Why radio doesn’t need not-for-profit stations

Commercial radio has come a long way thanks to the investment and hard work of its big players. Should not-for-profit radio exist at its expense?

Speeches are frequently given with the intention of creating controversy and inviting debate. So is it surprising that, even before new Radio Authority chairman Richard Hooper had sat down following his speech on proposals to the Government at the Radio Festival in Glasgow last week, the backlash had already begun?

Not that these long-awaited proposals will affect the New Atlantic 252 – the station is licensed by the Irish government and subsequently is bound by its regulations and not those of the Radio Authority, much to the annoyance of some of our competitors.

We have no promise of format, no application for the renewal of our licence and no fear of Yellow Cards. We are, however, one of the UK’s four national commercial radio stations and as a cash-rich shareholder on the acquisition trail, we keep a close eye on the Government’s moves.

At first glance, it appears that most of the Radio Authority’s proposals make sense. The proposed changes to ownership regulations are long overdue.

We have witnessed the growth of groups such as GWR, Capital, and EMAP and look forward to the arrival of RTL in the UK. These groups have finally shaken off commercial radio’s image of anorak part-timers and have shown the City the double-digit growth it demands.

The major players should be commended for the training they have given their staff, the formats they have introduced and new technologies they have embraced. Without the millions of pounds of annual investment by these groups, radio would still be publicising lost dogs and car boot sales.

That the BBC should answer to a converged “Ofcom” makes sense. One has to wonder how long government will allow the licence payer to continue funding Radio 1 and 2, when the commercial network is providing much the same content. Worldpop.com and the BBC’s recently announced new commercial arm might herald the beginning of the end for Radio 1 and 2. In the meantime however, they should be answerable to the same regulations as the independent operators.

One area of concern at the CRCA Annual Congress last month was the suggestion of a new third tier of not-for-profit radio stations. This proposal was echoed by Hooper’s call last week for a not-for-profit tier, called “Access Radio”, which would be seed-corn funded by a new Radio Fund, drawn from sources such as a levy on national radio advertising revenue from Independent Local Radio services.

If formats prove attractive to substantial numbers of listeners, they will be provided for by the commercial sector. You have to question whether it makes sense to levy the existing players and use scarce spectrum to allow anorak part-timers to play at radio.

John O’Hara is managing director of the New Atlantic 252

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