It doesn't have to be great. Just good enough.

Most children nag their parents to be taken to a theme park or the cinema. At the age of nine, I dragged mine to the studios of BBC Radio Blackburn.

It seemed impossibly glamorous -- though of course, in retrospect it was anything but.

Back then the pedestrian sound of Radio Blackburn was the best of a very limited choice.

Growing up in Lancashire, my alternatives were Radio 1 (on medium wave, an inaudible mush after dark), Radio 2 (aimed squarely in those days at pensioners), Radio 3 (for posh people) and Radio 4 (not quite as posh, but certainly not for the likes of us).

Down the road in Liverpool and Manchester, though, far more exotic choices were available.

They had their own commercial radio stations, Radio City and Piccadilly -- part of the original batch of nineteen stations.

The first, in October 1973, was speech station LBC -- it didn't get off to a great start, with its chief executive and chief editor fired within a couple of months.

But it evolved, survived, and eventually thrived, picking up more than 2-million listeners.

Finally, in 1982, commercial radio arrived in my home town, when Red Rose Radio began broadcasting from a disused church in the centre of Preston.

It quickly dominated our house, from first thing in the morning to last thing at night.

Red Rose was massive, in a way no station could hope to be today. Lancastrian teenagers of the mid-80s all listened to the Non-stop top 20 every night at 6, while school kids tried to get the better of Allan Beswick, an early -- and for once, intelligent, shock-jock.

I even managed to get on air one afternoon, at the age of 14, as a "junior DJ" - playing a frankly awful selection of songs, and interviewing a 9-year-old Lego enthusiast, who held his creations up to the microphone.

Commercial radio often seemed to have a much better understanding of the community than their sometimes distant BBC rivals. When snow or flood water cut off your town, your local station was the automatic place for help and information.

Each station sounded different, finding its own voice in an age when neighbouring stations wouldn’t have shared a coffee machine, let alone programmes.

LBC, and its news division IRN, revolutionised the way stories were reported -- bringing an immediacy and drama then missing from many BBC reports.

This all happened because 1980s Commercial radio was tightly regulated. Years before its listeners were filtered into demographic pigeonholes, stations were under orders to provide something for everyone.

So, to a background of pop music, there was plenty of news and sport, interviews and features. In the evenings, hours devoted to country music, classical or folk.

But bit by bit, that wide range of programmes narrowed every year. In 1990, Red Rose became Rock FM, part of a nationwide switch that saw stations compete directly with Radio 1, playing a narrow range of hits, and doing little else.

It didn't help that every major phase of expansion in commercial radio -- the mid-70s, the early 80s and early 90s, coincided with an economic downturn.

And as I packed up my creaking Ford Fiesta in the mid-90s for my first full-time journalists’ job, mergers and takeovers were already starting to have a big impact.

Swansea Sound, though was stuck in something of a time warp. One of the first commercial stations on air, it didn’t seem to have changed all that much by 1996. But it was a great place to learn -- every day I drove to some far-flung news story, did my interviews, turned them into a rudimentary report, and then spent the afternoon wrestling with Welsh pronunciation while reading the news.

By now, commercial radio was being fully commercialised. Salesmen, not programmers, were in charge -- the music was being chosen by computer, not DJs.

Previously independent stations were tied together, as an identikit sound spread across large parts of the country. Regulators rarely intervened.

At another station, I handed in my notice soon after being ordered to devote the first minute of a 90 second bulletin to their latest audience figures.

At a later, far bigger station, the programme controller axed almost every speech programme, telling me his model was an Arctic Roll -- it didn't matter where you cut into it, it was always exactly the same.

By now, we didn't work for radio stations, we were part of a brand -- little different from a loaf of bread or can of beans.

Yet for an industry that talks about brands, there's little understanding of the brand loyalty that is built up over decades. Names like BRMB, Fox FM and Trent have vanished -- names that meant nothing to advertising agencies in Soho, but everything to the communities they served. Absorbed now into generic quasi-national stations like Heart and Capital.

Almost everything comes from London -- though often it sounds like it's coming from some vague, antiseptic nowhere land.

Commercial radio is far more glamorous than it ever used to be -- Capital Radio's TV ads feature stars who would never have shown up for Red Rose.

But while polished and well produced, the actual content often seems pedestrian and predictable -- you will rarely hear anything that shocks, or even slightly surprises.

All the things commercial radio did 40 years ago are still being done - though largely by other people. If anything, there's even more innovation among podcasters and bloggers.

Community stations have arrived, though with almost no budget, and a few mainstream stations push against the tide.

But often the BBC has been left as the only organisation spending any serious money on local broadcasting.

Managers in commercial radio often seem more interested in the BBC's output than their own. They obsess that the only way to improve their own situation is to restrain the BBC.

The alternative, aiming a little higher rather than seeking to drag everyone else down to their own level, never seems to occur.

"It doesn't have to be great", one programme controller once told me, "just good enough".

It's turned radio stations that used to bind local communities into sometimes soulless jukeboxes, constantly pushing product, but rarely offering listeners much that genuinely engages.

There’s some great radio still out there, but at times it’s depressingly hard to find.

It's hard to imagine a ten-year-old being inspired to choose a career by "another ten great songs in a row" or a chance to win tickets to "our amazing summertime concert".

Maybe that's how it should be. That ten-year-old is probably busy with an iPad anyway. But you can't help feeling Commercial radio could have been a big part of his life, rather than becoming just another meaningless background noise.