Tune-in battle on the radio 

4 November 2020 tbs.pm/71312

‘There must be commercial stations’



‘BBC hogs the air’


Sunday Pictorial masthead

From the Sunday Pictorial for 27 December 1959

COMMERCIAL radio for Britain with all possible speed – this is the plan of the men who have been fighting to break the BBC rule of the wavelengths.

And it is now almost certain that the government will, within six months, announce an independent commission to consider commercial sound broadcasting.

Last night the man who leads the battle against the BBC radio monopoly told me his plans.

He is fifty-two-year-old Norman Collins, former BBC television chief and now deputy-chairman of Associated TV.

And he hopes that plans will become facts in the nineteen-sixties.

He aims to get:

  • At least a hundred local radio stations broadcasting local advertisements (“Pram for sale; good condition”) as well as national ads.
  • All-day programmes of popular music – sprinkled with advertisements – followed by more serious programmes at night.

Mr. Collins, who walked out of the BBC in 1950 because he said there was “lack of enthusiasm about television,” told me: “City and town stations with a limited range would reinvigorate local life and affairs.

“I envisage commercial radio stations starting at 6 a.m. with a peak ‘pop’ time between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. when people are bathing, shaving or having breakfast.”


There would be relaxing, almost continuous music – with ads.

“The station would go on to provide ‘background music’ all day for office and factory workers, motorists and housewives – all those who haven’t time to watch TV. The music could be centrally produced and ‘canned’ or ‘taped’ to be sent to local stations.”

Mr. Collins went on: “Most people would turn to television in the evening.

“Commercial radio could, therefore, cater for the minority groups with programmes of local interest, classical music and programmes for the serious listener.”

He declared: “The BBC is guilty of ether hogging.

“Recently they applied for a whole batch of VHF frequencies. Commercial radio companies should get some of these in the national interest.”

Commercial companies are being formed from Portsmouth to Aberdeen.

A local station could be started with £50,000 [about £1.2m in 2020 money, allowing for inflation].

The independent commission due to sit this year will extend the BBC Charter, which ends in 1962, until 1964, when Independent Television’s contract runs out.

Then, with the recommendation of the commission before them, the Government will review the whole TV and radio set-up.



❛❛Russ J Graham writes: We did, of course, get independent local radio, but not until 1973. And the rules for stations seem to have been written to precisely rule out the type of radio Norman Collins of ATV was asking for.



For starters, all-day pop music was out, partially because the Independent Broadcasting Authority insisted that stations be ‘general’ or ‘full-service’ in nature, and partially because the Musicians’ Union, keen to keep live music popular and thus their members in work, limited the amount of needletime available.

The idea of centrally-planned or generated programming was also ruled out by the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications when ILR was given the go-ahead. Networking was to be discouraged as much as possible, with the exception of news and current affairs. Thus a programme about the EEC parliamentary elections was allowed to be networked on ILR, but a general DJ show was not.



Collins was right about FM being the place for local radio, but wrong about uptake for the method – most people would still be listening on medium wave well into the 1980s, as it turned out that people were much more concerned about receiving a station at all and much less concerned about the fidelity. FM-only ILR would’ve been doomed to fail due to a lack of listeners, as the BBC found with its initial FM-only local radio stations in the late 1960s.

What Collins was not expecting was for the proposed commission on broadcasting – to be headed by Sir Harry Pilkington – to be so very very negative about commercial broadcasting as a whole and to laud the BBC with its highest praise. The Pilkington Committee decided there was no demand for commercial radio (at least amongst its highbrow members). It would take the coming of the offshore ‘pirates’ to change government minds.

You Say

2 responses to this article

Paul Mason 18 November 2020 at 11:02 pm

There was a problem initially finding spare AM frequencies forILR. Radio City in Liverpool was on 194 metres(1548 KHz), but so was Downtown (Belfast), Capital etc. 261 metres was another ILR wavelength,Piccadilly Manchester springs to mind . AM was the only choice for many with older radios, but by the mid 80s more FM sets were in circulation but there were howls of protest when BBC Radio 2 became FM only in 1990.
The good intentions of the ILR lobby to provide content for all audience soon came to zero.s. Radio City on Sunday evenings had religious and classical music shows, but by the 80s the public service ethos was ditched as pop and jingles ran 24/7.
With regional ILR stations merging a new set of INR stations are just playing the same music 24/7. ILR is no more..

Chris 10 February 2021 at 9:13 pm

AM/MW was a solid, dependable way to get the signal to the masses, FM was troublesome in hilly areas and the low power ILR used on FM in the early days did little to help.

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