Key 103 to rebrand as Hits Radio and go national

Major changes are heading to Bauer’s Big City Network in June, including a new national station called Hits Radio broadcasting from Manchester.

Here are all the key points announced by the breakfast show team at Key 103 on-air this morning:

  • Key 103 to change its name on 103 FM to Hits Radio Manchester
  • Hits Radio Manchester will be a local version of a “national” radio station called Hits Radio
  • Hits Radio is to replace The Hits on local DAB multiplexes around the UK, and be available along side Bauer’s FM stations
  • Hits Radio will have a breakfast show hosted by Gethin Jones, Gemma Atkinson and Dave Vitty (yes, Comedy Dave!)
  • Hits Radio mid-mornings will be hosted by Mike Toolan – networked to other FM stations
  • Hits Radio afternoons will be hosted by Debbie Mac – networked to other FM stations
  • Hits Radio Drive will be hosted by Wes Butters
  • Hits Radio Evenings will be hosted by Sarah-Jane Crawford – networked to other FM stations

The changes happen on June 4th 2018, with Hits Radio and Hits Radio Network will be overseen by Gary Stein, Group Programme Director, Hits Radio Network. Chris Pegg will become Content Director, Hits Radio.

The new breakfast show will see an end to Mike Toolan in the Morning after 20 years of waking up Manchester (except the few years when JK and Joel did it in the early 2000s). Instead, Gethin Jones and Dave Vitty are joining the station to co-host with Gemma Atkinson.

Bauer is billing the new station as its 4th national commercial radio station along with Absolute, Magic and KISS. It will target a family-focused national audience aged 25-44.

Dee Ford, Group Managing Director Bauer Radio said: “Hits Radio has been informed by audience insight, combined with our talented programming instinct that unearthed a need for a fresh, exciting national radio brand. This family-friendly audience seek a brilliant alternative to what is currently on offer, and the new Hits Radio station and expanded Hits Radio Network will offer a simple way for commercial partners to reach them”.

Graham Bryce, Group Managing Director Hits Radio Network says: “Manchester is fast becoming a central media hub of the UK and we are really excited to be bringing a new offering to national digital radio, based in this glorious city. As well as our talented presenters and engaging content, we will continue to provide the locals of Manchester with all the relevant regional news and updates through Hits Radio.”

Listen to the RadioToday Programme this week for our exclusive interview with Graham Bryce:

Comments are open. What do you think of the latest move by Bauer?

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  1. Neil Atkin says

    Local radio is dead.

    1. Roy says

      Agreed. Ofcom should be ashamed in letting big busineds dictate. Thank god for Caroline, UDJ, Delux and Hits 45

      1. harry worth says

        IF it wasnt for baur and other radio groups there would only be the state broadcaster with over paid dj s with money taken from the poor by the polltax licence fee what dreadfull thought

      2. John roberts says

        Absolutely agree , for to long big business has dictated the whole radio scene that’s why it’s so boring, ofcom are a disgrace, thank goodness for the radio caroline organisation , long live decent true friend radio .

  2. Craig says

    Why no mention of sound quality on dab? Will this be another very low bitrate in MONO!

    We need less stations on Dab & increase bitrates on existing as their is no excuse for MONO music stations these days.

    Hasn’t anyone heard of quality over quantity!!!

    1. Simon Parton says

      Agreed! I just don’t understand why in this day and age and the huge leap forward in technology that we have to put up with music radio stations in mono!
      It is a step backwards.

  3. Colin Kelly says

    It’s a long overdue and welcome bit of clarity from Bauer. A good move and I wish them every success with it. An end to the fake locality of their stupid ‘quasi national’ brand and a full on assault on their biggest rivals. Show us what you’ve got and go for it, all guns blazing. Well done Bauer.

  4. Liam Forristal says

    It’s taken them long enough. They will have to go some to catch Global. In the meantime it opens the door for someone to move onto the gap and scoop up a huge audience by being a local Manchester station.
    Funny how things turn out. Various smaller towns have thriving local radio. Yet the City of Manchester will have no local fm station. Just national radio with breakfast and drive opt out.
    It’s a win win for radio long term.

    1. Mr Boltar says

      “It’s a win win for radio long term.”

      In what sense exactly? How is another local station falling by the wayside in anyones interest?

    2. Scary says

      The same could be said of London though, apart from the BBC local there’s no local London station. Birmingham is a very similar situation

    3. Junior says

      Never listened to XS Manchester Liam Forristal?

  5. […] Key 103 to rebrand as Hits Radio and go national Major changes are heading to Bauer’s Big City Network in June, including a new national station called Hits Radio broadcasting from Manchester. Radio Today […]

  6. James Robinson says

    To comment first – the local station is in Manchester so yes you do have a local radio station even though it may not seem like it.

    But my questions are:

    1: Why will there be two stations identical on Manchester local mux? Surely it is a waste of time to have Hits Radio Manchester AND Hits Radio National on the same mux when the output will be identical.

    2: What happens to the other City 1 stations like Radio City? Will this extend to Scotland and all ex-Orion stations in the West Midlands?

    Would make more sense to put the “2” network on ay 96.7 in Liverpool, have City Talk back on 105.9, other “2” stations on VHF/F< and then close all the medium wave outlets.

    That could be done if Hits Radio were to move to DAB only. Then there would be no need for local drop-ins. Either it is a national station or it isn't and if it is, it should be national not quasi-local.

    Finally, what happens to the Freeview slot? Will that also become Hits Radio National?

    Finally good luck with this. Just hope it works out. I would not be at all surprised if the local brands elsewhere disappear after Christmas. That remains to be seen.


    1. Radio Geordie says

      To answer your questions:
      1: I’m surprised they didn’t do it earlier given that The Hits is essentially the entire output of Key 103, just with different links & the odd different breakfast & drive presenter. I’m just surprised they didn’t rebrand the station as Absolute Radio. As to a national platform, its already available on Freeview although it may well replace the duplicate Absolute 90s on Digital 1. Its just a surprise that its only the Manchester station that’s going to be rebranded and not the entire network. However, both City and Metro/TFM have a popular late night phone in programme which Bauer wouldn’t dare drop because of the backlash they would get so they would only start taking the networked programme at this time after the presenters have been “retired”.

      2: As to switching the AM network to FM, not gonna happen as they currently broadcast the same programmes 24/7 on AM, switching to FM (like R. City 2) would mean the return of local breakfast & drive shows which would cost more money. An AM switch-off is more likely although when it happened to Northsound, it was because Bauer didn’t want to go to the expense of having to relocate the transmitter (which was the real reason they closed the AM frequency). It is more likely that these stations would more likely to be re-branded to something like Absolute Classic Hits or something of that nature.

      Overall, its looking like Ofcom may soon to announce that breakfast & drive shows can be dropped which really would be the end of local radio.

  7. MARK LEVY says

    Smacks of some kind of late April Fools day joke. I need to pinch myself. How much more Hit music do you want?

  8. Tony says

    Yet another nail in the coffin that carries local radio. I’ve heard it all now;
    “Hits Radio has been informed by audience insight, combined with our talented programming instinct that unearthed a need for a fresh, exciting national radio brand”.
    Don’t be fooled, this is simply, as usual a cost cutting exercise under the guise of a “brand” created for advertising agency whims filled with the promise of bigger revenues (read greed) with no thought given to the listener. Age brackets/demos are all that matter to these companies now.

    I am a listener, not a number and I’m not alone.

    Did I miss changes to the criteria for local radio ownership/licencing?
    Hands at Ofcom must be turning blue through being sat on for so long.

    What there is is a need for a return to quality local commercial radio devoid of delusions of grandeur, properly run by sensible radio people and regulated by a proper, sensible regulator. A radio business in this form is completely viable.

    But in the absence of this I sincerely hope the BBC has the stomach to exploit the opportunity to grow their audiences handed to them by these changes.

    1. Sj says

      Look at Trent FM, Ram FM and Leicester Sound. They’re now Capital East Midlands. You might love local radio but capital’s audience couldn’t care less because they’re getting what they want. They don’t care about local. These forums are full of non-stop nostalgia for an era that doesn’t exist anymore and for stations that wouldn’t be commercially viable. You’ve never had such an enormous choice of content to consume. Whatever your taste, whatever you want to hear, there’s something out there. Want local? Try community radio or the BBC. But commercial radio is thriving because it’s evolving in exactly the ways you hate.

  9. Peter says

    Great news National Radio is the way forward.

    Well done to Bauer.

    1. Rob says

      Do you work for Bauer Peter?

  10. James Robinson says

    Stations tend yo play music lonked to their shareholders. In the pre Hesrt era ie GCap Media one artist was played there a bit mote often than on other stations. I didcovered tgst the artist in question was on a record label tgat had a minority sharehlldong in GCap Media so they were at the time seemingly pkaying mudic to please tge dhareholders inbeknown to the listener.

    It was at that point i had to stop listening as it made me angry. I do not know for sure but i would not be at all surprised if all commercial radio is done this way tgese days. Dhame.

  11. Phil England says

    so what slot will it take on DAB? one of Absolute ‘decades’ slots (80s or 90s?) maybe a DAB+ slot on the SDL multiplex?

  12. James says

    Great news for Reelworld

  13. Mr Boltar says

    Key 103 is a good, well known name. “Hits Radio” is dull generic bland. But no doubt some “creative” agency was paid lots of money to come up with it (probably done in 10 seconds) and laughed all the way to the bank afterwards.

    I full expect this station to disappear into obscurity in the multitude of stations on DAB that no one listens to anyway. Never mind local commercial radio being dead, music radio is on life support too.

  14. Radio Rental says

    Once again Bauer come up with an idea and then don’t implement it on their other failing BC1 sites. Radio Aire desperately needs a rebrand where BC1 is battered by Capital, so what do they do in Leeds? Replace The Hits on DAB with it.

    1. waxh86 says

      Radio Aire could work if it was made into a standalone station with a playlist that’s similar to 97.2 Stray FM and Pulse 1, with more emphasis on personality-driven presenters, and not taking any of the networked shows.

      Perhaps if they had a breakfast show presented by Greg James from Radio 1 and Montana Brown from Love Island, mid-mornings 10am-2pm with Greigsy (bespoke show for Aire from Clydebank… take advantage of split links!), drive 3pm-7pm with Carl Spencer and evenings 7-10pm with Wes Stakes (who currently does Pulse 1, Hallam and Sun FM swing work!), and a late show 10pm-1am with Lilah Parsons (perhaps she could move from Heart to Aire?) or perhaps, Chris Johnson (the guy from Viking FM… not the CBBC presenter!) and overnights with American actress Shantel Vansanten (VT’d) – would that work??

      Radio Aire could recycled “Your Music Your Life – No.1 for Leeds” as the slogan.

      This gamble could work.

  15. J Peter Wilson says

    By turning Key 103 into the ‘hub’ for HITS RADIO and simulcasting the programming on Local DAB this means that Bauer can keep the local news commitment plus local advertising while freeing up a Manchester Local DAB slot. Perhaps Manchester will then get MAGIC SOUL on their local multiplex the same as other Bauer multiplexes have across the North and Scotland as well as in the West Midlands and London.

    This leaves the question of what will happen to the name for Key 2 within the Manchester area?

    Outside Manchester there then is the question of what happens in the long term to the Bauer local stations, like VIKING FM and CLYDE, as HITS RADIO will be on their respective local multiplexes. Will the HITS RADIO feed carry local news and advertising similar to the respective local Bauer station or will the HITS RADIO feed just carry Sky News and national advertising.

    I trust that Bauer will be clarifying the situation before June.

  16. Rob says

    Itchy pants time at the other Big City Stations I would imagine! Unbelievable news.

  17. Martin Kong says

    Just like Global and Celador Local Breakfast and Drivetime shows with the rest of the output from Manchester.

    1. waxh86 says

      This rebrand is like killing off Z100 in New York, which it’s been since 1983, and listeners may not like it.

      It’ll be a PR disaster.

      Can’t Key 103 go like Tower FM did in 2002 – nearly 95% local apart from chart show?

      Stray FM covers a huge TSA and manages to work as a standalone, yes, the evening show’s VT’d but still…

      Capital 95.8 was standalone for years, but worked because it was London.

      Equally… Lincs FM manages to remain local.

      Bauer need to copy the American stations that sound local and have good personalities… not try and be Heart-lite.

      Little Mix’s Twitter feed was calling this a joke… the tweet got deleted, though!

      1. James says

        Lincs FM might be local but it doesn’t automatically mean it’s any good. Global and Bauer’s stations of similar size sound light years ahead.

        1. waxh86 says

          UKRD’s local shows sound better than Lincs.

          Minster FM may VT a fair bit but the station sounds better than Capital… at least it’s remaining local and UKRD aren’t trying The Hits route (there’s now no longer any STAR Radio stations… that was a similar attempt).

  18. Philip Hawksley says

    Hits Radio Manchester vs BBC Radio Manchester. Lots of room for ident confusion with the average listener I imagine.

    What with all the Razzmatazz, it’s easy to miss the fact that they are effectively closing a radio station – and surely have an eye on closing even more. Just like Global, Bauer wants to collect local franchises so they can run them as a national station. Surely a breach of their procurement in the first place?

    But is all this enough to wake the sleeping giant Ofcom? No. They think everything is fine and dandy in throughout the world of community radio and local television. Just shows how blinkered they are! Dog eat dog and adherence to the natural free market are not necessarily the best way forward for everything, and as creativity and individuality is trampled out of radio, the future looks bland.

    How many people now who use to detest the pernickety foibles of the IBA are thinking ‘maybe they weren’t so bad after all?’

  19. Scott Donald says

    Its been a long time coming but if its done right it will be a success. I think eventually all current Bauer City 1 Network stations will be rebranded Hits Radio, with City 2 becoming Classic Hits Radio.

    1. Simon Parton says

      It’s Bauer .. Of course it won’t be done right!

  20. Joe Smith says

    Great news for speech radio.

  21. Kev says

    Local radio went down hill when computers and algorithms took over picking when to play what track. So much so it seems like the same hand full of artists all day long.
    I now listern to solar radio on line and on DAB.

  22. waxh86 says

    This is a PR disaster. Believe me.

    KEY103 is a big name. Would you ditch Wire, Signal or Tower for a rebrand?

    I can’t see UKRD doing this. The STAR rebrand failed for UKRD, I can see Hits Radio ending up like STAR Radio, and the non-UKRD Total Star… a disaster.

    1. James says

      For the right brand, yes I would. Infact if I took over Wireless it’s the first thing I’d do.

      1. waxh86 says

        Wish FM worked well as a standalone way back in September 2002, and then throughout 2003.

        Surely Bauer could make Aire and Hallam standalone stations with only the Vodafone Top 40 as networked programming (so no Mike Toolan, Sarah-Jane Crawford etc.), would that be better?

        Radio Aire and Hallam could work better as standalone stations with a playlist that’s a mixture of Heart, Capital and Smooth in one station, maybe even have the Top [email protected] again.

        Hallam FM’s TSA doesn’t overlap with too many other stations, except Gem 106, and Capital Yorkshire seems Leeds-focused AFAIK.

        Maybe bring back the phone-in show on Hallam FM, get someone like TOWIE’s Yasmin Oukhelio to present it with someone like Dom Stirling as producer? A late night sex and relationship show for South Yorkshire. That’d take the audience away from Heart and Capital, at a guess. Showbiz and phone-in in one go. There hasn’t been one since 2007-2008, time to reboot the Hallam phone-in.

    2. Richard says

      They ditched a much bigger ‘brand’ name, Piccadilly, years ago! Free Radio in the Midlands – replacing ‘heritage’ brands there – was justified by arguments; 1. Although the name recognition was high, it wasn’t positive – most people associating it with a station their parents (had) liked and of course they’re after the advertisers’ ‘sweet-spot’ of 25-45 years old, female biased; 2. They wanted to be able to advertise a common brand across the whole Central region. However, if you compare the RAJAR figures before and after the brand/name switch it doesn’t seem to have worked! The other thing I would question is: does the idea of a station playing (current?) hits – which is what is implied – really have wide commercial appeal now? I hear that the average age of someone downloading a track in the ‘charts’ is 13! Somebody else described the current chart as being just another niche. How many people know or care what the hits ARE today? Serious question! (I’m an old fart – ex ILR presenter and Programme Controller!!).

  23. Dave muirhead says

    The early days of ilr were best. The likes of Piccadilly radio and beacon radio were truly local, and had great unique identity and personality. It’s all big business today. I’m fed up with clinical, repetitive radio.

    1. Sj says

      Then don’t listen to it. You’ve never had so much choice with community, internet and bbc local radio. The fact is these “clinical” national brands pull in big audiences because they’re tightly programmed for each demographic. I’m personally not a fan of Heart or Capital but they’re great businesses and serve their purpose.

  24. James says

    Although I applaud Bauer for this move, I question the need to create a new brand? In my eyes, the sensible thing to do would be to expand the Kiss brand to most of the “1” stations in England (including reintroducing local breakfast and drive to the two existing Kiss regionals) and then use Magic for Wave 105 and Gem 106, along with the AM/”2″ stations, albeit with the London format and not the “Gold” one.

    There’s even the potential to roll Absolute out in certain places.

  25. Ray Woodward says

    Yawn …

  26. Sj says

    Bauer is a commercial radio group. They exist to make money, like Global. You can be as nostalgic as you like but listeners like these big, national brands. On the whole, the mass audience simply does not care about local content. They killed off Trent FM, GWR, Invicta etc. Look at the audience figures now. Bauer’s local stations are not working in England while Global storm ahead. This is a smart but overdue commercial move and the other stations will be gone by Christmas. Don’t like it? Support community and bbc local radio.

  27. David says

    I Hope Bauer Media Rebrand Free Radio As Free Hits Radio Here In Herefordshire & Worcestershire That Would Be Good


    No comment on that vomit bag logo?

  29. SilveRxMafiA says

    Local radio is dead… In the business of commercial radio it has to be viable.
    Only large national brands have the financial resources to survive on this level.
    What is local radio??? If stations are just playing music and mindless chat then National is the way to go..
    Local radio is a about chat and talk of all things local… I believe there is plenty of scope for everyone and anyone to setup local online radio without the financial outlay of DAB or FM

  30. Chrissy Brand says

    Another bland pop pap corporate monstrosity on the way. Thank goodness for podcasts and internet radio so listeners can turn away from being spoonfed manufactured commercial music and instead can choose alternative music (new and old) with real soul and passion.

  31. Simon Parton says

    Agreed! I had the unfortunate experience of hearing the Big Top 40 show a few months back. I don’t think any of the top 20 artists actually sang without having their voices auto-tuned (Yes Sam Smith that means you!!)

  32. […] 103 in Manchester is rebranding, and turning into the primary nationwide business station to broadcast from outdoors […]

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