Responses to Ofcom’s “review of music in radio formats” reveal a deep split in the radio industry over the future of its regulation.
Ofcom is considering changes to the way it regulates the music part of the format that describes an analogue local station’s “character of service”. Changes to the format currently require the permission of the regulator, and “substantial” changes involve a full public consultation.
In its response to Ofcom’s call for inputs, RadioCentre, which represents the majority of the radio industry including Global Radio and Bauer Media, says that stations should be as free as possible to choose what music they play, without requiring the regulator’s permission to change format.
RadioCentre agreed with Ofcom’s proposal that the review should focus only on the formats of local commercial radio stations, and exclude other categories of radio licence, including national commercial stations, commercial DAB stations and community radio.
However, RadioCentre also called for the review to be more wide-ranging in other areas, urging Ofcom to look at all aspects of the rules and regulations around formats, including levels of speech required.
Global Radio’s own response described how it believes music tastes have evolved, saying: “Listeners of all ages now enjoy a much wider range of music than was the case a decade ago. It is therefore no longer possible for stations to target a particular demographic group solely through music selection. The terms used in radio formats to describe music – such ‘chart’, ‘contemporary’, ‘rhythmic’, ‘melodic’ or ‘easy listening’ – do not reflect how listeners define their musical tastes, or how artists themselves think about their music.” It also calls on Ofcom to remove music formats from local commercial radio licences.
Town and Country Broadcasting, which operates Nation Radio and Radio Pembrokeshire, agreed, calling regulation of music formats “an out-dated and unnecessary regulatory burden for station operators.”
By contrast, both UTV and UKRD want to see the current formats remain in place. In a strongly-worded response, UKRD says it believes that further relaxation of regulation is “ultimately intended to remove completely any and all of the necessary responsibilities local commercial radio operators should have when it comes to serving their local communities” and suggests that de-regulation has already gone too far. The fourth-largest radio operator says there’s a danger that further relaxation of music formats might allow larger regional or national stations to encroach upon smaller local operators.
Meanwhile, UTV calls the current regulations “well-designed”, and says that removing them would “present risks to the overall health of the sector”. It said there should also be no change to the current format stipulations for the three independent national radio licences, which include talkSPORT. Legislation currently specifies that one licence must be for a ‘non-pop’ station, while one must be for a predominantly speech-based service.
Research published in Ofcom’s call for inputs found that over one-third of analogue local commercial stations (37.6%) had a ‘broad music’ format, giving Clyde 2 and Pirate FM as examples of this. 18% were ‘contemporary/chart’, such as Clyde 1 and Forth One, while ‘Classic Pop/Gold’ accounted for 15.9% and included Swansea Sound and Free Radio 80s. ‘Adult Contemporary’, including Eagle Radio and Heart, accounted for 8.1%. Only a small minority of stations (5.5%) have a requirement to broadcast a number of hours of specialist music each week.
Thirteen responses have been published on the regulator’s website, and it will now consider these before publishing a further consultation later this year.