The UK Radio Beat

A regular, independent monthly look at the UK and international radio scene

Author: ukradio

The UK Radio Beat – June 2019

RAJAR Q1/2019 snippets

The RAJAR ratings for the first quarter of 2019 have been released. While they’re not as relevant as they were in the days of huge competition on the dial, there’s still the odd bit of interesting information to be gleaned.

The Voice in North Devon has become the first community radio licensee to enter the RAJAR ratings system. The station operates on two FM frequencies in the North Devon area as well as being receivable on DAB across the county. In their first survey, The Voice picked up 11,000 listeners – that’s an impressive 7% of the population in their patch.

Another RAJAR debutant – and there aren’t many these days – is 96.3 Nation Radio in Scotland. 50,000 people a week are listening to the station’s output, making it Glasgow’s least popular rated radio station by some distance with just a 3% population reach. As mentioned last month, Nation Radio Glasgow has no studio – all presenters work from home, making the output somewhat soulless. There’s no substitute for a physical radio studio.

We also got to find out how Love Sport has managed in its first year since launching in March 2018. The station is, to use a sports analogy, propping up the league table in London with just 32,000 listeners (officially a 0% reach), behind entirely automated digital-only rock jukebox The Arrow.

As if in response, owner Kelvin MacKenzie has appeared in London’s Evening Standard newspaper claiming to have raised £3.5 million to “take on talkSPORT”. He’s trumpeting the station’s “350,000 web users”, saying “8 million people listen to sports radio” (on other stations) and expressing an interest in buying The Sun from News UK. As mentioned last month, Love Sport is due to move to a lesser AM frequency at some point.

Radio news bits

A slightly Welsh-themed news section this month. We start in the far north-west of the country, where Global Radio’s Capital Cymru has unexpectedly dropped all networked programming and is now broadcasting entirely yn Gymraeg. Evening network programming has been removed and replaced with automated non-stop music, a mix of the usual Capital playlist and slightly incongruous Welsh songs.

Last month, I mentioned that KCFM in Hull has been sold to Welsh operator Nation Broadcasting. The brave new world of radio the Nation (read: unimaginably cheap) way has now come to East Yorkshire, with just three hours of weekday programming from the station’s studios each day. All other programmes are now being broadcast from Nation HQ in South Wales.

Staying with Nation Broadcasting, their flip-flopping over the future of Radio Ceredigion in west Wales continues. When they applied for the station’s licence renewal last year, the company chose to go with a service consisting of a 24/7 relay of South Wales regional Nation Radio. The regulator was nonplussed, but faced with no other bidders chose to approve Nation’s application, the alternative being dead air.

Fast forward to a month ago, and Nation did an about-turn, applying to the regulator to increase local programming and bring back the Radio Ceredigion name. Fast forward again, to 30 May, and Nation announce that instead they will be replacing Radio Ceredigion with Nation Radio from 1 June after all. Nation Radio is now broadcasting, with no local content, on the 96.6, 97.4 and 103.3 frequencies previously occupied by Radio Ceredigion.

Another one bites the dust – Bob FM (Hertfordshire, 106.7 and 106.9 FM) has been replaced by Heart following Communicorp’s purchase of the independent variety hits station. Irish media tycoon Denis O’Brien’s Communicorp run stations on behalf of Global to do an end-run around competition issues. The vast majority of Communicorp’s stations run Heart, Capital or Smooth programming, with just XS in Manchester doing its own thing – and that’s only because Heart, Capital and Smooth are all already available in the city.

Communicorp have also bought Connect FM (Northamptonshire, 97.2 and 107.4 FM). This is expected to be replaced by Smooth Radio programming shortly.

Community radio bits

35 applications have been received by Ofcom for community radio licences in their latest round. Some of these applications are more interesting than others – and there are more than a few familiar names in the mix.

One of the more unusual applications comes from Alfred – that’s the station name! – in the pretty Dorset town of Shaftesbury. The people behind Alfred promise a predominantly speech-based service in contrast to the usual mix of music and talk heard on community radio stations. As they put it:

Alfred will air continuous Shaftesbury features presented by local voices. We won’t pad it out with pop songs or ‘prattle’.

Alfred is a project headed up by Keri Jones, formerly of Radio Pembrokeshire and Radio Scilly. Keri knows more than most people about putting together quality local radio in small areas on a budget, so if anyone can pull off a speech radio station in a small town, it’s him. The station is currently producing a podcast illustrating what its output might sound like.

A radio station for a distribution centre. That’s what Cross Counties Radio are proposing with their application to broadcast to an area in and around Magna Park, one of Europe’s largest warehousing and logistics centres, close to the town of Lutterworth in Leicestershire. According to the application, Magna Park contains “26 blue-chip mega-sheds” and employs 11,000 people. The station broadcasts from the offices of Magna Park. Unless it’s able to criticise the park’s operations when necessary, I’d question whether it should be awarded a licence. A corporate mouthpiece is not a community radio station.

After a sudden closure back in 2012, Cheshire FM (Northwich, Winsford and Middlewich) is bidding to make a return. Original licensee David Duffy is linking up with commercial radio veteran John Evington for the venture, which is already broadcasting as an online station. The pair are partners in a number of existing radio-related businesses, including Manchester’s Niocast small-scale trial multiplex and some digital radio operations in Ireland. Duffy was not involved with the previous incarnation of Cheshire FM at the time of the closure.

New stations and frequency changes

The student/community radio station at De Montfort University in Leicester, Demon FM, has closed. The service previously broadcast on 107.5 FM and will continue as an online-only station. The number of broadcast student radio stations on FM and AM has dwindled over recent years as audiences move towards online and app-based listening.

Liverpool Community Radio has announced on its website that its broadcast frequency will be 106.7. The keen-eyed reader with a good memory will note that this is the frequency vacated in 2009 by the ill-fated Knowsley commercial station variously known throughout its life as KCR, The Rocket and Mersey FM. LCR (not to be confused with KCR) has run several RSL stations in the past and will broadcast programming focused on the Kensington neighbourhood of Liverpool’s inner city.

Vixen 101 has one of the best top-of-the-hour jingles in radio. It’s the only place where you’ll hear big, deep-voiced American VOs saying things like Market Weighton, Gilberdyke and South Cave. Now, they can add Pocklington to their list – a relay has been approved to extend the station to the East Yorkshire town. The frequency is not yet known, but Pocklington previously had a community radio station, West Wolds Radio on 103.1 FM. This is a good guess.

Koast Radio, currently broadcasting on 106.6 to Ashington in Northumberland, has successfully applied to extend its service to the nearby towns of Blyth and Morpeth. This will be achieved through a transmission power increase.

Thank you for reading – more radio next month! Please do let me know if you have any comments or suggestions by using the comments form below (please note comments will be public but your email address will not be displayed).

The UK Radio Beat – May 2019

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.

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