The production sound of LBC
Updated: Apr 8, 2021
Chris Lowrie worked at LBC for many years and here at The Audio Creator we are thrilled he has agreed to write for us giving some amazing insights into the sound of one of the UK's biggest commercial radio stations.
I started working at LBC as a freelance phone-op in early 1987. It was mostly weekend work, answering the phones on programmes such as The Fix-It Phone In, Clive Bulls Young London, and Nightline. Later that year I was offered full time work in the weekdays as an assistant producer for the counselling Show with Philip Hodson and the regular morning phone-op for The Brian Hayes Show.
It was at this time when LBC's sound took on a radical change. Since 1974 the station sound to regular listeners then was a familiar tune composed by Jeff Wayne, the man who made The Musical version of War of The Worlds. But in 1987 the station changed its programming line up, the stations logo, which was the blue and red LBC NEWS RADIO, to a more simplistic 3 dimensional multi coloured logo which just said 'LBC", and with that came an expansive new jingle package produced and written by David Arnold. I didn't have much to do with this at the time, as Brian Hayes along with his role as controversial phone in presenter was also the stations 'Head of Presentation, so along with Programme Controller Robin Malcolm, the station sound was implemented by them.
Two years later, the station was sold to an Australian company, and things were radically changed. In those days the IBA insisted that radio stations offered their listeners more choice of listening by the station splitting their frequencies and offering in effect 2 separate radio stations, it was 'use it or lose it'!. So LBC split frequencies. On FM, the station became rebranded as LBC Crown FM. It was to offer a direct rival service to Radio 4 , we even had the pips! On AM, London Talkback radio was launched. This would be a 24 hour phone - in station, and the LBC name was lost altogether. I still worked as an assistant producer on the FM service. Then in 1990 we moved form our headquarters in Gough Square, London EC4, to a sparkling new building in Hammersmith. LBC Crown FM was dull and the new radio station Programme Director Charlie Cox rebranded the station (again!) to LBC NewsTalk 97.3.
The station had a very high tech long-winded electronic package at that time, I hated it, and just for my own satisfaction I re-edited the whole package and kept my new versions on a set of carts.
It was day one of Charlie Cox being the boss, I just happened to walk past his open door when I heard him shout "This F*cking Jingle package, it's too f*cking long!" I realised this was an opportunity so I grabbed my set of carts and knocked on the open door. "Yeah, who are you mate?" he asked. I told him that I also hated the jingle package and had already edited it down. He picked up one of my carts and popped into the machine and played it on the office HiFi. "Bloody brilliant mate," he said. And so I became Head of Production at LBC.
With big name celebrities on board, Michael Parkinson, Frank Bough, Angela Rippon, and Australian presenter Mike Carlton, the station soon gained its ratings back, but in 1993 the station came under the new ownership of Shirley Porter which then lead to it losing its franchise and sadly for a short time the LBC name was to disappear altogether from the London airwaves.
The new company London News Radio launched two new services, and again the imaging packages were written and produced by David Arnold. On FM, a rolling news service launched, and the package took on a very grand and classical sound. On AM, London News Talk was launched with a rather sad after thought package! the Programme Controller, called me in to his office, and asked if I could salvage it, and turn it into something that could be used on air. So out came the razor blades and editing tape and I put together some imaging which included extending 30 second beds to a minute, and cutting chunks out of one bed to make a news talk up bed and news ident! I was actually quite pleased with the end result but it wasn't a great sound! In 1996 it was clear that with the LBC name no longer on air, ratings started to fall, and with yet another new ownership, this time a conglomerate of companies taking a share in the radio station the road ahead was going to get a bit bumpy!
Jeff Wayne - composer of the famous LBC themes and War of the Worlds!
I was called into the office by the then Programme Director who told me that after a number of listener focus groups, that the LBC name on AM may return. To help launch the return of the LBC name, I was asked to arrange a meeting with Jeff Wayne, who's sound had been on air in the golden days of LBC, with the idea of bringing the familiar sound back. This was probably one of the most exciting times of working on the production. Jeff was a great guy, and I frequently visited his mansion in Shenley during production of the reworked 1984 sound. We stripped the original bed down and only kept the strings which were actually 'real' as opposed to synths, and rebuilt the theme using more up to date sounds and synths over the top. I will never forget the day I walked into his studio and lying on the floor were huge 32 track, 2 inch reel to reel tapes. When I asked him what they were he said 'Oh that's the masters of the War of The Worlds, I am remixing it for a brand new playstation game that Sony are launching!' Wow I thought this could be something big! and with Playstations and live concerts I don't think Jeff has ever looked back or stopped working since!
We relaunched the AM service as LBC1152 in July 1996, and then I continued to work with Jeff on a few refreshes of the packaged until the last one in 2000. This was my least favourite, we tried to move things on a bit by keeping the same familiar tune, but I really don't think it worked that well.
A couple of years later the station was sold again! This time to Chrysalis and in 2003 the LBC name was flipped to FM and relaunched. This is when I met Mark Hall, and IQ Beats. We were losing the Jeff Wayne sound once and for all and now moving to something new and more contemporary. It was a great experience to work with Mark, who was also very passionate about the sound of LBC, and IQ and to be able to develop new creative ideas and challenges, and to share them with someone else, up until now I was pretty much working on my own in the imaging dept, and often felt rather isolated.
We stayed with IQ for a good few years, and when LBC relaunched again, after it was sold to a new company - Global Radio in 2007 as London's Biggest Conversation, I had the privilege of flying to Seattle where IQ Beats were based and work with them on a full orchestration of the new theme. To be in the same studio with a whole string section, brass and percussion, playing our new theme, was quite emotional, and an amazing experience. Even giving direction on how it was sounding, was something I will never forget.
So the new orchestrated sound of LBC, London's Biggest Conversation, remained on air until the station announced that it was to go national on digital in 2013, and become LBC, Leading Britain's Conversation. We were to launch a new sound for this monumental moment in the stations history, becoming a national radio station, and again David Arnold was the composer. I worked very closely with him on developing the theme, of the station, which we wanted to identify with as a national talk station. We developed a new 3 note sonic logo, something which has mostly stayed with the station since the days of Jeff Wayne! This was again to be be a big orchestrated production, and off we went to Prague to record it, at the famous Smecky Studios, with the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra.
They were amazing, the first day we spent recording the string section, and the second day brass, and percussion. I remember how professional but also how casual the players were, they just picked up their instruments played the music in front of them and watched David Arnold as he conducted. One brass player even had time to text his girlfriend whilst waiting to play his piece! Once completed it was back to London for the mammoth mixing task, which involved me spending hours in the studio with David Arnold's producer, mixing and refining the sound, and a true testament to the amount of work we put in, as it is still on air today, seven years after first airing in February 2014.
By 2015 I felt it was time to stand aside and let go of the station that had been part of my life for 27 years, it was a sad time but I knew the time was right, LBC was going from strength to strength, and today it has record audiences.
A new life began in 2016 when my partner and I uprooted and moved to Spain. Here we now run our own podcast production company which you can read more about on this website. Our company Creative Radio like LBC goes from strength to strength, as the world of podcasts continues to grow and expand, and I even had the opportunity to follow one of my other passions in life, fitness. I am now a qualified Les Mills BodyPump instructor and teach classes at my local gym.
With all the many ups and downs of life at LBC, I still now, and will always look back with fond memories, the experiences, we had and the many people we met and worked with.
Chris Lowrie now specialises in the creation of podcasts and audio features at creativeradio.com