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Bauer Media announces big radio rejig that will see many local brands disappear

By | Published on Thursday 28 May 2020

Bauer Media

Bauer Media has announced how it will integrate all the local radio stations it bought last year into its existing network. That integration will result in a flurry of brands disappearing from the airwaves, more networked programmes on most of the acquired stations, and a downsizing of on-air and behind-the-scenes staff.

Bauer extended its portfolio of stations around the UK through four deals in early 2019, acquiring stations and AM/FM/DAB frequencies from Celador Radio, Lincs FM Group, UKRD and the Wireless Group. Those deals only got competition regulator approval in March this year, though the main delay on that related to Bauer getting half of advertising company First Radio Sales via its UKRD deal.

With all the deals now approved, most of the local stations the media firm acquired will become outposts of Greatest Hits Radio, the service Bauer launched last year which already occupies a number of AM and FM frequencies in various regions, in addition to being available on the DAB network and online.

As a result local radio brands like The Breeze, Eagle Radio, KLFM, Minster FM, Peak FM, Spire FM, Swansea Sound, Tower FM, Radio Wave, Wessex FM and Yorkshire Coast Radio will all disappear.

This loss of a load of local radio brands is, of course, part of a long-running trend in the UK radio industry, where several rounds of consolidation have resulted in more national networking of programmes and the replacement of local station names with what have ultimately become national brands.

Though – unlike its rival Global – Bauer has kept some local brands going in some regions via what it calls its Hits Radio Network. Although all the local stations in that network share most of their programming, so far only one has actually rebranded as Hits Radio (what was Piccadilly Key 103 in Manchester). The rest use local brand names that often pre-date consolidation.

Four of its new acquisitions will become part of this Hits Radio Network, keeping their local brands but taking more national programming. That includes Pulse in Bradford and Huddersfield, Signal in Stoke-On-Trent, The Wave in Swansea and Fire Radio in Bournemouth.

In addition to that, three of the acquired stations – Lincs FM in Lincolnshire, Pirate FM in Cornwall and Sam FM in Bristol – will stay as standalone operations with much more of their programmes made locally.

Some of the old Celador radio stations and one of the Lincs FM stations were actually sold to another company called Nation Broadcasting last year, rather than Bauer, because of competition issues in those local markets.

However, Nation has deals with Bauer to license programmes for all of those newly acquired outlets and – as a result – they will also rebrand. Versions of The Breeze in Portsmouth, Southampton and Winchester will become Hits Radio, while Sam FM in the Solent area and KCFM in Hull will both become Greatest Hits Radio.

Announcing all this yesterday, Bauer was keen to stress how the big re-jig would create the “largest commercial radio network in the UK”.

Bauer Radio’s Group MD Dee Ford said: “Audiences love and trust radio. Expanding the Hits Radio Brand Network will ensure listeners to these acquired stations benefit from multi-platform digital distribution meaning they can continue to broadcast in an increasingly competitive, digital and voice-activated world. This ensures the provision of local news and information, traffic and travel as well as access for advertisers to highly valued audiences”.

The company added in its official statement: “These changes do unfortunately mean that some roles will be put into consultation and freelance contracts reviewed. Bauer Media is fully committed to supporting all affected employees throughout this period and will be working closely with them over the months ahead. A period of consultation with employees potentially affected will commence today”.

Radio Today has done some maths and reckons the changes could result in the cutting of 160 on-air staff.