Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Local Radio Company given permission to make company name ironic

Because, it seems, it's been decided to let local radio go to hell in a handbasket Ofcom has set a dangerous precedent by telling the Local Radio Company that it no longer needs to have its station based in the place to which they are broadcasting.

Creating a situation akin to the days when stations in Luxembourg produced programming aimed at the UK, Ofcom says it couldn't care any more if Arrow FM abandons its audience in Hastings to broadcast from Sovereigns' studios in Eastbourne instead. Likewise:

Similar co-location arrangements have been agreed for Mix 96 in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire with Mix 107 in High Wycombe; 3TR FM in Warminster with Spire FM in Salisbury; and Vale FM in Shaftesbury with Wessex FM in Dorchester.

The company won't be packing their belongings into tea chests just yet, though:
LRC chief executive, Richard Wheatly, said that although the group had been given permission for the relocations by the regulator, it had no immediate plans to go ahead with the moves.

"We have no plans to co-locate, but it gives us the flexibility," Wheatly added. "Most people feel there's an element of common sense in it."

Yes. What could be more commonsense than radio by the people of Hastings, for the people of Hastings, from the heart of a totally different town? Local radio is fond of talking about the weather, so it should be interesting to see them attempt that: "It's a beautiful day in Hastings, probably... judging by the weather in Eastbourne..."

Once again, Ofcom has totally ignored the rationale for the stations it and the Radio Authority brought into being - these were meant to be local stations for smaller communities. Now, they're distant and not even providing any financial benefits for the audience they're supposed to be serving - why should a local service for Hastings be buying its sandwiches, getting its windows cleaned, having its milk delivered in Eastbourne? A shabby deal all round.


5 comments:

Robin Carmody said...

This could all have been avoided had all FM frequencies been reallocated in the early 90s and national commercial pop radio been licenced on FM. The UK and Ireland are the only countries to have national stations taking up whole chunks of the FM band, rather than on the same frequency ever - Radios 2, 3 and 4 in all areas are still using the same frequencies their predecessors were given 50 years ago, despite the vast changes in broadcasting since. Had Radios 1, 2, 3 and 4 plus Classic FM been given the same FM frequency throughout the country there would have been space for national FM commercial pop radio. As it stands, we have the worst of all worlds, with companies attempting to create quasi-national FM commercial pop radio by stealth. It would have been more honest to licence it openly - but that would have required a fundamental overhaul of the FM band, and fundamental overhauls are something British governments are notoriously bad at ...

Robin Carmody said...

"the same frequency ever" = "the same frequency everywhere"

Jack said...

Interesting, yeah. Somewhere (probably on a mediaguardian blog post) I made the suggestion that it would be much simpler if OFCOM allowed the companies to have the national frequencies that they clearly desire on the condition that they also have proper local broadcasting stations (with perhaps networking overnight). I'm no radio geek, so what I suggest may be completely unworkable, I understand that.

But sadly that's fairly impossible now since all stations have identities that they've built up over the years (identities being the station name and frequency, rather than any identity with their output) which I'm sure they'd be very reluctant to be forced to give up.

Robin Carmody said...

It would only be workable if the FM band was reallocated as I said, so that (for example) Radio 1 would be on (say) 88.6 everywhere, Radio 2 on (say) 89.4, and so on (there may be problems with transmitters interfering with each other, but I'm sure they could be overcome). But nobody's ever had the guts to do that - I think complete reorganisation of *anything* is something the British elite is bad at because it has never had to completely reorganise the whole country. Continental elites, used as they are to ever-shifting borders and hostile occupations, have experience of completely reorganising the big things, which in turn makes it easier for them to completely reorganise relatively minor things like radio frequencies.

There is also the fact that the one national commercial FM station (still of course taking up a whole chunk of the waveband rather than on one national frequency) was specifically prevented from being given to a pop or rock station (notorious Lords debate on the pop/rock distinction - incredible to think now). It was originally given to something called Showtime, which would have been broadly similar to the then Radio 2 and to what Melody Radio then was in London, long before it became Magic (a copy of the US Soft Adult Contemporary format which has proved dispiritingly successful), but the company behind it collapsed (or something like that) and it went to Classic FM instead (before it was acquired by GWR - it's now owned by GCap, so they *do* have national commercial FM radio, just not the format they want).

Now Classic FM is clearly a popular station, and there was an obvious demand for it in the early 90s (the Pavarotti boom alone made it clear that there was a market for a classical station taking a different approach from that of Radio 3) but I wonder whether the frequency, if it was being allocated today, would be specifically prevented from being given to a pop station - the people who imposed that clause were from a different generation with different cultural assumptions to those in charge now. Also, the frequency was initially meant to be readvertised but in 1996 the Tories ensured that Classic FM would have it in perpetuity. I wonder whether Labour would necessarily have done the same thing.

Robin Carmody said...

Must state that I'm not against Classic FM at all - much of the rest of the world already had commercial classical stations taking a more populist approach to the territory, usually (at least outside the US) existing alongside state-funded high-cultural stations. In Radio Times in 1981 they were talking about the lack of such a station here compared to those that existed "in New York and Paris" (and doubtless many other places), and about the way Radio 3 had a hardcore section of its audience who would object to light classics, which often had to be awkwardly included on Radio 2 (which actually played them quite a bit - even in the regular daytime output in the late 80s - until Classic FM came along). With a proper reorganisation of the band - something that has *never* happened in this country - Classic FM could have been accomodated alongside national commercial FM pop radio.

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