30 October 2002


Radio Authority publishes Assessment of local licence re-award for Tunbridge Wells/Sevenoaks

The Radio Authority has today (30 October) published the details of its assessment of the local licence re-award for a service covering the towns of Royal Tunbridge Wells, Tonbridge and Sevenoaks, in Kent. The Authority re-awarded the licence to West Kent's KM-FM (formerly Mercury 96.2/101.6 FM) on 10 October 2002.

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.



MERCURY 96.2/101.6


Applications for the re-advertised licence for a service covering the towns of Royal Tunbridge Wells, Tonbridge and Sevenoaks, in Kent, were invited on 28 March 2002. By the closing date of 2 July 2002, two applications were received, from:

Mercury 96.2/101.6 FM (Kent and Sussex Radio Ltd.), the existing licence holder;

GO-FM (Absolute Radio West Kent Ltd.).

The licence was re-awarded to West Kent's KM-FM, formerly Mercury 96.2/101.6 FM Ltd., on 10 October 2002, to run for a further period of eight years from 8 July 2003.

Assessment of the successful application

Members recognised that the station's owner, Kent Messenger Ltd., had only held the licence since March of this year, and that within this relatively short period it had already managed to implement significant improvements. Since the change in ownership took place, Mercury 96.2/101.6 has not only altered its programming to reflect the tastes and interests of its target audience, but has also undergone a rebranding exercise. It is now called West Kent's KM-FM, a name chosen in order to reintroduce a local connection within its call-sign.

The Kent Messenger has had a long-standing presence in the area as the proprietor of local newspapers, and has demonstrated a commitment to local radio in Kent through its acquisitions (Kent Messenger holds a number of independent local licences for stations in Kent, including those in Canterbury, Thanet and Medway). Members took the view that the group was a reliable and well resourced investor. In addition, Members considered that West Kent's KM-FM would be well placed to maintain its service by virtue of the potential synergies with a group of stations, as well as the backing of a strong local newspaper operation.

The Authority welcomed the programming plans of West Kent's KM-FM which proposed a continuation of its current service, incorporating a recent increase in local speech content and a move towards a slightly older and more varied music policy. The group has committed itself to a requirement to broadcast locally produced and presented programmes for at least 16 hours daily. It will share separately branded live overnight (midnight to 0600) programming, which would retain appropriate local flavour, with its neighbouring station Medway's KM-FM. The group intends to increase its format commitment to a daytime speech minimum from 10% to 15% and to introduce additional speech features including a 'job finder' slot. Members noted that local news provision at the station had increased following its acquisition by Kent Messenger, and were pleased that the programming proposals included a commitment to expand significantly on its current format requirements for local news. West Kent's KM-FM has undertaken to provide hourly home-mixed bulletins of at least three minutes' duration during daytime and two weekday news magazines, broadcast at lunchtime and in the early evening, as well as news headlines at peak times. Musically, the station has reduced the number of chart hits played on the station and replaced them with older tracks of greater appeal to its 25-54 target audience. Members considered that this music policy would broaden choice for listeners in the area and were keen that it should continue throughout the new period.


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 licence for Tunbridge Wells/Sevenoaks, held by West Kent's KM-FM, formerly Mercury 96.2/101.6 FM Ltd., expires on 7 July 2003. The licence was 'pre-advertised' in February 2002 under the provisions of the 'special application procedure' introduced in the 1996 Broadcasting Act. Two 'declarations of intent to apply' were received, and therefore the licence was fully re-advertised. The Authority invited public comment on the local radio needs of listeners in the area, and the type of programme service required. Copies of the non-confidential sections of the applications were made available for public inspection in the reference sections of the main public libraries in Tunbridge Wells, Tonbridge and Sevenoaks, and at the Authority’s offices in London. Public comments on the applications were invited, and the Authority took all replies into account when reaching its decision.

The application was 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 this licence, issued at the date of the licence re-advertisement.


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