91/00                                                                                                                     29 June 2000





The Radio Authority has today (29 June) published the details of the Bristol and Bath local digital multiplex licence award made to Now Digital Ltd. The Authority awarded the licence on 8 June 2000.

A copy of the full assessment is attached.





The Radio Authority is responsible for licensing and regulating independent radio in accordance with the statutory requirements of the Broadcasting Acts 1990 and 1996. It plans frequencies, awards licences, regulates programming and advertising, and plays an active role in the discussion and formulation of policies which affect the Independent Radio industry and its listeners.





The local digital radio multiplex service licence for Bristol and Bath was awarded to Now Digital Ltd on Thursday 8 June 2000 to run for twelve years from the date the service commences broadcasting.

Applications were invited on 17 December 1999. By the closing date of 11 April 2000, one application was received, from Now Digital Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the GWR Group plc.

Consideration of the application

  1. Coverage area and timetable
  2. Members were satisfied with Now Digital’s technical proposals, an area which should provide coverage of a large percentage of the Bristol and Bath area, which has been notoriously difficult for analogue-delivered radio to serve fully. Now Digital plans to launch this service in tandem with its Wolverhampton, Shrewsbury and Telford licence in January 2001. Transmitters in Bath, Dundry East, Hutton and Milbury Heath will be used, providing an ‘outdoor coverage’ of up to 91.1% of the adult (aged 15+) population of the ‘primary protected area’ (PPA), according to the applicant’s own estimate. A fifth possible transmission site at Aztec West has been identified, and could provide further flexibility to increase coverage.

  3. Ability to establish and maintain the service
  4. Now Digital Ltd is wholly-owned by one of the largest commercial radio companies, GWR Group plc, which is also the major shareholder in Digital One, the national digital multiplex launched last November. Consequently the Authority had no doubt about Now Digital’s ability to establish and maintain the service proposed in the application in respect of both the financing and knowledge base required.

  5. Catering for tastes and interests of people in the area
  6. The commercial programme services proposed by the applicant are as follows:

    Contemporary Hit Radio GWR FM (programme provider: GWR West Ltd)

    Gold Brunel Classic Gold (programme provider: GWR West Ltd)

    Rock & Pop Rock The Storm (programme provider: GWR Digital Ltd.)

    Urban Dance Programme provider: tba

    Modern Rock Xfm (programme provider: Capital Radio plc)

    Classic Soul The Rhythm (programme provider: Digital Programme Services Ltd)

    Melodic Easy Listening Programme provider: The Wireless Group

    Interactive/Educational @Bristol (programme provider: @ Bristol)

    Brunel Classic Gold and GWR FM are simulcasts of the local services for Bristol and Bath which are provided by GWR itself. GWR’s one permitted non-simulcast service, the Storm, will include a four hour programme exclusive to the area. Both the Rhythm and the Urban Dance Service will be produced in Bristol, and will have local branding and information relevant to their audiences. Capital Radio has undertaken to include local news and travel on Xfm, once digital receiver penetration reaches one-third of all households in the area. The melodic easy listening service from The Wireless Group will have minimal local content until digital reaches half of all households in the area. Members are aware that there is no explicit obligation for local digital multiplex licensees to provide localised services. However, section 85(3)(a) of the 1990 Broadcasting Act gives the Radio Authority an overarching statutory obligation to ensure the provision of licensed services of ‘high quality’, and Members view local content as forming an essential element of quality. Members were pleased to see @Bristol, a unique and highly innovative station, achieve a place on the multiplex. The majority of this station’s content will be generated by visitors to the science and technology exhibition, Explore, who will be able to select music and record speech for later broadcast. The rest of the channels content will consist of debates, vox pops and reports on special events.

  7. Broadening the range of local digital programme services
  8. As there are no local digital programme services available in the Bristol and Bath area, and as this was the sole application, this criterion was effectively satisfied by default.

  9. Local support

Now Digital Ltd argued that a widespread canvassing campaign was not an appropriate measure of true support and instead chose to promote digital radio services in the Bristol and Bath area through a series of presentations. The applicant also chose to elicit support letters from selected local representatives in order to illustrate the high esteem in which its local services, GWR FM and Brunel Classic Gold, are held. A total of 20 letters of support were forwarded to the Authority, including one from a local MP.

  1. Fair and effective competition

The Authority has no reason to believe that the applicant has not acted in a manner calculated to ensure fair and effective competition when contracting or offering to contract with potential or proposed service providers. In accordance with the licence conditions pursuant to the Broadcasting Act 1996, the Authority will keep matters of fair and effective competition and undue discrimination under regular review.


Copies of the non-confidential section of the application were made available for public inspection at the main public libraries in Bristol and Bath and at the Authority’s offices in London. A notice was issued on 11 April 2000 inviting public comments on the application. Under the terms of section 51(2) of the Broadcasting Act 1996, when considering whether, or to whom, to award a local digital radio multiplex licence, the Authority must have regard to the following specific matters:

    1. the extent of the coverage area as proposed by the applicant;
    2. the timetable relating to achievement of the proposed coverage area and the start of broadcast services;
    3. the ability of the applicant to establish the proposed service and to maintain it throughout the period for which the licence will be in force;
    4. the extent to which the digital programme services proposed to be included in the service would cater for the tastes and interests of persons living in the area and, where it is proposed to cater for particular tastes and interests, the extent to which those services would in fact cater for those tastes and interests;
    5. the extent to which any proposed digital sound programme services would broaden the range of programmes available by way of local digital programme services in that area and, in particular, the extent to which they would cater for tastes and interests different from those already catered for by local digital programme services already provided in that area;
    6. the extent to which the application is supported by persons living in the area; and
    7. whether, in contracting or offering to contract with persons providing digital programme services or digital additional services, the applicant has acted in a manner calculated to ensure fair and effective competition in the provision of such services.

The Authority is also required to take account of any representations made in respect of the application.