A (Tamar) Bridge Too Far

Around a year and a half ago, I wrote this blog about Global Radio’s plans to remove their local drive show from Cornwall. The Heart South West licence is somewhat unique within the network, since it combines a number of different licences with slightly different formats.

No problem, you might think. A network is a network – what works in Devon works for Cornwall, right?

Well, no, because this week OFCOM found Global to be in breach of its format for the Cornish side of Heart South West. And it’s all a numbers game.

In very simple terms, Heart’s Cornwall licence – like many – used to be a local station with local roots. And historically, it had to provide a certain percentage of local speech to make it distinctive from the other commercial station in the area Pirate FM. OFCOM found that Heart Cornwall was falling short of this nominal quota.

Curiously, this complaint didn’t centre around what many people would consider to be the “core” local service – that is to say news, weather and travel. These cornerstones of content are generally what listeners not only want but – quite rightly – are enforced by the regulator.

Instead, OFCOM focussed on what comes in between – the presenter links. Which is easy enough when your “network” is in “local” mode – usually breakfast and drive. But because Heart South West covers both Devon and Cornwall (and small parts of other counties), they were pulled up on not having enough content specific to Cornwall itself.

In response to the complaint, Global…

pointed out the growth in audience figures since taking over the licence from Atlantic FM, saying that “Cornish listeners clearly enjoy Heart Cornwall’s output.” It was also highlighted that speech content at breakfast was as high as 46%, but fell as low as 8% during the day, and the station had attended over 30 local community events in the summer of 2013.
Source : Radio Today

OFCOM has now put Global “on notice” – which means more sanctions could follow if the breach happens again. The purists might argue that the regulator should have gone further, although the reality is that this investigation was the result of just one complaint. Others might consider OFCOM being pedantic in the extreme. Either way, it presents the station with a dilemma. Do they add a few more “split links” at peak times – which is basically a pre-recorded way of saying “we REALLY care about where YOU live” – or, as with Heart Cymru in North Wales, add a specific local afternoon/drive show running from 1400-1700.

The first option looks like window dressing. The second would be relatively expensive. Either way, it’s a cautionary tale to others.

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