Manchester stalls 

8 May 2018

From The Guardian for Monday 19 June 1967


THE BBC called a press conference last week to report on progress in setting up the experimental local radio stations with which we shall soon be endowed. This seems to have been resolute on the BBC’s side but variable in the field. Progress is suspended completely, for instance, in Manchester, where though it has not yet been officially pronounced, the new Tory-controlled council has intimated that it wants no part in the enterprise, approved by its Labour-controlled predecessors. By contrast, two others of the seven stations so far elected should be ready to broadcast in October, but were not named last week. (Two more still remain to be chosen by the Postmaster-General later this year, and in contrast to the tendencies so far shown towards densely populated areas are likely to be cathedral towns with a rural hinterland.)

Manchester’s objections lie, of course, in the now official expectation that half of each station’s running costs — reckoned at £1,000 a week during the two-year experimental period — will come from the rates. Leicester’s local authority is alone in having guaranteed to provide the whole sum itself. Mr Donald Edwards, who is in charge of the BBC’s part in the venture, and who presided at the press meeting, said that “the bulk of the money is bound to come from the wealthiest organisation in a society,” and this was the local authority. This squares uncomfortably with the White Paper’s decree that no block grant could be made from the rates and in practice will mean, uncomfortably, chipping bits off various municipal budgets.

The biggest chips seem likely to come not only from entertainment and education but from welfare budgets too, as another BBC spokesman, describing the likely content of local programmes, stressed their service to the sick, the lonely, the aged, and the blind (and I am afraid also mentioned, in this connection, record request programmes). He also spoke of young parents unable to improve their minds by getting out to evening classes, and said the evenings, with most people clamped to the telly, seemed a good time for adult education programmes. All of which sounds worthy rather than inspiriting, but let us maintain our policy of giving the station the benefit of the doubt.



Asked where the other half of the money seemed likeliest to come from — several local chambers of commerce, still with a preference for and hopes of commercial radio, having expressed their financial dissociation from the scheme — Mr Edwards said there was often a “misunderstanding on the part of the business community,” which in fact could benefit in “a hundred and one ways.” Asked about these, he said foreign trade delegations would be “very flattered” to broadcast, also that there would “undoubtedly” be programmes about the local labour situation and available jobs. The possible use of local consumer association material, he said, was still being studied by the BBC’s lawyers, and was plainly a delicate matter.

What would happen, then, if a station began to founder financially? What about the White Paper’s allusion, if local subsidies proved insufficient, to the possibility of paid advertising? Mr Edwards allowed it to be understood that the BBC, anyway in the two-year trial period, might somewhere have an emergency fund, in spite of his earlier and sterner view that only communities prepared to pay for a local radio could expect to enjoy one. As to any change in the BBC’s Charter, which precludes advertising, he imagined the BBC would scarcely favour this, believing (a) that advertising implies mass audiences, and therefore lower standards and (b) that such a move would damage the revenue of the local press; but he could not, of course, say what might happen when the experiment could be assessed.

The appointed station managers were all at the meeting, looking keen and competent, and not blenching as their thorny path was pricked out. Local politics, for instance, will be dealt with both “frankly and courageously.” local controversies “very fully ventilated” (who carries the can?). What about only 40 per cent of us having VHF, to receive local radio anyway? Mr Edwards was sanguine about our buying more. And so on, from legalistic thorn to parochial prickle. The station managers face a considerable journalistic challenge. Anachronistic one may think it, in a tiny country groaning already under the weight of shared communications: but since they’ve been picked to do it, by authorities all advancing backwards into the allegedly brave venture — the Government a great deal more clumsily than the BBC — one can’t help wishing them luck, and reserving the benignest scepticism to measure against performance.


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1 response to this article

Paul Mason 13 May 2018 at 2:55 am

BBC Radio Manchester came on the airwaves in 1970 and is still around, having been rebranded GMR in the 1980s and 90s.

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