Yorkshire radio stations will 'rebrand' amid accusation of 'cultural vandalism'

A media conglomerate has been accused of "breathtaking cultural vandalism" after it announced a "rebrand" that will affect various Yorkshire radio stations.

Wednesday, 27th May 2020, 4:13 pm
Updated Wednesday, 27th May 2020, 5:08 pm
Picture: JPIMedia.
Picture: JPIMedia.

Bauer Media Group today claimed that it would "create the largest commercial radio network in the UK".

The integration of stations will mean that Dearne FM (Barnsley), Rother FM (Rotherham), Trax FM (Doncaster and Bassetlaw), Minster FM (York), Stray FM (Harrogate), Yorkshire Coast Radio (Bridlington), Ridings FM (Wakefield) and Pulse 2 (Bradford / Huddersfield) will "rebrand" as Greatest Hits Radio.

Pulse 1 will retain its local branding, though, while becoming part of the wider Hits Radio Network.

Keith Aspden.

Greatest Hits Radio will play music from the 1970s, 80s and 90s alongside unspecified "regional drive time" content and networked breakfast shows, while retaining local news and information as well as local traffic and travel, said the company.

Compass FM in Grimsby is also affected, according to a national report, as well as KCFM in Hull, owned by Nation Broadcasting.

Bauer said that where possible, stations which previously were only accessible through FM or AM radio will "secure a multi-platform digital future", with access to DAB digital radio, which it described this as a "crucial move".

But "some [employment] roles will be put into consultation and freelance contracts reviewed," the company said.

Dee Ford CBE, group managing director for radio, Bauer Radio, said: “Expanding the Hits Radio Brand Network will ensure listeners to these acquired stations benefit from multi-platform digital distribution meaning they can continue to broadcast in an increasingly competitive, digital and voice-activated world.

"This ensures the provision of local news and information, traffic and travel as well as access for advertisers to highly valued audiences.”

Regional politicians have expressed their upset, though.

Coun Keith Aspden, leader of City of York Council, said: “The news regarding Minster FM is incredibly disappointing, not only for their staff, but for the many residents who rely on Minster FM for the latest local news."

He added: “Minster FM has been a pillar of our community for many years now and they will be sorely missed. I would urge Bauer Media to consider the impact of this decision on York residents during this difficult time.”

Former Labour MP John Grogan, who represented Selby and later Keighley, claimed that the stations had been "closed under the cover of" the coronavirus pandemic.

He went on: "This is an act of breathtaking cultural vandalism from a company which has been busily acquiring local stations unchecked by regulators or government.

"Indeed Bauer only got its hands on some of these stations when the Competition and Markets Authority gave the green light in March.

In fact, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) investigated Bauer Media’s purchase of certain radio businesses of the groups, which included 50 per cent of First Radio Sales Limited (FRS), a firm that provided more than 100 independent local radio stations with access to national advertisers.

He continued: "Now together with Global it dominates the market.

"Many of these local radio stations are heavily involved in community activities and provide news bulletins to a young audience which other outlets find it hard to reach.

"In a lot of cases such as Minster listening figures have actually been going up."

The company owns 36 per cent of commercial local radio licences in the UK after acquiring UKRD, Wireless and Celador and Lincs last year, according to Parliamentary records.

Records also note that OFCOM relaxed the regulations regarding local content for commercial local radio stations so that they no longer have to produce a local breakfast show and are obliged only to produce three hours of local content, as opposed to seven previously on weekdays.

They are able to do this from regional centres distant from the area covered by the local radio station.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) investigated Bauer Media’s purchase of certain radio businesses of the groups, which included 50 per cent of First Radio Sales Limited (FRS), a firm that currently provided more than 100 independent local radio stations with access to national advertisers.

In a decision at the time, it said: "Due to the very unusual circumstances of this case, the CMA is not requiring Bauer to sell off the radio stations it has bought.

"In order to maintain FRS’ customer base, Bauer would have to sell all the acquired radio stations, and the CMA was concerned that another buyer would not have sufficient incentive to maintain FRS as an active competitor to represent independent stations.

"Instead, Bauer will be required to provide advertising representation to independent radio stations on the same terms the stations were receiving from FRS, for 10 years."

Stuart McIntosh, CMA Panel Chair said at the time: “It’s really important that independent radio stations have good access to representation for national radio ad sales as it is an important source of income for those stations. Without the CMA’s remedy, it’s likely that these stations would have to pay over the odds for national advertising representation.”

Radiocentre, an industry body for commercial radio, in 2018 said it "agrees that Ofcom’s duty to secure ‘localness’ on local commercial radio stations could still be satisfied if stations were able to reduce the amount of locally-made programming".