Newspaper publishers push reach with local radio

For a handful of publishers, the regional newspaper ABCs are just part of a bigger, cross-platform picture. Since the late Nineties, groups including Tindle, Cumbria Newspapers and the Kent Messenger have looked to radio to extend their local reach – and they rely on quarterly listening data from Rajar to gauge their success.

Newspaper veteran Sir Ray Tindle bought his first radio station, Island FM in Guernsey, in 1998. Ten years later, through a mixture of acquisitions and winning new licences, Tindle Radio now operates 13 local stations in the south of England and the Channel Islands.

According to the latest set of Rajar listening figures, Tindle’s network of stations commanded a weekly audience in 2007 of 318,000. This is a nine per cent increase on the 2006 audience figure of 292,000 – partly explained by the launch of two new stations: 99.9 Radio Norwich, and Town 102 in Ipswich.

The Kent Messenger Group has spent the past decade cornering a clearly defined part of the UK radio market. It now owns every local radio station in Kent, giving it a potential coverage area of more than a million people.

The KMFM network of seven stations draws upon the group’s newsgathering resources, and stories from radio and print are pooled into the group website, Kentonline.co.uk.

In some cases, the radio stations share premises with local newspapers – such as KMFM Thanet, which is based in the same building in Margate as the free KM Thanet Extra.

But it was bad news for KMFM. While the Kent Messenger group’s paid-for titles saw a 3.3 per cent year-on-year circulation slump to 147,987 in the last half of 2007, KMFM’s audience fell almost 10 per cent in the same period, from 174,000 to 157,000.

Cumbria Newspapers, publisher of the Carlisle News and Star, has looked further afield to extend its network of local radio stations.

Although the group owns Lakeland Radio in Kendal, and The Bay in Lancaster, it has also built up a network of five stations in the Midlands called Touch FM, despite not owning any newspapers in the area. The CN Radio group extended its weekly audience by 4.5 per cent in 2007, up from 373,000 to 390,000.

The Midlands News Association – publisher of the UK’s biggest regional daily, the Express and Star – owns three radio stations that are not audited by Rajar.

Telford FM shares premises with the Telford Journal. The group also owns The Wyre in Kidderminster, where it publishes the Kidderminster Chronicle; and The Severn in Shrewsbury, where it publishes the Shrewsbury Chronicle.

The Clyde and Forth Press, which owns a number of local newspaper titles in Scotland and recently bought the Reading Chronicle, and the Slough and Windsor Observer from Trinity Mirror, owns one radio station in Dumbarton, Your Radio, but this station does not subscribe to Rajar.

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