Tuesday, 25 November 2008
Touch FM to be sold or closed
CN Group has announced that its Touch FM stations in Coventry and Banbury will close in five weeks' time if a buyer is not found. Managing director Julie Fair said that the two stations do not fit in with the long-term strategy of the company. Small-scale, local commercial radio stations in the UK are under immense financial strain, and some owners have exacerbated the situation by extracting the very 'localness' from their stations that should have made them unique. Tindle Radio has been up for sale for more than a year; Laser Broadcasting has been put into administration; The Local Radio Company is selling some stations; UTV has put several stations up for sale; Sunrise is selling two London stations; and KM Radio is closing local studios. Earlier this year, I predicted that between 50 and 100 small local commercial stations would go out of business. It gives me no joy to make such a prediction, but the harsh economics of the radio industry are unavoidable. There will be small local stations that can survive and even thrive - they will be owned by people who understand that being different is an asset, being 'local' almost to the point of parochialism is a plus, and that 'local radio' is more about offering a community service than about being a budding media baron. In other words, owning a small local radio station has more in common with running a local corner shop than with owning a national newspaper. Yes, it is a tragedy that the UK economy cannot support a local commercial FM radio station in every town. Yes, it would be easy to allocate the blame for this sad situation to all and sundry. But we are where we are now. More closures are as inevitable in local commercial radio as they are in local newspapers. In the future, we will look back and wonder how anyone could have conceived that more than 300 local commercial radio stations could ever hope to achieve profitability in our little land. The truth is that one great little radio station is much more valued by its audience and advertisers than 100 mediocre ones. Will Touch FM be fondly remembered a decade hence? Therein lies the serious challenge facing local stations. It is not enough simply to exist - you have to struggle to be loved by your audience. Or you face the prospect that your station could end up in a pauper's grave, unmarked, overgrown and forgotten. If you own a radio station and are not fighting every hour to make a big difference in your area, exactly what are you in business for?