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OfCom fines Bauer £25,000 over abandoned AM frequency

By | Published on Monday 5 June 2023

Bauer Media

UK media regulator OfCom has fined Bauer Radio £25,000 over its decision to stop broadcasting Absolute Radio on a national basis via the AM network.

OfCom formally revoked Bauer’s AM licence in February after it stopped using its allotted AM frequency for the Absolute service in January. Under the UK Broadcasting Act 1990, the regulator is obliged to fine a broadcaster if a licence is revoked.

Absolute Radio began life in 1993 as the original incarnation of Virgin Radio, broadcasting across the UK on the good old AM band, medium wave to be precise. It was one of three national commercial radio stations launched in the first half of the 1990s, all the UK-based nationwide stations prior to that having been run by the BBC.

Even in 1993, broadcasting a music station on AM seemed less than ideal, given the inferior sound quality compared to FM. And, indeed, from 1995 to 2021, Virgin Radio – later Absolute Radio – also broadcast on FM in London. In more recent years Absolute has shifted its focus onto the DAB digital radio network and online channels.

All of which made Bauer’s decision to switch off the AM transmissions somewhat unsurprising. Confirming that decision back in January the media firm said: “We think we sound better on digital, as it offers a much stronger signal and cuts out background noise. Lots of you agree, which is why nearly all our audience listen to us digitally”.

It added that continuing to broadcast Absolute Radio on AM didn’t make commercial sense given a relatively small portion of its audience listened to the station there. Plus, it went on, looking for other justifications for dropping the AM service, “broadcasting on AM requires running an additional transmitter which is environmentally unfriendly”.

OfCom confirmed in late January that it was reviewing Bauer’s decision to stop using its AM frequency despite having a licence running through to 2031. It then formally revoked that licence on 13 Feb.

Confirming that it would now fine Bauer £25,000 – which is relatively low compared to the £250,000 financial penalty it could have enforced – the regulator stated last week that: “In setting the level of financial penalty, we took account of Bauer’s reasoning for stopping the AM service, which included declining listenership on AM and the commercial viability of the service”.