Edinburgh Radio battle
The deciding panelLast year The Radio Authority was disbanded and in its place the organisation Ofcom, which controls not only radio regulation but all telecommunications issues, came to fruition and announced wide-ranging changes for radio licences. One of the first was the announcement that Edinburgh would be given a new FM licence to compete with the likes of the already established Forth, Real Radio and Beat 106 brands, as well as, of course, the existing BBC stations. Twelve media groups threw their hats into the ring, announcing their intentions to go for the much sought after radio licence.
Gathering in Family Advertising’s Princes Street office, The Drum’s Ofcom Panel met up earlier this month to discuss all 12 bids. Chaired by The Drum editor Richard Draycott, the panel consisted of Gillian Eatwell, director of Spirit Media, managing director of Family Advertising Ian Wright, marketing director of Standard Life Andrew Boddie, Citigate Smarts chief executive Rob Morrice, and director of internet radio station and new media company Inner Ear Dougal Perman. Radio expert Ken Garner was unavailable to attend, however, his detailed recommendations on each bid were given to the panel for inclusion during the discussion.
Each panellist was asked to consider four different points when considering the possibility of a station’s success in the Edinburgh market. They were:
A) The ability of each of the applicants for the licence to maintain, throughout the period for which the licence would be in force, the service that they propose to provide;
B) The extent to which any such proposed service would cater for the tastes and interests of persons living in the area or locality for which the service would be provided, and, where it is proposed to cater for any particular tastes and interests of such persons, the extent to which the service would cater for those tastes and interests;
C) The extent to which any such proposed service would broaden the range of programmes available by way of local services to persons living in the area or locality for which it would be provided and, in particular, the extent to which the service would cater for tastes and interests different from those already catered for by local services provided for that area or locality; and
D) The extent to which there is evidence that, amongst persons living in that area or locality, there is a demand for, or support for, the provision of the proposed service.
At this point it should be made clear that the panel was not there to second guess Ofcom – their final decision is expected in December – instead our Ofcom panel was simply voicing the independent opinions of its members.
To kick-start the discussion each bid was individually assessed to discover the panel’s thoughts and opinions. From their assessment it would then either be taken through to a second round of discussion or disregarded.
First up for discussion was The Arrow, a Chrysalis Radio-owned bid. While the panel admired the professional nature of the bid, there was a degree of uncertainty as to the nature of the “localness” of the station, due to the fact that a sales team would not be operating from Edinburgh; instead they would be based in London. While the panel admired other Chrysalis-owned stations throughout the UK, the general consensus was that other rock bids were simply more suited to the Edinburgh market than The Arrow.
The second bid of the day to be discussed was Dunedin FM, put together by Kelvin McKenzie’s Wireless Group. While there was apprehension concerning the name and identity that had been produced to go alongside the bid – one panellist remarked that it sounded like a financial institution – nearly all the panel were of high praise for the 24-hour talk-based station. Comments ranged from “I can hear it already: the programme detail and identity is clear” to “the figures stack up and the bid as a whole is very well put together. I like the tone of speech that is used in the bid and I think that it could do extremely well.” Therefore, with a near majority this station was taken through to round two.
While the panel took into account the success that this station has had in Belfast, it was unclear as to what impact the same programming and station as a whole would have in Edinburgh and, at the same time, since the station appeared to have very few staff members who were actually based in Edinburgh, whether it truly understood the market as a whole. The panel voiced their concerns with this bid. However, they did recognise that it was a strong and reasoned application, and to that extent it was deemed worthy to put it into the second round for discussion at a later stage.
The GWR-backed bid found favour last year at our Radio Authority Panel in Glasgow – but would it have the same success here? Many of the panel were impressed by the links that the proposed station already had with the local community – the teaming up with DF Concerts was thought of as an extremely good move, as it emphasised its commitment to the local market. However, questions were raised as to the strength of its audience and the programming as a whole. But the panel deemed this bid worthy of a second look in the next round.
Castle FM did not fare as well in the next discussion. While the panel agreed that the high-powered board that the station had put together – including the likes of the Union MD Ian McAteer and Andrew Neil – was certainly impressive, there was a collective feeling that this bid simply would not catch the listeners’ imagination, as it was not distinctive enough. There was also a general feeling that the station would not be able to sustain itself adequately nor would it offer the listener something generally different to what was already available.
Once more the panel was impressed with the local Edinburgh line-up that 4Life FM provided with their bid – Jim Faulds and Phil Anderton were two of the names in this Celador-backed bid. However, it was felt that, while the bid did bring an understanding of the local community, the panel were unsure about the programming aspects of the station, and also what it wanted to achieve overall. It was therefore decided not to take it to the next round of voting.
Both John Myers and Shawn Bowron were praised for their radio experience. However, the panel were unconvinced that the Smooth FM brand would be successful in Edinburgh. As with the Forth 3 bid, they were also unsure whether giving a licence to a media group that already has such a firm grip on the radio scene in Central Scotland would be beneficial to listeners in Edinburgh. The panel were also concerned in the Smooth FM bid as to the lack of data that had been presented when compared to other bids.
However, the panel began to get excited about the SMG-backed bid for Red FM. According to one panellist: “Everything here fell into place. I didn’t realise that a bid could be that humourous.” The panel also liked the eclectic nature of its programming, seeing it as worthy competition to Radio 2. They were also convinced that the “localness” would also be covered by the format of the station and that the bid overall “makes a lot of sense in terms of a business plan and programming.” Therefore the bid would be taken into the second round for further discussion.
Saga Radio in Glasgow is proving to be a success with listeners and advertising. However, the panel were unconvinced that it could be repeated in Edinburgh. The general feeling was that, while the Saga brand as a whole works, the idea that people will choose to listen to a station called Saga is questionable. The panel recognised that the bid “hit all the marks but there is still is a struggle with the Saga concept.” Therefore the decision was taken not to take the bid through to the next round.
As noted before, the panel were unconvinced that they should give the licence to Scottish Radio Holdings for their Forth 3 brand, as they already have such a strong presence in the East. While one member of our panel did like the idea of expanding the brand further, the majority felt that the business plan did not appear to be as commercially viable as others.
Once more the panel were unconvinced as to the programming and also business model behind the Time FM bid. While many thought it was a credible bid, when put up against others that they had already looked at and discussed it did not have the same level of strength that other bids had and therefore the decision was taken not to take it on to the next stage.
The final bid of the day that was looked at by the panel was SMG’s Virgin Radio brand, which saw the panel questioning whether the bid could be as successful as its national counterpart and whether listeners would change their listening habits, moving away from the already existing station. The panel felt that the brand of Virgin was simply too successful to localise and questioned whether in fact an national station would be able to provide a truly local Edinburgh flavour. Therefore the decision was taken not to bring Virgin through to the next round.
The final four bids to be taken into the second round were Dunedin FM, City Beat, The Rock and Red FM. However, after the discussions that had occurred in round one, the panel decided to discount City Beat, as it simply was not as strong an application as the other three. Therefore, in the final round of discussions the panel decided that they would be voting on Dunedin, The Rock and Red FM.
The panel were happy with the final three that were taken through and they believed that the discussions they had already had earlier in the day covered what they wanted to say about each vote. So, with time pressing on, a decision to have an anonymous vote, ranking each station from first to third position, was taken. The voting saw the outcome:
1: Red FM
2: Dunedin FM
3: The Rock
The panel almost unanimously believed that, in terms of choice, programming, business model and localness of the station, Red FM would be the most promising station. The application was made with good humour, and the panel admitted that they enjoyed reading the bid overall. They believed that in terms of a business proposition there was no question that the station would be able to fulfil its objectives, while the programming of the station, in particular the nature of its play list, meant that it filled an area that is currently not catered for on the East coast.
So, will the Ofcom Panel agree with The Drum’s recommendations?
This feature and a letter outlining our panels thoughts will be sent to Ofcom this week as an indication of what Scottish media experts think would be successful in Edinburgh.
Their decision is expected in early December. Can our panel have any influence? Only time will tell.
THE 12 CONTENDERS
The Arrow (Edinburgh) Limited
(The Arrow 107)
The Arrow 107 will be Edinburgh’s first adult rock station featuring classic songs from the legends of rock combined with great tracks from more contemporary acts, as well as showcasing Edinburgh’s live music scene .
Dunedin FM Limited
Dunedin FM is a 24-hour speech radio station with prominence of local news, national and international news and information for the people of Edinburgh and the surrounding areas.
Edinburgh City Beat Limited
(Edinburgh Citybeat 107FM)
A locally-focused, Adult Contemporary Rock station with news, information and features of particular relevance to Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth – Edinburgh Citybeat will very much be the voice of the area.
Edinburgh Local Radio Ltd
(107 FM The Rock)
A station playing rock music from the last 40 years with intelligent and relevant news, entertaining and lifestyle speech targeted at an audience of 35 to 54 year olds in the Edinburgh area.
Edinburgh Radio Ltd. (Castle FM)
A stylish mix of gold music, relevant news and information, and lively speech and debate, aimed primarily at those aged 45-64, with a distinctive Edinburgh focus.
4Life FM Limited
4LiFE FM will be a service for mature adults (aged 40+) based upon a broad mix of music, spoken word entertainment, news and local information. It will have a higher-than-average speech/music ratio in order to comprehensively reflect the issues that are of importance to our target audience.
Real Radio Limited (Smooth FM)
A music, news and information station for mature adults living in the Edinburgh area.
Red FM Limited (Red107)
Adult Alternative Radio: eclectic music mainly for ABC1 adults aged 35+, with distinctive, intelligent speech reflecting Edinburgh’s diverse city life.
Saga Radio (Scotland) Limited
Melodic, familiar, popular music from the 50s & 60s to the present day, with news, information and lifestyle oriented speech, primarily targeting listeners in the Edinburgh area aged 50 and over.
Scottish Radio Holdings plc (Forth 3)
Forth 3 is a news and talk radio station for listeners in East Central Scotland, providing a 24 hour, 7 days a week service, reporting and talking about what is happening in Edinburgh, Fife and the Lothians, as well as bringing its own local perspective on Scotland, The UK, Europe, and the World.
Time FM (Edinburgh) Limited
A full-service, music-led station for listeners in Edinburgh, Fife & the Lothians age 45-64, particularly people in their 50s, featuring a wide variety of classic and contemporary music together with regular, high-quality local news, comprehensive traffic & travel and a rich range of information and speech features designed to be distinctive and relevant to the target audience.
Virgin Radio Classic Rock (Edinburgh) Ltd (Edinburgh’s 107FM)
Edinburgh’s classic rock radio station, offering an energetic and musically distinctive service that reflects the character, personality and individuality of Scotland’s capital city.