MP welcomes investigation into Bauer Media Group merger - including Yorkshire Coast Radio

The Competition and Markets Authority is investigating acquisition of nine local commercial stations in Yorkshire and the Humber - including Yorkshire Coast Radio - by media group Bauer.

By Jade McElwee
Friday, 16th August 2019, 4:42 pm
Yorkshire Coast Radio operates in Scarborough, Whitby and Bridlington
Yorkshire Coast Radio operates in Scarborough, Whitby and Bridlington

Bauer have recently purchased four whole groups of radio stations, UKRD, Wireless, Celador and Lincs, with over 30 local commercial radio stations between them.

Within these groups, there are the stations located in Yorkshire and the Humber:

In the UKRD group, Yorkshire Coast Radio (Scarborough, Whitby and Bridlington), Minster FM (York) and STRAY FM (Harrogate, Ripon, Ilkley, Otley, Skipton).

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Yorkshire Coast Radio operates in Scarborough, Whitby and Bridlington

In the Lincs FM Group, Dearne FM (Barnsley and the Dearne Valley), Ridings FM (Wakefield), Rother FM (Rotherham) and Trax FM (Doncaster).

In the Wireless Group, Pulse 1 (Bradford & Huddersfield) and Pulse 2.

Former Selby MP, John Grogan, has welcomed the decision of CMA to investigate the acquisition of the nine local commercial stations.

Mr Grogan, who was MP for Selby from 1997-2010 and Keighley since 2017, has welcomed the decision announced this week to undertake a stage two inquiry on these takeovers.

John Grogan MP for Keighley

He said: "Yorkshire Coast Radio has been part of coastal life since 1993 with station staff attending many local community events. We do not want to risk a situation following a takeover by media giant Bauer where the vast bulk of the programming comes from London or Manchester with a few hours from Leeds.

“If these purchases had been cleared by the CMA, it would see further industry consolidation on a huge scale. 80% of local commercial local radio stations in Yorkshire and the Humber would then be owned by Bauer who would indeed own 36% of all local commercial radio stations nationally. Together with Global they would dominate the local radio market.

“It is my strong belief that Bauer have not purchased these groups and stations to simply run them as they are – namely individual stations with strong identities serving local areas and their respective economies and providing local news. Instead I fear they will focus on broadcasting a largely national product and concentrating more on doing business with national advertisers whilst shunning local business. Recently the media regulator OFCOM has weakened the regulations so that each local radio station only has to provide 3 hours of local output per weekday and the definition of local has been extended to whole regions rather than the area the station is meant to be serving.

“If this takeover goes through I would fear closures of studios across the UK, hundreds of job losses and yet more centralisation. I worry Bauer would follow the path trodden by their rivals Global who already have closed 10 local studios in Brighton, Cambridge, Chelmsford, Exeter, Gloucester, Kendal, Kent, Lancaster, Norwich and Swindon. Bauer themselves have now ended all locally made weekend programming on the following stations they control which now share weekend programming output ; CFM, Hallam FM, Hits Radio Manchester, Metro Radio, Viking FM, Radio Aire, Rock FM, TFM, Free Radio (Birmingham), Free Radio (Coventry and Warwickshire), Free Radio (Herefordshire and Worcestershire) and Free Radio (Wolverhampton, the Black Country and Shropshire).”

John Grogan also tabled a motion in the Commons in July which has attracted cross party support.

The motion stated: That this House notes that the commercial local radio industry is now dominated by two media giants Global and Bauer; further notes that Bauer will own 36 per cent of commercial local radio licences in the UK if their purchase of four whole groups of radio stations namely UKRD, Wireless and Celador & Lincs comprising over 30 stations goes through; notes with concern that the regulator OFCOM has relaxed the regulations regarding local content for commercial local radio stations so they no longer have to produce a local breakfast show and are obliged only to produce three hours of local content as opposed to seven previously on weekdays and are able to do so from regional centres distant from the area covered by the local radio station; further notes with alarm that Global has already closed ten local studios and is concerned that Bauer is about to follow suit; notes with further concern that Ofcom has granted Bauer a number of format changes to allow all of its stations to network all but three hours each weekday; observes that 13 Bauer stations now share all weekend programmes, marking the end of local weekend shows on these stations; calls on Bauer to retain the localness of the commercial local radio licences of which they are custodians; and requests that the Government undertakes an urgent review on the impact of Ofcom’s regulatory changes on the industry.

Nick Osborne, Founder of The Local Radio Group said: “We welcome the decision by the CMA to carry out an in-depth, Stage Two Inquiry. If the recent Bauer purchases are approved it will result in further consolidation to an industry that is already reeling from job losses on a huge scale. Potentially hundreds more jobs will be lost, not to mention the loss of truly local content and services on dozens of radio stations across the country.

“Any future approval of these purchases is also likely to result in the loss of First Radio Sales (FRS). They are the only dedicated radio sales house in the UK, selling local and national advertising to some 120+ local radio stations across the country, many of these stations are caught up in the recent Bauer purchases the CMA are investigating.

“If FRS ceases to exist as a company, then this will mean that local radio stations will no longer have access to the vital sales FRS exclusively offers and these stations will see revenue decline as a result. This is a huge issue. Why should the rest of the industry suffer purely for Bauer's gain?”