commercial radio

   Since its inception in 1973, when the first two independent services (Capital and LBC) began broadcasting in London, commercial radio now accounts for nearly 50 percent of all listening in the UK. Apart from a period in the late 1970s, when the Labour administration restricted the numbers of new licences issued, there has been a steady and continuing growth, with over 200 stations on air in 1998. While the vast majority of these are regional or local services, the 1990 Broadcasting Act made provisions for national independent commercial radio stations. There are now three of these: Classic FM was the first to go on air in September 1992, followed by the rock station Virgin 1215 in 1993 and Talk Radio in 1995. Many regional stations are also now broadcasting two distinct outputs, or ‘split frequencies’. In addition to the main FM transmissions (with contemporary hit formats targeted at a young audience) these ‘Gold’ AM stations usually specialize in ‘classic hits’ from the 1960s to 1980s, and are used to increase their appeal for middle-aged listeners. However, despite these AM stations, older listeners seem to remain loyal to BBC radio.
   From the late 1980s, large numbers of illegal pirate radio stations began broadcasting in and to major cities. A phenomenon of the growing rave scene (see rave culture), these focused almost exclusively on dance music. They rarely featured commercials for mainstream companies, with any advertising limited to the promotion of dance venues and club nights. However, the introduction of socalled ‘incremental’ licences allowed for specialized stations to broadcast legally in areas already covered by existing commercial services. London pirate stations such as Kiss FM and Choice FM successfully applied for licences, and began broadcasting legally in 1990. While their programming remains danceoriented, they are now included in mainstream commercial media schedules. The increase in the numbers of stations on air, and the specific nature of their programming, provides advertisers with targeting opportunities not offered by terrestrial television. There are many specialist broadcasters, such as London Greek Radio and the Bradfordbased Asian station Sunrise Radio, that cater for specific ethnic groups and languages. While commercials for local products and services are frequently produced at the radio stations from which they will be transmitted, national or larger budget campaigns are usually written and produced by the major (London-based) advertising agencies. The impending introduction of the DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting), in addition to improving audio and reception quality, will also radically increase the number of possible broadcasters, and revolutionize radio advertising in the next millennium.
   DAVID CROFT

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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