Ofcom has received more than 200 responses to its public consultation about extending the NOW Digital Exeter and Torbay multiplex into North Devon.
However, the consultation seems to focus on the lack of local FM radio, rather than addressing the main purpose of the consultation – the expansion of a DAB multiplex.
A typical response mentions how there is no or little content relevant to North Devon now that Lantern FM has merged with other stations in the region and rebranded as Heart. Many also seem to believe that FM services will be switched off when the DAB multiplex goes live.
NOW Digital’s request for greater coverage using three new transmitters says all the same services which are broadcast in Exeter and Torbay will be simulcast in the North – even though different frequencies would be used and local services could technically be offered.
In the application, NOW says: “At the current point in time we are not looking at broadcasting any services exclusively to the North Devon part of the PPA, although we would be open to discussing carriage opportunities with any broadcaster wishing to focus their output on this area.”
Ofcom’s consultation ended last week – we understand the regulator is currently considering the responses received before making an announcement on the outcome.
Some of the responses include things like: “North Devon deserves a local station that can serve local needs” and “I do not listen to Heart from Exeter it is useless to me.”
Other significant responses have included:
Superintendent Kevin Harris from Devon and Cornwall Police: “Since the closure of the locally run ‘Heart Barnstaple’ radio station it has been felt that there is a real lack of knowledge from the regionally based station.”
Councillor Tim Parker, Mayor of Lynton & Lymouth: “Within the Lynton & Lynmouth communities, there are many people who rely heavily on local radio for their exclusive entertainment. To deprive them of this much needed facility is both unfair and unjust. Also, it is felt that the licence to broadcast on FM should be re-advertised so that the area can regain a proper local service, not only for the immediate future but for the greater good.”
Cllr Lesley Brown, Deputy Mayor of Barnstaple: “I was shocked to learn about the proposal that the South Devon DAB service is to be extended to North Devon and that our FM transmitters will be switched off.At best this service is predicted to only cover 70% of the area, why should the other 30% be denied access to what a lot of people particularly in rural areas class as a lifeline.We had an insight into what the future might be like this winter, since the local radio service has been transferred to South Devon we get less information about school closures, road closure and information about what services are operational, as the weather seems less reliable we in the north rely on the information which is as relevant to us as the emergency services. Please I urge you on behalf of North Devon leave the Fm services as they are in North Devon.”
Sara Bond, Managing Director of Heart Devon: “The proposal to extend local DAB into North Devon will increase choice for radio listeners in North Devon and provide an opportunity for new broadcasters to enter the market. Despite some misleading claims made about FM being switched off, I believe that local people support digital radio.”
Local radio operator UKRD is a 50% shareholder in North Devon Radio Ltd, a joint venture with The Voice North Devon who have run five RSLs in Barnstaple and Bideford, and intended to apply for the re-advertised licence for Barnstaple which was due to be pre-advertised by Ofcom in May 2011. That re-advertisement hasn’t yet happened because of the request from Now Digital to extend the Exeter and Torbay DAB multiplex. Their response to the consultation urges Ofcom to reject the application on the grounds of ‘inadequate and unsatisfactory coverage, the consequent undermining of the digital platform, the timing of such a decision in the middle of a major DAB consultation and the impact it would have on blocking competition for a re-advertised local FM licence which is clearly sought and desired by the community in North Devon.’
UKRD added: “We strongly believe Ofcom has an over-riding obligation to ensure localness, plurality and fair competition and to look beyond an arrangement created many years ago to use the automatic ‘roll-over’ renewal of analogue licences as an incentive for radio groups to invest in digital.”