LOCAL LICENCE AWARDS: BRISTOL/NORTH SOMERSET

ASSESSMENT OF WINNING APPLICANTS

Applications were invited on 24 July 1998. By the closing date of 3 November 1998, thirteen applications were received, as follows:

For Bath: Bath FM (Bath Radio Ltd), Radio Bath Ltd and Spa FM Ltd
For Weston-super-Mare: Breeze 107 (Weston Radio Company Ltd), Waverley Radio Ltd, WSM FM (Four Seasons Radio Ltd).
For Bristol: Cabot FM (City of Bristol Broadcasting Company Ltd), Future Radio Ltd, Kute FM (Bristol Community Radio Ltd), Powerjam Radio Ltd, Republic Radio (Waterbeach Communications Ltd), Respec FM (Respec Radio Ltd).
For Portishead, Clevedon and Nailsea: 3TR FM (3TR Radio Ltd).

On 8 April 1999 small-scale alternative location licences ("sallies") were awarded to each of Bath Radio Ltd (for Bath FM), Weston Radio Company Ltd (for Breeze 107), and Bristol Community Radio Ltd (for Kute FM), the licences to run for eight years from the date the services commence broadcasting.

When licensing independent radio services, it is the duty of the Authority under the Broadcasting Act 1990 ("the Act") to do all that it can to secure the provision within the UK of a range and diversity of local services (section 85(2)(b) of the Act). Furthermore, the Authority must discharge its functions in the manner which it considers is best calculated to :

    1. facilitate the provision of licensed services which (taken as a whole) are of high quality and offer a wide range of programmes calculated to appeal to a variety of tastes and interests; and
    2. ensure fair and effective competition in the provision of such services and services connected with them (section 85(3) of the Act).

Under section 105 of the Act, the matters to which the Authority shall have regard when determining whether, or to whom, to grant a local licence are :

    1. the ability of each applicant to maintain the proposed service throughout the licence period;
    2. the extent to which the 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 so cater;
    3. the extent to which the proposed service would broaden the range of programmes available by way of local services to persons living in the relevant area or locality, and, in particular, the extent to which the service would cater for tastes and interests which are different from those already catered for by existing local services in the area or locality; and
    4. the extent to which any application is supported by persons living in that area or locality.

While the requirements of sections 85 and 105 of the Broadcasting Act 1990 will invariably form the basis of all awards, each licence award will be made on an individual basis, with regard to the factors which, in the view of the Authority, are particularly relevant to that case.

Small-scale ‘alternative location’ local licences ("sallies") were introduced in 1996. The availability of one or more frequencies for a service (or services) for any locality within a wider area is advertised, without specifying which particular locality the licence must serve. It is up to applicants to decide which locality they wish to serve. The Authority will award the licence(s) to what is, in its view, the strongest individual application(s) put forward. This approach was designed to increase the opportunities for prospective operators of small-scale services to submit licence applications.

When it advertised the availability of one or more small-scale service licences within Bristol and North Somerset, the Authority invited public comment on the local radio needs of listeners in this area, and the type of programme service required. Copies of the non-confidential sections of the licence applications received were made available for public inspection at the Authority’s office in London and at public libraries in Bristol (Central Library), Bath (Central Library), Clevedon and Weston-super-Mare. A notice was issued on 3 November 1998 inviting public comments on the applications. All replies were taken into account by the Authority when reaching its decision.

All thirteen applications have been considered carefully by the Authority in accordance with the Act, and the Authority’s Notes of Guidance for Local Licence Applicants and the coverage brief for these licences, issued at the date of the licence advertisement. The applicants were invited to respond to written questions on programming, finance, audience and support. Telephone interviews were conducted on the composition and history of the applicant groups.

Existing commercial radio provision

Three ILR services currently cover the Bristol/North Somerset area. GWR FM (West) offers mainstream pop music dominated by chart hits. On AM, GWR provide Classic Gold 1260 which, apart from 4 hours of tailor-made local material, offers a networked ‘oldies’ service. Weston-super-Mare is not within the measured coverage area of these services, though they are audible. The Severn Estuary regional licensee, Galaxy 101, covers the entire area with a dance music service aimed at the 15-34 age range.

Consideration of winning applications

BATH FM
Members noted the enormous public support which had been generated within Bath for a local radio service. More than one application was of sufficiently high quality to warrant serious consideration for an award, demonstrating good resources and convincing local support, proposing interesting locally-relevant programming, and offering a programme format which would broaden choice. The Authority’s decision, therefore, was informed by the following specific matters.

The winning group benefits from the demonstrable management expertise of its chairman, locally-based businessman Andrew Brownsword, combined with the radio experience of its launch director, Richard Johnson. The board of directors represents a high-profile mix of locally-based national celebrities and senior figures from some of the city’s major institutions. This should ensure that the service remains in touch with the tastes and interests of local listeners and benefits from the promotional advantages such individuals can provide.

Members were particularly impressed by the group’s level of financial and human resources, which will provide the station with a comforting degree of security. When combined with a knowledgeable business plan that recognises the benefits of Bath’s thriving retail sector and the importance of marketing, ample evidence has been provided of Bath FM’s ability to maintain the service it is proposing to provide. Bath FM’s carefully-targeted promotional strategy has enabled it to develop relationships with a variety of local organisations and opinion-formers which will no doubt prove helpful once the station is on-air.

The programme format of locally-focussed news and speech mixed with classic hit music from the 1960s to the present day is supported by findings from the group’s methodologically robust audience survey, and will undoubtedly broaden choice for local listeners. Certain aspects of the output which are designed to reflect the unique cultural complexion of the area will benefit from the relevant expertise of individual directors. Jonathan Dimbleby, as chairman of the Bath Festivals Trust, will help Bath FM maintain its commitment to provide coverage of Bath’s many festivals and arts events, and Andrew Brownsword’s ownership of Bath Rugby Club will ensure that the city’s most prominent sport receives ample exposure. A team of three journalists will generate the station’s local news output, which will include a half hour programme each weekday. 

BREEZE 107
Weston-super-Mare was another area where there was strong local support for a radio station and more than one applicant, in Members’ view, satisfied the statutory criteria for licence award. On balance, Members preferred Breeze 107 for the reasons explained below.

Members were impressed by Breeze’s local ownership and the range of backgrounds represented on the board. In particular, the involvement of the local newspaper, as investor, and the chairman of the local bus company, as chairman, will no doubt help to provide a crucial marketing boost in the station’s launch period. This local ownership was cited as a key factor in letters of support for the application. Experienced radio consultant Jon Darch would provide the industry background for the station, and would be returning to the area where he was born and raised to put his proposals into action.

The station would operate with a small number of staff working within tight budgets, to a prototype Darch is well-versed at running elsewhere. The financial proposals gave no cause for concern with reasonable revenue projections and, if anything, slightly cautious audience projections.

Musically, the service will consist mostly of light pop tunes from the last three decades with some older tracks, and feature a Sunday morning classical music programme. As well as the standard speech elements of weather, travel and what’s on, Breeze has committed to daily phone-ins and interviews and quirkier items such as racing tips and brainteasers. Local news would be supported by the Weston & Somerset Mercury, with Breeze staff having access to most of the Mercury’s news copy and Mercury reporters trained to gather audio material for the radio station. Members considered that these programme proposals would broaden choice considerably for local listeners.

KUTE FM
Six groups applied for a licence to serve the Bristol area, offering a range of programme services aimed at different target audiences. Members considered that Kute FM best met the statutory criteria.

The original group behind Kute FM began as a pirate station, before opting for the legal route, and applying for an RSL in 1995. It ran a second RSL in 1998, before joining with UK Radio Developments, Western Newspapers Ltd (a wholly owned subsidiary of the Bristol United Press), and Mail Marketing Ltd to apply for a ‘sallie’ licence. Each of the two major corporate investors brings a specific benefit. UKRD has clear expertise in launching small-scale services with relatively tight budgets and multi-skilled staff. The station will benefit from news sharing and joint sales and marketing initiatives with the Bristol Evening Press, as well as their extensive knowledge of the local media marketplace.

Recent promotional activities, including a high-profile publicity campaign run with the support of BUP, together with a loyal following from past RSLs, generated an impressive level of local support.

In programming terms, the applicant proposes a soul and soft rock format with a commitment to 10 hours of off-peak specialist programming to include soul, r&b and jazz fusion, as well as a five-hour black music show. A three-hour weekly community magazine programme would contain material of particular interest to ethnic minority listeners. Imaginative speech elements are promised at a minimum level of 30% and will benefit from the association with the local newspaper. These proposals were well researched and clear evidence of local demand was demonstrated. Overall, Members concluded that the service would offer something for everybody, and broaden choice.

Members regarded the application to be financially sound with realistic cost projections. Although the revenue projections are based on relatively high audience forecasts, Members considered that these should be achievable on delivery of the promised programme format.