Today marks the end of an era, and further evidence of the harsh realities of business, as after almost forty years the North East effectively loses one of its best known radio stations.
Bauer Media has decided to network all of its programmes on Teesside’s TFM with its neighbouring station Metro, based in Newcastle. Although the two areas are just a few miles apart, anyone who knows the North East will tell you that they are quite different places.
What’s more interesting about this particular move is that Bauer – which owns commercial stations across the North of England and Scotland along with Magic FM in London – has hitherto placed a huge emphasis on localness. Its heritage radio brands were even called Bauer Place to underline its commitment to local broadcasting. So what’s changed?
Some observers are claiming that Bauer has simply “sold out” – copying the Global Radio model of networking as much output as is allowed under OFCOMs rules. And why shouldn’t they? After all, music sounds the same wherever it’s broadcast from, right?
And there’s also a precedent of playing around with long standing brands. In the East Midlands, Trent FM was scrapped to roll out the Capital brand. Derby and Leicester also lost their local stations. Recent history suggests an initial furore on Facebook, Twitter and local newspapers – but the outrage tends to die down after just a few weeks.
One thing that Bauer aren’t doing is abolishing the TFM name. On air, jingles, adverts and news will all retain the iconic branding. And it’s pleasing to see that two journalists are being kept on to cover the Teesside area on the ground – something which other groups haven’t always done.
But the move has attracted some vocal criticism of the way an international company has been allowed to make this decision. The local MP James Wharton has called for OFCOM to investigate, although he might want to do his homework first.
The fact is that stations within defined OFCOM regions are allowed to network all of their output in this way. What this creates is a third regional radio station covering the North East. And it could just be the start of things to come. In Scotland, Glasgow’s Clyde 1 is in the same “approved area” as Ayrshire’s Westsound. Edinburgh’s Forth could effectively merge with Radio Borders. And – although unlikely – Manchester’s Key 103 could join with Liverpool’s Radio City.
All of this is, of course, speculation at this stage. But if you can mess around with the North East, there’s no compelling reason to say that the same business model won’t work elsewhere. And that’s what really counts here – the bottom line is that TFM is a profitable station. Financially, it’s not in trouble.
Which makes this merger a little harder to swallow for the critics.