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Interview with Ray Anderson

who is behind the new "Big L Radio London"
How did it all come that Big L is back on the air again?

Well, it goes back a long while. I was a very small young teenage boy in the 1960's and I loved the station very much and was devastated when it closed down back in 1967 having been outlawed by our government here in the UK. The station had 12 million listeners here and I claim to have been the biggest fan (laughs) because obviously it has been my work and determination which has brought the station back on the air. What we did in 1997: we managed to get one of these one watt 28 day licences which you could get at that time from the Radio Authority which is now known as Offcom and I was able to get this one watt licence. And we recreated Radio London on a ship to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the closing of the station. And we put the broadcast on and it was incredible. The amount of support we got from listeners. And after a month they didn't want us to close down and it was very much like it had been 30 years before. So I started to think, well, there must be a demand for this type of radio again. So I spent really the last 8 Years trying to find ways of bringing it back to the airwaves. The trouble with the UK authorities is that they are very reluctant to find space on the dial for what we're doing. They're always looking for new services and services which are different and don't compete. So the only way we've been able to bring it back on medium wave is to use a transmitter which is in the Netherlands and has a fairly good reach into East Anglia and south east of England during the day. And because it's a skywave frequency, it does enable to cover most of the UK and parts of Europe by night.

Who is behind Radlon Media? Is that mainly you or are there any companies behind it?

No, it's something that I've set up with a few friends and some investors and some colleagues who share the same thought that this radio is fun, it's different. We're getting a lot of support from people, we're getting e-mails, letters and phone calls. And a lot of the radio industry are watching what we're doing with interest.

How do you think is it going to develop. Will you really be able to make money with it?

We think so. We've looked at our costings and we are looking at spending money on creating some good programming, which is case. So we have invested in programs and people. What we haven't attended to do is to is we're fairly light with senior management figures who sit at desks all day and probably don't achieve much and cost the company a lot of money. So all the people that are wokling here in management have also hands on in other areas like on air and in the sales and news departments.

How many professionals and how many volunteers do you have?

We're quite small at the moment. We're about 10 people. We see that going up to about 15 when we're fully operational. We've got a few members of staff that are still waiting to join us. But we see there'll be about 15 people here. We've got a few volunteers, not many, two or three, who come in and man the phones at peculiar hours which is very useful.

So it's mainly professional staff not only idealistic people who try to keep on the legend?

That's true. I mean there are some people who have been in radio for 30 years, I'm one of them. We've got 3 or 4 of those. We've got some very young people that we're training up because we feel that, you know, tomorrow's broadcasters can learn a tremendous amount from people that have been involved, you know, in 30 years with experience. So we've got some people as young as 20 right up to, well, in their 40's and 50's. And we see us being a radio station that has a wide family appeal. Our youngest presenters are I think about 20 and 24 and they go up. And we see that that's important for our wide appeal. Radio London is now playing not only the oldies of the past but we also are playing a few new songs. So we feel that we're playing the very best of the best from the last 50 years including what's new out there.

And are there any DJ's from back then involved? I've heard some dopped in during the RSL licences in 1997? But are they still with you?

Yes, some of them are. Some of them can't be because they have other jobs with the BBC and other companies. But we have Ian Damon who is working with us on a regular basis. He's doing the Sunday show. And he was with the radio station during 1967. And he is still very sharp musically. And he's got a fantastic knowledge of the oldies. We've been speaking to Dave Cash. And if we can arrange a few things - Dave has got a contract with the BBC but if he can relinquish that and we can find some sponsorship money it is likely that David Cash will be joining us and he was very very popular on Radio London particularly during his association with Kenny Everett who is regarded over here in the UK as one of probably the best broadcasters that this country has ever produced.

Are your DJ's free in what they play or are there playlists?

Well we have a bit of both. We have a database which at the moment is fairly free choice and that's my fault because we haven't quite finished programming the computer up. So it's a little bit freer than it should be. When we get fully operational then there will be a very wide playlist of music. Just the familiar stuff. But the occasional that comes up that people say 'oh, we haven't heard that for a while' - I played one the other day on the air and the guy rang me up and said 'I haven't heard that for 37 years, he said. And he said 'The last radio station I heard to play that was Radio London.' And he said he sat there, he still remembered all the lyrics and his wife thought he was very sad. And the song if you want to know was that song 'The Long Cigarette' by the Roulettes. And I've played it two or three times since. And it seems to be very very popular with listeners.

So can the DJ's decide from one moment to the othat 'I'd like to play this song' and put it on?

Well we are following a clock rotation which really is saying we need to be playing a 50's song now, we need to be playing a song from the 1980's. So we are trying to follow a clock format which does mean that, you know, the various decades do get their fair quote of airplay. But at the moment, I mean, yes, the presenter is choosing. But he is under strict guidelines to keep it fairly familiar. I had a presenter the other day who deviated a little and he got a memo. So although he is fairly free we are trying to please people with what they expect to hear: quality music. We have a slogan called 'The heart and soul of rock'n'roll'. And as long as the music fits that genre we're quite happy with that.

So do you remember how it was back then? Did Big L in the 60's have clock rotations?

Yes it did. But it intended to rotate the Top 40 more then. And then there were only about 2 oldies an hour. And then the DJ had a free-play at about just before the news before the bottom of the hour. So we're not really a Top 40 station now though we are playing a few new songs. We're only playing about two new songs an hour whereas the previous radio station I suppose - probably 80 or 90 % would have been new then.

Why is it so difficult to get regular FM and AM licences for such a project?

Well, I think the problem with the UK situation is that they say there is a shortage of frequencies. And I think what tents to happen with Offcom - the Radio Authority and before they were known as the IBA - I think what tents to happen with these government burocratic bodies is that they always tent to play safe with their choice of who they let run radio stations in this country. I think that in the government department they like to award licences to people who they know or they have a track record. I think me personally I'm a little bit of an unknown, a little bit of a maverick. You know I've been for licences before and never been very successful. So by circumnavigating the rules in the UK and by broadcasting via the Netherlands it means that we are able to put together a radio station which can compete. Cos another thing that they have here in the UK is that they put a radio station into a small town and then they decide to put a second one in. Then they have to make sure that the programme formats are different. So you end up with maybe a station playing chart music but the other one has to do something different so it might have to be middle-of-the-road or it might have to be soft rock or it has to be country and western. It has to choose a different format to do what they call widen the choice here in the UK. What we are able to do is do what we like because we don't have to conform with any type of music. If I want tomorrow to become a classic rock station I can do that. I don't need to forfill a promise of the format which gives a lot of flexibility. And it would probably enable us to always be one step ahead in competitive terms.

How did it come that you went out to catch the medium wave frequency in Holland?

Well, we've spent about 3 years looking at ways to do this with Radio London. As I said this history goes back about 8 years. And it soon became apparent that really we were not going to be allowed to get a licence in London where we would like to be because we would compete too much with Capital and the other stations there. And as I said you know they're only really interested in dealing with their sort of closed circle of bodies who may be already in the radio industry. They're not really interested in bringing in people like me who, you know, would like to see competition and give the other stations a run for their money. So we looked at other ways of doing it. And we looked at coming in from France. I had some negotiations with some people in France with a frequency but that didn't really go very far. So I looked at the Netherlands next because there's radio stations already in the Netherlands that do get into the UK very well with their frequencies. So when the frequencies were auctioned about two years ago we did actually put in a bid for one which we were successfully getting. But unfortunately we weren't able to raise our funding in time. So we had to sell that frequency. And now we're using another frequency which is not quite as good but it is enabling us to start our business. And one of the things we see as being of interest or in developing our business further is the development of DRM which we think is going to be a great way of broadcasting our signals to a much wider audience with digital audio. So in other words we'll have much better quality. So we're hoping that we'll start what we're doing. And in maybe two years time when DRM radios are more widely available then we'll be able to pick up much better and wider audios.

Do you think that Big L can be as revolutionary as in the 60's again?

Probably not is the short answer. Because in the 60's there was no competition. And when you've got no competition and there's only two or three people who are good at what they're doing you're going to get these 12 million audiences. Personally I don't think that we'd ever get 12 million listeners again although in the UK our Radio 2 which is run by the BBC has 12 million listeners. But I put that down to two things. The programmes are okay although we would argue that ours are better. But what the BBC has is a very good transmitter network which means that wherever you go in the UK the signal is very good on FM. And let's face it - I know that's the same in your country - FM listening has become the dominant way to listen to radio at the moment.

And what do you think about Radio Caroline? They're also on satellite and various frequencies. Are they more or less a competitor for you because they have the same idea of keeping on with the old offshore names?

No, we don't really see them as a competitor. I have to respect, and I've got a lot of admiration for the fact that they've been around a long while and they're kept themselves going in various forms fairly consistantly without any breaks for many many years now. And I've got obviously total respect for that. But I don't see them as being a commercial threat because we've gone for mainstream, big audiences. We're going for the biggest audience that we can get with our music programming whereas we see that their programming is a little bit more narrow and therefore we don't feel that we are in competition with each other at all.

And what will happen next with Big L?

Well I think what we'd like to do now is develop it and improve it. I mean the long term goal is to make it into a station that anybody in the UK can listen to nationally on a terrestrial frequency. Whether that'd be digital or not I don't mind but it needs to be on a signal that people can drive around in their car, also they can sit there with their radio and listen to us. And that's got to be the goal. A lot of people have said we would never get to where we are. I've got many many critics who said that we would never get this far and I've prooved them all wrong. It's been really determination and absolute dedication to get it this far. And I'm determined now - we have got this far - to build on what we've got and make sure that this radio station is around in another 20 years time and going from strength to strength.

I could talk to Ray Anderson in early June 2005.

Questions? Corrections? Ideas? Comments?


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