Bruce Welch is a very well-known guitarist and was part of a band called the Shadows who are now recognised as one of the most successful and influential bands to ever come out of the United Kingdom. The Shadows were originally Cliff Richard’s backing band and Welch wrote a number of hits for the Shadows and for Cliff. It can be argued that the most successful years for The Shadows were between 1958 and 1962, before the emergence of the Beatles but the Shadows outlived Beatlemania and this may be because they acknowledged that they were in an entertainment industry which helped to prolong their careers. Bruce Welch believed there was an ‘entertainment business’ at the time because the music industry was in its infancy and had not developed much yet. The systems that were in place during this era were very different to the ones that we see today as the only structures that were in place were usually large ones like the BBC and EMI and there were not any small structures like commercial radio stations or independent record companies. Another system that was in place at the time was Tin Pan Alley, which “is an American term for the professional songwriting industry that dominated mainstream popular music from the late nineteenth century until well into the second half of the twentieth century”1.
This shows that a lot of musicians relied on the songwriting industry rather than actually writing the songs themselves. The BBC was a state-owned organisation that had a radio station at the time and there was not much competition because it was the only radio broadcaster permitted to broadcast in the UK in the 1950s. The only real competition it had was an illegal pirate radio station called Radio Luxembourg that had quite a large domestic influence.
Case Study – How much of an impact did Radio Luxembourg have on the organisational structures at the BBC? There are many forms of literature available that can be used to analyse and measure the impact that Radio Luxembourg had on the BBC in the 1950s. Some of the books that give a good insight into this are Understanding Rock ‘n’ Roll: Popular Music in Britain 1955 – 1964 by Dick Bradley, On The Radio: Music Radio in Britain by Stephen Barnard, Popular Music in Theory: An Introduction by Keith Negus, Why 1955? Explaining the advent of rock music by Richard Peterson and Understanding Popular Music by Roy Shuker. These resources have been specifically chosen because they contain a lot of information in relation to the systems that were in place during this era and also give a lot of information about the BBC and Radio Luxembourg. Although Welch argues that the music industry was non-existent when the Shadows emerged, the information in these books seem to give the impression that this may be an exaggeration. In Understanding Popular Music, it is suggested that there were big changes made to the way that commercial radio shows were presented to their audiences and this dramatically increased the number of listeners. The author states that the “nature and relative balance of general career patterns in radio and the music industry changed dramatically in the mid-1950s. In radio, the most conspicuous change was the transformation of the functionary position of radio announcer into the showman-entrepreneur DJ.2” These changes were definitely made on Radio Luxembourg as the presenters were given more freedom and did not always talk in received pronunciation like at the BBC.
Also, Radio Luxembourg and their presenters would sell needle time to record labels and artists so they could get their music played on the radio, whereas this was forbidden at the BBC due to it being a state-owned organisation. There were four main firms in the 1950s that controlled the market for recorded music and had a huge influence on the music that could be heard on commercial radio. Major record companies like EMI and Decca could pay sums of money to commercial stations like Radio Luxembourg for full-hour or half-hour slots and have their music broadcast to a large audience. These record companies didn’t have as much control over the music that was played on the BBC so Radio Luxembourg would get the opportunity to play a lot of music for the very first time and this is one of the reasons that Radio Luxembourg attracted a younger audience. Richard Peterson states that “Four firms – RCA, Columbia (CBS), Capitol and American Decca (MCA) – had released 81 per cent of all the records that had reached the weekly top-ten hit list any time during the year. The top eight firms together released 95 per cent of all the hits and only three other firms had any hits at all!3” This shows that these major record companies had all the power and this is why independent record labels struggled to make a breakthrough during this era as they did not have the funds to compete with the big labels and get their music played on the commercial networks. Furthermore, it suggests that the record industry was vertically integrated and the radio industry was horizontally integrated at this time so this is one of the main ways that the record companies continued their domination.
Radio Luxembourg’s content was predominantly aimed at the youth market whereas the content heard on the BBC was not, so this meant that the BBC eventually lost quite a lot of their younger listeners. When they realised they were losing these listeners, they tried to put a stop to it and introduced three different shows during the 1950s that were broadcast on the Light Programme and these were called the Saturday Club, Easy Beat and Pick of the Pops and were all aimed at young people. There were two other programmes called the Home Service and the Third Programme and they were not very appealing for younger listeners as they featured things like classical music, recitals, scientific talk and serious dramas. All the BBC presenters spoke in received pronunciation and the shows were very scripted so all the shows sounded very similar whereas Radio Luxembourg was the complete opposite. The younger generation were very unsatisfied during the 1950s and this is summed up by Ian Macdonald who speaks of the “braying upper-class voices on news reels, the odour of unearned privilege in parliament and the courts, the tired nostalgia for the war, all conspired to breed unrest amongst the young.”4 This goes to show that young people were tired of more traditional organisations like the BBC and were looking for an alternative like Radio Luxembourg.
It is clear that there was a policy at Radio Luxembourg of playing music that was popular with the younger generation whereas on the BBC they liked to play serious music and light music as opposed to modern pop. Very little American music was played on the BBC as the BBC preferred to broadcast American music that was covered by somebody British. Light Classical music like Calling All Workers by Eric Coates was regularly broadcast on the BBC and this was aimed at workers as it was very upbeat and it increased productivity, but it is also one of the main reasons that the younger generation chose to listen to Radio Luxembourg instead. It has been suggested that in “the BBC itself, the main provider of radio music, there was a policy of playing a lot of live serious and light music, and only a little modern pop, and, over and above this, a tendency among programme makers to counterpose British to American and hold up ‘folk music’ as the true popular tradition. Very little Elvis made its way through this set of filters!”5. This goes to show that the BBC was not the most progressive of radio stations at that time and preferred to play traditional music.
The younger generation wanted something different and was not as interested in these types of music as the older generations were. This is one of the main reasons for the success of Radio Luxembourg. Although the BBC did learn from this later on, it is one of the main reasons they struggled for a number of years and were eventually forced to make some changes to try and win back the younger listeners. It is also very important to take into account the influence of technology when thinking about the organisational structures at these radio stations.
For example, “the transistor radio, first manufactured by Sony in 1955, enabled many people to take music with them on the move (whether carried personally or in an automobile).”6 This advancement in technology meant that people could listen to music more frequently so there was a demand for alternatives to just listening to music on the BBC. This could be seen as one of the main reasons that Radio Luxembourg became so popular, because the youth market had no loyalty to the BBC and they wanted an alternative. Young people also had much more spending power during this era than young people did in previous generations so they were able to afford the latest technological items like transistor radios. The fact of the matter is, the creation of the transistor radio meant that more people were listening to radio Luxembourg and this caused the BBC to make changes to its organisational structures so it was less reactionary and more revolutionary in the future. Eventually they would start to play music that was from other countries more regularly and create different and unique shows that were aimed at a younger audience and involved audience participation. In terms of television, the BBC held the monopoly until 1955. “ITV began transmissions in 1955 to break the monopoly of BBC; an additional channel, BBC2, was introduced in 1964.
“7 This needs to be taken into consideration because it corresponds with what was happening between the BBC’s radio station and Radio Luxembourg. Although Radio Luxembourg was an illegal pirate station, it got more and more popular throughout the 1950s, and the BBC now had lots of serious competition and they needed to make some big changes to try and get back the listeners from Radio Luxembourg and ITV. It also shows that during this era, commercial television and radio seemed to be much more popular with listeners, and much more attractive to presenters because they could be paid more than they could at the BBC.
They also had a lot more freedom than at the BBC. Because of this increased competition by ITV, it meant that the BBC had to increase their television funding and meant that there was less money to spend on their radio department. This was a problem as Radio Luxembourg were very commercial and had lots of money to spend.
They made money in many different ways like advertising and payola. The major record companies would pay them huge sums of money for “needle time”. Radio Luxembourg was a sea-based pirate radio station so it remained very strong and successful until the marine offenses act was brought in in 1967 and the government were finally able to put a stop to pirate radio stations. This was also detrimental for some of the other big sea-based pirate radio stations like Radio Caroline and Radio London. It is also clear that commercial radio stations explored different avenues, took risks and tried new things that the state-owned radio station did not. Barnard explains “by the beginning of the 1950s, Luxembourg’s programming was taking two distinct directions. On the one hand there were sponsored shows, no longer the variety showcases of pre-war years but generally quiz shows on the American model like Double Your Money and Opportunity Knocks, which were relatively inexpensive to produce and offered the kind of big-money prizes that the BBC was prohibited from offering under the terms of its charter.
“8 This goes to show that they were producing shows where the listeners could get involved and younger people would find more entertaining and were also offering people big prizes so it gave them an incentive to listen to the station. The BBC were not allowed to do this as they were funded by the tax payer. Furthermore, Barnard states “On the other hand, record shows – the early mainstay of commercial radio in the United States and Europe – assumed a far greater importance for economic reasons, as they incurred very little expense (Luxembourg was outside PPL territory) and attracted audiences comparable in size with those of the audience-participation shows.”9 This shows that Radio Luxembourg did not need to pay any royalties when they played music so it was it was very inexpensive whereas the BBC would need to pay royalties to all the artists they played on the radio because they were and still are based in PPL territory. This means that the BBC had to think of new and relatively inexpensive ways to attract more listeners. Pop shows were limited to “needle time” which meant that the BBC could only play a certain amount of pre-recorded songs per week whereas the illegal station Radio Luxembourg would play as much as they wanted too. It is clear that at the beginning of the 1950s, the radio was more important than television to the BBC but throughout the decade its popularity declined as the television became more and more popular. “In 1950 there were 12 million radio-only licenses and only 350,000 combined radio and TV licenses.
The budget for BBC Television was a fraction of the radio budget. But a single event transformed the popularity of television. This was the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on June 2, 1953 in Westminster Abbey. This was a turning point and the first time that a television audience exceeded the size of a radio audience.”10 When this happened, the BBC started to see the potential in television and started to give more funds to the television budget and less to the radio budget.
This could be one of the main reasons the BBC struggled to compete with Radio Luxembourg for a period during the 1950s. Conclusion So, it can be argued that the youth market may have been taken for granted by the BBC or even ignored. It is clear that the radio was the most popular form of entertainment during the 1950s and it is also clear that the four leading record companies controlled the market for recorded music and had a big say on what was played on commercial radio stations like Radio Luxembourg which meant they played a lot of music for the first time. Radio Luxembourg aimed their music at the younger generation which had a negative impact on the BBC whereas the BBC preferred to play serious and light classical music which also was not very appealing to the younger generation.
New technology also had a huge impact on the decline of BBC radio during the 1950s as people were listening to the radio more regularly when the transistor radio was created and also the BBC started to focus a little more on television and may have lost a bit of focus on their radio station. Furthermore, Radio Luxembourg could afford to spend much more money on prizes due to sponsorship and hosted a lot more shows that involved audience-participation than the BBC and Radio Luxembourg could play as much music as they wanted too as they were an illegal radio station so they ignored the “needle time” rules.