CIB Origins : National Commercial Radio Movement and Free Radio Association

The Campaign For Independent Broadcasting (CIB) came into being in 1969 but this was only a change of name from the same organisation’s previous title: National Commercial Radio Movement (NCRM). NCRM was founded in July 1968 and although not all the group’s records have survived, we know that its founder members were Fred Hasler, Hon. Chairman, David Prewett, Hon. Vice Chairman, Martin Rosen, Hon. Press & Public Relations Officer and Tony Peters, Hon. General Secretary. Other founder members included Paul Peters and Caroline Peters.

All NCRM founder members had previously been members or founder members of the Free Radio Association (FRA) based in Rayleigh, Essex. The FRA originally came into being in February 1967 through a merger of a number of listener groups which supported the offshore pirate radio stations. These radio stations had been on the air since 1964 and the Government were planning to put them out of business by passing the Marine Broadcasting (Offences) Bill through Parliament which eventually became law on 14th August 1967.

Many radio listeners at the time did not object to the closing of the offshore stations as such – what really made them angry was the then government’s decision to reject the introduction of land-based independent radio by imposing a diet of monopoly radio only.

Three of the free radio listener groups which merged in February 1967 to form the Free Radio Association (FRA) were the “Commercial Radio Listeners Association” led by Catherine Baker and Roger Taylor, of which Fred Hasler was also a founder member, the “Free Radio Supporters Association” led by Geoffrey Pearl and a group from the Oxford area led by David Prewett.

Unfortunately, not long after the FRA’s formation, one or more disputes surfaced among the Committee members which by early 1968 led to several members leaving. The exact details and cause of the disputes are unclear. One side of the dispute is detailed in a 1969 brochure by FRA’s former Promotions Officer, Barry Schofield, entitled: “FRA – Rise & Fall of a Misguided Association” while the other side of the dispute is provided by Geoffrey Pearl on pages 11 to 13 of FRA’s Spotlight magazine.

In a letter dated 24th March 1970, former FRA and NCRM committee member, Tony Peters, remarked: “… I have had hanging over my head for over a year a writ for slander issued by this man (Geoffrey Pearl) as a result of my telling the truth about his operations to the Sunday Telegraph and the Sunday Times. Writs which he refuses to drop and his solicitors refuse to take any further.”

While Barry Schofield’s brochure includes some factual inaccuracies – e.g. on page 3 he erroneously states that Mottingham is in North London when in fact it is located in South East London – David Prewett, writing in November/December 2013, clearly remembers several of Barry Schofield’s notes as being “a pretty fair record” of events.

The FRA disputes led directly to the formation of the NCRM in July 1968. However, despite the considerable number of people he had alienated, Geoffrey Pearl’s FRA appears to have remained undeterred because he invited NCRM to Rayleigh for a meeting on 23rd February 1969 and in the autumn of 1969 he again contacted both NCRM and another well known group, the Free Radio Campaign (FRC) led by Alex McKenna with another merger proposal.

NCRM/CIB records show that one meeting was held in London on 12th October 1969 and another meeting was planned to be held in Rayleigh on 23rd November 1969. The result of these meetings as far as NCRM was concerned was to agree to cooperate with the other two organisations wherever possible but nothing further.

On the other hand, FRC did agree to merge with FRA and this was confirmed on page 9 of FRC’s journal “Free Radio News No.6”. This merger however seems to have been short-lived because in letters from FRC dated 4th April 1970 and 7th April 1970 it is evident that many FRC organisers had decided to revert back to the “Free Radio Campaign” name.

Looking back today, there are three elements that strike me as to why the FRA failed to stay united:

1. FRA’s objectives were too broadly based on freedom of the individual and consequently lacked focus on the fight for UK independent radio. For example, in September 1967 Geoffrey Pearl had proposed to broaden FRA’s interests to include, among others, the National Federation of Property Owners, Free Britain, Aims of Industry and the Pure Water Society.

2. Geoffrey Pearl appears to have displayed a cavalier attitude which other committee members resented. For example, FRA’s meeting minutes of 11th February 1968 allegedly included comment from FRA’s own President, Sir Ian McTaggart, who “… thought that Mr. Pearl was a most remarkable combination, in that he displayed tremendous dedication to the Association plus a determination to take it over for himself…”.

3. Both sides agree that there was a financial dispute involving FRA funds.

How I Joined the Campaign for Independent Broadcasting

Hi, my name is Fred Bunzl, former Hon. General Secretary of the Campaign For Independent Broadcasting (CIB), and as I sit here at my desk in November 2013, I
shudder to think that it’s now nearly 45 years since I joined as a member of a group called the “National Commercial Radio Movement” (NCRM) back in January 1969.

I had often listened to the offshore (“pirate”) radio stations that ringed the UK between 1964 and 1967. Living in the south east of England at the time, I think my favourites were probably 259 Radio Caroline South and 266 Radio London, although I may have tuned in to Radio 390‘s soft music from time to time.

Then on 27th July 1966, the Labour government of Harold Wilson introduced the “Marine, Etc., Broadcasting (Offences) Bill to the House of Commons and on 14th August 1967 the Bill had become law.

Of course, for many years, it had already been illegal to listen to such unlicensed broadcasts but clearly the government felt uncomfortable with the prospect of prosecuting millions of music listeners who preferred the offshore pirate programmes to the BBC’s three alternatives which, at the time, were the “Home Service“, the “Light Programme” and the “Third Programme“.

The new 1967 law made it illegal for UK residents not only to have anything to do with the offshore stations, it also became illegal to write or say anything which might be construed as some sort of advertisement for an offshore station. This not only stopped any UK newspaper or journal from publishing any offshore radio program listings, it also stopped publication of books which did little more than record the history of those stations.

One example is “Pop Went The Pirates” by Keith Skues to whom I had written in 1968 asking where I could buy a copy. True to form, Keith Skues promptly replied (his letter today resides as a souvenir inside the opening cover of my copy of Keith’s book) stating that “…alas, it never got published. Perhaps it will eventually come out when there is either a change of Government, or at the introduction of commercial radio…“.

If Keith Skues’ book had been published in 1968 its author, publisher and printer might well have been prosecuted. But with the passing of time, the same book’s contents now appear to be regarded as “history” rather than “advertising”…

As we know, on 14th August 1967, when the Government outlawed the offshore pirate radio stations, the two Radio Caroline ships, anchored off Frinton, Essex and the Isle of Man, defiantly continued broadcasting. But by March 1968 Caroline’s money had run out and both radio stations were silenced by the Dutch tender company which had regularly supplied them because of unpaid bills.

So why did I join NCRM? The catalyst for me was undoubtedly the silencing of Radio Caroline in March 1968. It represented the end of UK independent radio and I felt the need to take action to remedy the situation, rather than sit back in my comfortable chair and wring my hands.

At that time I had a weekly subscription to a journal called “Record Retailer” and I remember that whilst the offshore stations were broadcasting, Record Retailer had regularly published each station’s “Fab 40” or “Top 50” record charts. They had also published some information about NCRM so I requested they send me address details so that I could contact them. This they did and I promptly received a letter and brochure from NCRM’s Hon. Public Relations Officer, Martin Rosen on which I acted to join.