The Other UK Singles Chart: 1. Independent Local Radio Music Charts

A beginners’ guide to chart tracking on ILR stations from 1974 to 2008

If you mention the UK singles chart, the first thing that springs to mind in the Official Charts Company’s countdown. This goes out every Friday on BBC Radio One. Before then, it used to go out on Sunday afternoons and, prior to October 1987, Tuesday lunchtimes.

The Official UK Charts Company’s album charts and singles charts are regarded as the ‘standard’ charts in their fields. The absolute authority as to what are the most downloaded, streamed or physically purchased songs across the UK. In search engine terms, Google in comparison to also rans, like Bing, Yahoo! and Hotbot (and I bet you didn’t know that Teoma and Lycos still exists).

The Official UK Charts Company predecessor was Gallup (1983 to 1994). Before then, from the 15 February 1969, the British Market Research Bureau (or BMRB; which confused this radio geek no end thanks to BRMB – Birmingham’s heritage ILR station). From 1960 to 1969, it was Record Retailer magazine, who succeeded New Musical Express magazine which compiled the charts from November 1952.

The BMRB/Gallup/Millward Brown/Kantar/Official Charts music chart was not without its competitors. The NME’s chart continued beyond 1960 till the early 1990s. Radio Luxembourg’s English service had its own singles chart. Alongside the BMRB’s and NME’s established chart, the UK’s Independent Local Radio stations wanted a slice of the action. From 1973 onwards, each ILR station would have their own chart.

“The Chart That Leads The Nation”

Since November 1952, chart compilation has been based on a representative sample of record shops, downloads and streaming statistics. The media has changed from sheet music to audio files in the last seven decades. At one time, a small number of shops – not only record shops – were Chart Return shops. They were given a log book to note sales of a given single or album. Whether in paper form or by electronic methods (with the Gallup chart’s data loggers), the former could have been open to abuse as detailed in World In Action‘s The Chart Busters episode from 1980.

With the launch of Independent Local Radio stations, it was recognised that each part of the UK had differing tastes of music. Soul records faired better in Piccadilly Radio’s transmission area than, for example, Capital Radio’s footprint.

From 1974 to 1988, Piccadilly Radio’s Hit Thirty was claimed to be “The Chart That Leads The Nation”. This was due to the number of records it listed that charted highly in the ‘official’ BMRB charts. It is claimed that The Power of Piccadilly was behind There’s A Ghost In My House‘s Number Three BMRB chart position in 1974. Eight years after its original release in 1966, R. Dean Taylor’s song was picked up by the Northern Soul scene.

The Piccadilly Radio Top Thirty used to go out at Sunday lunchtime from 12 midday to 2pm. There was reference to some of the DJ’s Hit Picks (for example: Tony Emmerson would tip Now I’m Here by Queen). As heard in this clip, it was originally a Top Twenty countdown.

Unlike the BMRB chart, Carl Carlton’s cover version of Everlasting Love was Number One. In the USA and Canada it had respectable placings in the Billboard and RPM charts, though didn’t dent the Top 50 of what is now The Official Chart.

Calling up the groups

Each Independent Local Radio station had their own countdowns, derived in part from the station’s playlist. Rounding up a plethora of local charts to create a nationwide ILR was years away.

The first publication to do this was the Radio and Record News chart, compiled by Gallup. This was based entirely on record sales. From the 18 March 1978, there was seven regional charts. One for London, Wales and West, Scotland, the Midlands, North East England, Yorkshire, and the North West of England. This was in addition to the magazine’s nationwide Top 30. For its first charts, week ending 18 March 1978:

National (Radio and Record News) Chart

  1. Wuthering Heights, Kate Bush;
  2. Denis, Blondie;
  3. Take a Chance on Me, ABBA;
  4. Come Back My Love, The Darts;
  5. Staying Alive, The Bee Gees;
  6. Baker Street, Gerry Rafferty;
  7. Wishing on a Star, Rose Royce;
  8. I Can’t Stand The Rain, Eruption;
  9. Mr Blue Sky, Electric Light Orchestra;
  10. Is This Love?, Bob Marley and the Wailers.

London

  1. Wuthering Heights, Kate Bush;
  2. Denis, Blondie;
  3. Take a Chance on Me, ABBA;
  4. Wishing on a Star, Rose Royce;
  5. Baker Street, Gerry Rafferty;
  6. Staying Alive, The Bee Gees;
  7. Come Back My Love, The Darts;
  8. Is This Love?, Bob Marley and the Wailers;
  9. Mr Blue Sky, Electric Light Orchestra;
  10. Fantasy, Earth Wind and Fire.

Wales and West

  1. Wuthering Heights, Kate Bush;
  2. Denis, Blondie;
  3. Come Back My Love, The Darts;
  4. Take a Chance on Me, ABBA;
  5. Mr Blue Sky, Electric Light Orchestra;
  6. Baker Street, Gerry Rafferty;
  7. Staying Alive, The Bee Gees;
  8. I Can’t Stand The Rain, Eruption;
  9. Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs, Brian and Michael;
  10. Wishing on a Star, Rose Royce.

Scotland

  1. Denis, Blondie;
  2. Wuthering Heights, Kate Bush;
  3. Ally’s Tartan Army, Ally Cameron and the 1978 Scotland World Cup Squad;
  4. Come Back My Love, The Darts;
  5. Baker Street, Gerry Rafferty;
  6. Take a Chance on Me, ABBA;
  7. Staying Alive, The Bee Gees;
  8. Scotland Forever, Sydney Devine;
  9. Wishing on a Star, Rose Royce;
  10. I Can’t Stand The Rain, Eruption.

Midlands

  1. Wuthering Heights, Kate Bush;
  2. Take a Chance on Me, ABBA;
  3. We’ve Got the Whole World In Our Hands, Nottingham Forest Football Club and Paper Lace;
  4. Come Back My Love, The Darts;
  5. Denis, Blondie;
  6. I Can’t Stand The Rain, Eruption;
  7. Wishing on a Star, Rose Royce;
  8. Staying Alive, The Bee Gees;
  9. Is This Love?, Bob Marley and the Wailers;
  10. Baker Street, Gerry Rafferty.

North East

  1. Wuthering Heights, Kate Bush;
  2. Denis, Blondie;
  3. Come Back My Love, The Darts;
  4. Take a Chance on Me, ABBA;
  5. Baker Street, Gerry Rafferty;
  6. Wishing on a Star, Rose Royce;
  7. I Can’t Stand The Rain, Eruption;
  8. Staying Alive, The Bee Gees;
  9. Mr Blue Sky, Electric Light Orchestra;
  10. Is This Love?, Bob Marley and the Wailers.

Yorkshire

  1. Wuthering Heights, Kate Bush;
  2. Denis, Blondie;
  3. Take a Chance on Me, ABBA;
  4. Wishing on a Star, Rose Royce;
  5. I Can’t Stand The Rain, Eruption;
  6. Come Back My Love, The Darts;
  7. Baker Street, Gerry Rafferty;
  8. Staying Alive, The Bee Gees;
  9. Mr Blue Sky, Electric Light Orchestra;
  10. Is This Love?, Bob Marley and the Wailers.

North West

  1. Wuthering Heights, Kate Bush;
  2. Denis, Blondie;
  3. Staying Alive, The Bee Gees;
  4. Take a Chance on Me, ABBA;
  5. Baker Street, Gerry Rafferty;
  6. I Can’t Stand The Rain, Eruption;
  7. Come Back My Love, The Darts;
  8. Emotion, Samantha Sang;
  9. Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs, Brian and Michael;
  10. Whenever You Want My Love, The Real Thing.

The most obvious thing about R&RN’s regional charts is the differences in music tastes as well as the local significance of each act. This is reflected in the charts for the Midlands and Scotland with football songs. In the North West, its support for groups formed in the region – particularly Chorlton-cum-Hardy’s very own Bee Gees and, from Liverpool, The Real Thing.

Whereas the R&RN’s charts were based on sales, there was another chart that was based on airplay and sales. On the 20 March 1978 came Record Business magazine’s chart.

The Record Business Chart

Record Business magazine outlived the rival Radio and Record News publication by three years. Its National Chart was a Top 100, representative of sales from 300 shops. The Top Thirty was based on sales figures from any record retailer across the UK apart from Woolworths. Any single below the Top 30 gained their positions through sales and airplay at 5%. Records left the chart if the single had two or more consecutive falls outside the Top 30.

Record Business’ secret weapon was four staff and an ICL 1503/43 computer known as ARTHER. This stood for the Airplay, Retail, Television, Hit-potential and Exposure Reactor. Airplay included appearances on BBC One’s Top of the Pops and, possibly, other light entertainment programmes. The National Top Twenty hits from the Record Business computer were also aired on Granada Television’s Saturday morning show The Mersey Pirate.

The charts was also published in Superpop, another chart anorak’s/record industry magazine which lasted a year. This tabloid title was absorbed by Record Mirror in January 1980. From the 19 September 1981 to the 19 February 1983, it was also published in Sounds magazine.

For a while, the Record Business chart coexisted with each ILR station’s own charts as well as the BMRB chart on BBC Radio One and Radio Luxembourg’s own countdown. Not to mention the NME’s and Melody Maker‘s equivalents. On the 14 February 1983, Record Business magazine folded. The last Number One single on the RB chart was Men At Work’s Down Under, which knocked Phil Collins’ You Can’t Hurry Love off the top spot.

Interestingly, there was a change in chart compilation within the Official UK Singles Chart. On the 01 January 1983, BMRB was succeeded by Gallup. At one time they compiled the Radio and Record News charts.

With the loss of Record Business’ chart, this left a yawning gap for a Network Chart. One that served the ILR stations, one that included airplay as a deciding factor in the lower positions. This gap would have been filled in September 1984.

“First with the nation’s Top Thirty…”

“The records you buy, and the records you listen to on your Independent Station.” – David ‘Kid’ Jensen.

The popularity of a chart single could be demonstrated by several means. Though chart positions give the single some numerical indicator of its popularity, sales alone may not give a true reflection. Another influential factor were the playlists set by BBC Radio Stations and Independent Local Radio stations.

With Radio One, a committee would discuss which singles were suitable for the Radio One playlist. Record pluggers used to try and influence the panel, which in the 1970s and 1980s was headed by Doreen Davies. Piccadilly Radio, for example, would split their playlist into an A List, a B List, and a C List. The A List would, most obviously, have what the radio station thought was that week’s big hitters.

As the number of Independent Local Radio stations grew, there was a great desire for a unified chart across the UK’s ILR stations. The Association of Independent Radio Contractors chose to exhume the ghost of the Record Business Magazine chart. The task at hand was given to Media Research and Information Bureau (MRIB).

After several test runs in August 1984, the first MRIB chart went out on the 30 September that year. Going out at 5pm, the two-hour extravaganza was hosted by David ‘Kid’ Jensen.

With the exception of Woolworths branches, chart positions were based on a representative sample of 300 record shops across the UK and an additional 10% to allow for airplay. The charts were compiled from Monday to Wednesday (sometimes till Thursday) with anticipated sales based on Friday and Saturday figures.

In addition to the Network Chart, the MRIB also compiled regional charts, which usually went out earlier in the day. On Piccadilly Radio, you had the station’s Hit Thirty at 12 midday, prior to the Network Chart at 5pm. This arrangement continued till April 1987.

Initially, the Network Chart positions accounted for 10% airplay across the Top 75. In 1985, this was changed with the Top Ten positions being based on sales. Though it started out with fewer listeners than Radio One’s chart, it picked up enough listeners to eclipse The Official Top 40 on Britain’s Favourite by the 1990s.

The chart came into its own as local and national stations were allocated more FM frequencies. By 1985, the 102 – 107 MHz frequencies were allocated to local stations, which meant superior sound and higher bandwidth than AM (or Medium Wave) frequencies and stereo sound. Therefore, the Network Chart switched from having a mono feed to a stereo feed. If you ever wondered why there was no news bulletins between the Network Chart, that was because they used Independent Radio News’ feed.

In 1990, the Top Thirty became a Top Forty. To reflect this, the programme was extended by an hour, starting at 4pm instead of 5pm (which must have hurt Radio One a little).

Like the earlier Record Business countdown, the MRIB’s Network Chart did have a fleeting television appearance. From July 1987 to April 1988, it was used by Tyne-Tees Television’s The Roxy, the short-lived rival to Top of the Pops. That too was presented by David ‘Kid’ Jensen, maintaining the link with ILR and ITV (see also Radio One presenters on Top of the Pops).

As well as David ‘Kid’ Jensen, the Kid also had understudies in Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman (who also presented the London charts on Capital Radio) and Timmy Mallett. In later years, other presenters included Pat Sharp and – during the chart’s most successful period – Neil Fox (or Doctor Fox, if you prefer).

With the MRIB’s collation methods, this encouraged Gallup to raise its game for the Official Top Forty. On the 04 October 1987, they did just that by extending its collation period to Saturday.

Sponsorship

Unlike the Official Top Forty, sponsorship was permitted in the Network Chart. Its first sponsor was Nescafé from 1985, starting a relationship between vinyl and caffeinated beverages. In 1993, there was a change of sponsor to Pepsi, with the deal running till 2002.

From the 01 August 1993, the chart was renamed the Pepsi Network Chart with a new presenter at the helm. This time, Dr. Neil Fox. With his more extroverted patter, he won popularity with most Children of the Nineties.

Ch-ch-chart Changes

As well as its rebranding as The World’s Other Notable Cola Brand Music Chart, there was another change to the collation of the charts. The MRIB was dropped with the Top Ten of the Pepsi Network Chart being the Official Charts’ Top Ten singles. Any chart positions of singles below the Top Ten were decided on airplay and sales, with a 50:50 split. Whereas sales came from the Chart Information Network (today’s Official UK Charts Company), airplay was collated by Nielsen Music Control.

Once again, there was another chance to boost the image of the chart by launching a tie-in TV show. Filmed initially at the Hanover Grand in London was Channel Five’s Pepsi Chart Show. Despite getting good viewing figures for Channel Five standards, this attempt was as short lived as The Roxy. The show couldn’t get appearances from the big hitters, which Top of the Pops had little trouble finding.

In 2003, The UK’s Other Singles Chart (sponsored by The World’s Other Relevant Cola Brand) saw a change of name and a loss of sponsor. It was renamed Hit40UK, because it seemed to be the done thing to have website style nomenclature in the early noughties.

Before 2005, physical sales of 7″ and 12″ vinyl, cassette and CD singles counted towards the chart. From the 20 March 2005, downloads were added to the figures. In June 2009, it came as no surprise to find that The Other Charts’ renaming reflected the predominance of downloads. It became The Big Top 40 Show, powered by iTunes. A year later, it began an eight-year sponsorship deal with Vodafone.

The Official Big Top 40: today’s successor

Since Dr. Fox’s tenure in 1993, the Network Chart has had more listeners than the Official Chart on Radio One. Even in 2020, it has 2.2 million listeners on a Sunday afternoon, from 4pm to 7pm. Before January 2019, it was taken up by all of the UK’s 140 commercial radio stations. Since then, it has only been aired by Global’s Heart and Capital radio stations.

Today, chart positions are based on downloads and streaming as well as airplay. With none of the Bauer network of commercial radio stations airing the chart, The Official Big Top 40 may no longer have the same authority as it did in the mid-1990s. Will Manning has hosted the show since 2018.

Next in The Other UK Singles Chart…

We take a look at the trail of the New Musical Express singles chart. That of its pioneering role in the Official Charts, and its continuation long after Record Retailer took over compilation of the official UK singles chart in 1960.

S.V., 06 April 2020.

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