Independent Radio News
Independent Radio News provides a service of news bulletins, audio and copy to commercial radio stations in the United Kingdom and beyond. The managing director, Tim Molloy, succeeded long-term MD John Perkins in November 2009. Perkins had been MD of IRN since 1989. IRN's shareholders are Global (54.6%), Bauer Radio (22.3%), ITN (19.7%) and The Wireless Group (3.4%).
History and background
IRN launched on 8 October 1973 with the first bulletin read at 0600 by Australian newsreader Ken Guy on the opening morning of Britain's first commercial radio station, LBC. IRN was based at LBC studios in Gough Square, just off Fleet Street in Central London. The service was funded by cash payments from subscribing radio stations. On 5 October 1992, ITN took over the running of the IRN operation from LBC and moved into ITN's headquarters on Gray's Inn Road in London.
Computer technology was introduced in 1985 and in 1987, the Newslink advertising scheme (a national single advertisement, broadcast by IRN immediately adjacent to the news bulletin) was launched which funded the service and provided cash dividends of the surplus to client stations. In 1989, satellite distribution of bulletins and audio was introduced and this was also the year that IRN and LBC moved into new studios on Hammersmith Road in West London. The satellite service was managed by Satellite Media Services who were based on the ground floor of Euston Tower. In 1991, the Sunrise Radio IRN service was introduced. The hourly news bulletins were broadcast on Sunrise Radio's channel on the Astra satellite in a move designed to serve smaller commercial, RSL and hospital stations who struggled to afford the expensive standard IRN satellite equipment. This continued until 31 August 2004, upon which the service moved to a dedicated channel on the Hot Bird 4 satellite at 13.0° East. In 2001, audio cuts began to be distributed via the Internet and from 2 October 2005, audio cuts and packages ceased being distributed via the satellite audio channels and switched entirely to the IRN Net Newsroom Internet system.
IRN bulletins had a major overhaul in September 2002. The bulletin outcue for many years: "Independent Radio News", was dropped and all bulletins were of three minutes duration. All IRN branding was removed and the outcue reverted to a timecheck: "It's three minutes past XXX." The three-minute bulletin, known as IRN 180, was broadcast on the IRN1 channel and the Astra (Sunrise Radio) feed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. A shorter 90-second bulletin, known as IRN 90, was introduced on the IRN2 channel comprising stories aimed at younger, pop music stations. This was broadcast on the hour from 1900 to 0600 on weekdays, and from 1400 to 0600 on weekends. This replaced the previous 60 second overnight bulletin service.
On 1 October 2003, satellite distribution of the main IRN service switched from SMS and the Intelsat 707 satellite at 1.0° West to Kingston Communications and the Sirius 2 satellite at 4.8° East. In June 2008, IRN started supplying a feed of news, sport and entertainment stories and video to the websites of client radio stations.
During the ITN era, most audio came from ITV News and Channel 4 News television bulletins. Client stations contributed audio to the service and IRN also had agreements to use audio from CNN Radio and Sky Sports News. On 15 October 2008, IRN announced that Sky News Radio was to replace ITN as its contracted news supplier from March 2009 for a three-year contract. The final ITN-produced bulletin was broadcast at 1300 on Tuesday 2 March 2009, and was read by Moira Alderson. The bulletin finished: "... From ITN this is Independent Radio News".
Sky News Radio's first bulletin was at 1400 on the same day. The bulletin was read by Ursula Hansford, and was simulcast on Sky News television. All IRN hourly bulletins carry Sky branding and bulletins start with a timecheck intro: "From the Sky News Centre at XXX ..." IRN agreed a further two-year contract with Sky News from March 2012, with subsequent contract extensions until March 2016 and March 2018.
Competitors to IRN
IRN has faced many competitors during its history. ITN briefly ran ITN Radio News, which broadcast hourly news bulletins on the Astra satellite daily from 0600 to 2300. The service ran from 4 March 1990 until 4 July 1991 and clients included Jazz FM in London, East End Radio in Glasgow and a number of other small, incremental radio stations.
On 5 July 1991, Chiltern Radio launched Network News, which broadcast hourly news bulletins and audio cuts on Chiltern's Supergold audio channel on the Astra satellite. Bulletins were broadcast 24 hours a day from Chiltern studios in Dunstable utilising audio from Sky News and CNN Radio. Copy and scripts were distributed by stations via fax and a premium rate fax-back service. Network News enjoyed considerable success and won the contract to supply news to Virgin Radio upon its launch in April 1993. However, it suffered a major blow when it lost the Virgin Radio contract to Reuters Radio News in April 1995 and GWR chose to close Network News in April 1996 when it took over the Chiltern Radio network.
Reuters Radio News ran from 1994 until June 1996 from studios at Gray's Inn Road in London. It supplied news to its own London Radio stations (formerly LBC), plus Scot FM, Heart FM, and Virgin Radio. Audio was mostly sourced from Sky News who Reuters had a news supply agreement with at the time.
Traffic information service Metro Networks took over the Virgin Radio news contract following the closure of Reuters Radio News. Audio was sourced from Sky News and CNN Radio and Virgin bulletins were branded as "News from Sky". It provided bespoke bulletins to stations including Beat 106, Vibe FM, Kiss 100 and Magic 105.4 but did not provide syndicated hourly news bulletins. The news service closed down in November 2002 following the decision by Virgin Radio to produce their news in-house.
BSkyB launched Sky News Radio in June 1999 as a rival to the ITN-operated IRN service. It initially provided bulletins to talkSPORT and subsequently around 80 radio stations before taking over the IRN contract in March 2009.
Feature Story News supplies hourly international news bulletins from studios in London and Washington DC. 30 second, three minute and five minute bulletins are distributed via FTP to clients including digital station GN Radio UK as well as a number of community and online stations.
Radio News Hub supplies UK and international news bulletins from studios in Leeds. Hourly 60 second bulletins are distributed via FTP to clients including Fosse 107 and Ipswich 102 plus Radio One Mallorca in Spain and digital stations Chris Country, Love 80s and Like Radio.
Nation Broadcasting use Radio News Hub for local bulletins for their network of Welsh stations although IRN is still used for off-peak evening and weekend national bulletins.
Content and bulletins
IRN's editorial services are provided by Sky News Radio, who distribute national and international news and sport audio and copy to all UK commercial radio stations plus a number of international clients. Dave Terris is the Executive Producer for Sky News Radio and Editor of IRN. He is supported by a team of 20+ journalists based at the Sky News' headquarters in Osterley. There are four radio studios at Sky News Radio in Osterley and one in Westminster for political coverage.
IRN transmits a live two-minute national and international news bulletin on the hour 24 hours a day. Many stations take the national IRN bulletin during evenings and weekends when local newsrooms are unstaffed. Other stations such as Love Sport Radio and Radio XL along with numerous community stations use the hourly IRN bulletins as their sole source of news. The UK's largest commercial radio group, Global Radio has chosen not to broadcast IRN bulletins on its radio stations in favour of bespoke local and national bulletins.
A two-minute recorded bulletin is offered during off-peak periods which is distributed to stations just before the top of the hour. This contains largely similar content to the live network bulletin. Bulletins are broadcast across the Bauer Radio network as well as on a number of other stations.
Serial data and obituary procedure
In addition to a satellite feed with three separate channels, IRN also operates a serial data channel. This communicates with the IRN Demux 2 which the majority of commercial radio clients have. This demultiplexer allows up to eight serial data channels of text information to be transmitted. Client stations can (and normally do) have a 'major story alarm' in their newsrooms and studios. The IRN newsdesk can fire a trigger at any moment in time, which will be picked up by the demux units and set off the alert. Reasons for doing this include a major incident/terror attack (eg. 9/11) or a royal death (eg. Diana, the Queen Mother). This alarm system is tested every Tuesday morning at 10:30.
IRN’s serial data channel was previously used to trigger the split radio station idents during the Big Top 40 chart show (which was distributed via the stereo IRN channel, IRN3). On receiving the corresponding command, the 3-second localisers would play from each client station’s play-out system. As of 6 January 2019, IRN is no longer used to distribute the Big Top 40 as it is exclusively broadcast on Global’s Heart & Capital and no longer syndicated to the wider network.
Death of the Queen Mother
IRN was strongly criticised by many of its client stations for its handling of the death of the Queen Mother on 30 March 2002.
Many commercial radio stations have obit lights installed in their studios which are automatically triggered by IRN in the event of the death of a leading member of the British Royal family. This is designed to give stations warning of such an event and allow them to adjust their output accordingly, as well as join special programming produced by IRN. On this occasion, the obit alarm button failed to be pressed by IRN staff in London and radio stations were caught off-guard when the news was announced in the regular 1800 news bulletin. IRN editor Jon Godel subsequently issued an apology in a memo addressed to "all news editors and programme controllers" in which he admitted this was "not IRN's finest hour".
On Astra and IRN 1, the bulletin starts at 10:59:00 with the newsreader crossing to Big Ben at approximately 10:59:55 for the two minutes silence and the Last Post. At approximately 11:03:27, the newsreader resumes with a brief summary of other news before finishing the bulletin at 11:04:00.
On the IRN 2 channel, a clean feed of Big Ben, atmosphere from the two minutes silence and the last post is broadcast.
On Armistice Day, the standard two-minute IRN bulletin is broadcast at 11:00 on IRN1. "Ambient silence" is transmitted on IRN2 for stations wishing to observe two minutes silence. In the case of Armistice Day falling on a Sunday, the above Remembrance Sunday arrangements apply.
Queen's Christmas Message
The Queen's Christmas Message is broadcast on the Astra and IRN 1 channel at 1500 on Christmas Day.
There is no news bulletin or introduction to the speech, and the five minute long broadcast ends with the National Anthem.
On the IRN 2 channel, a standard two-minute bulletin of national and international news is broadcast.
Audio and copy
All audio and copy is distributed by Sky News via the IRN website. In addition to scripts and copy written by IRN journalists, access is also available to Press Association news wires and a breakfast showprep service from Murf Media.
Stations can also source their own audio cuts from Sky News and Sky Sports News television channels. IRN also provide a feed of Sky News national news and sports stories to radio station websites.
IRN operates two audio channels on the Sirius satellite: IRN1 transmits the hourly news bulletins and live sports reports. IRN2 transmits press conferences and live events.
IRN1 is also broadcast on an audio channel on the Astra 2B satellite.
In the event of a major news story (e.g. royal death or major terrorist incident), audio from Sky News television will be relayed on IRN1 and IRN2 with extended radio bulletins broadcast on the hour and additional two-minute bulletins on the half-hour.
Many community, student and hospital radio stations around the UK take the hourly bulletin service. Copy and audio cuts are also used by BFBS Radio in addition to stations in the Republic of Ireland, Spain, Cyprus, UAE, South Africa and Australia.
IRN's sports output includes weekday breakfast, lunchtime and afternoon sports bulletins, audio cuts and packages and a full Saturday afternoon sports service. Joe Rawson is the editor of IRN Sport.
IRN supplies match reports from every FA Premier League football match with reporters supplied by sports radio agency World Sports Communications and also sells licences to local stations to allow them to broadcast football match reports and commentaries.
Up to three reports each half, plus previews, goal flashes and half-time and full-time reports are sent from each match via the IRN1 and Astra satellite channels. One featured match each Saturday features live clockstart reports at 15:14, 15:26, 15:38, 16:14, 16:26 and 16:38.
A classified football results check is broadcast every Saturday at 17:05.
Premiership and Six Nations rugby union reports are supplied by the Talking Rugby agency. Reports from England home cricket matches are supplied by World Sports Communications and DLI Radio Sport provide reports on tennis and darts events.
- Sweney, Mark (26 September 2012). "Bauer chief executive asks Ofcom to look into takeover of GMG Radio". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 December 2017.
- "IRN signs new deal with Sky News". BSkyB Press Office. 8 October 2013. Archived from the original on 19 October 2013.
- "IRN extends news agreement with Sky News". Radio Today. 9 December 2015. Retrieved 28 December 2017.
- Perkins, John (2004), "In the News" (PDF), On Air (101): 14–15, retrieved 29 December 2017
- "Major Story Alarm (formally known as OBIT Alarm)". IRN Engineering. Archived from the original on 13 March 2005.
- Godel, Jon (3 April 2002). "Memo from IRN editor Jon Godel: Why we messed up on the Queen Mother's death announcement". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 December 2017.