Following the Digital Radio Act being being passed last week, Ofcom has announced exactly what it means for commercial radio in the UK.
Highlights include allowing local FM stations to co-locate within larger areas, AM stations can be freed of any locally made content, and regional stations will be able to request the ability to drop regional programming.
The reality is local radio within one region can operate from the same location, with the areas now defined by Ofcom and available here.
With regional radio, it could spell the end of region-specific programmes on the UK’s network of regional stations, such as Galaxy, Real Radio, Smooth Radio and Kiss, if a national DAB version of the brand is provided. However, regional stations in Scotland and Wales will not be able to be part of any 24/7 network in England.
Ofcom is also proposing a local FM station can reduce the number of local hours from 10 to 7 if more local news is provided, and AM stations can simply be a relay of a national service from within their own country. (Gold, Magic etc)
Sharing facilities and programmes
From June, local FM stations will be able to apply to Ofcom to co-locate and share all of their programming within approved areas. This will allow the stations to merge to form larger, more financially viable stations. However, such stations must continue to meet their licence obligations to provide local material relevant to the listeners in their licensed areas.
Protecting radio news
Measures are also being introduced to protect and promote what listeners want most from local radio. Top of the list is news, which is valued more than other content on local commercial radio, according to Ofcom research.
Stations may request to reduce the number of locally made programme hours from 10 a day to 7 a day, if they commit to providing local news bulletins throughout weekday daytime. These bulletins will need to be regularly refreshed and updated. The aim is to provide flexibility to reduce the financial burden on local stations of developing local content, while at the same time safeguarding what consumers value most.
Freeing up local AM stations
Local AM stations will be able to request to Ofcom to be freed of any requirement to provide locally made programming, except for the existing licence requirement to produce 10 hours a day of daytime programming (including breakfast) on weekdays from within their home nation. This will protect the nation-specific content on services in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland so ensuring coverage of issues of particular interest to the relevant nation.
Encouraging UK-wide services
Ofcom also aims to allow the industry to increase the choice and diversity of UK-wide services. Large regional analogue stations will be able to request to drop their regional programming. In exchange, these stations will be required to provide a national version of their programme service on DAB digital radio, either on a national multiplex or a combination of local and regional multiplexes.
This will encourage competition and choice in national services, a greater range and diversity of content for consumers, and the potential for new investment in programming.
Due to the specific needs of the devolved nations, regional stations in Scotland and Wales will retain their specific focus on programmes for their own nation.
Operators of DAB local and regional multiplexes may request changes to the areas they serve, so as to bring local DAB to new areas and increase the viability of the multiplexes.
The provisions of the Digital Economy Act come into effect in mid-June 2010. Ofcom will therefore implement all of the provisions and policies in this statement from that date.
A spokesman for Global Radio, the UK’s largest commercial radio group, said: “We note the report and we look forward to studying its contents”