Britain’s biggest commercial radio group has confirmed it is looking into the launch of a national speech station on digital radio – believed by some industry sources to be an extension of its existing London talk station LBC.
Global Radio, which owns stations including Capital and Classic FM, is understood to have proposed putting a news and talk station on the national digital radio platform, Digital One, as part of an industry-wide bid to encourage more people to buy DAB digital radios.
Press Gazette understands that the nationwide commercial speech station is one of the industry’s proposals to satisfy communications minister Stephen Carter’s call for a ‘compelling and agreed ‘drive to digital’ plan”.
In his interim Digital Britain report, published last week, Carter said: “We will expect the radio industry to strengthen its consumer proposition, both in terms of new and innovative content and to take advantage of the technoloigcal developments that DAB can offer.”
An industry-wide group of commercial radio executives met Lord Carter shortly before Christmas, ahead of his interim report, to discuss the future of the industry.
Two industry sources familiar with the discussions said commercial radio had lobbied Carter for further relaxation of localness and ownership rules, and an automatic extension to their FM licences.
The executives are also thought to have warned Carter that, without further concessions, it would be impossible for them to continue investing money in digital radio.
“They went in to see Stephen Carter and they said the only way we can afford DAB is we need lots of deregulation,” a source familiar with the talks told Press Gazette.
“Stephen said no, you’ve got to give something before I can give you something. It’s for the industry to come up with something to make people buy DAB.”
Another radio industry source told Press Gazette: “Commercial radio is trying to buy its relicensing. What they said was they’d put LBC and Smooth [owned by GMG Radio] on the national multiplex.”
A Global Radio spokesman described claims that the group was proposing to launch a national digital speech station as “not inaccurate”, but he added: “We will not be making further comment at this stage.”
Since September 2006, LBC has broadcast outside London on a number of regional digital radio multiplexes, covering the North East, North West, South Wales, Yorkshire and the West Midlands.
Initially, these digital relays were required by media regulator Ofcom to broadcast local news and travel. But this requirement was dropped in December – effectively giving the station the green light to expand nationally.
LBC has a weekly audience of 630,000 in London and the south-east, according to official figures from Rajar. Nationwide, its reach is 852,000.
The Digital One national platform, which has been half-empty since a number of stations closed down last year, is majority-owned by Global Radio, which holds a 63 per cent stake.