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Needle time was created in the United Kingdom by the Musicians' Union and Phonographic Performance Limited to restrict the amount of recorded music that could be transmitted by the BBC during the course of any 24-hour period. Until 1967 the BBC was allowed to play only five hours per day of commercial gramophone records on the air. It continued to affect BBC Radio 1, BBC Radio 2 and the Independent Local Radio stations until 1988.
The term "needle time" comes from the use (at the time) of gramophone records as the main source of recorded music, which were played on gramophone record players using a gramophone needle.
Needle time notice
Unlike American records, British records carry a warning message around the edge of the record label in the centre of the record itself to the effect that: "Unauthorised public performance or broadcasting of this record is strictly prohibited."
Although the record industry in Britain wanted the public to buy its records, it had to give them some airtime so that the public could find out about their existence. To that end the record industry used the commercial nighttime signals from Radio Luxembourg whose powerful AM signal could be heard in the UK. The "208" shows on Luxembourg were mainly fifteen minutes to thirty minutes in length and presented under names such as the Decca Records Show or the Capitol Records Show. These prerecorded programmes resembled what later became known as Infomercials, because they normally only featured a little over half of the record, with heavy plugging for title, artist and label.
The "pirate stations"
Unlike the BBC or Radio Luxembourg, the offshore pirate radio stations of the 1960s operated not only outside the three-mile limit of territorial waters, but also in a grey area of the law. Because the studios and transmitters were located on board the ships or offshore structures, the personnel on board were only under the authority of the captain of that ship or structure. In the case of ship stations such as Wonderful Radio London which introduced top 40 radio to Britain, the ship was actually registered in a foreign country and therefore subject to the laws of that country, which of course did not recognize "needle time". Payola operated on several of these stations.
Phonographic Performances Ltd
This company was created by interests in the American recording industry which had suffered the onslaught of commercial radio that demolished record company sales during the period before World War Two. Its name shows its origin since a "phonograph" in the UK related to a cylinder recording, whereas a flat disc was called a "gramophone record". However, in the United States "phonograph record" means a flat disc.
- IFPI - a history of attempts by the record industry to claim a separate right to ownership of recorded works.