Evolution, not Devolution

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Networked radio shows are nothing new, and for the vast majority of listeners, where a particular show comes from is rather less important than what comes out of the speakers. I realise that this comment may be unpopular with some enthusiasts, who yearn for the days of 24/7 “live and local” output, as it was in the “good old days”.

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So given that networking is nothing new, it’s perhaps surprising that it’s taken until 2013 for Bauer Media to introduce the most significant change a radio station can make – networking just one breakfast show across most of its Scottish AM stations. The popular presenter Robin Galloway makes the shift from Glasgow’s Clyde 1 to take the helm of a pretty big job.

To many observers south of the border, joining together stations which are only on AM may not seem that significant – but medium wave listening in Scotland is still an important part of the audience, partly down to geography – but also down to loyalty : around on in five people in markets like Aberdeen and Dundee still tune in on AM to Northsound and Tay.

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Some of the purists won’t be pacified by a promise of local news remaining as it does now, or the introduction of a new Sunday morning topical discussion show aimed at the Scots audience. There’s even been speculation of what an SNP Government might make of such measures should Scotland vote for independence. The reality is that it would probably be too late to reverse such measures. In any case, will independent broadcasting really be a priority in the event of a “yes” vote. At the moment, the rules on networking remain firmly in the hands of Whitehall – with OFCOM being governed by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.

Bauer also has an advantage in making this move in Scotland, since the BBC doesn’t provide local radio as it does in England. Coverage is limited to a couple of regional news bulletins per day – provided for the Highlands, the North East and Northern Isles, and the Borders and South West Scotland. There are also daily local programmes for Orkney and Shetland, which each have their own commercial stations.

There’s one interesting exception to the network – Moray Firth Radio, based in Inverness, commands one of the highest audience reaches in the UK of 47%. It’s success is partly down to a lack of competition in north east Scotland – but curiously its AM frequency will continue to carry MFR daytime programmes – and by night a series of specialist music and community shows – perhaps demonstrating audience loyalty even more.

The Scots’ audience will still enjoy live and local daytime shows on Bauer’s FM stations – at least for now. The company recently merged its two brands in North East England – Metro and TFM. It would be a brave move to try something similar in Scotland. And although OFCOM’s current “approved” regions wouldn’t allow a marriage of Forth in Edinburgh and Clyde in Glasgow, each station could join with its eastern and western counterparts – Radio Borders and West Sound.

As always, we should never say never.

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