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AM/FM #22 — April 1994

News from the UK Radio Industry. Edited by Stephen Hebditch.

INR 3 Bids In

A surprise entrant has bid the largest amount for the third Independent National Radio licence. Talk Radio UK beat five other contenders with its UKP 3.82 million a year offer. It plans a station based around news, chat, sports reports and phone-ins aimed at 25 to 55 year-old C1C2 listeners — a similar profile to that which the BBC hopes to attract to Radio Five Live. The consortium was put together by Media Ventures International, a London-based media investment fund. Support comes from the USA's Emmis Broadcasting, Australia's Prime Television and Hambro Bank. Managing Director of the group is John Aumonier, former boss of Allied Radio and a major player in Virgin 1215 until he was edged out shortly before its launch. The chairman is Sir David Nicholas, former chief executive at ITN.

The licence will be awarded to Talk Radio UK provided it can convince the Radio Authority that it meets the minimum financial and programming standards. As well as the UKP 3.8 million bid, the station will have to pay a 4% levy on advertising direct to the treasury and a UKP 400,000 licence fee each year to the Radio Authority. There will also be substantial costs for the station in establishing its own national transmitter network. The Authority will need to analyse if this is sustainable over the eight year licence period with what a number of industry observers believe to be an over-high bid. The top bidder for the second INR station was rejected on this basis. Talk Radio UK's plans estimate a UKP 12 million initial investment and a move into profit in the second year of broadcasting. They believe that this is possible by keeping programming and other costs under tight control, with most staff working freelance under contract.

Runner up in the bidding was Newstalk UK, a consortium led by Associated Newspapers with Charlie Cox, former programme controller at LBC, at the helm. It still stands a reasonable chance of success when the Authority announces its decision in June or July. Whichever station is awarded the licence would then probably launch in Autumn 1995, using the medium wave frequencies currently occupied by Radio One.

The full line-up of bids for the licence were as follows:-

    3.82m  Talk Radio UK
           Mainly speech, phone-in discussions and guests.
    2.75m  Newstalk UK
           News and information.
    2.27m  Apollo Radio
           News, sports and contemporary adult music.
    2.00m  London Broadcasting Company
           Phone-in discussions, music.
    1.54m  First National Entertainment Radio
           Personality led news and information.
    1.04m  Jim Black Broadcasting
           Speech based programming for 10-24 year olds.

Receivers In At LBC

LBC has gone into receivership following the failure of its bid for the third INR station. Its main creditors, The Bank of Scotland, had previously held off from this move, partly in the hope that the station would gain a new lease of life in the national licence auction. Talks had also been going on for some months between LBC and their successors, London News Radio, over possible joint arrangements. However, these broke down not long before the receivers were called in. By going into receivership, LBC hopes to improve the chances of a deal and force LNR's hand.

LNR say they would like to see a seamless transition between the two stations. They believe that it will be easier to win across the existing audience rather than having to build from scratch after several months of dead air. This would also allow them to take across many of the journalists and technicians who currently work on LBC and have the experience that is needed for the new station.

However, although a simple takeover of LBC would make a smooth changeover easier to accomplish, LNR does not want all that would come with it. The premises used by LBC are apparently considered too expensive for the new operation, having been originally designed to also house Crown Communications' failed move into TV with a service for the now defunct British Satellite Broadcasting and their national radio advertising sales house. It is also understood that LNR want to employ journalists on new contracts, rather than accepting the terms under which they were employed by LBC. With the LNR team containing a number of people who were involved with LBC before its takeover by Crown Communications there also may have been some bad feelings between the two sides.

The outcome is still very much uncertain. Talks between the receivers and LNR are progressing, although LNR would probably prefer the receivers to continue to run the station up until October when its licence runs out. The receivers have also approached Talk Radio UK as a possible buyer. If the station does have to close there are fears that its liabilities, including redundancy payments to its staff, could outstrip its assets.

More Attacks On BBC Regime

Barry Took, long standing BBC writer and presenter, has branded senior managers of the Corporation 'smug' and 'buffoons'. He has spoken out against what he sees as a decline in programme quality under the leadership of Director General John Birt and an increase in unnecessary bureaucracy. He claims that because of an 'atmosphere of fear' many staff feel they are unable to speak out about the changes that are taking place.

Meanwhile, former controller of Radio One, Johnny Beerling, has described life at the BBC as like 'working under communism'. He told the Radio Academy's annual conference in London that he left because he could not work under such a totalitarian regime, where his job had less to do with creativity and more to do with bureaucracy. He also attacked Radio One's Danny Baker for epitomising the new BBC man — only interested in promoting his own reputation rather than that of the network as a whole. Speaking afterwards he said that morale at the BBC had never been lower. New controller Matthew Bannister hit back at Mr Beerling, saying that he had only been there at the start of the Producer Choice system when it still had a number of problems but now the benefits were beginning to be seen.

Local Licences

Century Radio, backed by the Chiltern Radio Network, has won the FM licence for St Albans and Watford in Hertfordshire. The station is likely to launch at the end of this autumn.

Choice FM in Brixton and Radio Thamesmead have been reawarded their licences for a further eight years.

The Radio Authority are to advertise a new FM frequency for the Shaftesbury area in Dorset.

Radio Wyvern was the sole bidder for its readvertised AM and FM licences for the Hereford and Worcester area.

London Student Radio is to bid in the next round of London licences. It wants to run a similar operation to the college stations in the US, with a largely indie-oriented music format and relevant speech for London's large student population. The station will be funded through sponsorship and listener donations, rather than spot advertising.

EMAP, owners of London's Kiss FM and Liverpool's Radio City, are to bid for a new London licence. After failing with a proposed women's station last year, the group are now putting forward a talk and adult contemporary station headed by former GLR boss Trevor Dann.

Trans World Communications, owners of Manchester's Piccadilly Radio, have expressed an interest in applying for one of the new Londonwide radio licences. The station sees a gap in the market for an adult contemporary station playing soft pop.

Restricted Service Licences

All-female station Brazen Radio 'The only thing a girl should have on' is broadcasting to London with a restricted service licence on 87.7 FM until 15 April. The station is operating from a former hospital in Dalston with sponsorship provided by the Co-Op Bank, Virgin Records and a donation by actress Emma Thompson.

RSL station Festival Radio has been nominated for a Sony Award in the best magazine show category. Festival is to apply for one of the new Londonwide licences on offer shortly.

The former Radio Caroline ship, The Ross Revenge, is to return with a second restricted service station to celebrate the station's 30th anniversary in May. Manager Peter Moore is looking for sponsorship for the station. Meanwhile, Caroline founder Ronan O'Rahilly is understood to be involved with a new offshore radio project.

Manchester United Football Club have started a station which will broadcast on match days on 1413 AM.

Advertising And Sponsorship

Radio accounted for 3.5% of all advertising in 1993, up from just 2% the previous year according to a study by the Henley Centre for the Radio Advertising Bureau. It expects radio's share of the cake to increase to 4% by 1995.

The Cheltenham and Gloucester Building Society are to sponsor Classic FM's new Classic Gardening Forum in a one-year deal worth UKP 400,000. The BBC has launched an advertising campaign to defend Gardeners' Question Time against its new rival.

National Network Radio, the ILR national advertising scheme, has signed its biggest deal yet with Jacob's Cream Crackers worth UKP 900,000.

Wella Shockwaves is to sponsor a fashion programme on Piccadilly, Midlands, Metro, GWR, Forth and Kiss. The programme will be made at each station using information supplied by syndication company Something Else Sound Directions.

Financial News

Capital Radio has agreed to a UKP 32.6 million takeover of Southern Radio, owners of stations in Kent, Sussex, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. It hopes that by being able to sell much of London and the South-East together to advertisers it will be able to make radio a more effective competitor against other mediums.

US broadcasting company ABC are seeking to take a 20% stake in UK independent producer Unique Broadcasting. Unique supplies the Network Chart Show to ILR as well as programming for BBC network radio. ABC is believed to be interested in supplying satellite delivered programming for local radio services in Europe, as it does already in America. ABC already owns a stake in satellite programming distributor SMS and is in talks with the Financial Times over a networked financial news service for ILR.

Allied Radio has announced that it is to reconstruct its share and load capital and carry out a rights issue to fund future development of its Surrey, Sussex and Hampshire stations. Shares have been suspended in the group, which reported a pre-tax loss of UKP 1.17 million on a turnover of UKP 2.25 million in the year up to last July. Allied has recently restructured its stations, renaming the County Sound AM service Radio Mercury Extra AM.

People

Radio One's Danny Baker says he does not believe his programme will continue on the station. Speaking in an interview in Mojo magazine he says 'I've got a contract through to October, but I shall be surprised if it lasts that long. If the show goes off the air, I shall perfectly understand it'.

Simon Bates joined LBC on a new contract shortly before the station went into receivership.

Simon Mayo has come under fire after phoning up a DJ at another station live on air and accusing him of stealing his jokes. He did not make clear to the DJ on Reading's 210 FM, who denies the charge, that he was broadcasting the conversation live.

Bits

Planet 24, producers of The Word and The Big Breakfast, are supplying Radio Three with a series of experimental ambient sound programmes to air on the station after its normal closedown. The binaural recordings include the dawn chorus at Stonehenge and a journey through the New Forest.

The Radio Authority has decided that Virgin 1215's on-air campaign for an FM frequency does not breach the 1990 Broadcasting Act. The Authority acted following a complaint by the Community Radio Association.

Trent FM's Derby station is to be renamed Ram FM following its takeover by the GWR group. Trent's Nottingham station will be renamed The New 96 Trent FM. Sister station Gem AM will relaunch this summer. Xtra in Coventry will relaunch as Mercia Classic Gold 1359 and will take over the local news and sport service carried on Mercia FM.

Staff and volunteers at North East community station Wear FM went on strike at the beginning of March to protest over how the station is being run. In recent months there has been increasing tension between management and workers at the station. Staff have also reported concern over what they see as a takeover of the station by the University of Sunderland where it is based.

Classic FM has established an offshoot called Classic FM Enterprises to deal with commercial promotions including books and its new Classic FM record label.

BBC Radio Wales are relaunching their morning and afternoon drivetime programmes. Good Morning Wales will replace Weekday Wales at breakfast and Good Evening Wales will replace Newsfile. There will be increased Welsh national content on the station and an increase in speech to match other BBC regional services.

Music Choice Europe is to launch in Birmingham at the start of May. The cable radio service will offer 60 CD-quality continuous music channels in a variety of music formats.

Jazz FM is likely to be rebranded as part of a relaunch of its London station and the launch of its new Manchester station. Research is being carried out into a new name, though JFM seems to be the most likely contender. Owners Golden Rose Communications are seeking to raise UKP 4 million through a share issue to finance the new station and proposed bids for new London licences.

John Birt, Director General of the BBC, has admitted that there is still too much of a London bias within the Corporation. However, he has rejected the idea of quotas regional programming. He said he believed that quotas stifled creativity and encouraged complacency. Scottish media executives said they were disappointed by his speech in Glasgow which was described as lacklustre and misjudged.

The Department of Trade and Industry has published a consultative document on changing the way the radio spectrum is managed. It puts forward two main options. The first would be to charge users directly for the space they occupy based on the demand for that particular frequency space. The Government believes this would encourage people to use frequencies more efficiently, retaining only those they really need. Currently charges for frequency space are only made to cover the costs of the Radiocommunications Agency. The second, more radical option would be to auction frequencies off, either direct to end users or to spectrum management companies who would then lease space to users as required. With a greater role for the private sector in the management of the spectrum this would leave only a small number of core activities to a trimmed down Radiocommunications Agency.

Radio Five Live launched at 5am on the 28th of March. The arrival was backed by one of the BBC's most extensive advertising campaigns, with posters at 2,000 sites around the country and the targetting of 7 million potential listeners for a leaflet drop.

The amount of independent programming commissioned by Radio Five Live will drop to 150 hours a year compared with the previous 500 hours a year on the old Radio Five.

The BBC has introduced its first weekly news and current affairs programme for lesbian and gay people. Out This Week airs on Saturday evenings on Radio Five Live.

BBC Radio Kent has closed down its 1035 AM frequency which will be used from later this year by London Country Radio.

Radio One has introduced a new 3 minute afternoon serial starring Batman in what it describes as the most authentic, up-to-date storylines yet.

Virgin 1215 have introduced new breakfast and afternoon drivetime sports reports, supplied by Chiltern subsidiary Network News.