Ofcom has today lifted the two year Format change rule which prevented new commercial radio stations from applying for a Format change during their first two years on-air.
The sudden change of heart at Ofcom affects 16 stations (listed below) which are still operating within their original Format, pre the Future of Radio consultation. Now those stations may apply to change their Format, which can include lifting restrictions on co-location agreements and the amount of networking.
All 16 will automatically, and with immediate effect, now have a simplified Format, which, for a regional station like Smooth Radio Northeast means the original "maximum 7 hours of networking per week" restriction is lifted, and a local station such as Andover Sound no longer needs to provide 24 hours a day of locally made programming.
Under Ofcom's Future of Radio consultation, a typical Format for a local station stipulates they must provide at least 10 hours of locally made programming per day (although some of this may be shared with a nearby station).
Ofcom says the original purpose of this rule was to ensure that stations did not apply for a licence with a particular Format in the knowledge they could immediately apply for a change. And as the regulator does not intend to advertise any more analogue commercial licences at this stage, the main reason for this rule no longer exists.
The 16 stations affected are:
• Original 106 (Bristol)
• Minster Northallerton
• KCFM (Hull)
• Jack FM (Oxford)
• Original (Aberdeen)
• Sunshine FM (Hereford and Monmouth)
• Nation Radio (South Wales) (was Xfm)
• City Talk (Liverpool)
• Smooth Radio (North-East England)
• Exeter FM
• Southend FM
• Touch FM (Warwick)
• Andover Sound
• Rock Radio (Manchester)
• Central FM (Preston)
• Perth FM
Before the change, Ofcom's policy stated that as a general rule, “no format changes will be permitted in the first two years after a station is launched and, in the period subsequent to that and up to five years after launch, only changes which do not substantially alter the station’s character will be permitted.”