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Smooth Radio (London and North-West) Formats Change - Request Denied

Statement published 23|04|08

Summary

At its meeting on 22 April 2008, Ofcom’s Radio Licensing Committee (RLC) rejected Format change requests submitted by GMG regarding Smooth Radio in London and Smooth Radio in the North-West (102.2 and 100.4 FM).

Ofcom welcomes GMG’s desire to provide jazz services on DAB. However, under existing legislation, Ofcom cannot link consideration of a change to analogue radio services to a proposed change to DAB services.

Background

The requests were set out in a public, four-week consultation which ended on 11 April. In short, GMG wished to remove an obligation to play 45 hours of jazz music on each FM station in return for providing 24 hour a day jazz services on DAB in London and the North West.

The Smooth Radio stations in London and the North West were formerly jazz stations known as Jazz FM. In agreeing last year to change the stations’ Formats to easy listening music for the over 50s, Ofcom required the stations to retain their commitment to 45 hours of jazz programming

Ofcom therefore regarded the requested changes as substantial and, therefore, necessitated a public consultation.

Ofcom has the ability to consent to such changes under conditions included in the 102.2 and 100.4 Smooth Radio licences, in accordance with Sections 106 (1A) of the Broadcasting Act 1990 if it is satisfied that at least one of the following criteria is satisfied:

  1. The departure would not substantially alter the character of the service
  2. The change would not narrow the range of programmes available in the area by way of relevant independent radio services
  3. The change would be conducive to the maintenance or promotion of fair and effective competition or
  4. There is evidence that, amongst persons living in the affected areas, there is a significant demand for, or significant support for, the change.

In this case, we regarded the proposed changes to the characters of service as substantial because the 45 hours of jazz programming forms part of the main Character of Service description ‘box’ for both stations, in both the old-style and new-style Formats and represents a significant proportion of their required output.

The Consultation

In total, 42 responses were received.

  • 14 were in favour of the requests being granted.
  • 28 were against the requests being granted.

Responses have been available for viewing at : www.ofcom.org.uk/consult/condocs/smoothfmformat/responses

Over half the positive responses, all from individuals, by and large welcomed the creation of a jazz station on digital, and suggested agreement for change must be coupled with the presence of a jazz service on digital. Ofcom is not able to demand such an assurance.

Others said jazz was not to their liking. GMG submitted a response which contained quotes from Cheshire Age Concern (which also responded) and other Over 50s groups welcoming the easy listening that would replace jazz.

20 of the responses against agreement were from individuals – some with radio experience - wishing their names to be withheld.

The tone of many of the ‘no’ responses was that GMG knew what they were buying when they bought Jazz FM, and that they have already been allowed enough change.

The only industry player to respond was Bauer (owners of easy listening Magic FM in London and Magic AMs for over-30s in the North-West). Bauer felt the recently-introduced new-style Formats giving stations flexibility should have a chance to ‘bed in’ before requests such as this are made. They felt the removal of jazz would restrict choice, and that the request represented ‘Format creep.’.

The Decision

The request went first to the Content Board for advice, and then to RLC. Both committees were unanimous in their view that the requests should not be granted.

In reaching its decision the RLC found that :

  • The request represented a substantial change to the character of service, hence the public consultation.
  • The range of programmes would be narrowed if the requests were allowed, because the retention of jazz created a real point of difference between Smooth and other stations in each area.
  • Insufficient evidence was provided to make an assessment of Format change on competition grounds (section 106 (1A) (c)).
  • Support for more easy listening at the stations – over and above the core offering - could not outweigh the effect of the removal of jazz in its entirety from the station, which had been retained by Ofcom in order to ensure some original specialist music remained on offer.

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