Friday, 17 April 2009

Closing Down

With news of radio station closures becoming increasingly common, it is perhaps no surprise that a government-commissioned review of the UK commercial local radio sector reaches some pretty gloomy conclusions.

The review by former GMG Radio chief John Myers, says that over fifty stations could as yet go out of business unless there is a radical overhaul of the way UK radio is regulated.
Much of what Myers has proposed reflects what commercial radio chiefs have been saying for years - that radio firms with a network of local stations should be able to syndicate more programming, base local shows at centralised regional studios, and make quicker changes in music and programming formats to respond to the market. He also says rules governing the merger of local radio companies, especially with other local media firms (eg newspapers) should be relaxed.

Outdated - box ticking
Myers says the current "box ticking approach" to local station obligations is "outdated" and that a "local impact" test should be used rather than basing opinions on the localness of a radio station on logistical matters. For those that fear such a change in regulation would further delocalise local stations which already often operate under national brands and take a lot of national programming from London, Myers says that local radio stations will maintain their 'localness' for commercial reasons, more so than ever in fact, because it's a local profile and local programmes that give these stations a USP against the plethora of new competing music and audio services available via digital TV networks and online.

Myers writes:
"If local radio were to 'de-localise' its broadcast content, it would simply fade into a sea of similar radio stations that offer no particular USP to their audiences".
He does, however, suggest that regulation should remain to force local stations to include regular local news bulletins.
Stressing the need for immediate action on the government's part, Myers says that the local radio industry is suffering terribly because of the advertising recession, and in the shadow of new competition for the advertiser's pound.

Small stations will perish
Even with the radical regulation changes he proposes, Myers warns that tens of local stations, especially those serving a population of less than 700,000, could go out of business in the next year. To help in that regard, he suggested letting adjacent lower population radio stations to merge their licenses, so that locality commitments would apply to the combined region, rather than both localities, reducing overall costs.
Those 'regional stations' who have less of a local remit already should be allowed to become quasi-national stations, which many already are, especially those that also broadcast on DAB nationally.

With regard to the relationship between the BBC and commercial radio, he recommends the Beeb make local news content available to their commercial rivals, and that the Beeb front most of the costs of future digital audio broadcasting roll-out.
Commercial broadcasters invested heavily in DAB in its early days, of course, seeing it as a way to expand their operations and launch new niche services. But with said new services proving somewhat unsuccessful commercially, the big players of commercial radio are in the process of all but bailing out of DAB completely.

Unsurprisingly, given that it was written by a former commercial radio chief and says what most other commercial radio execs have been saying for ages, commercial radio trade body RadioCentre welcomed the review. Calling the report "a visionary blueprint for the future of local radio", the body's CEO, Andrew Harrison, told reporters:
"Radio has committed to a very bright future in the digital age. This operational commitment must be supported by a new look regulatory framework that is in step with the realities of running modern media businesses. The replacement of outdated analogue regulation is a critical part of that reform.

The proposals set out in the Myers review bring some really visionary thinking, from an experienced radio practitioner, about how to operate and regulate great local services for listeners in the digital age. It is crucial that government and Ofcom now put the report's full proposals quickly into place".

Story credit CMU Network

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