Or ‘how radio changed while I lived in London’
I am a fraud. Or, at the very least, in need of a rebrand.
Everything about this blog screams ‘London’. The name is a reference to the fact that my name is Mark and I live in the capital. The photo behind these words is the London skyline.
The problem is I don’t actually live in London any more.
Don’t worry, though – this isn’t a blog about moving out of London. The reasons why people leave London are well-documented and my story is no more exciting than anyone else’s.
This, as always, is about radio.
I moved to the capital from the West Country at the start of 2010. Where I’d come from, commercial radio was a couple of mainstream stations on FM and whatever was available locally on DAB – which wasn’t much.
So, to a guy in his 20s working in the media, London’s radio landscape was dazzling.
On FM alone, I could hear urban music (Choice FM), indie music (XFM) and talk (LBC). Plus more mainstream music stations than you could shake a stick at.
Johnny Vaughan and Lisa Snowdon were riding high on Capital breakfast. London was the only place they were waking up, and the only place you could hear Capital at all.
Even Heart, which by then had replaced the local station in my old home town, was bigger and better in London – with Jamie Theakston on breakfast.
London had the kind of radio variety I’d always craved and never had. Radio I’d only ever heard on visits to the capital – or as an outsider eavesdropping online to someone else’s local station.
But now I was a Londoner and all these stations were mine.
It’s now almost a decade later and, as much as I’ll always love London, I’ve moved on and out. I may have changed during my years in the capital – but not half as much as radio.
The first thing to happen was that London’s radio stations started to outgrow their city. Capital started appearing elsewhere on FM in 2011 and eventually went national on DAB in 2016.
Choice FM became available nationwide as Capital Xtra in 2013. Less than six months later, LBC stopped being London’s Biggest Conversation and started Leading Britain’s Conversation. The following year, Magic went national and so did XFM, relaunching as Radio X.
Then came the explosion of new national stations with the launch of the Digital 2 multiplex on DAB. Stations like Virgin, TalkRadio and Magic Chilled – and, more recently, Scala.
So, during my time in the capital, the rest of the UK gained stations at a rate of knots while London only gained the stations that were completely new.
Then came the biggest equaliser of all: smart speakers.
No longer did London’s massive and unparalleled selection of stations on local DAB mean what it used to.
As smart speakers gradually replaced DAB radios throughout my home, I started listening to my London DAB favourites like Chris Country and Mi-Soul on devices that could play them regardless of whether I was in London or Llandudno.
And then there was deregulation.
With local production requirements relaxed, that Capital breakfast show from Leicester Square – which provided the early-morning soundtrack to my first few years in London – is now on every Capital station in the country.
And very soon, Jamie Theakston – accompanied by Amanda Holden – will start waking up the whole of the Heart network.
So, over the past decade, a perfect storm of commercial, technological and regulatory developments has meant that more or less everything I loved about radio in London was waiting for me in my new home many miles away.
Of course, none of this answers the question of what the heck I’m going to do about the inconveniently London-centric branding of this blog.
In the absence of any better ideas – and on the basis that I still work in London one day a week – I think I’ll just leave it as it is. For now.