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White Paper - The Future of Broadcasting

Towards the end of 1966 the BBC began to fuel the debate about how to eliminate the British offshore radio stations. In November 1966 it published the results of a survey, carried out by its own Audience Research Department and based on a sample of only 5,000 people nationwide. This survey claimed to show that:-

(a)  more than three quarters of the population over 15 never or hardly ever listened to the offshore stations;

(b) the BBC Light Programme had a daily audience four times greater than the total of the offshore stations' audience and

(c)  the daily audience for offshore stations amounted to only 6,250,000.

The results of this survey can be contrasted with the one carried out by NOP in July 1966 which, although concentrating on commercial radio listenership as opposed to BBC, showed a substantially higher overall audience level for the offshore stations.

The BBC produced some further anti-offshore radio information in its Annual Report for 1965/66 which stated that the stations were spoiling reception of continental radio stations and "stealing the legal property of British musicians, gramophone companies and other copyright holders." The Report went on "Although willing to do so, the BBC has not been free to provide such a service on its legally allocated frequencies since it has to use its three networks to serve the community as a whole."

This statement was a clear indication that the BBC were exploring means by which they could introduce an alternative service to the offshore stations, but they were also experiencing resistance from organisations such as the Musicians Union and even some members of the Government who reportedly were in favour of establishing a separate radio organisation to provide a continuous pop music service.

However, this option seemed to have been dismissed when on 20th December 1966 the Government published its long awaited White Paper on the Future of Broadcasting. The document proposed that the BBC would be authorised to operate a popular music service, using the medium wave frequency which was then allocated to the Light Programme (1215kHz (247m) and also launch nine experimental local radio stations using VHF (FM) frequencies only.

This second proposal was a defeat for the local commercial radio lobby, which did not just consist of offshore radio station operators but a large number of community and business based groups who for many years had argued in favour of a commercially funded alternative to the BBC.

The White Paper firmly rejected any suggestion that local radio should be operated by commercial interests, stating -"It is of first importance to maintain public service principles in the further development of the broadcasting service."

At a press conference to launch the White Paper the Postmaster General, Edward Short, emphasised the point that the local radio experiment should not be commercially funded- "We have excluded this. We feel it is incompatible with the objective of a local radio station, which would be to contribute to the communal life of the town. I do not think you can reconcile this with commercial interests."

The offshore stations and other commercial radio interests reacted angrily to the White Paper proposals. Radio Caroline called it a "manifesto for monopolists" and a spokesman for the station went on to say, "It does little but perpetuate the dreariness of British broadcasting which the public has clearly rejected in its enthusiasm for the offshore stations."

The Secretary of the Local Radio Association, John Gorst, said his organisation completely disagreed with the White Paper's proposals and that the limitation of the nine local stations to VHF (FM) only would mean that just 11% of the population would be able to receive their transmissions.

The  Hold

HOLD Noun - cavity in a ship below deck where cargo is stowed. Also the area used to house transmitters on many radio ships.

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