Spread South West 

15 August 2001 tbs.pm/3193

If Cornwall’s Local Radio history had been slow before now, from here on in the pace is certainly going to pick up. 2002 saw two more RSL services get airings and the next two years will definitely see another full time station starting up and a whole multiplex of stations on the digital domain.

How far we have come from the days when the South East of Cornwall could get Plymouth Sound, whilst the AM signal penetrated along the south coast to Falmouth, and that was all the local radio Cornwall had – except for Morning Sou’ West on Radio 4.

Last year could well have been the final year of the duopoly of stations in Cornwall, as Pirate FM and BBC Radio Cornwall will soon face much greater competition in the airwaves of the Duchy.

Certainly, 2002 saw more short-term, 28-day competition. Newquay maintained a regular appointment with Malibu Surf FM, one begun back in 1999. Malibu Surf FM is expected to continue being a regular yearly 28-day RSL.

In Redruth, the organisation behind Red Youth Radio in 2000 came out with a very different station, Airwaves 105 FM. But those went by largely unnoticed, as attention was turning forward, away from the RSL arena and toward a second licence for Cornwall.

CK-FM had set the early running with a 28-day RSL service back in 2001. Since the station ended its RSL experiment, they had been lobbying hard for a second licence for Cornwall, and they soon got their way, with the announcement in 2002 that Cornwall would get a second licence awarded.

At the moment, there is no fixed date for the advertising of the Cornwall ILR2 licence, as I call it, but it is looking likely for some time in late 2003 or early 2004. By the time 2005 gets underway, there could well be 2 analogue commercial radio stations in Cornwall for Cornwall, competing for audience and advertising revenue.

Meanwhile, just across the Tamar, Plymouth Sound is coming into the most dangerous period of its existence. One of the longest serving stations in the UK, could well disappear off the face of the earth.

Their licence is due to expire at the end of 2004. This means that sometime during the next 2 years, their licence will be pre-advertised for interested parties to apply. It’s no secret that Plymouth Sound is considered to be one of GWR’s prime licences, outside of the home licences in Bristol and Wiltshire.

It was a licence they co-owned with Capital, then Capital pulled out, then GWR were forced to sell it under the points ownership system, then they bought it back again.

The very fact they seem to place so much stock in this licence also makes the Plymouth licence a prime target for other consortia as well. That said, the last time the licence was renewed in 1996, only Plymouth Sound went for the licence.

This time however, I expect there to be more competition for the licence, especially after the disastrous re-branding and re-programming of Plymouth Sound AM to Classic Gold Plymouth. The station has never entirely recovered from that debacle and will now find that the next renewal process could be a lot longer, and much more competitive than those previously.

However, in some ways, these two licence processes on analogue, due to take place in the next 2 years, may be rendered at least partially irrelevant by the licensing of a new local digital multiplex, for Cornwall and Plymouth. The multiplex licence is due to be advertised in April 2003, with the closing date due in July.

Now, ordinarily this would pose no problems, as you would just expect to find the equivalent analogue licence holders appearing on the multiplex, along with some new stations to the area.

However, this has been a real proverbial hot potato in Cornwall, as those who have been supporting a Cornish Assembly have protested against the decision not to award Cornwall a separate digital multiplex from Plymouth. There were those in Plymouth as well who were not very happy about the decision either.

Because this digital multiplex covers two analogue broadcast franchises, and at least two, if not three, transmitters it makes things very complex indeed. If Plymouth Sound were on the multiplex, would it be broadcasting right across Cornwall and Plymouth?

Would a GWR run consortium include the two Cornish ILR stations on the multiplex? Would the multiplex include both BBC Radio Devon and BBC Radio Cornwall? How many stations could you put on the multiplex to maximise choice, yet still make it economically viable?

Let us imagine, for a moment that you did have all the current analogue local radio stations on the multiplex. For the sake of this article, we’ll include the Cornwall ILR2 licensee, which has yet to be determined.

That would make 6 stations, on the multiplex, 4 of those funded by advertising. How many more stations could earn money, broadcasting just on that multiplex? Could a local station start up digital-only? Or would the multiplex end up being filled by ‘national’ stations such as those we see on Sky Digital?

Personally, I would love to see more local stations on the multiplex. Whether we will actually see any more is another matter. Some digital-only stations can exist at this early stage of development as mere radio jukeboxes, playing a near continuous diet of music and adverts, with possible occasional interruptions for news from IRN or Sky News Radio.

However, local stations could be furthest from the minds of the bidders, especially as one of the bidders that we are certain of already at this stage, is NOW Digital, which is basically GWR’s digital operation.

GWR have a reputation for being loose with their definition of ‘local’ stations, but others can be little better. Stations that usually appear on the NOW multiplexes include SBN -­ The Student Broadcast Network, KISS and The Storm.

There is little doubt that in the next couple of years, it is going to be an interesting time for those of us who are radio people in Cornwall. We can already receive the Digital One multiplex, the BBC multiplex is probably due within the next 2 years as well, and with this new local multiplex coming on stream, there will be more radio stations available to the local public in Cornwall than ever before. Whether this will have any real long-term effect on the domination that local stations have on the market, remains to be seen.

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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