IT is being hailed as a revolutionary idea which will put local news, views and communities at the very heart of mainstream television in 21st century Britain.
But new government proposals to create 21 hyper-local TV channels – including one here in Sheffield in 2015 – will be nothing new in the Steel City.
Almost 40 years ago a little-remembered station, based at tiny studios in Matilda Street, was already broadcasting community programmes to some 30,000 households.
Sheffield Cablevision ran from 1973 to 1976 providing an entertaining mix of neighbourhood news and sport, outside broadcasts and volunteer presenters struggling with scripts.
It was one of only five such channels across the country – the others being in Greenwich, Bristol, Swindon and Wellingborough.
And, despite having just six full-time staff and broadcasting for only two hours a day, it was surprisingly well-watched. Viewing figures in 1975 showed that of the 30,000 houses it was piped to, more than 25,000 regularly watched.
“It was terrific, pioneering stuff,” says Alan Biggs, the sports reporter and presenter who started his career at the channel, which was run by TV firm British Relay. “Audience numbers were good and it was hugely enjoyable.
“But there’s no doubt it was chaotic. At times, it was essentially do-it-yourself TV. I was the sports editor but on a live broadcast I wouldn’t just have to research and write the script, I’d have to help rig up cameras too.”
Regular shows included a nightly 6pm news package called Scene In Sheffield and a Grandstand-style sports magazine featuring local football, ice hockey and speedway. Outside broadcasts would come from the City Hall and the Crucible while community groups – including karate clubs and dance troupes – were invited to make their own programmes.In other words, it tried to provide something for everyone.
“I remember once,” recalls Alan, 56. “I got to the studio and was sent out on a Capodimonte exhibition. My first question was who’s Capodimonte? It’s porcelain.
“Another time I did a 28-hour shift. Once a fortnight you had to work through the night on editing. I was just finishing off when we got the call that Jimmy Sirrel had been appointed Sheffield United manager. We raced down to Nottingham, got the interview and then had to bring it back for the show that night at 6pm – which I had to present. Great times.”
In the end – despite being popular, having local political support and a passionate manager in local character John Brand – financial problems caused the station to close. Advertising was not allowed and without it British Relay refused to pump in more money.
It shut on January 2, 1976.