Radio Leicester and the University of Leicester 50 Years of Collaboration

The recent 50th anniversary of the start of the country’s first BBC local radio station, BBC Radio Leicester, which launched on 8 November 1967, also marks the 50th anniversary of the University of Leicester’s ongoing collaboration with Radio Leicester.

Local radio started as an ‘experiment’ and only happened in Leicester because the local authority was willing to contribute the whole of the estimated daily running costs, £1,000 a week, for the experimental period of two years. One of the main voices supporting the project was that of the historian Professor Jack Simmons, a well-known University of Leicester academic and author of many books about Leicester. Simmons was the first Chairman of the Leicester Broadcasting Council and was later followed by another University historian, Professor Jim Dyos.

The Leicester Educational Broadcasting Trust was established to raise funds for educational broadcasting and, throughout the early years of the station, academics and students contributed to its output. Simmons wrote ‘Victorian Leicester’, a ten-part radio series that was also published as a book, while the Geography Department created ‘The Growth of Leicester’, which was also a radio series and book. In the early 1970s students produced an hour long programme titled ‘On Their Way to Other Places’, which featured original songs and looked at Leicester’s history from the Romans onwards.

Academics from the University of Leicester have appeared on Radio Leicester regularly. The station has also covered events such as the opening of new buildings on the campus or important discoveries such as DNA fingerprinting and the subsequent use of the technique in solving the Narborough Murders. Today, staff still appear regularly on Radio Leicester - including Professor Turi King from our Department of Genetics and Genome Biology, who does a monthly science roundup as part of Ben Jackson’s programme, and the News Centre's Alex Phillimore, who frequently appears as a film reviewer and regular guest on Jonathan Lampon's 'Table Talk' segment.

In 2000 Radio Leicester ‘went digital’ and the archive of ¼” magnetic tape created since 1967 became obsolete. This was at the same time as the East Midlands Oral History Archive (EMOHA) was started in the Centre for Urban History. When staff at Radio Leicester saved the archive from being thrown away, it was deposited at the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester & Rutland as part of the EMOHA.

The surviving archive contains programmes covering a wide variety of local and national issues. One of the highlights is a complete run of ‘Digging Up The Past’, an archaeology programme presented by the late Alan McWhirr of the School of Archaeology and Ancient History. More than 200 programmes have been digitised by EMOHA for use in both teaching and research, and this has enabled Radio Leicester to use its archival recordings for a number of programmes, events, and the current celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of the station.

Colin Hyde, from the East Midlands Oral History Archive at the University, said: "Local radio archives are often a poor relation to national collections, but here at Leicester we have been using local radio material to great effect for many years. In the years to come, our hope is that we will be able to provide even greater access to this fascinating resource."