ILR Meeting the Challenge 

19 October 2022


From Television & Radio 1985, published by the Independent Broadcasting Authority in December 1984

Radio is both the oldest and yet the freshest of the electronic entertainment and information media. You need to be an Old Age Pensioner to recall an era when there was no radio broadcasting, and middle-aged to remember what have been called the ‘Golden Years of Radio’ when evening audiences approached those currently achieved by television and the press devoted as much attention to the stars of radio as they do today to those of Coronation Street.

Yet the attractions of radio have never been lost, although the mass evening audiences of 30 or more years ago have vanished for ever. The coming of ILR in the early 1970s was part of a marked revival that sprang from the low-cost portable transistor radio. Radio for imagination, radio for the fastest news coverage, radio for local traffic information, radio as a 24-hour service, radio to serve specialist interests and, above all, radio for music – from ‘pop’ to the classics, from heavy metal to traditional jazz.

As a medium for information, radio is unrivalled within electronic publishing, able to address audiences bound together by locality or community of interest. Radio has never ceased pushing back its own elastic frontiers. For example, the public interest in home computers has been reflected in a new type of specialist data programmes on ILR stations that include the transmission of original software ‘programs’ that can be recorded and then downloaded into the listener’s own computer. Radio West at Bristol was the first ILR station to include the broadcasting of computer programs (software) in its regular Datarama programme. Many other ILR stations have specialist programmes for home computer enthusiasts. Radio West also pioneered the limited transmission of software for downloading within advertisements.


A man speaks into a microphone

Presenter Tim Lyons transmitting radio software on Radio West’s Datarama programme.


A portable studio in place at the Festival Gardens

Radio City’s unit at the International Garden Festival in Liverpool during the summer.

New ground was broken during 1984 when the IBA and Radio City, the Liverpool ILR station, responded to an invitation from Merseyside Development Corporation to provide a special event medium-wave broadcasting facility for the six months of the 1984 International Garden Festival. What was required was a daily service explaining the purpose of the Festival and how it came about, as well as traffic and parking information. The broadcasts needed to be received clearly on car radios and portable receivers not only throughout the 250-acre site but also along the roads leading to the Festival. The announcements, normally taped, came from the studios of Radio City and were carried over landline to a temporary IBA transmitting installation at Birkenhead across the water from the Festival Gardens. To provide this facility, believed to be the first in the UK for such a special event, IBA engineers used a containerised transmitter normally kept as an emergency standby, with an easily erected 74-ft. glass-fibre mast and a buried earth-mat. Broadcasts were on 1530 kHz (196 metres), a medium-wave channel earmarked for a north country ILR station that was not due to open until after the end of the Garden Festival.

There is a place for small ‘community’ and ‘community-interest’ radio stations in a well-ordered world – always provided that this is a planned use of the scarce spectrum of frequencies available to broadcasting and not illegal unauthorised hijacking of frequencies and copyright material. April 1984 saw the Telecommunications Act reach the Statute Book. Its important amendments to the Wireless Telegraphy Acts give greater powers to Government to enforce proper control and to eliminate the land-based illegal pirate stations. At the same time, the expansion of Band II (eventually 88 to 108 MHz) does provide the opportunity to introduce new levels of local radio in the next decade as well as the proposed Independent National Radio network on VHF/FM.


A woman reads a script into a microphone, illuminated by candles

Reading the news by candle-light at Moray Firth Radio is not an economy measure – just engineers meeting the challenge of an electricity black-out in the north of Scotland!


Meanwhile, there is growing interaction between existing and proposed ILR areas to overcome the undoubted financial stringencies that can arise from a local population coverage of under about a half-million potential listeners. During 1984 the IBA’s mandatory Technical Code of Practice was fully revised to ensure that technical standards are entirely realistic for local radio while at the same time maintaining the good quality that listeners have come to expect from ILR. It has been possible, in the light of experience, to relax slightly the acoustic insulation requirements.


An untidy control room

Radio is still unrivalled for the fastest news coverage – split-second timing here at LBC/IRN’s master control room in London.


Listeners also benefit from the decision to permit a degree of audio-processing on medium-wave stations to counter the loss of the higher audio frequencies. This problem arises from the need for very high selectivity in radio receivers in view of the very crowded and interference-prone conditions on medium-waves. About a dozen ILR stations are already using IBA-approved audio-processing systems, giving a better ‘sound’, particularly near the fringe of the service areas.


A woman operates an editing desk

The IBA ensures high technical standards at ILR. Here, local interviews are being edited at Radio Hallam.


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