BBC Radio Norfolk was launched at 5:55 pm on 11 September 1980. It was the first BBC local radio station to launch in East Anglia and the first station to be launched after a gap of several years in the corporation's local radio development programme, due to the Government's review of local radio (both BBC and independent services) in the late 1970s. Due to the policy of launching only one local radio service at a time in a particular area, when it came to choosing whether Norfolk or Devon would receive a BBC or commercial station first, there was contention between the BBC and the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) as to who would get which area. This was settled by the toss of a coin, with the BBC winning and choosing Norfolk. The IBA therefore got Devon, who appointed DevonAir Radio.
For several years up until the launch of Radio Norfolk, BBC East had broadcast a daily morning radio programme, Roundabout East Anglia, a regional opt-out from the Today programme on BBC Radio 4. However, this had covered a much larger editorial area than any BBC Local Radio station, being heard across the same region as the BBC's Look East regional television news programme. Like Look East,Roundabout East Anglia was also broadcast from BBC East's regional headquarters at All Saint's Green in Norwich.
Radio Norfolk was one of the first BBC local stations to be based around a county, rather than a town or city; it was also the first to broadcast in stereo (though only to East Norfolk; the remainder of the county had to wait until 2005 for stereo broadcasts). Initially, there was insufficient budget for a full schedule of programmes; the station started with a breakfast show, a two-hour show at midday and then an extended five o'clock news and sports bulletin, while using BBC Radio 2 as a sustaining service outside of these times. There was, however, a full local service at weekends, when it was assumed that more listeners would be available due to them not being at work. After Keith Salmon took over as the station's Managing Editor in 1982, a full slate of local programmes was introduced on weekdays.
Originally, Radio Norfolk was based at a former carpet showroom in Norfolk Tower on Surrey Street in Norwich. The station's first presenter on-air was John Mountford and the launch was simulcast live on Look East. Mountford was one of several former Roundabout East Angliapersonnel who had transferred across to work for the new station following that programme's demise.The Forum, on Millennium Plain in Norwich, where BBC Radio Norfolk has been based since June 2003. The BBC occupy the wing of the building seen on the left-hand side of the picture.
Roy Waller presented a weekday afternoon show on the station from the early 1980s until 2009, which led to him being regarded as one of the best-known and most popular voices in the county, described by the Eastern Daily Press as "a household name." Waller also hosted a Saturday morning country music programme, Rodeo Norfolk, which he continued to present following his departure from the weekday show, until ill-health forced him to step down. Waller's funeral in July 2010 was held at Norwich Cathedral and was attended by over 1500 mourners.
From the early days of Radio Norfolk until 2007, Waller was also the station's commentator for Norwich City matches, becoming known as "the voice of Carrow Road". The station devotes extensive coverage to Norwich City, the county's only professional football team, providing live coverage of all League and Cup matches, as well as a post-match phone-in show Canary Call andfanzine show McVeigh and Butler, formally known as The Scrimmage, both of which are regarded as amongst the station's most popular programmes. In 2011, when BBC economy measures raised the idea that local radio football commentaries could be cut back, the possibility was criticised by the local press in Norfolk, praising the station for the passion of its commentaries.
The Norfolk Airline, presented by David Clayton and Neil Walker, was the station's first mid-morning programme, launched in 1983. In April 1986 the programme won the Sony Radio Academy Award for Best Magazine Programme, ahead of BBC Radio 4's A Small Country Living and Capital Radio's The Way It Is. The programme also made the news itself, when James Prior announced his resignation as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland live during a show. The success of Airlineeventually led to Clayton and Walker departing to make programmes for national radio, on BBC Radio 4.
From 1995 until his death in 2006, presenter and journalist John Mills presented Midday With Mills, a consumer affairs programme. The show gained a strong reputation for solving listeners' consumer problems, and in 2000 was given the British Insurance Brokers' Association Media Award for its work in this area.
From 1984 until 2009, Look East presenter Stewart White was the presenter of the station's Saturday breakfast show. White was the first presenter to go on-air after the station moved studios from Norfolk Tower to The Forum in the summer of 2003.
BBC Radio Norfolk has so far had only four Managing Editors in its history. The founding editor was Mike Chaney, appointed at the beginning of 1980 to oversee the setting-up of the radio station. Chaney had previously been working on the Today programme at BBC Radio 4, but lost his role there during a behind-the-scenes shake-up. In recompense for this, Chaney was promised the editorship of a BBC Local Radio station, and was given the job at Norfolk. Before working on Today, he had been the founding editor of BBC Radio 1's Newsbeat programme in 1973, and prior to this had worked as a journalist for The Sun newspaper.
Chaney was succeeded in 1982 by Keith Salmon, who had been working at BBC Radio Oxford. He had first joined the BBC in 1961, and had also worked at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, the BBC's famous electronic music and sound effects department in London. At Oxford, Salmon had been a presenter and the programme organiser.He remained Managing Editor of BBC Radio Norfolk for thirteen years, until his retirement in 1995.
Tim Bishop had a background in local newspapers in Norfolk, having worked on the Eastern Daily Press and been the news editor for the Norwich Evening News, before joining the BBC in 1994. Immediately prior to becoming the Managing Editor of BBC Radio Norfolk, Bishop had been the Education Correspondent for Look East. He subsequently returned to the television side of BBC East's operations, and then became the Head of Regional and Local Programmes for the area in 2002. David Clayton became BBC Radio Norfolk's Managing Editor in 1998, having been a broadcaster at the station since the early 1980s and the Assistant Editor under Salmon and then Bishop since 1991. During Clayton's period in charge of the station, it has gained its highest ever listening figures.
BBC Radio Norfolk has frequently gained some of the highest audience figures of any of the BBC's local radio stations in England. Figures from the radio audience measuring body RAJAR have regularly shown that over 200,000 people in Norfolk listen to some part of the station's output in any given week. When criticising proposed BBC local radio cutbacks in December 2011, South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon claimed in a letter to Lord Patten, the Chairman of the BBC Trust, that only the national station BBC Radio 2 gained higher audiences in Norfolk than BBC Radio Norfolk did.
BBC Radio Norfolk has twice won categories at the main industry awards, the Radio Academy Awards (formerly the Sony Awards). The "Best Magazine Programme" category was won by The Norfolk Airline in 1986, and in 2014 the station won its second Gold Award at the event, when the news team collectively won the "Local Radio Journalist of the Year" category. In 2010 wildlife expert Chris Skinner was runner-up in the Best Specialist Contributor category for his broadcasts as part of Matthew Gudgin's programme. In 2004,Today in Norfolk was nominated in the Best Breakfast Show category, while in 2006 BBC Radio Norfolk as a whole was a nominee for the Station of the Year Award.
BBC Radio Norfolk has also won success at the Frank Gillard Awards, the BBC's own internal awards for its local radio stations. In 2010, the station's Sophie Price won the Original Journalism category for a documentary she had made about teenage pregnancy in Norfolk. In 2002 the station was the runner-up in the Best Radio Feature category forLiberators, and in 2006 took another silver, when David Clayton's Norfolk Years programme was the runner-up in the Best Interactive Programme category.
Local and regional awards have included a win in the Best Radio Programme category at the 2009 Creative East Awards for the show Treasure Quest. At the 2006 EDF Energy East of England Media Awards the station's Paul Moseley won the Radio Journalist of the Year award. He repeated this feat in 2007, becoming the only two-time winner of the award. In 2009 Nikki Fox won the title, and at the 2010 ceremony Nicky Price was joint-winner of the Sports Journalist of the Year category, while the Nick Conradshow took the Radio News/Current Affairs Programme of the Year title.
At the Parliamentary Jazz Awards in 2011, presenter Paul Barnes won the Broadcaster of the Year category for his show The Late Paul Barnes, broadcast from BBC Radio Norfolk but shared across the BBC East region.
Keith Skipper, a former presenter on the station until he left in 1995, has criticised BBC Radio Norfolk for a lack of local focus to some of its programming. In an article published in the Eastern Daily Press in February 2012, Norwich City Independent Supporters Club chairman Robin Sainty described the station's post-match phone-in programme Canary Call as "audio surrealism", criticising the quality of callers phoning in with their views.The transmission tower at Great Massingham.
The 95.1 FM signal covers the Norwich area, 104.4 FM covers the West and King's Lynn area, while 95.6 FM (which came on-air on 12 September 2005) serves north Norfolk. The Great Massingham transmission site also has the commercial radio station KL.FM 96.7, although they use separate towers. The Postwick transmission site also broadcasts Five Live on 693 AM/MW, talkSPORT and Absolute Radio. TheStoke Holy Cross transmission site also broadcasts Heart East Anglia on 102.4 FM, Kiss 105-108 East on 106.1 FM and 99.9 Radio Norwich. The 95.1 FM signal used to come from Tacolneston. The West Runton transmission tower also has a TV relay on it. Since 31 March 2003, DAB signals have come from the NOW Digital Norfolk 11B multiplex, with transmitters at Great Yarmouth, Oulton (Lowestoftin Suffolk), Stoke Holy Cross, Thetford, and West Runton. Heart East Anglia and The Beach are also on this multiplex. Of all the DAB transmitters, Stoke Holy Cross is the most powerful, at 1.1 kW.
- 11 September 1980 – BBC Radio Norfolk begins broadcasting at 5:55 pm from Norfolk Tower, Surrey Street, Norwich on 95.1 MHz VHF (FM) & 855 kHz (351m) MW/AM to East Norfolk, plus 1602 kHz (187m) MW/AM to West Norfolk. There were no FM transmissions to West Norfolk.
- 12 September 1980 – Terry Wogan presents his BBC Radio 2 breakfast show live from the new station's studios.
- 1982 – MW/AM frequency in West Norfolk changed, from 1602 kHz (187m), to 873 kHz (344m) MW/AM
- 1984 – FM transmissions begin in West Norfolk on 96.7 MHz. These transmissions were broadcast in mono due to an off-air re-broadcast system. This picked up the Tacolneston 95.1 FM broadcast and re-transmitted it, but was unable to reproduce a clear noise free stereo signal.
- 1986 – West Norfolk FM frequency changed, from 96.7, to 104.4 MHz FM (the mono broadcasts continued).
- 1992 – The King's Lynn studio moves from Tuesday Marketplace to the North Lynn Business Village.
- 2000 – Tacolneston transmissions cease and Stoke Holy Cross transmissions commence. These continue on 95.1 MHz FM but at slightly less transmitter power.
- 27 June 2003 – Radio Norfolk ceases broadcasting from the original Norfolk Tower studios.
- 28 June 2003 – Radio Norfolk starts broadcasting from the new BBC studios on the 1st floor at The Forum, Millennium Plain, Norwich. Look East presenter Stewart White is the first voice on air.
- 12 September 2005 – As part of BBC Radio Norfolk's 25th birthday celebrations, the West Runton transmitter launches a new FM frequency (95.6 MHz) for North Norfolk.
- October/November 2005 – Stereo FM broadcast for West Norfolk begin on 104.4 MHz FM.
- 27 April 2007 – Chris Moyles presents his BBC Radio 1 Breakfast Show from the station's studios, and Moyles' newsreader Dominic Byrne co-hosts on BBC Radio Norfolk with Nicky Barnes.
David Clayton Julie Reinger Kirsteen Thorne Keith Skues Paul Hayes
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