2 February 2001
Radio Authority publishes assessment of West Midlands licence award
The Radio Authority has today (2 February) published the details of the West Midlands regional licence award made to Saga Radio Ltd. The Authority made the award on 22 January 2001.
A copy of the full assessment is below.
NOTE TO EDITORS
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.
LOCAL LICENCE AWARD: WEST MIDLANDS REGION
ASSESSMENT OF SUCCESSFUL APPLICATION BY SAGA RADIO LTD
Applications were invited on 11 May 2000. By the closing date of 22 August 2000, twelve applications were received, as follows:
Big FM Radio (West Midlands) Ltd.
Central Radio (Forward Media Ltd.)
Jazz FM West Midlands Ltd.
Radio Minar (Minar Information Network and Resources Ltd.)
N-Joy Radio Group plc
Route 105 Ltd.
Saga Radio Ltd.
Spice FM Ltd.
The Storm (West Midlands) Ltd.
Today FM (Today [West Midlands] Ltd.)
Variety FM Ltd.
Voice FM (Christian Voice Ltd.)
The licence was awarded to Saga Radio Ltd., to run for eight years from the date the service commences broadcasting.
Assessment of the winning application
Members were impressed by the high standard of a good number of the applications put forward for this licence, and whilst they considered that Saga Radio Ltd’s application best met the criteria set out in section 105 of the Broadcasting Act 1990, the considerable merits of other applicants’ proposals did not escape them, which made for a long and challenging decision-taking.
This is the second local licence for the West Midlands region which has been awarded by the Authority, and the region as a whole is well served by local independent radio. In making the award Members placed particular importance on sections 105(b) and (c) of the Act which deal with the extent to which proposed services would cater for the tastes and interests of people living in the area, and the extent to which they would broaden choice vis a vis other local services.
Saga Radio’s target audience is listeners aged 50 years and over, an age group which is poorly served by commercial radio (and generally by radio as a whole). This growing demographic (41% of the 15+ population in the West Midlands, according to data from the 1991 Census) does not currently have access to an ILR service that caters specifically for its tastes and interests, and this demographic gap contrasts with the degree to which other audiences are served.
Members considered Saga Radio’s application to be generally thorough and convincing. The audience research undertaken by the group was impressive, and emphatically demonstrated the existence of a substantial audience eager for the proposed programme content. Musically, this will consist of ‘melodic’ hits from the past six decades, with specialist music genres such as country, big band and jazz featuring in the schedule. Members considered that although the applicant’s speech proposals suffered slightly from a lack of clarity and focus, the service would nonetheless provide speech features of substance.
In Members’ view, Saga Radio Ltd has produced a sound business plan and has the security of an extremely well-established and funded parent company in Saga Group Ltd. Members noted that, with some individual exceptions, the proposed management structure was somewhat lacking in current radio experience, but recognised that the group’s expertise in marketing to its target age group would help to compensate for that.
Saga has demonstrated a long-term commitment to the concept of bringing specialised radio services to the over-50s. It currently provides the Prime Time programme service on the national digital multiplex as well as services on the Edinburgh and Glasgow local multiplexes. The group has put a great deal of effort into promoting its application for the West Midlands licence among its prospective listeners, and in the local area as a whole, and has gathered substantial support among the target audience, as well as local decision-makers and organisations.
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, under section 85(3) of the Act the Authority must discharge its functions in the manner which it considers is best calculated to:
(a) 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
(b) ensure fair and effective competition in the provision of such services and services connected with them.
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:
(a) the ability of each applicant to maintain the proposed service throughout the licence period;
(b) 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;
(c) the extent to which the proposed service would broaden the range of programmes available by way of local service to persons living in the relevant area or locality, and, in particular, the extent to which the service would cater for tastes and interest which are different from those already catered for by existing local services in the area; and
(d) the extent to which any application is supported by persons living in that area.
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.
When it advertised the availability of the West Midlands licence the Authority invited public comment on the radio needs of listeners in this area, and the type of programme service required. Copies of the non-confidential sections of the applications were made available for public inspection at the Central Libraries in Birmingham (local studies library), Wolverhampton (reference section) and Walsall (reference section), and at the Radio Authority’s offices in London. A notice was issued on 22 August 2000 inviting public comments on the applications. The Authority took all replies into account when reaching its decision.
All twelve applications have been considered carefully by the Authority in accordance with the Act, and as against the advertised criteria set out in the Authority’s Notes of Guidance for Local Licence Applicants and the coverage brief for this licence, issued at the date of the licence advertisement. The applicants were invited to respond to written questions on programming, audience and support, and finance. Telephone interviews were conducted on the composition and history of the applicant groups.
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