British Universities Film & Video Council

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the London Broadcasting Company / Independent Radio News [LBC/IRN] Project?

The project is funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee [JISC] digitisation programme and managed by The Media School at Bournemouth University. The database is hosted by the British Universities Film and Video Council [BUFVC] on behalf of Bournemouth University. The project delivers c4000 hours of audio material, together with an online catalogue, selected from the LBC/IRN Archive by subject experts at Bournemouth University.

What is the LBC/IRN Archive?

Commercial radio in Britain was launched in October 1973 when Independent Radio News (IRN) and its sister organisation, the London Broadcasting Company (LBC) were granted their licences. IRN supplied news, documentary and current affairs programmes to LBC and to all other commercial radio stations as they were established. LBC provided an independent radio service to the London area. A joint IRN/LBC archive of programmes and news items was established and this constituted the archive in its current form.

The archive comprised approximately 7,000 mainly reel-to-reel audio tapes covering the period 1973 to 1995 (when digital storage was introduced). Accompanying the tape collection were two catalogues; a card index of approximately 3,000 cards which covers the period 1973 to 1985 and a computer catalogue since 1985. Both catalogues are held at Bournemouth University. The archive includes the first hours of UK commercial radio and the first commercial radio news. The first sound broadcast from parliament in 1976 are archived, as are detailed news and current affairs coverage of historical events made at the time such as the Falklands War, the Miners' Strike, urban riots and the complete career of Margaret Thatcher as leader of the Conservative Party. The 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 communication to the BBC's own collection.

In addition to the hard news and pioneering reportage style associated with IRN and LBC are the Hayes on Sunday magazines in which the 'shock jock' style was first introduced to British radio. Decision Makers was a weekly half hour current affairs strand which dealt with the process of political decision making. Hour long celebrity interviews are also in the archive, including live interviews recorded in front of west end theatre audiences. The fate of the archive had been uncertain for many years. Interested institutions including the British Library Sound Archive, representatives of the Radio Studies Network and interested academics, together with the original archivist, Charlie Rose, and the IRN Managing Director, John Perkins have been meeting since May 2000 to discuss its future. In 2005, after negotiations between Professor Sean Street and Chrysalis Radio, (the owners of the Archive) the collection was deposited with Bournemouth University's Centre for Broadcasting History Research (CBHR). The complete archive will be deposited ultimately with the British Library.

How important are the comparisons which may be made between the BBC and IRN and their roles?

Until now there has been no opportunity to reflect on the effect IRN's coming had on other news services, in particular BBC Radio News. It is anticipated that the provision of this resource will provide just such an opportunity. In the meantime, it is worth reflecting on this extract from Tim Crook's International Radio Journalism (Routledge, 1998, p.p. 262-272). His account eloquently demonstrates the importance of placing in the context of its early years, the contribution of LBC/IRN:

“The London Broadcasting Company started its service at 6.00am on 8 October, 1973... UK radio had reached the point of no return and BBC radio journalism had to face up to a force of competition which would profoundly change its news-gathering and broadcasting culture over the next twenty years.

LBC and UK independent radio's national and international news service, IRN, have pioneered developments in both technology as well as the style of radio journalism... the organisations were sited in the middle of London's Fleet Street community. Their broadcast journalists were a stone's throw from pubs, restaurants and meeting places frequented by the country's leading national newspaper journalists. This enabled LBC and IRN to have a much more independent journalistic culture and news priority agenda. The sequential nature of commercial broadcasting meant that the station's schedule was much more flexible in accommodating news-gathering and broadcasting responses to dramatic and changing events.

The introduction of talkback phone-in radio brought the journalists in direct communication with listeners who were allowed to articulate opinions and views and provide direct information... LBC and IRN relearned the basics of radio journalism by changing the outmoded and bureaucratic practices of reporters who had been recruited from the BBC and importing the skills of mainly Australian and New Zealand itinerant radio-journalists who were on their 'World trips'...

In the next twenty years IRN/LBC became a substantial training ground for broadcast journalists who now figure prominently as international bimedia correspondents and programming executives. Generations of reporters learned their trade in reporting London news events and many journalists in their early twenties found themselves flying around the world with a battered Marantz cassette recorder, 'Comrex' telephone transmission enhancement unit and a personal credit card...”

Does Independent Radio News still exist?

Not as an independent brand. On 3 March 2009 moved to Sky as their host platform. Prior to this the service was hosted by ITN.

Why is the LBC /IRN Archive Important?

The LBC/IRN archive represents a missing piece in the history of radio broadcasting in the UK. Independent Radio provided an alternative voice to the BBC, and in the course of its development LBC / IRN pioneered many changes in radio journalism and radio news that are now accepted parts of industry practice. Examples include the phone-in, the first use of a radio telephone to call in on the spot reports live to the studio and the use of more than one presenter. The archive has a great significance for cultural and social historians in a wide range of academic and scholarly disciplines, including media studies, journalism, history, and politics, as well as providing a resource for teaching.

What does the database contain?

The database will contain c 80,000 individual audio files, from short news clips to longer documentaries and current affairs programmes. The archive contains many statements, interviews and discussions with leading political and cultural figures as well as examples of journalism and studio discussion and analysis.

Why do some programmes have no date?

Not all programmes in the LBC/IRN have a TX date or transmission date. The archive was organized by year and by theme and although many of the transmission dates were retained in the catalogues and files associated with the archive, some were not. In nearly all cases, however, the year of broadcast is identified.

What other fields are used?

Title: Where a programme has a specific name this will be used eg regular programmes Through the Night or Hayes on Sunday and documentaries such as A Passage to England.

Genre: Type or nature of programme, assigned from an in-house produced list. Many clips will have more than one, in particular news reports often include speeches, press conferences or interviews and longer programmes have commercial and news breaks. Clips of one-off events, actuality or not fitting into any other genre are denoted as “special”. “Technical” is used where the production team can be heard. “News” alone is vague and unhelpful as a genre – it applies to just about everything in the collection so is not being used.

Contributors: People actively involved in the clip – this will include production team members, reporters, speakers, interviewees, bands or music groups, and radio or television stations which originally broadcast the clip. People being spoken about or referred to only will be included in keywords. (?) is given after a name where the correct spelling could not be confirmed, ? is given where the identity of the speaker is not confirmed. Where they are known, common names for peers and clergy etc are given eg Alun Gwynne Jones for Lord Chalfont, with the title given in the description.

Keywords: Keywords used are based on the UKAT and UNESCO thesauri as required by JISC, which use some American spellings and words not used in everyday language eg “marriage dissolution” and “family disorganization” for divorce. Names of places, books, films, people being spoken about and organisations are also included in keywords. Where the acronym is well known this will be given rather than the full name eg IRA not Irish Republican Army.

How does it relate to other online ILR collections?

This database in one of three important collections in the area of ILR, the other two are The Independent Local Radio Programme Sharing Scheme 1983- 1990: The Felicity Wells Memorial Archive and the Central Southern England Independent Local Radio 1975 to 1990 Digitisation Project, both funded by the AHRC. Both these projects are delivered online through the BUFVC. Together these projects represent a very significant resource in the study of radio in general and of ILR in particular.

Where can I find out more about the Independent Local Radio (1973-1990) in the United Kingdom?

The literature on ILR is thin compared for example to books and journal articles on broadcasting in general, the history of Independent Television or the BBC. There are notable exceptions, Sean Street's A concise history of British radio (2002) and Historical Dictionary of British Radio (2006), Tim Crook's History and Development of Independent Radio Journalism in Britain (1999) and Meg Carters brief history of the first 30 years of independent radio (2003).

Any researcher could start with Barrie Macdonald's Broadcasting in the United Kingdom (1993) a comprehensive guide to the literature which includes Independent Local Radio. The other key publication which covers almost exactly the period of interest is Langham and Chrichley's bibliography Radio Research (1989). The following is a 'bare bones' structure with some additional notes particular to independent radio.

Official Publications These include: Bills and Acts, White Papers, Green Papers, reports of committees and parliamentary debates. There is an exhaustive list in MacDonald (1993) and with advances in technology a significant proportion are now available online. Harder to locate are public responses to government by the broadcasting industry and the IBA. Some were issued as publications and pamphlets or published in the IBA magazines Independent Broadcasting and Airwaves.

Corporate Archives These include the archives of Independent Local Radio (ILR) Companies and those of the regulators with responsibility for radio the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) 1972 - 1990 and the Radio Authority (RA) 1991 - 2003. Unfortunately it is hard to say to what extent any archival material from ILR Companies survives. The consolidation in the ILR companies from many to a very few owners means that a lot of material is lost. However, in a heavily regulated industry a significant amount of material reside in the IBA archives in the form of license applications and other types of reporting. The ITA/IBA corporate archives is currently located at Bournemouth University.

Publications of the regulator Annual Reports from the IBA 1973 - 1990, and the annual IBA handbooks. ITV75 is the first handbook to include information on independent radio which was fully integrated into Television & Radio 1976 - 1990. The IBA magazines Independent Broadcasting Aug.1974- Sep.1984 and Airwaves 1984 - 1990. Each issue had one or two articles on radio and included radio in articles on the general debates of the day. The two magazines had a very distinctive style, Independent Broadcasting for example included the text of lectures given by members of the IBA, Airwaves had more features and factual information.

Press and Magazine Publications Independent radio was covered by Admap - 1964 - , Broadcast 1960 - , Now Radio 1986 which ceased publication sometime in the early 1990's and the Radio Academy's magazine Radio 1984 - . The IBA newspaper clippings archive for independent radio, is currently deposited with Bournemouth University Library.

Audience Research Audience research data was produced by the Joint Industry Committee for Radio Audience Research (JICRAR) 1974 - 1992. The IBA Audience Research Department also conducted audience research on audience attitudes and patterns of listening.

Audio Access to audio recordings is essential to get a true understanding of Independent Radio. The three ILR projects hosted by BUFVC make available online 1000's of recordings from the beginning of Independent Radio 1973 to 1990.

References / Readings

Crook, T., 1999. History and Development of Independent Radio Journalism in Britain. In: Crook, T. ed. International Radio Journalism. London: Routledge, 261 - 280.

Carter, M., 2003. Independent Radio: The First 30 years. London: Radio Authority.

Langham, J. & Chrichley, J., 1989. Radio Research: an annotated Bibliography 1975 - 1988. 2nd ed. London: Radio Academy and IBA.

MacDonald, B., 1993. Broadcasting in the United Kingdom. A guide to information sources. 2nd ed. London: Mansell.

Street, S., 2002. A concise history of British radio, 1922-2002. Tiverton: Kelly Publications.

Street, S., 2006. Crossing the ether: pre-war public service radio and commercial competition in the UK. 2nd ed. Eastleigh: John Libbey.

Street, S., 2006. Historical Dictionary of British Radio. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press.

Further information

About the project
The genres used in this project
LBC/IRN Archive Teaching and Learning Case Study
Bournemouth University project page
Project blog