Ron Onions started at LBC this week in 1974

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March 18, 2015 by dontbringlulubook

Ron Onions and Sir Robert Mark visit to LBCBy the end of this week in 1974, it had been announced that Ron Onions was leaving the newsroom at Capital Radio in its then home in the Euston Road in London.

Ron had repeatedly criticised the new LBC Radio news and eventually he was asked to join the service. The media trade magazine Adweek reported on the 21st of March 1974 that  ‘Onions had been one of the toughest critics of the IRN service. At Capital he and John Whitney, the Managing Director of Capital, (pictured below) made no secret of their wish to break the station’s contract with IRN’, which was said to cost between £83,000 and £100,000. john_whitney-0.crop

The tension between the Capital Radio newsroom and LBC was made worse when 3 journalists from Capital were installed at Gough Square to cover the General Election in February 1974.

Ron may have moved his offices across town but the chairman of Capital Radio, film director Richard Attenborough always kept in touch with him afterwards, saying in a letter to the former Head of News that they were missing the journalist ‘like hell’.

The former BBC man, as Adweek described him, joined Britain’s first commercial radio news station as deputy to LBC’s first editor Marshall Stewart. Onions planned to re-structure the IRN operation (which served the growing number of local commercial radio stations around Britain) and improve the output of both the network service and LBC. His appointment was also published by the Times newspaper, in a news in brief.

His starting salary at LBC outlined in a letter from Administration Manager Peter Wilson was £8,000.

Onions did not have an easy prospect in his new post. The Sunday Telegraph had reported on March 24th 1974 that LBC – by now broadcasting on 261 metres – faced a pay strike, just six months after going on air. Fred Hunter who had been the first director of IRN was replaced by Ron Onions. There had been a disappointing advertising response and its principal shareholder Canadian Broadcaster Selkirk had to draw up more than half a million pounds of capital reserves to meet expenses two months after launch.

44 year old Ron Onions’ s move to LBC was also reported by Broadcast Magazine, bylining Roger De Freitas. De Freitas explained that with the appointment of the new man, IRN would be expected to service the then six existing Independent Local Radio stations (or ILR as it was becoming known) as opposed to only catering for LBC. And at least Onions and Marshall Stewart would have a guaranteed audience for IRN, with a further 60 stations due to come on air at this point in time. Broadcast also highlighted that a specific LBC desk for London and South East News would be established. The story of Ron’s move was also run in the trade magazine Campaign.

Contacts were strengthened with key figures in London as can be seen here when the Commissioner of the Met Police Sir Robert Mark was invited into the LBC studios, (centre of pic, with arms folded, with Ron to his right). Another new appointment in March ’74 as Campaign magazine reported was that of former BBC broadcaster Douglas Cameron who went on to present the AM show with Bob Holness. Cameron also became the main newsreader for the IRN service which grew in stature and listeners.

Doug Cameron LBC when on 261 metres

The new team made a difference. On the LBC front, the number of listeners had reached two million adult listeners, in a news release issued by the Marketing Director Angus Shearer in May 1976. This meant that LBC had put on nearly 400,000 listeners. More women at home were listening and there was a sharp rise in highly educated or what admen and women label as ABC1 adults. These listeners were also tuning in for longer – compared with the previous year. The news release claimed that the adult listeners mirrored the total London population by sex, age and social class, ‘This underlines the station’s wide appeal’, said Shearer.

2 mill listeners for LBC 77

By April 1977, Ron Onions was appointed to Editorial Director of LBC, losing the deputy tag. This announcement from Sir Geoffrey Cox who by this stage was Chairman of LBC (and had founded the British News at Ten programme on Independent TV). Ron’s salary increased to £14,500 and he was entitled to the use of a company-owned car to the standard of a Ford Cortina with a 1600 cc engine (a different model of car was chosen).

Again the raised salary letter in May ’77 was written by Brian Wallis, by now Wallis had the title of Company Secretary.

Ron received congratulatory letters from his journalistic contacts, including Tony Elliott the publisher of Time Out, the London listings magazine and from one of his former reporters Tony Tucker who had gone on to work for the Institute of Directors. The main shareholders of LBC and IRN, Selkirk send a letter from their headquarters in Ontario written by president Stuart Mackay.

Alex Dixon, the head of news at Radio Clyde send a warm note via the newsroom teleprinter and Tom Steele and Richard Findlay at Radio Forth sent a delighted letter and telegram. There was also acknowledgement from the London office of United Press International (UPI)  and the Evening News newspaper in London.

Within the space of 3 years, LBC and IRN had become serious contenders in the broadcasting world. Ron had received praise for his work and for his team of talented journalists. However life at LBC was never boring and the next few years were to bring challenges to Onions’ editorial authority.

The pix of John Whitney and Douglas Cameron are courtesy of Google. The pix of the Met boss and the LBC poster belong to the Onions’ family.



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