The Day Radio Times Changed…

50 years ago, on 4 September 1969, Radio Times underwent arguably one of the most radical relaunches in its history.

The new-look Radio Times, published on 4 September 1969, contrasted with the previous week's edition.
The new-look Radio Times (right), contrasted with the previous week’s edition.

The editor Geoffrey Cannon, appointed earlier that same year, was just 29-years-old—making him the then-youngest editor in the magazine’s history. According to Tony Currie, author of 2001 book The Radio Times Story, Cannon “did not in any way fit into the mould of Radio Times editors”:

“With his square glasses, black tie, black shirt and black suit, he was seen as ‘cool’. In the basement office of his home in Bayswater ceiling and walls were covered in black cork, and he was reputed to play Rock music with the volume full on. Rock was his inspiration.”

Despite Cannon’s youth culture credentials (in the early years of his decade-long editorship of Radio Times, he moonlighted as The Guardian’s pop and rock critic) and previous experience working in IPC Magazine’s women’s division, he deliberately pursued a more focused, “broadsheet” sensibility for the then-46-year-old magazine.

In hindsight, arguably Cannon’s most obvious legacy was introducing a new masthead, replacing the Clarendon typeface with Caslon—variants of this would be used until April 2001. (Also, by emphasising the capital letters, Cannon began a thankfully-abandoned plan to re-brand Radio Times as RT, short for Radio-Television.)

Other lasting legacies of Cannon’s editorship included the introduction of a weekly column (originally just half-a-page) previewing “This Week’s Films” (compiled by the BBC’s then-resident movie expert Philip Jenkinson, and presenter of BBC2’s Film Night, Tony Bilbow), and the soon “iconic” Christmas/New Year Double Issues.

However the look of the magazine, initially at least, became far more restrained: less white space between columns, especially on the radio listings; less room wasted on headings. Most significantly, the small (at least by today’s standards) “lifestyle section” – covering motoring, gardening, cooking – was dropped. (As was, controversially, the Crossword.)

TV listings became more restrained after 4 September 1969.

In their place were longer, some might suggest more thoughtful, articles all linked to specific TV or radio programmes—and more of them were published under their writers’ bylines. The small, but growing number of colour pages were re-distributed among features, rather than left in a centre-spread ghetto.

“I feel adamant about this,” Currie quotes Geoffrey Cannon as saying at the time. “Radio Times is a programme sheet.”

When Cannon came on board, Radio Times was selling around four million copies, a figure he was willing to see drop significantly as long as he “got the paper right”.

Circulation indeed dropped – by about a quarter-of-a-million. It would take RT several years to recover, although it remained ahead of glossier, more lifestyle-led “competitor”, TV Times.

Following the 1969 relaunch, Cannon arguably pushed Radio Times as far as a still-largely-newsprint-based magazine was capable of going, in terms of design and clarity. Above all, though, he ensured it remained a distinctive, authoritative publication that – despite everything – continued to outsell its nominal “competition”, TV Times.