Friday, 24 January 2014

The Heart of the issue

Much debate this week after Ofcom showed some teeth and found Heart Cornwall wasn’t operating within its required Format.

Apparently Ofcom was responding to a complaint that the station was not broadcasting enough local news or since changing from Atlantic FM to Heart.

What is especially significant is that, for the first time in recent memory, Ofcom had to consider not only the formal news, weather and traffic bulletins on the station but also the content of presenter links. I’ve always found it ridiculous to suggest that a local radio station could adequately reflect the interests, mood and culture of its area simply in news bulletins – with the other 57 minutes of the hour being generic region- or nation-wide music radio. The most successful local stations have always had presenters who could talk about and be involved in their local communities.

At Heart Cornwall Ofcom found the Cornwall-specific material within presenter links typically accounted for less than five minutes per day!

In this case Global Radio asked in 2012 to change the Format of the station to remove the requirement for “full service speech” but had been rejected by Ofcom.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of this position, the simple fact is that it was the station itself which (stupidly) promised up to 50% speech when applying for the licence. I think it is quite proper for the regulator to say that if a station – even if it has changed hands and rebranded – can’t do what it said in its licence application then the licence should be taken back and re-advertised.

In the past I’ve been in a situation where I’ve helped with an FM licence application only to be beaten by another group who made extravagant promises to Ofcom. For that group to come on-air then crawl to Ofcom for permission to ignore their commitments is not only unfair but makes a mockery of the whole licence application process.

If it’s true (and I don’t believe it always is) that truly local radio can’t be made to generate a profit in some areas then lets re-run the licence contest in those areas with Ofcom taking a more realistic view of the financial issues. Simply letting the biggest radio group in the country re-write the rules cannot be the best answer.

Sunrise charity question

Since my last post someone has reminded me of another Sunrise Radio story.

 In November 2011 the Guardian reported that Ofcom was to investigate Sunrise Radio after it was accused of withholding tens of thousands of pounds of  listeners' charity donations:

The paper reported: "A separate investigation by the Charity Commission last month concluded that the London-based Sunrise Radio, which has a listenership of 2 million and a sister station, Kismat Radio, had inappropriately left £160,000 of disaster relief money to sit dormant in a bank account for seven years. The money had been raised after station appeals during the Pakistan earthquake in 2005 and the Indian Ocean tsunami on Boxing Day 2004.

"Before the commission confiscated the money and handed it to two British charities working the area, the fund had grown to more than £180,000 with interest. In its report, the Charity Commission criticised the commercial radio stations for failing to "provide a sufficient satisfactory explanation or provide evidence to give reason for their delay". The cash was held in an account called Sunrise Radio South-east Asia Disaster Appeal."

The report made it clear that there was no suggestion the money had been used for any other purpose.

An Ofcom spokesperson was quoted as saying: "Ofcom is currently investigating this case relating to Sunrise Radio. We will publish our findings in due course." But, more than two years later, I can't find any trace of Ofcom's findings. What did they conclude?

Thursday, 23 January 2014

The Sunrise saga

Earlier this week most of the Sunrise Radio Group was put into administration. On Monday 20th January 2014 Grant Thornton UK was been appointed administrators of Sunrise Radio Limited, Kismat Radio Limited, Time FM 107.5 Limited, Tristar Broadcasting Limited and London Media Company Limited.

Sunrise Radio Limited operates Sunrise Radio 1, Kismat Radio Limited runs the station recently renamed Sunrise Radio 3, Time FM 107.5 Limited owns and operates Time FM in East London and West Essex, Tristar Broadcasting Limited is the owner of Time 106.6 broadcasting to Slough, Maidenhead and Windsor.

In May 2013 Sunrise Radio appealed on-air for donations to keep the station afloat. See my post of 29 May 2103:

Time 106.6 won its licence back last year after Ofcom re-advertised it. Awarding the licence to Time rather than a station based around Slough’s existing Asian community station, Ofcom said “The ability of Litt Corporation to provide Time with funding as and when necessary, which it has consistently done in the past, also provided reassurance of the applicant’s ability to maintain the service.”

Then, in August, it emerged that Sunrise Radio Group owed HMRC a tax bill of £400,000. Sunrise Radio went off digital radio in Scotland on digital radio due to spiralling costs as did Punjabi Radio in London and Kismat Radio in Bradford.

Nobody in the radio business should be happy to see any other station fail. These situations serve only to damage the image and reputation of our whole industry with advertisers, investors and listener. We can only hope that the administrators can find good new owners for these services who will be acceptable to Ofcom. The alternative is that the stations go off the air and Ofcom would have to be persuaded to re-advertise the licences, something it does not generally seem keen to do.