broadcasting
29 August 1983 Brighton Southern Sound Radio
5 September 1983 Stoke-on-Trent Signal Radio
5 September 1983 Wrexham Marcher Sound
17 April 1984 Kingston-upon-Hull Viking Radio
5 September 1984 Leicester Leicester Sound[lower-alpha 1]
1 October 1984 Norwich Radio Broadland
1 October 1984 Northampton Hereward Radio
1 October 1984 East Kent Invicta Sound
20 October 1984 Crawley Radio Mercury
12 October 1986 Southampton and Portsmouth Ocean Sound
30 November 1986 Northampton and Northamptonshire Northants 96
3 March 1987 Derby Radio Trent
22 May 1987 Bath GWR Radio Bath
4 October 1988 Nottingham and Derby GEM-AM
4 December 1988 Fareham and South Hampshire Power FM
15 September 1989 Oxford and Banbury Fox FM
28 August 1990 Coventry Radio Harmony
1 March 1992 Lincolnshire and East Nottinghamshire Lincs FM
3 April 1992 Cornwall Pirate FM
24 May 1996 Warwickshire, Worcestershire and The Cotswolds FM102 The Bear
29 September 1996 North Suffolk and East Norfolk The Beach
22 November 1998 Doncaster and Bassetlaw Trax FM
13 December 1998 Rutland and Stamford Rutland Radio
3 October 1999 Wakefield Ridings FM
1 December 1999 South Hams South Hams Radio
3 June 2001 North East Lincolnshire Compass FM
5 October 2003 Barnsley Dearne FM
15 October 2006 Rotherham Rother FM
  1. Launched after failed Centre Radio went into receivership.

Extension of ILR

In the late 1980s, the expansion of ILR continued at a similar rate. Under the Broadcasting Acts, the IBA had a duty to ensure that any area it licensed for radio could support a station with the available advertising revenue. Therefore, many areas were not included in the IBA's ILR plans as it was felt that they were not viable.[7] This did not prevent Radio West in Bristol getting into financial trouble and having to merge with Wiltshire Radio on 1 October 1985;[8] nor did it prevent Centre Radio going into receivership on 6 October 1983.[9]

Split services

Nevertheless, the areas served by ILR continued to increase and 1986 the IBA sanctioned in principle the idea that different services could be broadcast on each station's FM and AM frequency although the first experimental part-time split service was provided by Radio Forth, who created Festival City Radio for the duration of the Edinburgh Festival in 1984. The first station to permanently split their frequencies was Guildford's County Sound[10] who rebranded the FM output as Premier Radio and turned the AM output into a new golden oldies station, County Sound Gold in 1988. Other stations then followed suit.

By 1988, the government had decided that the practice of splitting was beneficial and a quick way to increase choice for listeners. The IBA then began a programme of encouraging ILR stations to split their services and most stations had soon complied. The usual format was to have a "gold" (oldies) service on AM and pop music on FM, although Radio City tried "City Talk" on AM before abandoning the format.

The Broadcasting Act 1990

The Broadcasting Act 1990 provided for the abolition of the IBA and its replacement by the Independent Television Commission. The IBA continued to regulate radio under the new name of the Radio Authority, but with a different remit.

As a "light-touch" regulator (although heavier than the ITC), the Radio Authority was to issue licences to the highest bidder and promote the development of commercial radio choice.[11]


This led to the awarding of three national contracts, known as Independent National Radio to Classic FM, Virgin 1215 (later Virgin Radio and then rebranded Absolute Radio) and Talk Radio (later Talksport).

The Radio Authority also began to license Restricted Service Licence (RSL) stations – low-power temporary radio stations for special events, operating for up to 28 days a year – and to reduce the criteria for a "viable service area" with the introduction of Small Scale Local Licences (SALLIES) for villages, special interest groups and small communities.[12]

By this time the medium wave band had become unpopular with radio groups and the majority of new stations were awarded an FM licence only, even when an AM licence was jointly available.

In 1994 the Radio Authority introduced regional stations (Independent Regional Radio, again usually grouped under the banner "ILR" by most commentators) and began to license the commercial Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) multiplexes in October 1998.[11]

The Radio Authority was replaced by the Office of Communications (Ofcom) in 2004, which also replaced the ITC, the Broadcasting Standards Commission, the Radio Communications Agency and the Office of Telecommunications (Oftel). Ofcom has stated that they plan to continue the development of Independent Local Radio, with an emphasis on digital broadcasting, and to "ensure the character" of local stations, following the mergers and loss of local identities that followed the 1990 Act.[11]

ILR stations

In 2005, there were 217 licensed analogue ILR and IRR services in England; 16 in Wales; 34 in Scotland; eight in Northern Ireland; and two in the Channel Islands. These are licences rather than franchises. Some licences are grouped nationally, regionally or by format to provide one service; other licences cover two or more services.[11]

There were three national analogue services. There was one national DAB multiplex (Digital One) and 47 regional DAB multiplexes, owned by 10 and operated by nine companies (each multiplex carrying multiple services).[13]

Manx Radio

The first licensed commercial radio station in the United Kingdom is often stated to be Manx Radio, which launched in June 1964.[14] However, since the Isle of Man is not part of the United Kingdom, Manx Radio is not considered to be an ILR station and launched with a Post Office licence. Manx Radio is funded by a mixture of commercial advertising and a yearly £860,000 Manx Government subvention.

See also


  1. Defiance, Defeat and Retribution Radio Caroline Web Site. Retrieved 28 July 2007
  2. The day we woke up to pop music on Radio 1 Daily Telegraph Retrieved 2007-09-30
  3. BFI researchers' guide - legislation. Retrieved 4 January 2006
  4. Henry, Brian, ed. (1986). British Television Advertising - The First Thirty Years. London: Century Benham. p. 145.
  5. Croston, Eric (Ed.) Television and Radio 1985 - Guide to Independent Broadcasting Independent Broadcasting Authority, London 1984.
  6. Graham, Russ J. "Original ILR Airdates". Radiomusications from Transdiffusion. Retrieved 4 January 2006.
  7. Croston, Eric (Ed.) Television and Radio 1981 - Focus on Independent Broadcasting Independent Broadcasting Authority, London 1980.
  8. Rogers, Andrew RW + WR = GWR Radiomusications from Transdiffusion, retrieved 4 January 2006
  9. Parry, Simon Off Centre Radiomusications from Transdiffusion, retrieved 4 January 2006
  10. County Sound Radio MDS975, retrieved 8 August 2007
  11. Ward, Inna (Ed.) Whitaker's Almanack 2006 A & C Black, London 2005; pp621631
  12. Woodyear, Clive (Ed.) Radio Listener's Guide 2003, The Clive Woodyear Publishing 2002
  13. Ofcom radio licensing webpages. Retrieved 4 January 2006
  14. Manx Radio website, retrieved 4 January 2006
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