The Sun Newspaper clipping - March 87
A pop station reinvented as a black music champion 1983 – 1990
The newspaper clipping above (sourced courtesy of Pirate Archives), reveals a part of history rarely told nowadays about the 80’s London black music scene. Time after time the British mainstream media publications such as The Sun, Daily Mail, The Observer etc acknowledged LWR 92.5 as the most popular unlicensed station in the UK during that period.
Apart from one notable exception at the time, which raised a few eyebrows, when an annual readers poll published in London newspaper, The Evening Standard, December 30th 1988, unsurprisingly announced Capital Radio as the ‘best’ station in London. But! incredulously, Kiss 94 was placed second, with LWR 92.5 languishing in the second half of the top ten. This, just a few months after The Sun’s article (March 1987)
Of course The Evening Standard annual readers poll suited the Capital Radio narrative, since it was already under pressure from the pirates, resulting in some red faces in the station’s boardroom, trying to rationalise why an unlicensed station like LWR 92.3 could be challenging their dominance in London. Then there’s Kiss 94 who needed all the help possible from friendly media publications to help promote their cause at the expense of LWR’s.
However, it was highly unlikely a weekend station, as Kiss 94 was at the time, could be more popular than one that broadcast seven days a week. The reality confirmed by the national newspapers (whose general apathy to London pirates, normally underplayed their dominance of the airwaves anyway), still put LWR 92.5 far ahead of any unlicensed competitor. As The Daily Mail article declared on New Year’s Day, 1st Jan 1989 (one day after voluntarily shutdown of both stations to apply for the licence), that LWR 92.5 was the biggest unlicensed station in the UK.
But, during the years following, with the commercialism of black music during the 90’s and 00’s, these historic achievements have been seriously underplayed. Therefore we now strive to redress some of the alternative facts spun in favour of other outfits.
Whilst LWR 92.5 always maintained an audience over the reported 1.5 million plus during the late 80’s. All the newly licensed black music stations struggled to maintain the momentum once they begun broadcasting at the turn of the 90’s.
The larger London-wide licenses were awarded (amidst some controversy and cynicism) to Jazz FM (rumoured to be the establishments safe choice) and then a few months later another one went to former pirate broadcaster Kiss 94, who subsequently rebranded as Kiss 100.
However, both stations struggled from their respective launches. Kiss 100 in particular took almost one year from their launch to hit their initial target audience figure of one million (and even then it was suggested, this so called milestone was more a marketing strategy and they didn’t achieve this figure until well after a year of broadcast). Plus the station was also criticised, that it had watered down their previous self proclaimed radical radio ethos (they championed as a pirate) to achieve this. However, regardless of whether or not they had actually reached the one million mark within the year as they claimed, the figures were still well under what LWR achieved less than a couple of years earlier.
It actually took Kiss 100 several years to surpass those of an LWR 92.5 in it’s prime. Signified by the cull of many of the original Kiss 94 presenters during the late 90’s. Though the presenters themselves are not blameless, failing to keep ahead of the constantly evolving UK black music scene, against the back drop of new pirate stations, flourishing on the advent of emerging genres, that Kiss failed to champion.
However, to the relief of corporate sponsors striving for higher audience figures, removing the final remnants of the pirate Kiss 94 for good, was a huge step in the commercialisation of the station and gentrification of the UK black music scene, which was complete when the smaller Choice FM (who now under the Capital Radio Group held two licenses to broadcast across both north and south London) sold out to the Kiss 100 competitor, rebranding it Capital Xtra, removing the former Choice FM’s long standing presenters in the process and commercialising the station to complete with Kiss.
Alas, the final two of the three stations award licences (the long defunct WNK was the third) entrusted at the turn of the 90’s, to hold the black music torch in London (and ultimately the UK), that so many had struggled to light during the 80’s, had completely doused the flame.
Over the years many debates have ensued over how different today’s UK black music scene would be, had the London-wide broadcasting license been awarded to LWR instead of Kiss. Well that’s almost impossible to predict.
However, one thing is for sure! LWR 92.5 would not have been commercialised to the extent it no longer championed the music it became renown for, or taken over and run by the very organisations that had initially challenged the radio station’s existence during it’s time as an unlicensed operator. [Words: Jay James for LWR Archives]