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BBC London 94.9

BBC London 94.9 is London's BBC Local Radio station, and part of BBC London. Broadcasting across the city on 94.9 FM, DAB, Virgin Media, Sky Digital and also on the Internet, it was previously known as London Live, GLR (Greater London Radio) and before that Radio London, not to be confused with the pirate radio station of the same name. Each incarnation represented different management and scheduling. The current BBC London Managing Editor is David Robey.

History

The earliest ever regular local radio broadcast dates as far back as the 1920s, with the launch of 2LO in 1922. The station, based at Marconi House on the Strand, Central London was opened by Guglielmo Marconi became the British Broadcasting Company's first radio station. The first-ever news bulletin was read by Arthur Burrows. "2LO Calling" was its call-sign and preceded all programmes on the air. In 1923 2LO moved to bigger premises with studios adjacent to the Savoy Hotel in London. Its transmission tower was located on the roof of department store Selfridges in the West End. In 1930 2LO evolved into two programming networks - the BBC National Programme and the BBC Regional Programme, 2LO being integrated into the latter.

BBC Radio London (1970 - 1988)

Local radio was to arrive in Central London as part of a pilot project headed by Frank Gilliard, who on arrival to the United States discovered local radio stations of varying formats and was to bring this concept to Britain.

Test transmissions for the new local radio station were carried out from Wrotham, Kent on 95.3 MHz in FM mono, relaying BBC Radio 1 (which was at the time only broadcast on medium wave), with several announcements informing listeners of the new service. On 6 October 1970 BBC Radio London was launched, three years before commercial radio for Greater London in the guise of LBC. An additional medium wave frequency was allocated on 1458 kHz (206 metres) from Brookman's Park. 95.3 soon changed to 94.9.

Radio London was the local station for the capital however in the early days it relied heavily on news reports from other stations in the BBC network and often shared programming with BBC Radio 2. It took on a fairly lively sound and featured (and still does to this day) extensive traffic reports, phone-in programmes - where it pioneered the daily phone-in in the UK - and lots of contemporary and middle-of-the-road music. A phone-in programme, Sounding Brass, was pioneered, devised and first presented by Owen Spencer-Thomas in 1977. Listeners were invited to choose a Christmas carol or hymn while a Salvation Army brass band stood by in the studio to play their request live. It later moved to BBC Radio 2 and was presented by Gloria Hunniford.

As soon as Independent Local Radio stations LBC and Capital Radio went on-air public attention to Radio London declined with the station attempting to copy both. Its to be noted that the name Radio London is not to be confused with Wonderful Radio London, an off-shore commercial pop music station which was silenced before the launch of BBC Radio 1.

BBC Radio London started regular broadcasts from Harewood House, Hanover Square, near Oxford Circus later moving to 35 Marylebone High Street - the former Radio Times warehouse, famously without windows and providing an enormous sub-basement studio.

Tests for FM stereo began in 1981 with Music on the Move a programme featuring non-stop music prior to full launch on 11 February. The FM transmitter was shortly moved to Crystal Palace. This coincided with the planned relaunch in 1981 which saw the station take on a style which was softer than BBC Radio 2 - a station predominantly playing Easy Listening music, music ranged from softer contemporary pop, like The Carpenters, to light classical music. This was a move which was unpopular with employed staff, who thought it very un-hip, and politicians who would question the need for a local radio station to sound like the two music-based BBC national networks. However the relaunch lead to improved audience figures and a string of awards and accolades.

The 1981 on-air schedule looked like this:

  • 0630-0900 Rush Hour with Susie Barnes and John Waite
  • 0900-1000 Morning Star
  • 1000-1230 The Robbie Vincent Telephone Programme
  • 1230-1240 Lunchtime News
  • 1240-1430 Total Music Show with Tony Fish
  • 1430-1700 Tony Blackburn
  • 1700-1715 Evening News
  • 1715-1830 Music on the Move
  • 1830-1900 Speech programmes
  • 1900-2000 Black Londoners
  • 2000-2030 Parliamentary Question Time
  • 2030-0630 BBC Radio 2 simulcast

One of its most influential programmes on the schedule was Black Londoners devised by Ray Criushank, a community relations officer for the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham and presented by Alex Pascall. The programme has helped to develop on-air talent from London's Afro-Caribbean community, namely Juliet Alexander, Syd Burke and Mike Phillips and was the pioneering programme on television or radio to regularly speak to Black Londoners. The programme changed title to 'Black London' shortly before Radio London closed (see below). It was recently revived for a short time in 2003 with Pascall returning as presenter. The forerunner to the BBC Asian Network was a hugely popular Asian programme, London Sounds Eastern presented by Vernon Corea who was appointed the BBC's Ethnic Minorities Adviser in the 1970s. Pandit Ravi Shankar, Indian pop star Usha Uthup, were among those interviewed for ' London Sounds Eastern' launched on BBC Radio London in 1976 and produced by Keith Yeomans. The programme introduced the Bollywood music of Asha Bhosle, Lata Mangeshkar to new London audiences.

A programming relaunch in 1984 saw Radio London adopt the tagline "The Heart and Soul of London" with more soul music being played during the day. Tony Blackburn from BBC Radio 1 moved up the schedule to host a morning show for housewives playing classic soul of the 1970s and presenting a show laced with cheeky jokes and double entendres, once daring to 'get out his 12-incher' - referring to an LP record. He was sacked in 1988 crossing the line of taste and decency, conveniently in time for the station's first relaunch. Regular Soul Night Outs were held initially in Kilburn but later in other venues, like Ilford. This was where Dave Pearce, later of BBC Radio 1 fame made his first regular appearances as a BBC DJ. Two of the station's producers Guy Hornsby (Tony Blackburn) and Mike Gray (Robbie Vincent Telephone Programme) later went on to create the ground-breaking commercial dance stations Kiss 102 and Kiss 105 which recaptured the somewhat anarchic spirit of BBC Radio London in its mid-1980s heyday to great audience and commercial success.

BBC Radio London closed on 7 October 1988, much to the dismay of regular listeners. The final programme, just before its 18th birthday, was presented by Mike Sparrow and Susie Barnes. Immediately after closedown at 7pm, test transmissions began for the next 17 days, preparing for a new radio station for London.

Greater London Radio (GLR) (1988 - 2000)

Launch

Test transmissions for the new Greater London Radio began as soon as Radio London closed. Its pre-launch announcements stated in no uncertain terms that GLR was to be radically different in style promising the fastest news, traffic and travel news every 20 minutes and the best music mix. GLR was to be the first new radio station in London for 15 years.

This was the irreverent announcement aired four days before launch:

''"This is Greater London Radio and as I'm sure you will have noticed by now we the BBC have been paying you the public to patronise [you]...

...sorry to say that this all changes at 6am Tuesday 25 October. Interruptions to the music will then be performed by a host of celebrities and stars...and also appearing will be Nick "who, he?" Abbot, Emma "Oh my God!" Freud, Tim "who him?" Walker, Timbo the Bimbo [Tim LLoyd] and Tommy "No seriously!" Vance. Sorry this is the best we could come up with, with the budget available and at least thank God you wont be forced to look at them!..."

"GLR: as heard but not seen in London starting 6am, Tuesday 25 October"

Heading the new station were Managing Editor Matthew Bannister and Programme Organiser Trevor Dann. Bannister, from Capital Radio, favoured a young, racy, news and speech format, miles away from the typically stuffy BBC Local Radio sound. Dann came from Radio 1, via BBC TV's Whistle Test, and developed an album-oriented music policy. GLR was aimed at people who hate pop but love music, hate prattle (excessive on-air talk) but want to know what's what where in the world. The station was aimed at 25-45 year olds, who perhaps grew up with Radio 1, but now wanted to be intelligently informed about the city in which they live, and the world in general. Early promotions used the phrase "rock 'n' rolling news". The music mix was best described as Adult album alternative, a format programmed by Trevor Dann. It has been said this Triple-A format inspired the launch of BBC 6 Music years later.

The launch line-up looked like this:

Chris Evans took on a variety of roles on GLR, often presenting a weekend show, ending in 1993 as his media career took off. Danny Baker has had a long association with the station, presenting Weekend Breakfast from 1989-1990 & then returned to present a Sunday morning show from 1996-1998. Janice Long presented the Breakfast show on the station from 1989 - 1991 & Kevin Greening started as a producer in 1989, before becoming a presenter of the Breakfast show with Jeremy Nicholas in 1991.

Specialist speech programmes in the evening were aimed at London's communities – Asian, Afro-Caribbean, Jewish, Gay and Irish. Black London was replaced with Margaret Jones aka Ranking Miss P, who was dropped by Radio 1. "Lavender Lounge" - the programme for the Gay community, was presented by comedienne Amy Lamé. The Weekends featured extensive sports coverage, centreing on football and London's numerous clubs such as Arsenal F.C., Spurs and West Ham United F.C..

In 1989 GLR set up a youth-based radio training facility at Vauxhall College, SW8, which was followed with a second course based at White City, W12. This was allocated funds from the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham and the British Parliament.

Travel News

One unique aspect of GLR was the ability to access directly Scotland Yard's network of traffic cameras across London's busiest streets. This enabled its reporters, most commonly "Bob at the Yard", to give unparalleled accurate traffic and travel news to its listeners. The reports were known as 20/20 Travel, named because its travel reports were read out every 20 minutes during peak times. No other radio station had this access for a while — even managing to out-do Capital Radio's traffic plane, known as the Flying Eye.

Controversy and closure

However only three years into the newly relaunched station the station was given an additional three years to prove itself to its audience by senior BBC management or close for good: this threat was also applied to its other metropolitan BBC Local Radio stations BBC WM in Birmingham and Manchester's BBC GMR. The threat was lifted after the BBC deemed it sufficiently patronised to remain on-air, however criticism of the station grew from its Radio London days, causing then Minister for Broadcasting David Mellor to remark "the BBC must think hard whether it is occupying [radio] frequencies without making much use of them". This claim was rejected by senior management.

In 1991, Matthew Bannister left to spearhead the BBC's charter-renewal strategy called Extending Choice. He was replaced as Managing Editor by Trevor Dann. Kate Marsh was appointed News Editor.

In 1992 GLR was forced to relinquish its 1458 kHz medium wave frequency, for a new commercial radio station which was eventually won by Sunrise Radio. Previously it had been simulcasting with 94.9 MHz FM with a few programmes which occasionally opted from FM.

In 1993, Nigel Chapman, Head of BBC South & East, drove through a policy of "speech shoulders", forcing GLR to drop its music/speech mix at breakfast and drive times. Dann resigned in protest and left the BBC.

Steve Panton, formerly Managing Editor of BBC Radio Solent, took over and GLR limped on with a small listener base, but its music policy gained a cult following, particularly among its younger adult listeners. One of its noted DJs on-air at the time was Gary Crowley, who had a weekend show which regularly showcased new and unsigned bands, often not getting much airplay on commercial radio stations, and to a lesser extent, Radio 1. Other DJs, notably Bob Mills ("Millsie") had a loyal following of cab drivers and cockney phone-ins. With the launch of new specialist commercial stations Kiss 100, Jazz FM and XFM GLR remained distinct. Speech rather than music formed a higher percentage of airtime than most commercial stations.

In 1999, following a consultation exercise on local broadcasting in the South East, the BBC decided to rebrand GLR and substantially change the programming. A campaign to "Save GLR" was organised and a petition delivered to the BBC . The argument became acrimonious. In particular those opposed to the changes argued that the BBC never organised a public meeting in London as part of the consultation exercise and, when one was organised by supporters of the station, no one involved in the consultation exercise attended. Although the campaign was unsuccessful in saving GLR, and the rebranding went ahead the next year, it demonstrated the existence of a loyal audience for its format. GLR's music format, and several of its presenters, returned to the BBC with the launch of the national digital station BBC 6 Music in 2002.

BBC London Live (2000 - 2001)

Facing even more public criticism over GLR's position in the London radio market and its very low listening reach, the station was relaunched on the 25 March 2000 as BBC London Live 94.9 in a blaze of publicity. Promising even more speech and less music, London Live - originally the title for GLR's lunch-time news show (presented by Charles Carroll, now on BBC Radio 2) was launched with new on-air personalities and new shows, including a speech-heavy breakfast show and a mid-morning phone-in and debate. Only drivetime and the specialist shows would remain, albeit refreshed. The re-launch at the time was promoted by huge billboards and television spots on BBC Newsroom South East depicting London's famous landmarks as radio paraphernalia (a woman seen raising Big Ben as a radio aerial for example). It cost the BBC in excess of £20 million - an amount seen by vocal critics, led by private media as 'obscene amount of money' and added to repeated calls for the licence fee (which also funds radio) to be scrapped.

Leading the relaunch was Station Director David Robey, who hired such personalities as Lisa I'Anson, Vanessa Feltz, Tom Watt and various Black presenters such as Eddie Nestor and Dotun Adebayo. Most notably another presenter, Henry Bonsu was controversially sacked, then re-hired in a baffling manner, BBC chiefs cited questionable reasons for his departure with critics believing it was racially motivated.

BBC LDN / BBC London 94.9 (2001 - present)

October 2001 saw another name change to BBC LDN, this time as part of a tri-media pilot project which would see radio and regional television news and online presence housed in its newly-refurbished studio at Marylebone High Street. The pilot project was to brand all aspects of it operations as BBC London. This included BBC London News, the daily regional news bulletin on BBC One television. Newly updated jingles were added with its new slogan "On TV, on radio, online", voiced by London News host Emily Maitlis.

New recruits to BBC London 94.9 included award-winning presenter Jon Gaunt from BBC Three Counties Radio, former GLR presenter Danny Baker, and Sean Rowley. Danny Baker would host a different style of breakfast show, with his alternative and quirky take on London life, which was co-hosted with American comedienne Amy Lamé. Jon Gaunt would then host the mid-morning phone-in show, voicing his strong opinions on an unsuspecting public. Longtime GLR stalwart Robert Elms was kept at lunchtime, discovering London's deepest darkest secrets and revealing stories behind London's long and rich history. Vanessa Feltz would take over Lisa I'Anson's afternoon slot with a lively and fun phone-in. Drivetime with Eddie Nestor and Kath Melandri would guide Londoners home with news updates, sport, travel and debates with the public. Specialist programmes for the Black community would emerge at the weekends along with extensive sports coverage and alternative music shows in the evening. (See full schedule here). BBC London would also see the return of Tony Blackburn on Saturdays, over 20 years since he first appeared on the station. His show was as before, playing classic soul music and chat.

Extra sport matches featuring football clubs such as Fulham F.C. and have received additional coverage on BBC London, through its DAB Digital Radio platform, on Sky Digital channel 0152 and on 765 kHz medium wave (for coverage of West Ham United F.C., normally BBC Essex's frequency).

BBC London 94.9 was the first BBC Local Radio to air a 24-hour live stream online, which coincided with the 2001 re-launch. It also aired on DAB Digital Radio in July 2000 and on Sky Digital (channel 0152) in 2005 in the London area but it can be accessed within the UK and Ireland by manual tuning.

For a period, BBC London identified itself at the top of the hour as BBC London 94.9 and BBC Radio London on digital, doubtless as a result of the station name appearing as "BBC Radio London" on DAB receivers. Since the station is carried in gifted space on a commercial DAB multiplex, rather than a BBC-controlled multiplex, the situation had come about due to a combination of legislation, internal politics, and difficulty in actually changing the name on the DAB transmissions.

This had led to slight confusion as to the reference to its previous name of Radio London as there is very little difference in either output analogue or digital except football and special events and the Radio London name hasn't been mentioned in any other context. The situation was eventually resolved, and now the station is referred to exclusively as 'BBC London 94.9'.

Historic Slogans

  • 1970s - London's Greater Radio
  • 1980s - The Heart and Soul of London
  • 1990 - Greater London Radio - In The News
  • 1995 - GLR - Rock 'n' Rolling News
  • 1996 - GLR on 94.9 FM, The BBC station for London
  • 2000 - BBC London Live- London's Newest Station
  • 2001-present On TV- On Radio- Online London's Radio Station

Current programmes

The station's current output is broadly similar to other BBC local radio stations and aims at a general mainstream audience. Previous incarnations of the station had offered a much more diverse range with many specialist programmes for London's various ethnic, religious, social and cultural communities. What specialist programming remains is mostly broadcast on weekend evenings.

Most programmes contain a lot of speech (including interviews, studio guests, banter between presenters and phone ins) but many also feature music to a greater or lesser degree. The music is mostly mainstream pop and is the key element which differentiates BBC London 94.9 from London's other major speech based radio station, LBC.

News and Weather

News and weather are broadcast every hour. News and weather bulletins are produced by BBC London.

Sport

Sport is a very major part of the schedule, with a 3 hour sports based programme each weeknight evening and 4 hour sport specials on Saturdays and Sundays. This is considerably more than most other BBC local radio stations and reflects London's large number of sporting teams and events.

Travel News

Travel updates are broadcast every half-hour during the day and every quarter hour during the weekday rush hours. The current crop of presenters include Jules Lang, Steve Phillips, Billy Reeves, Kate Allen, Pippa Sparkes, Fiona McKinnon and Lewis Gillingham. .

Occasionally the traffic cameras can also be seen on BBC London News, read by the radio station's travel reporters such as Jules Lang, Kate Allen and Steve Phillips.

The "JamCams" are also available 24-hours a day online here

Presenters and Programmes

Key mainstream programmes/presenters include:

Specialist programmes/presenters include:

  • Gary Crowley - Alternative music programme with new London based bands.
  • Dotun Adebayo - Presents a black music programme and a current affairs programme for London's black community.
  • Inspirit - Jumoké Fashola presents topical multi faith & ethics issues with a review of the weeks religious news, music & guests.
  • Guilty Pleasures - Listeners confess their guilty pleasures to Sean Rowley and choose embarrassingly uncool records.
  • Norman Jay - 70s and contemporary dance music.

Ratings

Audience listening figures suggest BBC London 94.9 is more popular than Greater London Radio ever was, but still remains one of London's least-listened to major radio stations with an average audience share of around 2% , which is considerably less than that any other BBC local radio station. Its audience reach has improved to 5%, however the average listener still listens for a relatively short period of time. This could be explained by a significant number of listeners tuning in specifically for the local news, weather and travel bulletins.

References

  • Aircheck UK
  • The Radio Companion by Paul Donovan, (ISBN 0-586-09012-6)

External links

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