The thing about Heart is, it always sounds the same, no matter where you’re listening.
Unless you’re in North East Wales. Heart Cymru is somewhat unique in Global Radio’s network of female-skewed pop music stations. And it’s all down the history of the licence.
Heart Cymru was the product of merging two licences – Marcher Coast serving the North Wales coast and Champion FM in Anglesey and Gwynedd. And because Champion largely broadcast in Welsh, the format dictated that the same should apply when the station was relaunched as Heart. Because of this, there’s a lot more local output – and much of the presentation remains in the native language.
And Welsh politics is also set to play a big part in Global’s plans for the future. Because whilst the UK’s biggest radio group isn’t always known for stamping its commitment to localness in its licence areas, it’s currently trying to convince the competition authorities that it should have the right to own Real Radio, which broadcasts across North and South Wales.
This has raised concerns about plurality of ownership, since Global must demonstrate how its Real stations will be sufficiently different and therefore competitive against the existing Heart brand.
The result has been a surprising announcement to provide more dedicated Welsh news coverage (albeit mainly in the English language) on Real Radio. Radio Today reports :
The new Format includes Real Radio Wales producing a daily 20 minute news programme, having a dedicated news editor, a Welsh Political Editor principally based at the Welsh Assembly and at least one news reporter principally based within the North and Mid Wales licensed area.
On the face of it, this should be good news for localness and local journalism. However, the changes will only come into force if the Culture Secretary Maria Miller foresees any plurality issues. This will probably only happen if there’s sufficient political pressure from members of the Welsh Assembly, and other interested parties.
But it does demonstrate that even the big players are still taking radio regulation seriously. Global will also want to be seen to be playing all the right cards as the authorities prepare to rule on the much bigger merger between it and the Guardian Media Group. Some saw North Wales as being a potential problem – raising the possibility that Global would have had to divest the Real licence to another group.
And there’d be no lack of interest in gaining the frequencies. Bauer, which own the adjacent Radio City licence on Merseyside – and UTV which runs Signal in Cheshire – would have been likely bidders.
Wales has been a battleground for hundreds of years. And it could yet determine the whole future of the UK radio industry.