Researching Radio in Leicester

Despite the torrential rain, Sam Hunt and I visited Bournemouth University last Thursday to explore the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) Archive. We aimed to research the history of radio in Leicester. Despite the weather, our journey was made worthwhile by the warm welcome and invaluable assistance we received from the university staff. Their guidance was crucial as we navigated through the extensive IBA archive, as we sought to look at documents relevant to our study of independent and community radio in Leicester.

This visit to the Bournemouth University, and the support provided by its staff, greatly facilitated our understanding of Leicester’s independent radio history, highlighting the archive’s importance as a resource for researchers like us. The Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) Archive, maintained by Bournemouth University, is an important resource for those studying media, communication, and broadcasting history. This archive contains documents, reports, and recordings that chart the history and impact of independent broadcasting in the UK, reflecting the regulatory practices and cultural contributions of the industry over time.

Its significance lies in its role as an educational resource, offering students and researchers insights into the development of broadcasting standards and the relationship between media regulation and societal values. The archive facilitates research into the evolution of media policies, the influence of technological changes on broadcasting, and the media’s role in public life. By hosting the IBA Archive, Bournemouth University supports academic research and contributes to the broader field of media studies. The preservation of this collection safeguards a significant piece of media history, and aids in the understanding of the complexities of independent broadcasting and its implications for public discourse.

Sam Hunt and I had a specific focus: to understand the developments in Leicester’s independent radio landscape following the collapse of Centre Radio in 1983. This event marked a significant turning point in the region’s broadcasting history, leading to the re-advertisement of the franchise. Our interest was particularly piqued by the subsequent awarding of the franchise to Leicester Sound, a station that was majority-owned by Radio Trent. This decision was notable, not only for its impact on the local media environment, but also because it occurred even though a competing bid from Leicestershire Community Radio was submitted. The latter had proposed a vision for a community-style station, contrasting sharply with the commercial model that ultimately prevailed. Through our research in the IBA Archive, we aimed to uncover detailed insights into the decision-making process and the broader implications for community media in Leicester, shedding light on a pivotal moment in the history of independent radio in the area.

The early 1980s was a very different time for broadcasting, and the legal framework was very different from what is in place today with Ofcom. The IBA didn’t licence stations, rather they agreed a contract to run a ‘franchise’. The IBA owned the transmission equipment and the links from the studios, which stations had to rent from the IBA under a service agreement contract. The way independent radio stations were set up and run was very tightly controlled by the IBA, which meant all aspects of the service had to be approved. The tight controls were loosened in the 1990s when the Radio Authority took over following the Broadcasting Act of 1990.

When Centre Radio went bust in 1983, the franchise was readvertised. Two bids were submitted to the IBA. Leicester Sound was 51% owned by Radio Trent, which was presented as the commercially viable option based on the broadcasting experience and financial backing of the station. Leicestershire Community Radio was a community style bid that aimed to incorporate principles of access radio, co-operative management, and a multicultural approach to programming. The franchise was awarded to Leicester Sound, who started broadcasting in September 1984.

We’ve got a lot of material to search and assimilate about this period in Leicester’s broadcasting history. What jumps out, however, is that there was a strong push for community radio back in the early 1980s, and that a committed group of people in Leicester had the determination to try to develop a model of radio broadcasting that was inclusive and civically engaged. Hopefully, we’ll be able to map out and verify the information we’ve identified from the IBA records, and they will help to provide a detailed history and roadmap of who went on to develop community radio in Leicester afterwards.

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