Golden Jubilee of commercial radio event hears “50-year-old secret”

The Golden Jubilee of Commercial Radio event has taken place at Goldsmiths, University of London where a little-known fact was revealed.

It had long been presumed that Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon and Garfunkel was the first record to be played on Independent Local Radio when the UK’s first music and entertainment station, Capital Radio launched on 16th October 1973.

In fact, it was Waterloo Sunset by the Kinks, played the week before in the first week of LBC, Britain’s first licensed commercial station, which came on air this weekend half-a-century ago on 8th October.

Stewart Francis, who presented Nightline, LBC’s overnight programme, told the conference that he was the first person to play a piece of music on independent radio, even though he hadn’t asked management for permission.

The former DJ said he just picked out the song, one of his favourites, to end one of his shows, just before six in the morning, knowing he would be making history.

David Symonds, who was the presenter of Capital’s opening breakfast show, told the conference he wasn’t aware he was beaten to the honour, but accepts Stewart’s account, and praised his initiative.

Although a news and information format, LBC’s licence allowed it to play a limited number of songs.

The conference also heard from Gillan Reynolds, the first Programme Controller at Radio City, who admitted she “wasn’t very good at it” and made a wrong choice in choosing veteran Irish broadcaster Arthur Murphy to open the station. Instead, she said she should have chosen mid-morning presenter Graham Dene, who now presents Boom Radio’s breakfast show.

Roger Day, the first voice on Piccadilly Radio in 1974, said his station regularly used to “bend the rules” because the Independent Broadcasting Authority, was based in London, and couldn’t hear the station.

Nikki Townley, the former Head of Programmes at LBC, talked about the problems at the station in the 1990s under several owners, multiple name-changes, constant shifts in format, moving home several times, and losing its licence.

But she said LBC could still beat its rivals, saying it was the first on air to break the news that Princess Diana had been killed in a car crash in Paris in August 1997.

The conference also heard from KISS FM’s founder Gordon Mac, Ralph Bernard, and Tony Stoller.

Tim Crook and Richard Shannon, founders of Independent Radio Drama Productions, which won several awards in the 1990s, said they were disappointed at the lack of drama on today’s commercial radio and Paul Chantler talked about his latest ventures Podcast Radio and Fix Radio.

Former IRN and BBC Political Correspondent Paul Rowley, who chaired the conference, said : “It was a day of fascinating insights into the early days of Independent Local Radio.

“We talked about the highs and lows, the failures and the successes, the drama and the chaos. But it was clear that all those pioneers had a sense of pride in what was achieved in taking on the BBC for the first time. It seemed they also had a lot of fun doing it”.