This was the first of a new type of station licensed by The Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA), back in 1989. The licence was available for the Central Manchester area and groups were allowed to apply for any type of format that they wished. I had decided to put together a group to apply for a Soul music station aimed mainly at the ethnic minorities in the area, but available to anyone who liked that type of music or who had an interest in what we were doing.
Looking back, I can remember almost to the day, when I decided to agitate for this station and to apply if one was ever offered. At this time I was working at Piccadilly Radio in Manchester and Picc, as it was known, was probably the most successful station in the country.
Round about 1984, Piccadilly was coming to the end of it’s first licence and would have to re-apply if it wished to continue broadcasting. Once the closing date for applications to the IBA had passed, copies were made available to the staff. I sat at my desk in the record library, and read about the job I was doing.
I thought I was reading about someone else. Back in those days, stations had to do specific programmes for ethnic minorities. Stations did speech programmes and other items that one might only find on specialist stations in this day and age. These had to be done as part of your licence commitment, as stations were deemed to be for the whole community and it was part of the IBA’s role to ensure that stations fulfilled their licence commitment. So reading about the soul show ‘Takin’ care of Business’ in the application, I found out that this was one of the programmes meant for the ethnic minorities.
As I continued to read the rest of the application, I realised just how important this aspect of it was. Although I had mused in the past about the possibility of a Black Music station in the UK, it was at this moment that I took the decision to really go for it. If my, once-a-week soul show was so crucial to the Piccadilly radio application, then I saw no reason why a station of this type could not stand on it’s own. So I started attending radio conferences and getting my point across. I had to do this without outwardly critising the existing stations as I was still working within the system. Despite this, I was able to get my point across.
Soon, I was being invited to speak from the platform at the conferences. From Glasgow to Cardiff, and just about everywhere in between, the message rang out, that the ethnic minorities deserved a radio service of their own. The Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA), who controlled all Independent Broadcasting at that time used all the usual reasons and excuses for not allowing stations like these. Lack of frequencies, lack of available advertising revenue, lack of available audiences and the major one that new specialist stations would damage the existing stations.
The Government in power in those days was the Conservatives and as well as me, others were agitating as well for different types of stations.People were asking for Jazz stations, Country stations, Christian stations and Rock stations. These types of stations had been in existance in the United States for many many years and we could see no reason why we were precluded from having them here in the UK. The IBA must have been totally fed up with all the flack they were getting, and in the end I began to take up my case with the Government direct and wrote to Douglas Hurd, who, at this time was a Junior Minister at the Home Office.
The Home Office was the Government Department which had overall responsibility for Broadcasting in this country.The letters came thick and fast, the conference appearances grew more frequent and support began to appear. So to the day when The Government obviously had enough and decided that there would be a new tier of radio in this country which would not come under the auspices of the IBA. It would be self-regulating and the stations would be small scale community stations spread across the country. One was to be based in Manchester.
This was the news that we had all being waiting for and I decided to put together a group to win this licence. I was not the only one and we were all left disappointed by another Government decision.
Well, as I said, the good news finally arrived, that there was to be a new radio station in Manchester. In a written reply to the House of Commons on the 11th July 1985, the Secretary of State for the Home Department the Rt. Hon. Leon Brittan, announced that, “I have now decided to establish an experiment to test the viability of and scope for a range of different types of community radio, set up and financed in different ways in different locations.
I hope that frequencies will be available for about 20 experimental stations which could begin broadcasting early next year”. The statement went on to announce, “the proposal to publish a Green Paper in the summer of 1986 identifying the issues, outlining a range of possible responses, and inviting comments on them. When the Green paper is published the experimental stations should have been operating for some months, and that experience should help inform consideration of the issues outlined in the Green paper.”
There was no plan as to what the station should feature. It was up to the people applying to decide what type of station it would be. I had had a plan for a full time station for the ethnic minorities in the North West of England. And I decided that this was the application that we would put to the Government.
Getting the group together was quite difficult, as many of the people whom I had been in touch with were getting a little tired of the procedure whereby it was on then it was off then it was on again. As for waiting for the announcements from government, this had been a long drawn out process. Despite this, I was convinced that this was to be it. there would be a station in Manchester and I got enough people together to apply for it.
The application that we put in is still one that I am extremely proud of even after all these years. Back then there was no standard application as there is now. You had to come up with your own ideas and put it in a way that would not put off the people who were taking the decision.
The front page of the application stated:-
A Submission to the Home Office for the Community of Interest Radio Station Licence for Greater Manchester.
Perhaps the most famous member of our group was the Chairman, Clive Lloyd who wrote the foreword to our application.
There is tremendous excitement and eager anticipation that the ‘third tier’ of radio is about to arrive in Greater Manchester.
Although the area has been well served by both BBC and IBA local stations there have been growing gaps in the radio market. There are now approximately 90,000 inhabitants of ethnic descent living in or adjacent to Sunset Radio’s proposed broadcast area and we have long felt that the existing services fail to reflect out interests and needs both in terms of news, community affairs and music, whether Asian or Afro-Caribbean.
I believe that Sunset Radio can provide the ethnic minorities of Greater Manchester with a distinct, professional and commercially viable Community of Interest radio station that will significantly increase consumer choice without imparing the viability (commercial or otherwise) of existing services.
The Sunset Consortium is, I believe as representative and balanced a group as one could wish to see emerging from the local ethnic communities, ably reflecting the different aspects of business, social, welfare, and entertainment activities of the area. I am personally delighted to have been invited to be Sunset Radio’s Chairman, and I look forward to serving the local ethnic communities of Greater Manchester in the event of our group winning the licence.
The introduction outlined the fact that the Sunset group had emerged from a publishing company of the same name set up three years previously. This company was initially going to publish a black magazine containing ethnic news, features and music. The first major article commissioned by the magazine was written by Mike Shaft, one of the founder Directors of the company, and examined the question of the absence of a black radio station in the United Kingdon. The envisaged magazine did not materalize but the article was published in the prestigious trade magazing ‘Broadcast’ and led to Mike Shaft addressing the Radio Festival held in Manchester in 1984. Consequently, Mike Shaft and Linbert Spencer (a co-founder of the company) addressed themselves to the question of Black Radio and formed Sunset Radio with the specific objective of establishing Britain’s first ethnic radio station.
The Sunset Application was put together under 8 headings:-
- A) BROADCAST AREA AND IT’S SPECIAL INTERESTS. B:- STATUS OF APPLICANT, DIRECTORS AND STAFF
- C) PROGRAMMING. D:- COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT. E:- FINANCE AND ADVERTISING
- F) TRANSMITTERS AND STUDIOS. G:- TIMETABLE. H:- CONSULTANTS
1:- LOCAL GROUPS CONTACTED. 11:- ‘THE CASE FOR ETHNIC RADIO’- BROADCAST MAGAZINE
The application went on to outline every aspect of the Sunset Radio group and of it’s programming and community plans. It outlined programming costs potential income and expenditure. It was generally accepted to be a very good application, however when the closing date for applications to the Home Office arrived there were a total of 18 applicants in the Greater Manchester area, and of these 18, three were deemed by many to be serious contenders.
In a report entitled ‘Radio Clash’ in City Life magazine, Andy Spinoza speculated on the possible winners
1:- Community Radio Alliance. 2:- Mancunia Alternative Radio. 3:- Sunset Radio
In his final paragraph Spinoza says, “The licence winner is announced on February 24th. The Government’s insistance on a business-based station may well mean the Community Radio Alliance will fall at the first hurdle. And if playing the Minority card is as important to the Home Office as it is to the applicants, it’s likely that Mike Shaft and his board of nine ethnic minority directors will give him victory – by several lengths – to Frangopulo’s [Mancunia Alternative Radio] Stockport based bid.”
At this time I was working at Piccadilly radio in Manchester and on the 1st of August I received a memo from Managing Director Colin Walters which left nothing to the imagination
1. “I think it would be wise to conduct all aspects of your community radio business apart from Piccadilly radio. I am sure you would not wish to use our facilities but I feel the formal point has to be made.”
2. “You clearly have a standing as a presenter on Piccadilly Radio and this will inevitably assist you in getting your group going. However, I think you should avoid capitalizing unduly on your Piccadilly background and should of course not indicate any support from this company until anything has been agreed.”
3. “Your company will in due course wish to indicate that it can offer things different from that being provided by Piccadilly Radio eg. if you are successful, you will get through to a clearly defined market of West Indian people and advertisers might find this very attractive. However, in pointing out the likely strengths of your company I should be grateful if you would try to avoid any hint of criticism of piccadilly Radio. I know you would not wish to do this but it is important that potential advertisers are not inadvertently given the wrong impression.”
When I received this memo, I was more than convinced that Community Radio was on it’s way and that the established stations were concerned about it.
The months came and the months went as we waited for the announcement of the winners from the Home Office, but it did not come. When the announcement did finally arrive it was not the one we had all been waiting for.
On the 30th June 1986 in a written reply, the new Home Secretary the Rt. Hon. Douglas Hurd announced that,
The Government has therefore decided to give up the idea of an immediate experiment in community radio, the exact form of which was still causing difficulty, and to look again at community radio among the matters to be covered in the forthcoming Green paper on radio. As the timing has worked out, an experiment in community radio would have delayed the time when the whole future of radio could be coherently considered. The Green Paper will undertake that consideration.
I am conscious of the disappointment which this statement will cause to some, and the effort which many people have incurred, I would like to express my regret in particular to all those who made applications and to the Advisory Panel which considered them. Their efforts have shown that there is enthusiastic and constructive support for community radio and I hope that we shall be able to devise suitable arrangements for it to take its part in our radio system.
My dream of a new tier of Radio especially for the ethnic minorities had been shattered, but far from giving up, it simply inspired me to work even harder to ensure that it did happen.
Next month, I will tell you about my ongoing campaign, and I will bring you the eventual news of the announcement of the new tier of community radio which actually led to the establishment of the first ever community radio station in the UK.
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