The rules have changed 

16 July 2008 tbs.pm/922

The “what’s on” wars: BBC Local vs commercial radio

Now is not a good time to be involved in commercial UK radio, it seems. Advertisers are trimming their marketing budgets in anticipation of a possible economic recession, and this has conspired to become the so-called tipping point which has made certain stations and service areas (as specified by Ofcom) becoming no longer economically viable.

It’s ironic though that the local radio sector is complaining about BBC local news (website-based or otherwise) when radio groups such as Global/GCap, Bauer and UKRD are moving away from local radio provision into the murky waters of quasi-national networking, with only token concessions being made for local news provision.

However beneath the inevitable BBC-bashing that economic hardship within the commercial media sector can occasionally trigger (regardless of the actual underlying causes) there’s a real problem in relation to how local radio licences are currently awarded and regulated.

In short, Ofcom and the government have been dishing out lots of radio licences to anyone who’s willing to pay for them (as well as meeting certain criteria) but perhaps not paying enough attention to whether or not they are actually viable. This not only includes the cost of the licences but also the nature of the radio format(s) specified by them.

Maybe the whole radio licensing system requires a major overhaul, and a switch to digital radio would be an opportune moment to make such a change, although the fiasco surrounding DAB digital radio has delayed that possibility for several years.

In the meantime, commercial radio will continue to suffer through reasons both self-inflicted and beyond its control, and certain measures formerly designed to please commercial operators (such as redrawing coverage maps and changing formats) may inevitably end up hurting them instead.

And their listeners.