Smooth goes into the rough

It’s ten months since the Competition Commission ordered Global Radio to sell some of its stations following its acquisition of the Real Radio and Smooth Radio brands. Much speculation has followed about how Global might get around the tricky business of offloading some of its assets, whilst continuing to concentrate on its two biggest brands, Heart and Capital.

Tomorrow (or possibly later today) we will find out the result. And it’s most likely to see the end of one name altogether.

Smooth Radio has been on Global’s hit list for some time. But why? Its networked stations cover the whole of the North of England, Central Scotland and much of Wales too. That’s a huge coverage area for a group that has slowly spread its wings from the south and west of England.

The biggest clue that the Smooth name would be sailing came yesterday, when OFCOM published an otherwise routine update on changes to licences. These lists usually go un-noticed, but there – in black and white – was the removal of Smooth Radio from the national digital multiplex :

There are two very important things in this document. Firstly, Smooth is only allowed to operate as a wholly national network (with no local news or programming) if it’s on the Digital multiplex. So, if it were to continue, Smooth would have to return to local programming for seven hours a day – under current OFCOM rules. This perhaps gives you the biggest clue that the station is for the chop.

Secondly, the document also shows the addition of a new national station on the Digital platform, also operated by Global. The smart money is on some kind of brand extension to Heart – a complementary service akin to the recently-launched Capital Extra.

That still leaves Global with the dilemma of what to do with the valuable network of regional FM licences currently occupied by Smooth. As I said in last May’s blog, Global must sell some of its stations to satisfy the Competition Commission. The most likely outcome is some kind of franchising agreement, which would pave the way for the Heart brand to be expanded. Technically, Global would not be allowed to own the stations, but the Commission may well have approved the return of “warehousing” – a process whereby a “new” company “holds” assets for the parent – using a variety of business loopholes.

It’s a long way since 4th March 1990, when Smooth’s predecessor, Jazz FM, launched with a concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall – featuring a performance by Ella Fitzgerald. The radio executive John Myers arguably made the Smooth brand what it was – populist and profitable – even if he did once famously tell OFCOM that jazz could be defined as “anything with a trumpet”.

Perhaps Smooth’s final song could be Ev’rytime We Say Goodbye?


I should point out that the above is my interpretation of the story so far. However, Roy Martin of Radio Today offers this theory :

Smooth Radio will be removed from D1 forcing it (in its current guise) to return to local programmes. This is ideal if the station is owned by more than one company. This suggests Smooth Radio in the East Midlands, North West and North East will be sold.

In the North West, a Manchester station has also to be sold with a regional – so we’re assuming Real XS will be sold.

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