Want New Radio Ideas? Research Radio’s Past.

I wonder whether there’s a rich seam of radio programming ideas bound up in dusty old box files in a library basement somewhere?
So much time and effort went into licence applications during the IBA and Radio Authority days. I wonder which gems we’d find within those ring-bound pages of programming promises, beautifully typed on the company secretary’s best Olivetti Golfball?

Today, the excellent DAB service Union Jack regularly airs clips of UK comedy talent as part of their format. Yet, an old licence bid reveals that back in the 1990s a London AM licence applicant wanted to broadcast continuous comedy to the capital as Radio Barking. Could this be a full-time format one day?

I’m not a fan of heavy-touch radio regulation but, as an applicant, there was a sense that you had to impress the regulator with your programming plans.
I think that some of the smaller commercial and community stations I’ve heard this week would have benefitted from that forced creativity!

If your only selling point is locality, then playing a sweeper stating “truly local radio” as your only nod to localness, just doesn’t cut it. That’s what I heard during one hour of monitoring a community service this week. Stations need to create something that they own and which listeners cannot get anywhere else.

So how can you try and find the future in our radio past? Those old licence bid documents used to be held in local libraries. So I went into mine to enquire, but none of the applications have been retained, even in the reference section. Considering how things turned out for local radio in this area, I did quickly scour the shelves of ‘dark fiction’ too. No joy. So I had a scout around online and found a few old radio licence applications and programme schedule documents. Digitally ‘thumbing’ through them, I wonder how many old programme elements could be reinvented with a new twist?
‘The Voice’ and ‘Let It Shine’ are just updated versions of the 1970s and 1980s TV hits ‘New Faces”’ and ‘Opportunity Knocks’, after all. I started making a list of features.

Not everything can (or should) be rekindled. I think Radio Tay’s “Cheque Check”, the very worthy broadcast of stolen cheque numbers, has had its day!
The successful features allowed stations to display their local credentials and met a genuine need for information.
Lochbroom FM’s ‘midge count’ warned locals and tourists of the likelihood of lumps when the feisty flies fed on exposed flesh!
BBC Cumbria’s Lamb Bank provided surrogate sheep mums for orphaned lambs. Bless!

BBC WM’s “West Midland’s Car Park News” may also be redundant as electronic roadside signage has improved.
Some stations used to broadcast the cheapest fuel at local filling stations. There might be apps which host this data, but it’s easy to compile and broadcasting it would make stations sound useful and local. I suspect it would still be popular.
A few stations used to broadcast locations of police speed, sorry, safety cameras. Punters loved this. Does anyone still do it?
People can now buy and sell on social media so you won’t want to rekindle
‘Tradio’ but could it be reinvented? Perhaps.
Legions of small market radio stations in the states air radio sales and auctions. They give advertisers airtime and the clients ‘pay’ for it in vouchers which the station sell to the public on-air . If you have a £50 voucher, offer to sell it to the first caller who gives you £35. It offers a new take on the “Midday Market” and there are no client debts to chase.

Leicester Sound tried to ‘sex up’ or ‘smut up’ lost pet announcements. The feature was introduced with a booming American voiceover announcing “the Pussy Patrol”. Surely, in a nation of animal lovers there’s mileage to be had here, even though Facebook is good for listing missing moggies. Add them to your website and if a child’s pet is found, particularly after a long absence, get a heart-warming 20-second soundbite with the child or parent on-air.

Irish local stations used to take obituary notice advertisement money from the weekly papers. I stole the idea for Radio Pembrokeshire, offering it as a free service. It aired after the 1pm and 6pm news. It might seem morbid but if you, like me, have relatives who continually send newspaper cuttings of funeral announcements you won’t be surprised to learn that it proved very popular. One man called the newsroom to ask when his father’s death was going to be announced, “because I want to tape it for the family”, he told me.

There’s no such thing as a new idea and there’s value in tapping into the ideas of true radio pioneers by looking through old programme plans. Just one thing. Let’s not have a return to the horrific practice of naming programmes. How Southern Sound was awarded the licence after naming their jazz show ‘Razzamajazz’, I’ll never know!

So if you’re running or launching a new community station, do something different, unique or genuinely useful. Instead of trotting out the ‘Top10 at 10’ or ‘Late Night Love’, create something engaging and distinctly yours. Or at least find a way to blend in a sense of your locality to your “Hits and Headlines”. Again, this week I’ve heard a number of stations using generic mystery year clues probably torn out of a 1998 edition of X-Trax. Add a local twist. You can look up the local news stories in the library. When you’re trying to track down those old licence applications.

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