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13 November 2014

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You are in: London > Radio > 94.9 Information > About Us > The History of BBC London 94.9

Tony Blackburn on BBC Radio London

Tony Blackburn on BBC Radio London

The History of BBC London 94.9

From pioneering the daily phone-in to creating some of the UK's best known broadcasters, BBC London 94.9 has been broadcasting the best radio to London for over three decades.

BBC London 94.9 history

  • BBC London Radio was launched on October 6 1970.
  • The station was the first radio station to introduce a regular phone-in show.
  • Charlie Gillett's BBC London Radio shows brought World Music to world attention.
  • Danny Baker and Vanessa Feltz began their radio careers on the station and are presenters on BBC London 94.9 today.

On the 6th October 1970, in a relatively small studio in Hanover Square, the BBC launched BBC Radio London, the BBC's local radio station for the capital.  From the early 1960s the pirate stations had established a new and upbeat style of presentation on the London airwaves. Stations like Radio Caroline which began broadcasting off the Essex coast in 1964 where hugely popular in the capital so the new BBC Radio London took to the air with a lively sound.

Charlie Gillett on BBC Radio London

Charlie Gillett on BBC London Radio

Early on much of the stations output was provided by Radio 2 but over the years Radio London developed a mix of local news, travel bulletins and phone-ins alongside specialist and popular music. The phone-in is today a standard part of radio in London, but when BBC Radio London aired the first regular phone-in programme in 1977 it was a fresh approach to broadcasting and a brave attempt to involve its listeners. It goes without saying the idea caught on.

The first BBC Radio London phone-in was nothing like the topical phone-in shows we have on the station today.  'Sounding Brass' was a phone-in devised and presented by the legendary religious broadcaster Owen Spencer-Thomas.  The programme asked listeners to phone in and suggest hymns that would be played impromptu live on-air by a Salvation Army brass band in the studio.  The programme was so popular it eventually moved to Radio 2 and was presented by Gloria Hunniford.

The station had built up its listenership over the 1970's fending off competition from the emerging legal commercial London stations such as Capital Radio and LBC (who received licences in 1973). By the 1980s BBC Radio London had moved to the old Radio Times warehouse in Marylebone High Street where the station in all its forms has remained to this day. In 1981 the station was re-launched as an FM station on the 94.9fm frequency. 

DJ Dave pearce starting out

DJ Dave Pearce at BBC London Radio

In the early 1980s BBC Radio London continued to create innovative programmes. 'Black Londoners' was a highly regarded programme devised by Ray Cruikshank who was a community relations officer for the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham.  The programme not only set the standard for community specific programming but also developed a generation of African-Caribbean on-air talent including Alex Pascall, Juliet Alexander, Syd Burke and Mike Phillips.

In 1984 Tony Blackburn (who presents on the station today) moved from Radio 1 to present the best soul music programme in London.  Another great music DJ who began presenting on BBC Radio London in 1972 after complaining in an article about the blandness of local radio stations, was Charlie Gillett. 

Charlie started out playing Honky Tonk music and blues, moving with the times he broke acts on air like Dire Straits but by the early 1980s Charlie was playing a form of music that is commonly known as World Music.  Charlie Gillett’s BBC London Radio programme changed music radio not only in the capital but around the world.  With a few breaks over the years he broadcast a weekly World Music programme until the summer of 2006.  DJ Dave Pearce began his BBC career at BBC Radio London, kick starting his career as one of the countries leading dance music DJs.

Robert Elms on BBC London 94.9

Robert Elms

In 1988 BBC Radio London re-launched as GLR.  Keeping with a long tradition of innovative radio GLR was to bring a new style of irreverent speech/music radio to the airwaves of London.  Danny Baker began his radio career on the station in 1989 presenting the Weekend Breakfast programme which was produced by one Chris Evans. After producing presenters such as Danny Baker and Emma Freud, Chris Evans went on to establish himself as a presenter on the mid-afternoon Saturday slot, the rest as they say is history.  Anthony Denslow, Dotun Adebayo, Phil Jupitus, Chris Morris and Vanessa Feltz are just a handful of the amazing array of on-air talent developed by the station in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  In the mid 1990s a music journalist by the name of Robert Elms started to present regularly on the station.  The Robert Elms show remains one of London’s most iconic radio programmes tapping in on listeners knowledge of the city with the hugely popular ‘Notes & Queries’.

In 2000 the radio studios at Marylebone High Street where completely revamped in preparation for a digital future and in 2001 BBC London 94.9 along with BBC London TV and BBC London Online became the first BBC local tri-media service. 

By 2003 both Vanessa Feltz and Danny Baker were once again presenting on the station.  Shortly after that Tony Blackburn returned with his special mix of soul music and disarming chat to BBC London 94.9. The station continues to develop a great line up of on-air talent including Eddie Nestor, Joanne Good and Paul Ross to name but a few.

last updated: 22/01/2009 at 16:37
created: 09/02/2007

You are in: London > Radio > 94.9 Information > About Us > The History of BBC London 94.9


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