Commercial radio's "existence under threat"

By James Welsh

Former GMG Radio chief executive John Myers has said the existence of commercial radio in the UK is "under threat" in a review that will form part of the government's Digital Britain report.
Myers issued a warning that unless immediate action was taken, local radio in Britain faced "death by a thousand cuts". He was especially concerned about the 206 stations serving a population of fewer than 700,000 people, 80% of which are either losing money or making less than £100,000 per year.

"Radio stations have already closed and there is a very real threat that more, perhaps as many as fifty, might follow in the coming years," said Myers.
Noting that the internet and digital distribution media have effectively robbed "the oldest broadcast medium" of its "walled garden", Myers recommended that the existing regulatory regime be modified to relax cross-ownership and localness rules.

"The current regulatory system for ‘localness’ in radio content is nearly two years old, but it is based on principles of regulation from nearly two decades earlier," he said. "Regulating for the future is the job that we have to tackle today, but that future has to be truly visionary. It will necessitate that we relax some areas of radio regulation, and those changes may feel uncomfortable for some who are likely to debate whether it is ‘too much, too soon’ but, in the end, I am certain these policies will prove the right action to have taken."

Myers has proposed that all UK radio stations licensed by Ofcom be reclassified into five categories "with appropriate regulation and rules for each". For category B stations, those serving a population of fewer than 700,000 people, existing localness requirements would be replaced with a "Local Impact Test" to determine where rules such as anti-colocation stipulations should be relaxed. "Local news", Myers said, should be redefined and the minimum number of bulletins increased.

On cross-ownership, Myers has recommended that all "radio specific and cross-media ownership laws" be removed "so that competition law becomes the legal constraint to consolidation". He also said that Ofcom should allow two or more co-owned local licences covering fewer than 700,000 adults should be allowed to merge.