BBC Southern Counties Radio is the BBC Local Radio service for the English counties of Surrey and Sussex. The station also covers a large part of North-East Hampshire. It was the first BBC Local Radio station to introduce a controversial all-speech format. It broadcasts from its studios in Brighton and Guildford on FM, AM and on DAB on the NOW Sussex Coast server.
The station was formed by the merger of BBC Radio Sussex and BBC Radio Surrey. It began on 1 August 1994.
BBC Radio Sussex had originally been founded on 14 February 1968 as BBC Radio Brighton, broadcasting from studios in Marlborough Place. Des Lynam was one of the original presenters. It expanded to cover the whole of Sussex in October 1983.
BBC Radio Surrey had a chequered history. Once planned as a stand-alone radio station, it eventually launched on 14 November 1991 as a limited opt-out service of BBC Radio Sussex, broadcasting from newly-built studios on the campus of the University of Surrey in Guildford. However it was never able to build a substantial audience over its two years on air.
The two stations were merged in January 1994 and moved into the Guildford studios; a bone of contention for many Brighton residents who felt they were being deprived of the local station they had enjoyed since 1968. (Their campaign to bring the station back to Brighton was to succeed 12 years later).
Initially called BBC Radio Sussex and Surrey, the station relaunched with the name BBC Southern Counties Radio in August 1994. It became the first BBC Local Radio station to adopt an all-speech format, with the broadcast slogan 'all talk all the time'. Presenters included Gordon Astley, Tommy Boyd, Peter Heaton-Jones, Al Clarke and Eric Dixon; however there were to be numerous presenter and schedule changes over the next three years.
The next revamp occurred in September 1997, when the station reverted to a more traditional mix of talk and music, and introduced new presenters such as Chris Ashley, Giles Dilnot, Bill Buckley and Simon Bates, who presented the Sunday morning show.
Further changes followed, including the departure in 2005 of Brighton Breakfast Show Presenter Joanne Good who left to work at BBC London 94.9 and was replaced by Sarah Gorrell. Joanne also left her Saturday morning show and was replaced by Brighton comedian Stephen Grant.
The continuing low listener figures in Surrey, coupled with the long-running campaign by Brighton residents, led to the station being relaunched in April 2006 and its headquarters relocating from Guildford to Brighton. Four of the presenters, Bill Buckley, John Radford, Ed Douglas and Dominic Busby left the station. Gordon Astley and Tommy Boyd were recruited to present daily shows, just as they did in 1994, and one-time Radio Sussex sports reporter Richard Lindfield also rejoined.
Increasingly, in recent years, BBC Southern Counties Radio has worked to provide extensive and interactive coverage of the Brighton Festival and Fringe. Aside from dedicating a daily hour-long show to Brighton's Festivals, it also provided in-depth internet coverage, including reviews, features and video clips.
Since September 1997 there have been separate news services for Sussex and Surrey, and separate breakfast shows for both counties, using a split frequency system. Until the April 2006 changes a separate service for Brighton, Hove and Worthing was also provided. A one-hour Drivetime programme and Saturday breakfast show for Surrey were introduced at this point - however the Surrey output was now only available to listeners in the west of the county, on 104.6 FM. The 104.0 FM frequency, which covers parts of both East Surrey and the north of West Sussex and previously carried the Surrey programming, was switched to carry the Sussex output. The reasoning behind this was to give listeners in Crawley and East Grinstead a more relevant service, at the expense of the those in East Surrey where audience figures have been in decline, but from 16th October 2006, 104.0 FM reverted to the Surrey output. In addition, to reaffirm its commitment to Surrey listeners, the Surrey Drivetime programme was increased from one to three hours.
There are also separate sports shows on Saturday afternoon, allowing listeners in north-east Hampshire and Surrey can listen to live commentaries from the local Conference teams, Aldershot Town, Woking and Crawley Town, whilst listeners in Sussex can listen to Brighton's games.
Evening programming throughout the week is networked with counterpart BBC Local Radio stations in the South and South East (namely Radio Solent, Radio Berkshire, Radio Oxford and Radio Kent). During the station's downtime, Southern Counties Radio simulcasts BBC Radio 5 Live programming including Up All Night, Morning Reports and the Stephen Nolan show.