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Bauer is allowed to relaunch Bristol’s Sam FM as Hits Radio

By | Published on Thursday 10 December 2020

Bauer Media

Bauer Media has been given the green light to relaunch Sam FM in Bristol as another local outpost of its Hits Radio network. This despite twelve of the thirteen submissions to a public consultation on the proposed revamp opposing the change.

Sam FM was one of a plethora of local radio stations bought by Bauer last year through a swift succession of acquisitions of smaller commercial radio groups. Earlier this year many of those local stations became part of the media firm’s Greatest Hits Radio network, while four others joined the Hits Radio network, taking mainly networked programmes made in Manchester.

However, it couldn’t do either of those things to Sam FM, because its licence from media regulator OfCom dictates that the frequency should be used for “an adult alternative station playing adult-oriented album tracks, classic rock and predominantly non-contemporary pop/rock hits, with particular appeal for 35-59 year olds”.

Unless, of course, it could get the terms of that licence changed. Which is what Bauer asked OfCom to do in October, suggesting that the regulator might rewrite the service term of that FM licence so that it reads “a station playing current hits and the best hits from the past 20 years with local news and information appealing to a 25-44 year old audience in the Bristol area”.

As is the norm when an FM radio station wants to radically change its output, OfCom opened up a consultation. And nearly all the submissions to said consultation opposed Bauer’s proposals. The main arguments against the change were that a Bristol version of Hits Radio, taking mainly networked shows, would lack the local content of Sam FM and would be very similar to other stations already operating in the city in terms of music played.

OfCom acknowledged the opposition and also noted that previous Sam FM owner Celador Radio had only recently been re-awarded the Bristol licence before the company was sold to Bauer. And OfCom’s usual policy is that licence changes that significantly alter “the character of service relatively soon after launch or re-award” should not be allowed.

However, the pressures put on commercial radio by COVID-19 were enough to persuade the regulator to set that policy aside. It stated: “We are aware that the exceptional financial pressures on the radio industry as a consequence of the pandemic means that genuine intentions parties had a year or two ago may no longer be possible to meet, and on balance accept this was the case here”.

So, sorry Sam FM fans, you’ve got to make way for Hits Radio Bristol.