Ofcom says the plans will help stations “create a sustainable future” for a sector facing a shrinking ad market and “regulatory constraints” without threatening the local content “consumers value most”.
From June, local FM stations will be able to merge with other local stations to form larger, more “financially viable” stations, and share programming as long as they continue to meet their licence obligations to provide relevant local material.
Stations can also request to reduce the number of locally made programme hours from ten a day to seven if they commit to providing local news bulletins throughout weekday daytimes.
Large regional analogue stations will be able to drop regional programming in exchange for providing national programming via DAB digital radio.
The regulatory body is introducing the new measures following provisions in the Digital Economy Act 2010.