Ofcom has approved two proposals from UTV plc that will create a co-location hub for its northern independent local radio [ILR] stations from which networked programming will be produced. Firstly, the regulator approved an application to move the studios of 'Tower FM' five miles outside of its Bolton service area to Newton-le-Willows, where it will co-locate with 'Wish FM' serving Wigan, and 'Wire FM' serving Warrington. UTV argued that Tower’s poor financial performance had been caused by “the poor location and condition of the Tower FM building” which it admitted, like many other UTV Radio businesses, is “housed in very poor, rundown office accommodation in back-street and unpleasant locations.” This had led to 75% staff turnover at Tower FM and “consequently financial performance has suffered”. UTV said it wanted “to recruit and develop a highly effective and professional team capable of maximising the full opportunity of the licensed area served for Tower FM.” UTV said it has created a £1.3m “multi-service state-of-the-art radio super-site” at Newton-le-Willows that will “provide strong economies of scale” and “will improve the commercial viability of all three stations and secure their long-tern future.” The centre will also house the UTV Radio ILR central management team, including the UTV Radio managing director who will re-locate from London, the ILR group managing director, finance director, group programming director, group technical director and HR director. UTV said its philosophy has always been that “strong local programme management, training and direction has ensured the delivery of the character of service [of local radio], as opposed to the location of the station or its staff.” In a direct criticism of The Wireless Group plc, whose stations it purchased in 2005, UTV said that it “inherited local stations that had suffered from severe under-investment and lack of senior management focus” and that it had identified “staff turnover as the main issue facing UTV Radio’s ILR operations” in which “sub-standard office accommodation has been a key contributor.” Secondly, Ofcom approved the implementation of networked programming on the three co-located stations, plus Stockport’s 'Imagine FM' and Blackpool’s 'Radio Wave', for 11 hours on weekdays, 12 hours on Saturday and 16 hours on Sunday. UTV argued that presently these stations’ “off-peak programming is pre-recorded with very little content” and that “it is increasingly difficult for us to recruit and retain engaging presenters for what is mainly music-themed programming.” Last month, Peter Davies, Ofcom director of radio & multimedia, explained the regulator’s present policy on co-location requests: “We believe that it is generally more important to maintain local programming, even if that means the programmes come from a studio up the road, rather than see the station disappear completely. So we have set out the sort of things we will consider when we get a request from stations to co-locate, and it is up to the stations involved to argue their case and set out their reasoning as to why they want to co-locate. The first thing is the size of the station. Generally, we believe there may be a stronger case for co-location where at least one of the stations has a
News: Ofcom Approves Co-Location Of UTV plc Local Radio Stations 'Tower FM', 'Wish FM', 'Wire FM' And 11 Hrs/Day Networked Output page 2 ©2007 Grant Goddard

licensed area with a population of fewer than 250,000, and especially those under 100,000, although we would not rule out requests from larger stations. Secondly, we will consider the distance between the stations and the affinity between the areas in question. There is likely to be a stronger case for colocation where the stations concerned are not too far apart geographically and are able to demonstrate a cultural affinity between the two areas. Thirdly, we will look at the station’s financial position. There may be a stronger case for colocation where stations can demonstrate that it is required to ensure the financial viability of the stations concerned.”

[Submitted to 'The Radio Magazine', unpublished]

Grant Goddard is a media analyst / radio specialist / radio consultant with thirty years of experience in the broadcasting industry, having held senior management and consultancy roles within the commercial media sector in the United Kingdom, Europe and Asia. Details at

News: Ofcom Approves Co-Location Of UTV plc Local Radio Stations 'Tower FM', 'Wish FM', 'Wire FM' And 11 Hrs/Day Networked Output page 3 ©2007 Grant Goddard