Radio’s care in the community

The next year or so of lobbying for the new London FM licence should be instructive in the ways of PR and hype.

The result should also be instructive on the leanings of the Radio Authority and how it weighs up commercial versus community considerations.

Already, a commercial front-runner has emerged in Xfm, the indie-pop – or alternative music – loser in four previous application battles.

Xfm is using its 28-day Restrictive Service Licence (RSL) to generate headlines about this, its final application. But most importantly is the level of support Xfm is likely to get from the music industry.

Xfm’s brand of indie music has proved to be the saviour of the British recording industry. Bands such as Oasis, Blur and Pulp have contributed to a 21 per cent increase in record sales in the first six months of this year.

This wave of instrument-playing youth has come as some relief to record companies, stuck with faceless dance music or teeny-bopper bands such as Take That since the late Eighties. They now have branded bands they can promote to young men and older teenage girls again and Xfm should reap some benefit from that.

Perhaps even more importantly, Xfm is backed by Luxembourg media giant CLT, which owns Atlantic 252 and has won the Channel 5 licence as part of a consortium with Pearson and MAI.

Also likely to benefit from goodwill – or as programme director Tim Purcell puts it, the gay mafia – is Freedom FM the world’s first lesbian and gay radio station. It plans a mixture of speech, health awareness, drama and a variety of music styles as programming and has support from the likes of Elton John and Boy George. However, it is confident it can attract a large mainstream audience as well as the capital’s gay community. It will begin its second RSL of the year in December.

Hype about the so-called “Pink Pound” can often outstrip that about Oasis versus Blur. While much of it fizzled out following the failure of the new magazines Bona and Phase last year, Allied Domecq’s gay web site Planet Patrol and Guinness’ planned gay ad proves the concept is not dead.

Lifestyle and music industry advertisers realise that members of the gay community often act as early adopters of trends. Levi’s, Smirnoff and Virgin supported the Gay Pride march earlier this year.

Freedom FM is convinced its combination of a commercial and community radio outlook could please what it considers to be a newly-liberal Radio Authority.

The deadline for applications is July 1996 and by then many more applicants will have come out of the woodwork. Xfm and Freedom FM have already been joined by another “alternative” music channel Nomad, two prospective arts and listings stations and Capital Gold, which wants to drop its AM service.

Neither Xfm nor Freedom FM are mainstream music services, so they can both be said to represent a blurring of community and commercial aspirations for the new frequency.

How far on the side of the community the Radio Authority is willing to lean will be revealing for the other four large regional licences that are advertised for next year.

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