UK commercial radio presenter numbers could drop by more than 250

With news that Global is to introduce networked breakfast shows and have just a handful of local drive shows across Capital, Heart and Smooth, RadioToday’s Stuart Clarkson has done the maths on what it means for presenter roles across commercial radio.

Our exclusive figures show that presenter numbers could drop by more than 250 if both Global and Bauer take full advantage of the recent changes in localness guidelines from Ofcom.

After the regulator published its updated guidance in October last year, the announcements from Leicester Square this week about the introduction of networked breakfast shows will come as no surprise to most in the industry. And when government time allows, there’s also going to be formal legislation on the deregulation of commercial radio, which would pave the way for stations to flip music formats and essentially ‘jump’ between brands.

Almost 11 years ago, in April 2008, we reported on the introduction of networking on Heart and Galaxy by new owners Global. Heart’s then-three licence network was to share daytime shows – as was the Galaxy brand. It was hinted that the former GCap ‘One Network’ could see similar changes. Ashley Tabor’s comments were, at the time, highly controversial in the industry as he told us: “People assume networking is about big name DJs. It’s not, it’s about quality presenters. If you take 50 different radio stations there cannot possibly be 50 good presenters at every station in a particular slot. Why not take the two or three quality class players and put them across the network.”

Since then, scores of presenter roles have been lost across UK radio as Global rolled out more networked shows and other groups followed suit. Regulatory changes first allowed individual stations to merge to form larger stations covering whole counties; now they go further still – allowing them to cover whole regions and take networked programmes 21 hours a day.

Today’s news could prompt some of the biggest changes commercial radio has ever seen in terms of staffing numbers. Analysis by RadioToday suggests Global’s changes to Heart, Capital and Smooth could result in a reduction of more than 95 presenters as licences take 21 hours a day of programmes from London (including breakfast) and the remaining ‘local’ shows are consolidated across bigger areas.

On the Heart brand alone, having a solo drivetime presenter each for the ‘Meridian’, ‘South West and West Country’ and ‘Anglia’ versions of Heart cuts the number of ‘stations’ from 12 to three – and the number of on-air presenter from 38 to a possible three.

In the North West of England, no longer needing presenters on 2BR (which will become Capital Lancashire) and only having four drivetime presenters (Capital Manc+Lanc, Capital Liverpool, Heart North West+Lancaster and Smooth Lakes) could reduce Global’s on-air weekday presenter head count based in the region from 19 to four. (Note: Smooth North West is owned by Communicorp UK)

Across Global, our analysis suggests a 70% drop in presenter numbers is possible because of the Ofcom change in localness guidelines as well as recent acquisitions of 2BR, The Bay, Lakeland Radio and Juice FM in Liverpool and Brighton.

Requirements for Scotland and Wales have changed too – meaning Global is no longer required to have seven hours made within the country of the licence. This can be reduced to three hours as in England in return for hourly news bulletins all day. But the Capital Cymru licence covering Anglesey and Gwynedd continues to have requirements to broadcast elements of its output in Welsh, so is likely to keep local shows 6-10am and 1-7pm.

Where Global brands are operated by Communicorp UK, we also understand a separate local show may still be required even if Global already operate the same brand in the region – such as Smooth North West and Smooth Lake District.

Today, Ashley Tabor tells RadioToday: “Whilst the new deregulation will mean some significant changes at an operational level, these bold steps enable Global to lead the way in launching the UK’s three largest national commercial radio breakfast shows. We’re really excited to combine the best national talent with our unique ability to include great local content in network shows on Heart, Capital and Smooth.”

How does this affect Bauer?

Bauer Media will be studying today’s news from Global very carefully. While Bauer has generally been slower than its rival to introduce networked shows, recent months have seen the introduction of Hits Radio and Greatest Hits Radio – two clear brand propositions with obvious potential to take over local licences across the North of England and Scotland. Greatest Hits did just that, of course, in January this year – taking over from ‘Station 2′ on MW and DAB across the North East, Yorkshire and North West, as well as appearing on FM in the West Midlands and Liverpool.

The recent acquisitions of Wireless’ local stations, the Lincs FM Group and Celador Radio mean Bauer now has a mass of stations right across the UK on which to put its Hits and Greatest Hits brands. The Ofcom localness changes mean it’s now easier than ever to treat those acquisitions simply as transmitters for a network, which will retain local advertising as well as news and information. Bauer now needs to decide what it will do with those purchases – and it’s fairly certain that the route they will pick is likely to have an impact on the need for local presenters.

RadioToday’s analysis on what this means in numerical terms highlights how in particular the Lincs FM Group and Wireless stations have to-date not fully taken advantage of the current rules on programme sharing. Under the revised localness guidelines, Bauer could roll out Hits Radio and Greatest Hits Radio with one local daily show for each new larger approved area.

In Yorkshire, for example, the Hits Radio brand could be put onto Radio Aire, Viking, Hallam, Pulse 1 and Lincs FM – with all shows except a 3-hour Yorkshire-wide slot originating from Hits Radio HQ in Manchester.

Similarly, Greatest Hits Radio could air on FM across the current Wish, Wire, Tower and Radio Wave stations and take all existing GHR programmes that are done from Liverpool or Manchester.

In the South West, turning The Breeze (North Dorset, Bath, Bridgwater & West Somerset, Bristol, Cheltenham and North Gloucestershire, Frome & West Wiltshire, North Somerset, South Devon and Yeovil & South Somerset) into ‘Greatest Hits Radio West’ would need just one three-hour show for the West, reducing presenter numbers from the current five to just one.

In Wales, Bauer now owns Wave 96.4 and Swansea Sound. These would be able to be rebranded as Hits Radio and Greatest Hits with just a 3-hour opt out for Wales on each, provided hourly news requirements are met.

In Scotland, a Bauer heartland from the old SRH/Emap licences, the group could in theory just have three presenters based there – doing single daily shows for Hits Radio Scotland (South) and Hits Radio Scotland (North) plus Greatest Hits Radio Scotland. The remainder of output could come from England. However, given the minimal amount of programme sharing already done between the English and Scottish stations in the group, it’s more likely Bauer would retain breakfast and daytime output produced in Scotland.

In all, across the former ‘Big City’ stations in Scotland, the North of England and Midlands – plus stations at the group acquired in recent weeks – our exclusive figures show that the rules would allow Bauer to reduce presenter numbers by around 165 from the current levels.

RadioToday asked Bauer Media for a response to our analysis, but a spokesperson told us that the group was unable to comment on speculation.

It remains to be seen what will happen to the handful of stations sold to Nation Broadcasting as part of the consolidation (The Breeze Solent, Sam FM Solent and KCFM). If they were to become Hits Radio or Greatest Hits Radio under a franchise agreement similar to the arrangement between Global and Communicorp, then presenters here could be affected too. Likewise, a ‘Nation Radio England’ network could impact on presentation staff in Southampton, Hull and Sunderland where the group owns Sun FM.

What does it mean for commercial radio newsrooms?

Across both Global and Bauer as changes are made to programming output, it will be interesting to see how each interprets the Ofcom requirements for local news and information. ‘Hubbing’ is allowed, so journalists don’t need to be based in the licence area. But reducing a station to 3-hours of ‘local’ programmes means having to supply an ‘enhanced’ news service during daytime hours. Ofcom says this ‘should not be merely tokenistic box-ticking exercises, and each bulletin should meet the requirements set out for local news’. The regulator says it ‘would always expect each enhanced daytime bulletin to feature more than simply headlines, and to include at the very least one fully-formed local news story, and normally more than this, alongside national stories’.

Ofcom’s Localness guidelines go on to say that where stations are sharing local hours within an approved area and broadcasting the same news bulletin across multiple licensed areas, ‘at least one of the local stories in each bulletin needs to be directly relevant to listeners in each of the licensed areas. This is because stations sharing their local hours remain separate licences which still need to satisfy the localness and character of service requirements set out in their individual Formats’.

RadioToday’s Take

It’s important for us that we make this clear – we take no delight whatsover in presenting these startling figures here today. Our analysis has been done merely to demonstrate the potential impact on people in our industry from the changes in Ofcom rules. We’re not trying to scaremonger or create worry – we simply want to highlight the scale of today’s announcements by Global and what the knock-on effects could be if other groups go the same way.

It’s also important to say that our research was desk-based, pulling together lists of presenters on the current schedules at Global and Bauer-owned stations. We haven’t looked at the likely impact on producers, programming assistants, off-air programme controllers, sales executives, engineering teams, news teams, reception staff and other group roles – all of which are likely to be affected by any changes, and particularly in the groups that have recently been bought. We’ve assumed too that a local breakfast show team of two or three voices might be replaced by a solo local presenter at drivetime – but we appreciate that this may not be the case and that groups will announce plans at a later date for what any new shows might be. In many cases we haven’t considered additional weekend presenters, so the figures we’ve produced are probably a slight underestimation.

And clearly, where possible the groups will try to redeploy people to other roles – they will still need people in each area to feed local programming and S&P content to the network centres, for example.

A vast number of great people working in our industry are likely to be impacted by the recent consolidation and changes as a result of localness requirement amendments. This is a great shame for all those involved, their families, friends and colleagues. It’s a time of massive change in commercial radio – and through no fault of their own hundreds of people could find themselves looking for alternative employment. We hope that the radio companies and industry as a whole will support those individuals affected in any way they can. If we can help, we will. In fact, we’re looking at a couple of ideas for RadioToday to support anyone directly impacted by these changes – so watch this space!

You may have seen Daniel Fox’s recent Twitter thread – if you haven’t, we suggest you take a read. As he points out, it’s important to look after yourself intellectually, physically, emotionally and spiritually. “Caring for yourself first is often the best thing you can do in order to help others. It isn’t selfish or egocentric just really good advice,” he writes.

And don’t forget these important points that Daniel highlights: “Remember that you have an incredible wealth of skills that are not only transferable, but will likely do more good in the wider world. Opportunities in radio might be shrinking, but this is just the beginning of many companies’ adventure in audio. Big businesses are recruiting people like you to help craft their sound, make their podcasts, create their flash briefings and design their sound. Help them. You are more than a radio presenter. You’re a content producer. A social media mogul. A brilliant multi-tasker. You are eminently employable in a multitude of roles in myriad industries.”

We’ll have more reaction to the news from Global on this week’s RadioToday Programme podcast, out Wednesday.

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  1. mb23 says

    One correction – The rules for AM stations are different so the Swansea Sound licence will still have to provide 10 hours of programmes from a studio somewhere in Wales, and the Welsh language show.

  2. Dave says

    I wonder what will happen to the few remaining independent local radio groups & stations?.

    1. Joe Smith says

      It would be marvellous if their listening figures increased dramatically.

    2. Tower of power says

      I guess that today really does mark the end of local commercial radio for most of the UK. The few remaining small stations must be waiting for a call from someone wanting to buy their transmission licence soon… Local news that is produced in London or traffic and travel that’s way out of date are no excuse for the loss of what was once a great service provided by individual stations who often were owned by people in the community. Time for community stations to shine and with possible relaxation in income rules they may be able to pick up some of the talent that will soon be redundant.. let’s hope anyway..

  3. Saw it coming says

    This was obvious back in the early 90’s when groups started to appear and loose the real localness of the original licence holder’s. No business will pay millions unless it can asset strip and reduce costs significantly. Having worked at a station recently acquired by Bauer I have sympathy for the remaining staff who will no doubt be cast aside soon in the quest for bigger returns for shareholders. Thank god for community radio who now should have financial schakles removed to provide true local radio again. A sad day for radio in the UK.

    1. Sj says

      I agree the tight rules that stifle community radio should be loosened to help them thrive and keep local radio going. They have an even more valuable role to play now. But I’ve got no problem with commercial radio going off to do it’s national brand thing. Different sectors, different purposes.

  4. Paul Warner says

    What has happened to local radio? Soon the only options will be the BBC. No choice for listeners
    at all.

    1. harry worth says

      The bbc should follow on their local radio .which is over staffed and set up regional networks eg bristol for west of england but they wont while they can extract money from the poor unemployed, disabled, and drag them to court if they dont pay

      1. Radio Geordie says

        A lot of BBC local services already broadcast regional programmes and have done for over 20 years or more.
        You’re right though about the staffing levels at the BBC services, they are overstaffed. But that’s always been the problem with the Beeb.

  5. Ian Scott says

    Local news for each licence? Yeah, right.

    And can some please define what ‘local content’ means, aside from news and commercials?

  6. Jon W says

    Ashley Tabor said: “if you take 50 different radio stations there cannot possibly be 50 good presenters at every station in a particular slot. ”

    But he still puts Jenni Falconer, Fia Tarrant, James Stewart and more on his Heart network…

  7. Drew White says

    Note the position of Ofcom regarding news:
    ‘each bulletin should meet the requirements set out for local news’.
    and ‘Hubbing is allowed’ – journos don’t need to be based in the area.

    Yet the Cairncross Report, just released, highlights how vital local news coverage is and recommends the Local Democracy Reporting Service be expanded. Also, see page 22 where it highlights Dr Howells’s findings about what happens when journalists are no longer locally based:

    I’d like to hear whether KM’s Geraldine Allinson – who was on the advisory panel – thinks the report findings might have been different had today’s news already been announced before publication.

    Also, I’m hoping Radio Today can get a quote from the Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright regarding how this news and Ofcom’s position might be affected by the Cairncross findings and recommendations.

  8. neal says

    “RadioToday’s Take

    It’s important for us that we make this clear – we take no delight whatsover in presenting these startling figures here today”

    Yet like Ofcom you have done absolutely nothing to even attempt to stop this total rape of local radio except to say at every opportunity in this day and age we can’t have local commercial radio as it used to be. The only reason for that is there is nobody left who cares about radio it is all about the money money money and that is now all that it will ever be about. I bet if good old Ashley’s job was at risk by the changes we would see a lightning speed change in what he and his company have done. But the majority here will just praise the fact that what started as one station in London are now Gods who just walk over their so called regulatory body every minute of the day. Just wait till such attitudes as Global’s put you all out of a job you won’t be so cocky and full of joy then!

    1. Radio Geordie says

      And what exactly could they do?
      All this site does is report radio news stories. It has no control or influence over the media industry.

    2. Chris Moore says

      Quite right, Roy and Stuart should immediately chain themselves to the railings in Leicester Square and stay there until Ashley says it’s all been a terrible mistake, changes his mind and dusts off the sunny day logos again.

      1. Martin Kong says

        There’s more chance of the wall between the Mexico and U.S border built and completed than Global deciding: ‘Let’s have every station we own broadcast locally 24/7’.

  9. William says

    I’m not a regular commercial radio listener, or rather I listen to national stations, such as Classic FM and – I hope – the forthcoming Scala, but I wouldn’t ever tune in to Heart – mainly because if it’s already down to only 6 hours a day of local programmes, it frankly already no longer feels like a local station. Anecdotally in the Kent area I don’t see many taxis / shops etc. tuned to Heart, it’s usually either KMFM, Smooth or, very occasionally, Classic FM or a BBC station.

    What I find a bit depressing, other than the job losses, is presumably this will mean centralised layout of everything, including ads, and the majority studios being closed down (or much more basic facilities to produce the news bulletins – is there a stipulation news bulletins still have to be live or could they be recorded shortly before TX?). I’d also be interested to know if the driver for Global is the salary savings, or property and facilities?

  10. Michael Bolton says

    The world is a very different place in 2019 – strong Radio Brands work and deliver results and there is no doubt that even if Global’s numbers drop a little they are making substantial staff and operating savings.WE knew it would end here, OFCOM have allows successive chipping away to requirements until there are none. Maybe the Trent, Beacon, BRMB, Clyde, Orchard, GWR days are gone. and maybe listeners are getting what they want. but I can’t help feel sad that the radio I knew is long gone.

    1. Mr Boltar says

      “strong Radio Brands work and deliver results”

      Define “results”. If you mean profit through cost cutting just say so because it certainly isn’t quality local radio.

    2. Almorr says

      Yes indeed, I remember the music being interrupted by little announcements about lost cats and gardening tips, all ‘local’ radio is now is non stop 🎶 music, ads and where I am in Scotland, football phone ins

  11. Robb Eden says

    It’s interesting that one of the reasons cited for consolidation by the large radio groups is the need to compete with BBC Radio 1 etc. If the BBC had remained a public broadcaster, paying public broadcaster wages, then hundreds of people wouldn’t be losing their jobs. Well done Ofcom, well done Auntie – your decision making leaves a lot to be desired.

  12. Radio Geordie says

    The Bauer ‘heritage’ services are already ‘The Hits’ in all but name (like TFM is really Metro). Its primarily only the breakfast and drive shows which are local with the exception of a late night phone-in show on City and Metro/TFM. But given that Pete Price is in his 70s and Alan Robson has just turned 64, its only a matter of time before both presenters are ‘retired’.

    With consolidation hurtling towards the brick wall, I can see many of the AM licences being switched to recently acquired FM ones with the AM licences being handed back as it saves a s*** load of money. And that would include City Talk.

  13. John says

    As this may not be so good for large ILR stations it’s fantastic news for community radio and smaller groups who want to remain local.

    1. Martin Kong says

      Yep, it’s now their opportunity to take advantage of the situation and seize the moment. Community Radio is definitely the new ILR.

  14. John Tudor says

    As this may not be so good for large ILR stations it’s fantastic news for community stations and smaller groups who want to remain local

  15. Kevin McAuley says

    Digital, Digital, Digital, Brand, Brand, Brand ….. Worldwide in all sectors, so why would radio be different ??? The small station in Aiwaa Falls Oregon, pulling in 500,000 a week and $4 million a year …. are they worried about Big City Multi-conglomerate stations … NO .. Why because they OWN their area and everything that goes on in that Town …. Norway has gone DAB only and the small local is now the big Station … Why .. because they deliver what it says on the tin … Todays news isn’t unexpected or overdue, its been anticipated for a good few years, local / regional radio is doable for all the right reasons, just own your area, be the center of the universe for that area, sell ads for that area, format or style… still some great groups out there and independents, work smarter not harder …

  16. Peter says

    Now area’s are shifting or being renamed, I guess the BBC could cut costs going forward by having programs from one studio in the ‘South West and West Country’ rather than the number they now?

  17. Fed bassett says

    The death of local radio continues.
    Thank god i dont eat breakfast.

  18. Bernard Watson says

    Its a shame as our very own lancashire based radio station in preston, beat radio 103.2 fm will be closing its doors soon as it will be rock fm only that will feature the majority of music and sports news for that area.

  19. John Lyons says

    Global and Ofcom, the impact you will have here is massive. Through pure greed, you will kill the excitement young people who are the future of this country could have had to follow a creative career. Sure you’ve been trying it for a while – knocking on Ofcom’s door complaining you aren’t making enough money. Shame on you both. Hopefully the BBC will realise the great chance they now have to really bring back local radio. I for one won’t be listening to the new “creation” you propose. A sad sad day.

  20. Jeff Featherstone says

    I do feel very sorry indeed for the many people affected even if I can see the logic for the move. What would perhaps have been beneficial was for Ofcom to require that multi-station groups who wish to network would be required to have each networked ststion operate from a different part of the UK to others in the group. That would have preserved a diversity of voices and opportunities.

  21. spectrumTeen says

    Utter shame. This move by Global truly means that Independent Local Radio has been killed. Only three hours of locally made content will be required as they move to Leicester Square. Radio House in Portslade is marked for closure and with Heart Sussex and Capital Brighton being condensed as one national TX, they should might as well drop the location byline! Shame on Global for finishing off ILR!

  22. Alan Hall says

    The union that supports and looks after the presenters at the stations that will be cutting jobs must ballot for industrial action now and then we will see strike action at the radio stations that are going to be getting rid of their presenters. This can not be allowed to happen at all, so I do hope the union which supports these presenters will stand up an take action. We see it in other places of work where workers are about to be got rid of.

    1. mb23 says

      The presenters are freelancers not employees.

      What’s the point of them striking, they will just be replaced by programmes from London.

  23. Craig Strong says

    R.I.P independent local radio.

    You will be missed 😢

  24. Iven says

    Sticking won’t help but lest it will give tabor and Co a headache as know has challenged them be for

  25. Alan Hall says

    I hate the idea of the big boys doing networking, it has really killed off local broadcasting just as we used to know. It would create more jobs taking on local presenters to do shows 24/7 as it used to be. It is about time networking is banned for once and for all. I do not like the idea of a presenter in London being heard on air in Glasgow. Bring back local presenters.

  26. Rick Astley says

    Never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down, never gonna run around and desert you!.

  27. Mike D says

    Ironic that the UK doesn’t seem to be able to (or perhaps want to) provide local radio, which most countries in Europe manage to do. They also seem to manage to do it without all the puffed up over intellectual management and financial bullshit we constantly get fed but people paid way too much for what they contribute.

    Bizarre that in Ireland (for example) there are many local stations and you get some pretty quirky stuff if you tune round. Not always of pristine immaculate presentation quality but so what. It’s a laugh. I’d rather that than robotic, practiced, over rehersed sameness which is commercial radio now. Radio used to be fun, unpredicable and meant something. It’s now as if it’s part of the oil and gas industry.

    1. mb23 says

      There is no RTE local radio, so in Ireland commercial radio performs the role of the BBC local radio stations.

      The French & Italian stations are similar to the UK, the local shows are a token effort to satisfy the regulator.

  28. Radio Geordie says

    That number of 250 is no doubt based on Global retaining the drivetime presenters. In some areas, its just as likely that they’ll move the breakfast presenters (most of which are double-headers) to drive and get shot of the drive presenters.
    Mind you, given that most of the drive shows are only single presenter programmes, they’ll more likely keep them & give the breakfast Zoos the push as it saves more money.
    Does Ashley Tabor have the middle names Jerry McGuire?

    1. mb23 says

      Apparently Bauer are making a similar announcement tomorrow, so Ashley has beaten them to it by 3 days.

      Perhaps you should blame the regulator rather than the groups for taking advantage of it?

  29. Ray Woodward says

    I feel sorry for those who remain, it will all end up being run by one person with a copy of ‘Windows 10 for dummies’ …

  30. Paul says

    I think you’re doing the radio industry a big disservice by only reporting this story as one that effects presenters. It’s devestating for them obviously but you’re missing the bigger picture.
    I don’t think the true scope of these changes has been properly reported. Whole broadcast centres are being shut down. Many hundreds of people are losing their jobs right across depts and many of them are going to really struggle to find similar work in the towns and cities they live in.
    Programming Controllers, producers, marketing, engineering, charities, sales, reception etc etc. You shut down a broadcast centre and they all go and there’s nowhere for them to go.



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