Independent Local Radio in the 1970s had higher technical standards than BBC Radio 3.
I well remember Studio A at Pennine being taken off air for an hour each week so that the engineers could check the precise rotation speed of the record decks.
Technical perfection was just one of the stipulations of the Independent Broadcasting Authority. Terrified by any prospect of commercial radio being accused of peddling 'pop and prattle' the regulator also limited each station's needle time to encourage 'meaningful speech' and commercials were strictly differentiated from programmes; hence 'we'll be back after this' when the presenter didn't actually go anywhere.
Now most of the stuffier rules have gone; no longer can a snap IBA inspection result in harassed producers looking for evidence at a moment's notice of 'programming in the last seven days aimed at listeners with disabilities', or whatever.
Just one area remains tightly regulated. Commercial radio news is in a time warp. With jobs under threat I believe it could be time for that to change.
I was saddened earlier today to hear that GMG Radio, owner of the Real and Smooth brands, is to cut its news team by about a third.
If carried out in full that could mean a dozen talented journos made redundant. GMG has a proud history, bringing the first 24-hour commercial radio news bulletins to Yorkshire a decade ago and picking up factual and documentary awards with almost embarrassing regularity. Fifteen-minute extended bulletins at lunch and drive and hard-hitting documentaries had the BBC, at times, huffing and puffing to reclaim the high ground of 'community service'. And Real still pulled in listeners.
I was especially saddened - or angered - to read today that GMG Radio chief executive Stuart Taylor "doesn't anticipate that the planned staffing changes will impact materially on the overall listener experience".
In other words, Mr Taylor thinks the punters won't notice if offpeak bulls come from Leeds, Manchester, IRN or Timbuktu - which is a real slap in the face (or even a Real slap) for those journos who won the awards that grace the corporate boardroom.
But then I thought again. He has a point.
Rules on commercial radio news were drafted in an era where each local market would have one ILR station to complement local and national BBC services.
In that environment it's entirely appropriate that strict Reithian rules of balance and impartiality should apply.
However, when such rules are applied rigidly to all the stations in a mature commercial radio market (in Leeds I can easily choose from a dozen legal commercial and community FM stations) such 'Life On Mars' era regulations stifle any prospect of distinctiveness.
With all due respect to the journos producing them (and I trained a good proportion of the individuals involved) the bulletins on Radio Aire, Magic 828, The Pulse, Pulse 2, Real Yorkshire and even Capital FM (Yorkshire) sound remarkably similar.
Editors and PDs will be greatly affronted by this observation, and will indicate dozens of editorial and stylistic points of difference.
But if we put aside industry nit-picking standards and listen on a cheap tranny in a noisy workplace whilst earning an honest crust making, selling or servicing stuff ... is the news we hear really all that different? More to the point, if there was a fire, or if the reader had a choking fit and the jock opted to IRN, would the listener even be aware of the switch?
Perhaps the time has come, subject of course to suitable safeguards, to liberalise news in UK commercial radio.
So long as stations are overt about where they stand, and so long as a regulator is still there to encourage diversity of provision, what would be so wrong with letting commercial radio adopt distinct editorial positions, as newspapers have done for years?
Stations could then compete for news audiences through differing editorial positions in the same way they compete with different music formats.
The editorial position would have to be made clear in a strapline adjacent to the bulletin; 'White Rose Radio - Yorkshire's Home of Family Values' or 'Progressive FM - New Music, New Thinking for a New Generation'.
The possibilities are endless.
Yes it's radical. It could be the biggest shakeup in the radio infrastructure for a generation.
There would have to be safeguards in remote areas with only one or two available stations. But in mature metropolitan markets it could reinvigorate radio by providing greater choice for the listener. It could help differentiate stations by creating clear brand values.
It could turn the newsroom into an engine for audience growth, promoted with the sort of campaign that normally launches a new boy-girl breakfast duo. It could turn news from an expensive obligation into a station revenue generator.
Greater choice for the listener AND bigger profits. Sounds like another win-win to me.
I'd like to hear reaction to the idea before I develop these thoughts further.
Tweet me @leedsjourno or post a comment below. Commercial radio managers tend to be former jocks or accountants. News does not cross their minds as a way of building audience. But it can be, even within the existing regulatory regime.
With liberalisation the possibilities are enormous.
Transparency statement: I worked as a consultant for GMG Radio for 2 years from 2003-5