British Universities Film & Video Council

moving image and sound, knowledge and access

Commercial radio archive online for the first time

The UK’s first online commercial radio sound archive has been launched by Bournemouth University and is available through the BUFVC website,  preserving over 5,000 searchable recordings including the first hour of UK commercial radio in 1973, coverage of five UK general elections and the end of apartheid.

The collection is available online for researchers, lecturers and students at the LBC / Independent Radio News (IRN) radio news audio archive which gives access to the catalogue and audio of reports filed by some of the UK’s leading journalists including Jon Snow, the late Carol Barnes and Dickie Arbiter.

Thanks to funding from JISC of just over £760,000, the Centre for Broadcasting History based at Bournemouth University has spent the last three years digitising the noteworthy radio dating from 1973 up to the mid-1990’s.

The British Universities Film & Video Council developed the database and web delivery for this resource, enabling it to be searched alongside two other radio archives through a federated search interface. This new resource is available for public use but only authenticated users from UK Higher and Further Education may listen to the recordings. Search the LBC/IRN Archive.

Hear John Snow speak about his work at the LBC and the archive
(from JISC’s YouTube channel).

Paola Marchionni, JISC digitisation programme manager said: “I’m particularly proud of what this project has achieved and the many challenges it has overcome in curating and making accessible this material. Audio recordings are still relatively little used in research, teaching and learning. The JISC funding for this archive contributes to broadening the pool of resources available to researchers and students not only in media disciplines but also relevant to the study of society, history, politics and popular culture.”  The Centre for Broadcasting History based at Bournemouth University has digitised noteworthy radio dating from 1973 up to the mid-1990’s

Making the 7,000 reels of tape available online has been the role of the British Universities Film and Video Council (BUFVC) which has extensive experience in the online delivery of moving image and sound.

Professor Sean Street, project director and director of BU’s Centre for Broadcasting History said: “This is the most important commercial radio archive in the UK and provides a unique audio history of the period. We are extremely grateful to JISC without whom none of this would have been possible.

“As well as turning previously inaccessible material into a web-based archive for all, this project places key material within a teaching and research environment where it can be exploited for future knowledge,” he continued.

Among the 4,000 hours of radio are a number of historic events covered by LBC/IRN including:

  • The first hour of UK commercial radio including the first commercial radio news bulletin
  • Broadcasts of the Falklands War, the miners’ strike and Northern Ireland
  • The live reporting of UK election results from five general elections, giving a unique sense of the political shaping of the country
  • News related to the whole of the Thatcher government
  • The whole of the ‘Decision Makers’ series 1974-86: weekly 30-minute programmes of political and current affairs analysis which provide a unique insight into politics and its reportage within the UK at the time
  • State President PW Botha’s speech at the opening of the South African parliament in which he announced that the era of apartheid was over, with political and journalistic analysis of this event

Commercial radio in Britain was launched in October 1973 when IRN and its sister organisation the LBC were granted their licences. A joint LBC / IRN archive of programmes and news items was established and this, together with its catalogue, constitutes the contents of the archive.

Jonathan Richards Programme Director of LBC 97.3 added, “It is only right that the UK’s first commercial radio station has its proud history preserved in this fashion for future generations to learn from. The current staff of broadcasters and producers know they are building on the excellence of the past, and remain proud of the LBC’s rich heritage. I wish to pay tribute to Professor Sean Street and his team at Bournemouth University for this invaluable resource.”

The archive was unveiled by internationally-acclaimed broadcaster, radio historian and academic, Professor Seàn Street, at the Radio Centre in London.

He said: “This was at a time before the Broadcasting Act of 1990 which brought significant change to the structure of British broadcasting.  The change in commercial radio since this period is extraordinary. It is impossible for the young student of radio, born since this time, to imagine that such independently funded radio could have existed. As a result, it is vitally important that these programmes be preserved, as part of the evolving history of post-war British broadcasting.

“This archive forms an important part of the history of radio broadcasting since it provides an alternative source of radio journalism and news and current affairs broadcasts to the BBC’s own collection,” he concluded.

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