Ofcom Posits US-Style Liberalisation of Commercial Radio

17 December 2004

Seemingly anxious to justify its raison d'être, UK media and telecoms regulator Ofcom, now in its twelfth operational month, issues (almost) daily consultative papers on an infinite variety of subjects and initiatives.

Its latest missive proposes "a less intrusive approach" to the regulation of local commercial radio stations. And for good measure Ofcom has also thrown in plans for the roll-out of improved digital radio coverage, enabling transmissions to thirty-seven dead zones where multi-channel digital signals cannot presently be received.

Explains Ofcom ceo Stephen Carter: "Radio is a dynamic medium at an interesting point of development. These proposals seek responses to the prospect of more digital spectrum and a new approach to content regulation."

Full DAB (digital audio broadcast) coverage of the UK will encourage the launch of new stations alongside the 210 already using the digital spectrum

But there's no satisfying some folk. Carps Capital Radio chief executive David Mansfield: "We need a parallel independent regulatory system over the BBC, especially where it impacts on commercial competitors." He calls for the BBC's radio output to brought under the Ofcom aegis.

Ralph Bernard, GWR chairman, is seemingly more appreciative of what's on offer. Ofcom's proposals, he said, would create a "fast track" from analogue radio transmissions to multichannel digital signals.

But of equal, perhaps greater, significance is the new, laid-back approach toward the location of broadcast studios and the use of computer-controlled programming.

The latter will emulate the US radio model by allowing the transmission of identical programmes on separate commercial radio stations within a holding group. It will also permit local stations to rely on a central news 'hub'.

Each of these moves has already jangled alarm bells among many US listener-advocacy groups. They will almost certainly do likewise in the UK.

Data sourced from Financial Times Online; additional content by WARC staff