Ceredigion FM Local Commercial Radio licence application process in turmoil
On 10 April 2018, Ofcom issued a re-advertisement of the FM local commercial radio licence for Ceredigion. Here at Harlech FM, we were able to submit a full application by the deadline, but regrettably were not able to secure the necessary funding within the tight timescales - in effect, we had just ten weeks to try and build something from scratch.
The re-advertisement was a surprise to everyone, as incumbent Radio Ceredigion could have chosen a ‘fast track’ which would have left no simple window for any opposition to them. That process would have meant things staying as they are – no change to their broadcasting commitments. The fact they didn’t rang all sorts of alarm bells with those who managed to find out that any sort of process was happening. There was also much reluctance amongst local media to cover the topic.
THE APPLICATION FROM NATION BROADCASTING
At the basic level, this is not an application for an FM local commercial radio licence; it is an application for using local FM commercial radio transmitters for a national commercial radio station. This, we believe, is not what Ofcom sought applications for.
Nation note that, as far has been their experience, the geography of the licence creates “real questions over the viability of maintaining localised services.” When you adopt a ‘one size fits all’ approach to local programming, this will always be the case. They confirm this by stating: “The existing service has consistently underperformed in audience delivery and commercially, compared to Nation Broadcasting’s other local services.” This application is, in effect, Nation waving the white flag of surrender, admitting their methods do not work in Ceredigion. It is also a white flag for commercial Welsh language broadcasting.
“THIS JOB’S TOO HARD”
Nation moans about high transmission costs – such overheads are easily reduced by not using the infrastructure that has been relied upon up until now, cutting out the expensive third parties via the use of technological innovation.
Nation grumbles, although not by name, about Radio Aber – a community radio station due to go on-air in 2019. They will have a transmission footprint serving an area within a 20km radius of Aberystwyth, so not all of Ceredigion – in fact, just 19,000 of the total population of 72,088 within the County. They are not a commercial station, although they can take a limited amount of advertising.
Radio Aber said in their news release of April 2018, when they heard Radio Ceredigion was not going for the fast track: “We haven't had any communication with Radio Ceredigion or Nation Broadcasting as we considered the objectives of our community radio station to differ significantly from that of their commercial organisation. Community radio is a different bracket of Ofcom-regulated broadcasting that is specifically designed to be locally focussed, and is run exclusively by non-profit organisations like Radio Aber.”
Nation’s logic is that the local market cannot cope with another radio station competing for advertising. However, their submitted Nation Radio proposition WILL be competing for advertising revenue in Ceredigion, so to allow them to do what they want to do will NOT change the fact that another station WILL be there seeking such revenue in the county. It appears they are deliberately trying to mislead, and we welcome their feedback to our suggestion that this might be the case.
NO COMMITMENT TO DAB
DAB may not be the long-term future of radio, but it is already important, and likely to be more so in the near future, certainly over the next 20 years. Like most innovations it will eventually be replaced by something else, but not for a long time.
You will see in this logo comparison, the logo for Nation Radio which was chosen to be used on the front cover of their application did not include ‘DAB’, despite the fact in most cases it does. This does not bode well for DAB in Ceredigion, something which Harlech FM was keen to implement, as it is not as expensive as is being made out.
If you read what is written in their application, there is absolutely NO COMMITMENT to broadcasting in DAB within Ceredigion. There is plenty of mention of DAB availability elsewhere in Wales, but nothing to suggest that its provision will be a priority in Ceredigion. Perhaps their application is just poorly written in this regard? If so, we welcome their clarification on this.
Harlech FM has been particularly concerned as to why there has been no coverage of the licence re-application process in the dominant print media in Ceredigion, the Cambrian News.
Despite submitting numerous press releases to them, and early on being snapped by their local photographer in Aberystwyth, suddenly we were told the story wouldn’t run due to the large amount of stories they had to cover over the subsequent Bank Holiday weekend. As most journalists know, such times usually mean editors scrambling around for stories.
Despite issuing subsequent news releases which built on the story of Harlech FM and our progress, issued to the paper and other outlets, no articles have ever run either in print or online. We have discovered what appears to be a link between the Cambrian News and Radio Ceredigion, suggesting this was not an editorial decision taken for the benefit of Ceredigion’s citizens. We are investigating further the possibility that this amounts to a non-disclosure of an interest which should have been stated in the application form submitted. Again, we welcome clarification from Nation Broadcasting and the Cambrian News.
COMMUNITY RADIO OR COMMERCIAL RADIO?
If Nation’s seemingly altruistic stance towards Radio Aber was genuine, then they will have no problem with Radio Aber’s community radio licence area being increased to the whole of the county, and for them to take on the three existing transmitters for the current Radio Ceredigion – they can serve the whole of the region, which Nation implies they expect to be the case in due course. If Nation really believes that the county has to have special treatment to see its local radio service survive, then we suggest Ofcom gives Radio Aber extra assistance to allow them to provide such a sustainable service, and remove any caps on advertising and sponsorship that it can bring in which normally exist for Community Radio.
IS THIS THE INCUMBENT STATION OR A NEW STATION?
Nation Radio is effectively a new applicant, as they are ‘Radio Ceredigion’ in name only with the nature of their submission - they are not going to continue ANY of the previous Ceredigion-only programming. They have therefore not filled in the application form correctly or completely. There are sections for incumbents to fill in, and ones for new applicants. On this basis alone, we believe their application should be disqualified.
At this point, Harlech FM is happy to share its research, technical and programming information with everyone, to show what ideas we wanted to bring to the table. Thanks to what we believe has been a ‘news blackout’, we were not able to get our message out quickly enough to fully finance our proposals in time to meet the submission deadline. However, we want to do all that we can to stop the ‘local’ being removed from ‘local commercial radio’ in Ceredigion.
Nation Broadcasting seems to be very sure of their failed methods in Ceredigion with a statement which can be found in their Executive Summary: “There is no evidence to suggest that this licence could be run as a standalone business.” It is just as true that there is no evidence to suggest that this licence could NOT be run as a standalone business – just Nation’s naēve belief that if they failed then so will everyone else. Times have moved on, they admit, but it appears their own business models haven’t.
With more time, Harlech FM could have given Nation Radio a real challenge to the madness they are suggesting. In the link below, we make available our full application as submitted to Ofcom, including the pages which we marked as confidential. Much of that information was deemed ‘eyes only’ as it is very embarrassing to Nation Broadcasting. However, with what they are trying to do with this licence application, they have foregone any face-saving we had previously considered. They should be seen as part of the ‘dinosaur media’; without adapting to the new climate, they will go the same way as the soon-to-be ‘dead tree media’.
We believe that whoever wrote the Nation Radio application is being just a little disingenuous when they say:“Nation Radio will clearly broaden listener choice in Ceredigion by offering a music service that will specifically appeal to older listeners, alongside relevant speech and information, provided from studios and staff based in Wales.”
That is the level of sleight-of-hand in operation here. We hope that something stops this relentless march towards centralisation and homogenisation.