ITV blackout led to a cash bonanza for LBC radio and IRN news

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October 24, 2015 by dontbringlulubook

LBC’S golden years up to 1980 were helped by a strike which hit commercial TV in Britain. Dead air on ITV meant advertisers were persuaded to try the Cinderella medium of radio leading to what the Managing Director George Ffitch described as a ‘once-off  bonanza’.

It meant staff at LBC, broadcasting at this stage on 261 metres, 97.3 VHF got an extra 15 percent in pay, allowances and London Weighting. And there was a bonus of £375 for all staff.

And the extra cash meant the radio station could take on ten extra staff – 6 editorial and 4 engineers.

In a letter to all staff, Ffitch said that ‘as the Independent Radio News staff had always known,’ and this year’s JICRAR (audience research) survey confirms, ‘the future development  of LBC/IRN lies in hard news’.

He explained that the management also intended to take on an extra reporter, concentrating mainly on Greater London Council and local government affairs. This reporter would work for LBC reports but also contribute to the AM show as well.

And they intended to send a presenter along to Scotland Yard at 4.30 pm every weekday – mindful of the importance of London News.

The extra money from the ITV blackout meant staff on nights could be strengthened with a new night duty editor on IRN and an extra presenter for Night Extra. Ffitch pointed out that Night Extra had been operating over seven nights a week with two presenters and two engineer/producers.

Extra facilities in the studio were also flagged up – to relieve the tension in the audio room  for journalists and engineers. In a reflection of the remaining strength of the unions in the 1970’s, the Managing Director explained that they discussing new engineering staff and equipment with the Association of Cinematographic Television and Technical staff and discussions were ‘very encouraging’. It was hoped that an appointment of an OB manager would also mean that LBC and the network would benefit from the use of the radio car in a sensible way.

Competition between the Beeb and LBC Radio

The editorial team of Ron Onions, Peter Thornton and Keith Belcher were referred to – these three would be discussing contributors budgets with individual production teams – with the promise that every programme would have an increase in their contributors budget which is greater than the worst anticipated increase in inflation.

In his penultimate paragraph, George Ffitch indicated that capital spending for the coming year would include a new slow logger (to record output which was a legal requirement and ten Uher tape recorders for reporters and presenters to use for interviews).

He signed off by praising Dave Mason, the head of ‘Traffic’ which handled advertising – this was the man to accompany Ron and Doris Onions to Clarence House for the birthday celebrations of the Queen Mother. And Ffitch reminded his reader that the ambitious expansion had only been made possible because for the seventh year running, the  Board had not budgeted to pay a dividend to the shareholders.

At this stage, the Board still featured Canadian presence in the form of Kenneth Baker and Bill Hutton from the Selkirk company.


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