Local radio in Liverpool

Glass building with 'BBC Radio Merseyside' sign, with high tower in the background

Radio Merseyside and Radio City tower © National Museums Liverpool

Local radio stations have a commitment to service the local community, and as part of that commitment they are well placed to enable new sounds to be heard. In general terms they have indeed played that role but as with many aspects of radio the situation has not always been clear cut.

Until the 1960s Britain had no local radio service. During the 1950s the BBC did transmit performances by the Merseysippi Jazz Band from the Bluecoat Chambers in Liverpool on national radio but such sessions were few and far between. In truth, apart from a little regional popular music broadcasting from Oxford Road in Manchester, the BBC showed little interest in those days in any regional popular music activity and viewed the transmission of folk music as far more authentic and worthy.

When Radio Merseyside first appeared in Liverpool in 1967 listeners were pleased to have local representation at last, rather than a relay station. But programming was decidedly uninspiring and the playing of records kept to a minimum through the concept of 'needle time' (a restriction imposed by the music industry to limit the amount of recorded music being broadcast).

To begin with Radio Merseyside was allowed only eight hours per week of recorded music and although this improved over the years it severely hampered opportunities to get directly involved in new sounds. In 1968 however, Radio Merseyside began its long running 'Folk Scene' programmes hosted by Stan Ambrose and later Geoff Speed. This weekly look at the folk scene of Liverpool - which in the 1960s was second only to that of London - was an important conduit for both the committed and the curious. Ambrose and Speed have over the years dedicated thousands of hours to local folk talent and have helped to keep folk and traditional music alive in Liverpool where in other English cities it has comparatively struggled.

Radio Merseyside relaunched Kenny Everett's career after BBC Radio 1 had unceremoniously fired him in 1970. The station later took a great interest in the growing scene at the club Eric's in Mathew Street. Innovative programmes such as the now-famous 'X-ray Dolls' (an investigation into the 'goings-on at Eric's') highlighted this new musical undercurrent across the region. Presenter Janice Long was to take this concept further by incorporating new local artists into her popular music programme.

Perhaps the most effective campaigner for new music across the North West, Roger Hill, still presents his PMS 'Pure Musical Sensations' programme for those interested in non-mainstream music. Roger has racked up hundreds of sessions and interviews with local regional and national musicians (many of which are kept and catalogued at the Institute of Popular Music at the University of Liverpool). Until very recently Steve Voce's jazz show was a feature of Sunday evenings on BBC Radio Merseyside. These days one can find folk, country and indie music on the air of a Sunday evening, with Dave Monk now carrying the indie baton established by Janice Long almost thirty years ago.

For a while the commercial station (1974) Radio City introduced listeners to several new musical styles. By 1975 Radio City was organising concerts at the Royal Court Theatre. In the process it introduced new artists such as the Ozark Mountain Daredevils to Liverpool music fans. But these concerts were not to last. Well-known local folkie Bob Buckle presented a folk programme, rock fan Phil Easton a rock show, and choral specialist Philip Duffy a classical programme, but as advertising dictated more mainstream programming these shows fell by the wayside. By the late 1990s Crash FM had arrived, with the assistance of Janice Long, ostensibly for a younger population but it was perhaps a little ahead of its time. Crash could not gain a decent foothold in the listening statistics and was eventually taken over by the owners of Juice FM, who have continued to plough a rather solitary musical furrow.