Eleven bid for Belfast FM licence

Ofcom, the UK communications regulator, has released details of the stations running for new FM licences in Belfast and Cornwall.

The application deadline passed at 5pm yesterday with 11 stations applying for the Belfast licence – ranging from Independent News and Media and the Wireless Group’s speech-led entertainment station to a classic rock station backed by Mo Mowlam.

Competition is fierce for Northern Irish city’s large licence, the winner of which will gain access to an adult audience of an estimated 750,000, and Ofcom is now welcoming the public to voice their preferences.

The majority of the Belfast pitches are from stations offering a mix of speech and music for mature listeners aged 30 to 55.

Belfast 105 FM, proposed by the Scottish Media Group (which owns Virgin Radio), promises 40% speech, news and sports, accompanied by classic hits with a “rock edge”, and is backed by TV presenter Patrick Kielty, former Northern Ireland and Tottenham Hotspurs goalkeeper Pat Jennings and several local newspapers.

Independent News and Media (who own the Belfast Telegraph) and Kelvin MacKenzie’s Wireless Group have joined forces to promote Delicious FM, another speech-led station with a commitment to news.

Celador have pitched in with Lagan.FM, which offers a 65% bias towards easy listening and soft rock music for the over 40s.

Z-Rock serves rock and alternative music enthusiasts aged 35 plus, and is masterminded by GWR with help from Belfast show business promoter Jim Aitken.

Only two of the proposed stations hope to appeal to audiences under 30 – Innovate, which promises contemporary dance, pop and RnB, and Emap’s Kerrang! Belfast’s Classic Rock, which has the blessing of former Northern Ireland secretary, Mo Mowlam.

Other stations in the running are Belfast Citylife 105.1 FM, Live 105, Radio Belfast, 105.1 Smooth FM and U105.

The victor will be announced in March 2005, when it will compete with the CN Group’s City Beat and Scottish Radio Holding’s Cool FM stations, which already broadcast in the Belfast region.

The Cornwall licence was advertised at the same time as the Belfast one (8 September 2004) but is considerably smaller, despite a possibility of the broadcast area extending to some parts of Devon, notably Plymouth.

Eight stations have applied for the Cornish licence, including two stations that will target a music-loving youth market – Cornwall’s 105 to 107 Itchy FM and Extreme Radio.

The other stations are Atlantic FM, CKFM, Kernow FM, St Piran FM, SouWest FM and Time FM.

The new Cornish station will compete with the established Pirate FM, but will transmit with limited signal strength.

Belfast and Cornwall are the latest of 30 free regional commercial licences that Ofcom plan to advertise.

The Edinburgh licence, the largest of the licences advertised by Ofcom so far, is expected to be worth £20 million to the successful applicant, who will have access to a 1 million-strong audience.

Deadlines for applications to licences in Blackburn, Ashford, Kidderminster and Edinburgh have already passed.

The deadline for applications for the Durham licence is 6 January 2005, and applications for Norwich were welcomed from yesterday. 

Meanwhile, Ofcom has given the go-ahead for country music radio station Easy 1035, owned by Asian broadcast company Sunrise Radio, to change its format without applying for a new licence. 

Easy 1035, which had broadcast across Greater London for the last ten years and has suffered from consistently poor audience figures, will be turned into a 24-hour Asian speech service named Kismat Asian Talk Radio, aimed at the over 35s.

Easy will continue to broadcast on London DAB, where Sunrise considers it has a better chance of success.

The Communications Act 2003 allowed changes to the character of a commercial radio station as long as the change fulfilled one of three criteria: that there would be no narrowing of the range of programmes available; no affect on competition; and that there was significant local demand for the change.

This was Ofcom’s first request for a change.

A 38-day long consultation prompted 135 letters of objection, many of these stating that the content of Kismat could be carried on the existing station, Sunrise Radio, and that the loss of Easy 1035 would narrow the range of services on offer in the commercial sector.

Avtar Lit, chairman and chief executive of Sunrise Group, blamed the failure of the station on the inferior sound quality of Easy’s AM wavelength.

He said: “AM is not exactly top of the agenda for people, but on DAB it will stand a good chance.

“The launch of Kismat is excellent news for the Asian community in Greater London; we are extremely pleased at Ofcom’s decision. It has been a long-winded process.”

By Martin Hemming and Lucia Cockroft

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