15 January 2002


Radio Authority publishes assessment of local FM and AM licences for Northampton

The Radio Authority has today published the details of its assessment of the Northampton FM and AM local licences re-awarded to the existing licence holders on 14 December 2001.

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.







Applications for the re-advertised licences for the Northampton area were invited on 22 June 2001. By the closing date of 25 September three applications were received, from:

Northants 96 (The Northamptonshire Broadcasting Co. Ltd.), the existing FM licence holder, applying for the FM licence only;

Classic Gold 1557 Northamptonshire (Classic Gold Digital Ltd.), the existing AM licence holder, applying for the AM licence only;

Better Radio Northants Ltd., applying for both the AM and FM licences; in its application, the group indicated that it would not be prepared to accept the offer of one licence without the other.

On 13 December 2001 the FM licence was re-awarded to Northants 96, and the AM licence was re-awarded to Classic Gold 1557 Northamptonshire, both licences to run for a further period of eight years from 15 October 2002.

Assessment of the successful applications

In considering the award of these licences, Members had to assess the applications as FM/AM packages, as well as on their individual merits, because Better Radio Northants made its application on the basis that it would only accept the award of both licences.

Members considered that both of the existing licence holders were well able to meet the section 105(a) Broadcasting Act 1990 statutory criterion in respect of the maintenance of the proposed services throughout the licence period. Both Northants 96 and Classic Gold 1557 have the backing of well-resourced and established parent companies that can provide extensive support services. The business plans provided by both were realistic and coherent, although Members felt that the presentation of some of the managerial and operational arrangements in the application made by Northants 96 was lacking in clarity.

In Members' view the music policies adopted by the incumbents, which would continue into the new licence term, represented effective means of providing a breadth of choice in the area, as both offered distinctive services, targeting different age ranges. In the new licence period Northants 96 will continue to offer contemporary and chart music, focusing on music tracks which are less than ten years old, while Classic Gold 1557 will broadcast music which is largely from earlier decades, appealing to older listeners. In terms of speech content, Northants 96 will retain its current minimum speech level of 10% (although Members noted that, in practice, this minimum is far exceeded during weekday daytime), whereas Classic Gold proposes a speech range of 15-25% during daytime. Members felt that an opportunity to increase the amount of local news in the programme schedules of both services, as desired by a significant proportion of their listeners according to the research commissioned by the incumbents themselves, had been missed.

Members recognised the high audience figures currently being achieved by Northants 96 according to the most recent RAJAR survey (with 41% of adults listening to the station in an average week), and concluded that the service was obviously popular and well supported in the local area. According to RAJAR research Classic Gold 1557 had maintained reasonably healthy audience figures, despite the fact that AM listening overall in the UK has been in steady decline. As regards direct evidence of local support, the incumbents, especially Northants 96, had succeeded in generating an impressive volume of endorsements from local businesses 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 services 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 and re-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.

The existing licences for Northampton, held by the Northamptonshire Broadcasting Co. Ltd. (Northants 96) and Classic Gold Digital Ltd. (Classic Gold 1557 Northamptonshire), expire on 14 October 2002. The licences were 'pre-advertised' in April 2001 under the provisions of the 'special application procedure' introduced in the 1996 Broadcasting Act. A 'declaration of intent to apply' was received from another party, in addition to one from the existing licence holder in each case, and therefore the licences were both fully re-advertised. The Authority invited public comment on the local radio needs of listeners in the area, and the types of programme service required. Copies of the non-confidential sections of the applications were made available for public inspection in the reference sections of Northamptonshire Central Library, Kettering and Wellingborough Libraries, and at the Authority’s offices in London. A notice was issued on 25 September 2001 inviting public comments on the applications. The Authority took all replies into account when reaching its decisions.

The applications were 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 (Re-advertised Licences) and the coverage brief for these licences, issued at the date of the licence re-advertisement.



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Revised: January 15, 2002