102.2 Smooth FM Format Change Request Granted

08 December 2006

At its meeting on 7 December, Ofcom’s Radio Licensing Committee (RLC) was asked to consider a Format change request submitted by GMG regarding 102.2 Smooth FM (Greater London).

The request was to allow the station format to change from delivering a soul-based station during the day with specialist jazz in the evening to a station targeting over 50s with easy-listening, more news and extra speech during the day, while retaining the 45 hours of specialist jazz out of daytime.

Under the requirements of section 106ZA of the 1990 Broadcast Act, a public consultation was held, lasting 30 days. There were three responses from commercial radio operators. Two were confidential. The third, from emap, urged Ofcom, if it was minded to agree to the change, to enshrine within Smooth’s Fomat a musical point of difference between Smooth and Magic FM. This submission is available for viewing on the Ofcom website.

Fifteen other organisations, many radio related, and others linked with over 50s interest groups, responded. All were supportive, citing a gap in the market for over 50s, other than the All Party Parliamentary Jazz Appreciation Group of MPs who felt jazz did not get proper representation on UK radio. These submissions are available for viewing.

Twenty-nine individuals responded. Fourteen wished to remain anonymous. Eighteen were against the change. (Some appeared to overlook the retention of the station’s specialist jazz programmes). Those in support felt over 50s were being overlooked in the commercial radio market place.

Under the requirements of section 106(1A) of the 1990 Broadcasting Act, Ofcom may consent to a departure from the character of the licensed service if, and only if, it is satisfied that at least one of the following four criteria is satisfied:

  1. that the departure would not substantially alter the character of the service;
  2. that the departure would not narrow the range of programmes available by way of relevant independent radio services to persons living in the area or locality for which the service is licensed to be provided;
  3. that, in the case of a local licence, the departure would be conducive to the maintenance or promotion of fair and effective competition in that area or locality; or
  4. that, in the case of a local licence, there is evidence that, amongst persons living in that area or locality, there is a significant demand for, or significant support for, the change that would result from the departure.

After full and careful consideration the RLC decided to allow the Format change request. In reaching its decision the RLC found that:

  1. the request represented a substantial change to the character of service, and that is why a consultation was published. The Committee did, however, recognise the change as being something of an evolutionary one in so far as it would create a station likely to appeal to a similar audience profile, albeit broadened.
  2. the proposed change would not narrow the range of programmes available in the London area. Capital Gold’s Format is for 35-54s; Heart FM targets audiences in their thirties. Magic FM serves the over-35s (having moved slightly younger when emap turned Melody into Magic). There is no station specifically for over 50s. In addition the station would have a higher proportion of speech and continue to carry its unique specialist jazz output. The Committee felt that in order to make clear the point of difference between the changed station and existing stations, there should be an obligation within the Format to secure the spirit of the Format requiring that at least 20% of the daytime tracks should be older than 40 years old. GMG have accepted this obligation and the Committee felt able to grant the request, given the satisfaction of this criterion.
  3. insufficient evidence was provided by the applicant for Ofcom to make an assessment of Format change on competition grounds (section 106(1A)(c).
  4. a submission of confidential research carried out for GMG was considered by the Committee alongside the audience data submitted within the public submission and the support of organisations who responded. The Committee felt this new research demonstrated both support and demand for an over-50s station. GMG asked that this research be kept confidential for commercial reasons, which the Radio Licensing Committee accepted. As a consequence the research had not been considered by those responding to the consultation. Nevertheless, the Committee felt that the research provided enough information for agreement to be granted on this criterion in addition to criterion (a).

Ofcom will continue to scrutinise the London market through informal and formal sampling to ensure it carries out its duty to secure a broad range of services catering for tastes and interests in the area.