All up to the advertisers 

29 August 2022

The first commercial radio stations should be operating in two years’ time and legislation will go through Parliament in its next session. Christopher Chataway talked to Derek Hollier following publication of his White Paper on commercial radio.



Cover of AdWeekly

From AdWeekly for 2 April 1971

A NATIONAL COMMERCIAL radio channel was not introduced ‘because it might have had implications for the national press at a particularly difficult time’.

Christopher Chataway, Minister for Posts and Telecommunications, is under no illusions that a national system would have been, commercially, a highly successful proposition.

He says that the possibility of adding a national channel was considered but ‘there was never the question’ of a national commercial channel on its own, or of a national channel supplying local stations with programme material. The system that had been considered was of local stations providing programmes for the national channel.

However, quite a number of national advertisers are likely to be less than satisfied with the local cum regional radio arrangement proposed in the White Paper.

National channel

Chataway admits: ‘A national system would have got substantially more advertising … I can see the attraction of a national channel…’.

And he freely admits that the system proposed, with the setting up of 60 local stations covering no more than 70 per cent of the UK population, has some disadvantages for big advertisers.

He says: ‘I hope the system proposed will attract a significant amount of national advertising’.

But will all the 60 stations ever be set up? Chataway says that the big conurbations ‘will clearly be viable’.

‘What remains to be seen is whether the smallest stations can get enough advertisements’. Is he doubtful. Probably. But, quite clearly, nobody knows how well or how badly commercial radio may turn out. Chataway echoes his White Paper in saying that he envisages the authority (IBA) experimenting to find out what the minimum size of station is which will be viable. So there may not be 60 stations after all.

No compromise

Chris Chataway

As far as selling is concerned, Chataway thinks that what may eventually occur is the setting up of perhaps two central selling agencies to handle the ad sales.

AdWeekly understands that Mills and Allen, who have branch offices across the country and Pearl and Dean, will be forming a sales bureau to represent some of the commercial radio companies.

Chataway does not see his White Paper as a compromise where local stations may fail to win a large measure of support from national advertisers and draw local advertising away from local newspapers, so that both share a cake that is not big enough to support both of them. On this point he comments: ‘There is no reason why the local press should not compete with local radio…’.

But there are safeguards, he feels, to give local press the right to participate in local radio. In the White Paper it is clearly stated that local newspapers with a circulation which is ‘significant in relation to the population of a local station’s transmission area will have the right to acquire an interest in it…’.

‘… where a local newspaper has a monopoly in an area it will not be allowed to acquire a controlling interest…’ Chataway feels that definitions of both ‘significant’ and ‘monopoly’ will be up the IBA. ‘It’s a question of degree’, he says.

What he has in mind, as far as ‘significant’ circulation is concerned, is: ‘Any newspapers which could reasonably be expected to be affected would be given the opportunity to participate, to some extent, in the local radio company’.

Chataway is not, in any case, convinced that local commercial radio need lead to a loss in advertising for local newspapers. ‘A lot of people think that the local press will not be affected’, he says. And he points out that very few newspapers claimed to have been affected by the pirate radio operations even though some of these were confined to a particular area.

London, and some other large cities, will raise their own particular problems. Who can say whether a Lewisham weekly (to quote Chataway’s own example) might not be affected by an all-London commercial radio station? Chataway feels that each will be going for different sorts of ads and he doesn’t think the case for participation by local London weeklies could be argued very strongly. But a group like South London Press, he agrees, would be quite a different matter.

Free sheets, despite a ‘significant’ circulation, would not be given the opportunity to join in local radio. ‘It had not been envisaged that they should’.

Chataway also knocked on the head the idea that some groups might be over-ambitious in their programming, perhaps at the expense of commercial viability. This had not been his impression of the various pressure groups with which he had contact.

Hughie Green’s remarks that local commercial radio should provide ‘a comprehensive service’ finds Chataway in agreement, although he is quite certain that the commercial service cannot be as comprehensive ‘at this stage’ as that by the BBC.

‘It will have to generate new listeners. We are not at the moment great listeners to radio. There is room for enlarging the radio audience’, he says. He is clear that local stations will have to provide local information and news. ‘To get a wide appeal more than just pop will be needed’, says Chataway.

There are no proposals for a levy on the same lines as the commercial television levy and Chataway does not foresee any problems from the Musician’s Union on ‘needle time’. ‘I think musicians will see commercial radio as a further source of employment’, he says.

As far as the definitions of areas to be covered by local commercial radio are concerned Chatawray feels that this cannot be done ‘for quite a long time yet’. The IBA could start on its preliminary planning fairly shortly and some of the centres of higher population would clearly be viable for commercial radio stations. But the IBA would move ‘gradually’ into smaller areas.



Cigarettes ban

Chataway confirmed that – as on ITV – there will be no cigarette advertising.

And where will the money come from to pay for sites and for the initial equipment, like masts, aerials, transmitters, Chataway sees the IBA raising a loan on the open market or from the Central Loans Fund and buying this equipment which would then be rented to the companies concerned.

The White Paper says that ‘future developments in independent television could have a larger effect on the press…’ Yes, confirms Chataway, this concerns a second commercial TV channel – which he certainly favours. But doesn’t the introduction of commercial radio and the need to get it off the ground successfully mean that a second channel could not be introduced for at least two years and probably appreciably longer? ‘Possibly’, says Chataway.



What the radio White Paper is all about


THE MAIN recommendations of the White Paper on commercial radio include a network of up to 60 stations throughout the United Kingdom. These can be accommodated on vhf with a population coverage of 65 per cent in the United Kingdom by day and night and on mf with a coverage approaching 70 per cent by day and 25 per cent by night. It will be essential for the IBA stations, if they are to be available to as many people as possible within a reasonable period, that they should start both on mf and vhf. In order to provide mf support for both the IBA and the BBC local stations it will be necessary to supplement the frequencies already assigned to this country, by proposing under Article 8 of the Copenhagen Convention and Article 9 of the International Telecommunication Union Radio Regulations the use of further mf channels.

Within a few years there is the possibility therefore of up to 60 IBA stations with a coverage approaching 7 per cent [sic – 70? -Ed.] of the population of the United Kingdom and 20 BBC stations with a coverage of up to 75 per cent of England, both being transmitted on vhf and mf. It should be noted that the allocation of medium frequencies in the European Broadcasting Area is to be reviewed and that the broadcasting organisations cannot necessarily count on the use of as many medium frequency channels after 1976.

There may, however, be room ultimately for more stations in the vhf band. A more detailed discussion of frequency plans is contained in Appendix A. The technical standards adopted are described in Appendix B.



Large centres first

The precise number and disposition of their local stations will be a matter for the authority. It will inevitably take some years to establish the full network. The stations should, so far as possible, serve recognisable communities. There will thus be great variations in the size of population covered. Stations to serve the big conurbations will be among the first to be provided; but the IBA will be encouraged to experiment in the early stages with the establishment of relatively small stations in order to determine the minimum size of community capable of sustaining a worthwhile local radio station. There are various possibilities for linking small stations in a joint operation which merit investigation. The IBA stations must be firmly rooted in their locality, and this should be reflected in the choice of station operators and subsequently in the output.

The stations will be linked by a network in order to exchange news, music and other programmes. Most of the material thus received would however be recorded and used at the discretion of the local station and with local linking. It is not envisaged that the local stations would switch over to a sustaining service for any significant periods.

A major ingredient of the output of the stations will be local news and information. In the longer term, if more frequencies become available, it may be possible in the conurbations to provide radio stations specialising in particular types of programmes. For London, and perhaps a few other conurbations, medium frequency channels for more than one independent station can be found earlier.




The Government proposes that:

  • local newspapers with a circulation which is significant in relation to the population of a local station’s transmission area will have the right to acquire an interest in it, whether or not they form part of the company awarded the contract;
  • where a local newspaper has a monopoly in an area it will not be allowed to acquire a controlling interest;
  • a television company will not be allowed a controlling interest in the area of its television franchise.


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