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A Guide to stations off the air

Why do commercial radio stations stop broadcasting?

Simply because they may not be generating enough revenue to keep going. The Radio Authority, the body which regulates all commercial radio stations, has the power to remove a station's licence to broadcast if it believes it is in the public's interest for it to do so.


Which commercial radio licences have never been awarded?

Licences to run local radio stations were never awarded by the Radio Authority for the following areas:

  • Kircaldy and Glenrothes
  • Dunfermeline
  • Southwold

This was either due to a lack of interest or because the Radio Authority felt that none of the applicants for the individual licences would have offered a service of the appropriate quality.

Which stations are no longer on-air?

The following stations are no longer on-air or never launched:

  • Airport Information Radio (covering Heathrow and Gatwick on 1584 AM)
  • East End Radio (in Glasgow)
  • Hertbeat 1521 (in Craigavon, Northern Ireland - formerly Radio 1521)
  • Goldbeat 828 (in Cookstown, Northern Ireland - formerly Townland Radio 828)
  • RWL 1368 (serving Edinburgh - formerly Radio West Lothian - on 1368 AM)
  • Northside Sound (in Londonderry, Northern Ireland)
  • Channel Travel Radio (in Kent)

Goldbeat and Heartbeat ceased broadcasting on Saturday 22nd May 1999. A request was made by Classworld Ltd, which owned the licences, to cease broadcasting. Following the request, the Radio Authority revoked the licences.Airport Information Radio served Gatwick and Heathrow with travel information, which was broadcast by two separate transmitters. The station went off the air in 1991, having launched a year earlier. Radio West Lothian came and went in 1990 andNorthside Sound was withdrawn in 1992. Apparently, Northside Sound never actually launched and its transmitter was used for a relay of Downtown Radio. Channel Travel Radio was set up specifically to broadcast travel news to users of the Channel Tunnel link and sea ferries. Thanks to Kev, who found this atricle archived at the Ofcom website:

"The Channel Tunnel Group Ltd. (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Eurotunnel plc), broadcasting as Channel Travel Radio, ceased broadcasting at midnight on Wednesday, 27 September. Channel Tunnel Group Ltd. has requested the Radio Authority to revoke the licence accordingly.

The Authority will examine the possible alternative uses for the frequency released."

Which stations have lost their licences?

The following stations found that their licences were awarded to other applicants for the licence:

  • Buzz FM (in Birmingham)
  • DevonAir (in Devon, surprisingly)
  • LBC Newstalk (in London)
  • London Talkback
  • Mercury FM (in Surrey and East Hampshire)
  • Mercury Extra (in Surrey)
  • Sunrise Radio (in East Midlands)
  • Radio Victory (in Portsmouth)
County Sound Radio re-launched in Autumn 1996 after being awarded licences in Surrey and North-East Hampshire. A few months later, County Sound brought back individual stations96.4 The Eagle and Delta Radio. County Sound continues to operate on the AM waveband. Mercury FM can still be heard in several other parts of the Home Counties. Sabras Radio was awarded the AM licence for the East Midlands, replacing Sunrise Radio.

London News Radio won the re-awarded licence in 1995

As part of London News Radio, London First and London Extra were awarded the FM and AM licences respectively, replacing those held by LBC and London Talkback.

In September 1993, the original LBC sought a reversal of the Radio Authority's decision to take away its licence and give it to London News Radio. Dame Shirley Porter, chairman of the station, launched a petition and planned to campaign on air for LBC to be allowed to keep its licence.

In October of the same year, LBC abandoned plans to launch a judicial review of the Radio Authority's decision to remove its licence. It said at the time that the procedure would be too expensive and time consuming with little chance of success. Instead it planned to concentrate its energies on applying for the third Independent National Radio licence, which would be advertised in December 1993. LBC's decision was announced at a supporters' rally held by the station in September of that year, attended by 1500 of its listeners.

Reportedly, The Radio Authority warned LBC in September 1993 that it was considering imposing sanctions on the station over its campaign to keep its licence. The Authority was concerned that LBC was breaching the rules on impartiality by devoting so much time to its plight. Station management told presenters that direct attacks on the Authority would have to cease.

Apparently, the number of complaints to the Authority over the termination of LBC's licence was so great that a temporary secretary had to be taken on to cope with the extra influx of mail! The Radio Authority has always insisted that the decision to replace LBC with London News Radio was taken on merit alone. Under the broadcasting legislation it did not have to give reasons for its choice. This legislation has since been amended.

In March 1994, LBC made plans to become part of the London News Radio consortium. It even offered to sell the LBC name to its successor. However, LNR was still on course to replace LBC on October 8th of the same year. However, in April 1994, the original LBC went into receivership following the failure of its bid for the third INR station, which was awarded instead to Talk Radio UK.

Choice FM won the re-awarded licence for Birmingham in 1995

Loss-making Birmingham black music station Buzz-FM closed down in December 1993 after failing to find new funding. The station had been bought a year earlier for a nominal 1. The station needed a 200,000 investment and was apparently losing 4500 per day, but was unable to find a new backer. Buzz had previously been controlled by three different companies, but unfortunately none were able to make the station commercially viable. In January 1994, Buzz FM was reportedly sold to production studio owner Muff Murfin and his company re-applied for the Birmingham licence on behalf of Buzz FM.

Choice FM also applied for the local radio licence for Birmingham in February 1994. They won the licence with a '24 hour service of soul and contemporary music, together with news and local information for Afro-Caribbean listeners'. Choice 102.2FM has since been purchased by Chrysalis Radio and now broadcasts as Galaxy 102.2 in the area.

Gemini Radio took the Devonshire licence in 1995

In December 1993, The Radio Authority decided for the second time not to re-award the licences for an ILR station. DevonAir, which used to broadcast to Exeter and Torbay, was replaced in January 1995 by Gemini Radio. DevonAir was latterly owned by Capital Radio and GWR Group. Gemini Radio's application for the licence was headed by Ivor Stolliday, former secretary of Television South West and David Rogers, who was Managing Director of Taunton's Orchard FM at the time. Their application offered a chart-based service on FM and a gold format on AM featuring 50% speech during morning and afternoon drivetimes. The Radio Authority's decision to award the licence to Gemini instead of DevonAir was because it was 'impressed by their well researched and detailed proposals for two complementary services on AM and FM'. DevonAir had planned to continue with a primarily pop based service on both of its two frequencies. The Radio Authority offered a warning to other stations in the latter part of 1993, saying that carrying the same programming on AM and FM could endanger station's licences at renewal time.

Ironically, Gemini is now owned once again by GWR Group, having purchased Orchard Media in 1999. Orchard Media owned Gemini FM and AM, Lantern FM and Orchard FM in Somerset and Devon.

The original Radio Victory lost its licence

Radio Victory lost its licence to Ocean Sound in 1986. Ocean Sound's application suggested coverage of a wider area, incorporating Southampton in addition to Portsmouth.

Which stations stopped broadcasting and were replaced by new stations?

The following stations are no longer on-air:

  • Centre Radio (serving Leicester)
  • Gwent Broadcasting (serving Newport)
  • Wear FM (covering Durham and Sunderland)
  • WNK (in London)
  • Sunset Radio (in Manchester)

Background information

Leicester Sound replaced Centre Radio in 1984. The new station started broadcasting on 7th September, being the replacement for Centre Radio, which went off the air on 6th October 1983. Turkish Radio was the replacement for WNK in London. Ocean Sound replaced the original Radio Victory, which served Portsmouth from 1975 to 1986. A new Radio Victory currently serves the city alongside Ocean FM.

Gwent Broadcasting was on the air for less than two years

Gwent Broadcasting is no longer on air. The station launched on 13 June 1983 but ceased trading in April 1985. After a period of silence the transmitters began to relay CBC from Cardiff, later to be renamed Red Dragon Radio.

Sunset Radio ceased broadcasting in 1993

Manchester dance station Sunset Radio went into liquidation in October 1993. In May of the same year, the Radio Authority made a decision to prematurely terminate Sunset's licence, apparently accusing the station of providing inaccurate information about its financial and management affairs. In August 1993 the station reportedly had its transmission facilities withdrawn by NTL for non-payment. Following a brief return to the air the liquidator was called in and Sunset's frequency finally fell silent. The liquidator was later to re-apply on behalf of Sunset Radio for its re-advertised licence. Faze FM won the re-advertised licence for Manchester. Like Sunrise, Faze FM broadcast dance music, licencing the brand name Kiss from London station Kiss 100FM. The station launched as Kiss 102, but has since been bought by Chrysalis Radio. The station is now part of the successful Galaxy network.

Wear FM faced competition for its licence

In February 1994, Wear FM re-applied for the local radio licence to serve Sunderland, with competition coming from the Wearside Broadcasting Company. Staff and volunteers at North East community station Wear FM went on strike at the beginning of March to protest over how the station was being run. There had been increasing tension between management and workers at the station. Based at the University of Sunderland, station staff reportedly voiced concern over what they saw as a takeover of the station by the University.

Sun City 103.4 took over when Wear FM ceased broadcasting in 1995. Sun City 103.4's operator was later fined by the Radio Authority for failing to provide a number of speech elements that had been part of the station's Promise of Performance. The station was owned by GWR Group plc at that time and the company later sold the station to Border Media, which renamed it Sun City FM. The station is now owned by Capital Radio following its takeover of Border Media and the station is now called Sun FM.

Ex-pirate station turned into a regional brand across the UK

FTP Radio 97.2 launched in 1990 and broadcast to Bristol. However, after just one year of transmission, it was bought up by the Chiltern Radio Group who relaunched it as Galaxy Radio 97.2. Later the Group won the regional franchise for South Wales and The West and relaunched the station as Galaxy 101 in 1994. The station was for several years owned and operated by Chrysalis Radio, following a short period of ownership by GWR Group plc while they found a new owner for the station (at the time, no radio group was permitted to own more than one FM station in an overlapping area, and GWR Group had just bought out Chiltern Radio Group, so was obliged to sell Galaxy). The 97.2 transmitter is retained, and offers better reception in the city than 101FM. The Galaxy brand can still be heard across many regions of England. The station has changed hands again and broadcasts as Vibe 101.

Incidentally, there are many other examples of pirate stations being awarded full-time licences.

This page was made possible by information supplied by Geoff Albaya, whom we thank. It is also based on information from the AM/FM newsletter from 1993-1994. The content of this page is our interpretation of the information supplied and researched.

You can email us or fill in a form with any comments or corrections regarding this article via our feedback page.

Thanks to Andrew Rogers for corrections and some additional information to the original text. We would be very interested to receive any further information about the stations listed above.

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