GWR launch promo

Oct 31, 2013, 06:36 PM

‘The GWR phase’ in British Radio was hugely influential. From a small station merger, a UK titan was spawned.

GWR began as Wiltshire Radio merged with the struggling Radio West in the tough economic conditions of the early 80s. After a three week gap for ‘test transmissions’, the new GWR bounced on-air.

GWR, as a corporate entity, was to prove a hungry new player in an industry freed from ownership restraints inch by inch, and one which would stand up to the regulator, thanks to the beautifully contrasting characters of the team including Ralph Bernard and Steve Orchard, whose faces dominated commercial radio for a generation. It was to acquire 22 radio licences in the 90s.

On this launch promo, you can hear the start of the GWR sound. Its cleaner, more scientific approach to radio was to spread across the country, contrasting with the free and easy style which had largely been the hallmark of first generation ILR. Whilst some stations had benefited from huge presenter freedom, in the hands of the talented, other stations had suffered. GWR’s strategy was to strip things back to a carefully-chosen playlist, and only add in the carefully chosen content necessities. Presenters were helped in what to say rather than what not to.

Music policy was well-judged. Many FM stations in the UK had lost their way musically, once the oldies had been sucked off into a successful network of ‘Gold’ stations. The remaining FM rump tended to leap into young CHR, alienating audiences and leaving a gaping format gap. GWR was to restore an AC format, alas too late for some FM heritage stations which still lay poorly-focused and vulnerable to the new regional competitors. Simply Red ruled.

How will history judge this period? Misty eyed radio enthusiasts might decry the GWR age, without pausing to recognise its contribution, nor considering the real state of the assets at the time of acquisition. It was an early example of using research and open-minded thinking to establish what the listener wanted and serving it to them, whilst carefully explaining what was on the plate in a carefully-framed clear proposition. Many in news look back at GWR as a station which troubled to ask what listeners wanted in their news bulletins, rather than follow newspaper or BBC influences, which had over-governed music radio news provision for a decade.

Some might argue that the GWR pendulum was to swing too far, but it is without doubt that some of the thinking was sound, and some of its achievements notable, at a time when the cottage industry of commercial radio was to become the serious business it needed to be to survive in the more competitive generation and troubled economic times to follow.