It feels appropriate to start the first column with a look back at what’s happened during the past few months across UK radio. 2019 hasn’t exactly been slow for news so far.

The big story, of course, has been Bauer Media‘s ceaseless expansion. Lincs FM Group, Celador Radio, the local stations of the Wireless Group and (a few weeks later) UKRD have all been on the shopping list. There haven’t yet been any on-air changes at any of these stations – the Competition and Markets Authority are taking a cursory look at whether the buyouts are going to cause competition issues in any of the local markets concerned.

In an effort to nip any pesky competition concerns in the bud, Bauer have already hived off several of their newly-purchased licences, notably ex-Celador stations SAM FM and The Breeze on the South Coast and ex-Lincs FM station KCFM in Hull, to bargain-basement Welsh outfit Nation Broadcasting. Nation are well-known for running their stations on the cheap: their Glasgow station, 96.3 Nation Radio, doesn’t even have a studio or office facilities with all presenters working from home. Their existing stations in Wales make extensive use of voicetracking, allowing the same presenter to do multiple “shows” across local stations.

It seems probable that even Bauer don’t quite know what to do with their new stable of stations at this point, so speculation seems pointless. I’m sure that all will become clear before the end of 2019.

It’s likely that any changes at Bauer and their newly-purchased stations will result in more job cuts. We’ve already seen one round of job losses, as Global Radio start to reduce local programming on their Capital, Heart and Smooth Radio networks to the bare legal minimum of three hours daily on weekdays and zero at weekends. Regional breakfast shows at Capital were removed and replaced with a single national programme earlier this month, and Heart follows suit in June.

While revenues increase year-on-year at the likes of Global, RadioCentre trumpet ever increasing success across the commercial radio industry as a whole and Global boss man Ashley Tabor continues his reign as one of Britain’s richest men, programming and job cuts across the sector are now a regular event. Radio Today is running a free jobs board for those finding themselves displaced by the corporate radio machine.

Radio news bits

In Lancashire, Capital replaces 2BR on frequencies in Preston (106.5), Chorley (96.3), Blackburn (107.0) and Burnley (99.8). The station is branded as Capital Lancashire, but its paltry three hours of daily local programming comes from Capital Manchester. Global Radio bought 2BR from the ill-fated UKRD group last year.

In the North East, troubled Rathergood Radio (latterly known as Vintage Music Radio) has finally fallen off the air after months of unpaid bills and technical issues. The Reading-based View TV Group, which owns the station, is planning to split it into its original two licences. Their plan is to bring back Durham FM on transmitters in Durham (102.8) and Bishop Auckland (106.8) while returning the Alpha Radio name to Darlington (103.2) and Richmond (102.6).

This month is Ramadan, which – of course! – means Radio Ramadan in many of our major towns and cities. These stations generally operate independently of one another, broadcasting religious programming and charity fundraising campaigns. Ofcom, being Ofcom, haven’t published a full list of stations on air, but Ramadan 2019 broadcasters are known to be operating in:

  • Blackburn, Lancashire
  • Bradford, West Yorkshire
  • Bristol
  • High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire (88.3)
  • Hounslow, Greater London
  • Keighley, West Yorkshire (102.1)
  • Leeds, West Yorkshire
  • Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire
  • Newcastle-upon-Tyne
  • Oldham, Greater Manchester
  • Sheffield, South Yorkshire
  • Slough, Berkshire
  • Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire

Ramadan stations, along with other RSLs, usually operate between 87.7 and 87.9 depending on local spectrum availability. In some other areas, existing Muslim community radio stations broadcast special programming during the month.

New stations and transmitters

The city of Glasgow has two new religious broadcasters. Christian station Revival FM, which already operates in nearby Cumbernauld on 100.8, has launched a new central Glasgow service on 93.0 MHz. Revival 93FM also appears on Glasgow’s small-scale DAB multiplex. The Cumbernauld service continues as before.

Also on the air in Glasgow is Muslim-focused station Radio Ramadhan 365 (licensed as Ark AM) which is broadcasting on the former Celtic Music Radio AM frequency of 1530 kHz.

Independent commercial station Star Radio in Cambridge is now on air via an additional transmitter in Saffron Walden, Essex on 107.3 MHz.

Sabras Radio, an Asian-focused AM station in Leicester (1260 kHz) is expanding into Loughborough on 102.1 MHz, marking its first expansion onto the FM band. The site used will be the Loughborough University tower already used by local station Fosse 107. We don’t yet have a launch date for the new transmitter.

Other new local radio stations this month are Purbeck Coast, broadcasting from Swanage on the beautiful Dorset coast on 101.4; and Maritime Radio, covering SE London from Greenwich on 96.5.

Digital radio

Two new full-scale DAB multiplex licences for Cumbria and South West Scotland (the current CFM area) and Morecambe Bay / North Lancashire (the old The Bay area, now yet another Heart) are being advertised by Ofcom. The area is currently a white space without local or regional DAB.

Indie station MCR Live has closed and been removed from Manchester’s Niocast small-scale multiplex. Cyber Radio replaces it.

Mi-House, a new house music station from the people behind London’s Mi-Soul, is now on air on the Brighton small-scale multiplex.

Frequency changes and closures

The proposal from a few months ago to swap AM stations Love Sport (558 kHz, the old Spectrum frequency) and Panjab Radio (1584 kHz, the ex-Turkish Radio frequency) has been approved by Ofcom. It means a reduction in coverage for Love Sport, who have hardly been setting the capital’s airwaves alight but will now cover just the North London area on AM. They will continue to reach the whole of the capital on DAB. Panjab Radio’s coverage increases greatly – the 558 kHz transmitter has wide coverage across the South East of England.

Another AM station, the low-power Radio BGWS in Farnborough, Hampshire (1179 kHz) has closed. The station was operated by the British Gurkha Welfare Society.

Religious outfit Cross Rhythms Teesside (107.1) in Stockton-on-Tees, which largely consisted of a relay of Cross Rhythms City Radio from distant Stoke-on-Trent, has closed. It had repeatedly been in hot water with Ofcom for a lack of local programming and volunteer involvement.