Aircheck UK - Avon & Somerset

UPDATED: 19/09/2003

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BBC RADIO BRISTOL (95.5, 94.9 & 1548AM) commenced broadcasting on 4th September 1970 to serve the now defunct county of Avon.  Amongst the first broadcasters was BBC reporter Kate Adie, BBC television newsreader and host of '999' Michael Buerk and the man popularly known as 'Baldrick' from the Blackadder series, Bristol born actor, Tony Robinson.  In 1970, a new recruit was a local newspaper reporter by the name of Roger Bennett - and 32 year later, Roger was still working from 5am every morning - now holding the title of the UK's longest serving Breakfast Show presenter.  He stepped down in December 2002.   April 1988 saw the splitting of frequencies - for a BBC station, this is most unusual - the 1323AM service became the UK's only AM only BBC local radio station - see below for more information on BBC Somerset Sound.

Even today, the station has a solid on-air team.  John Turner is well renowned for his fascinating phone-ins, Susan Osman offers a more laid back Morning Show, Keith Warmington provides informative news programming and then there's the man who closed down Wiltshire's Radio West back on 9th September 1985, Trevor Fry providing the ultimate wind-down with the late show.  

As you would expect, there's coverage of Bristol's two Nationwide league football teams, City & Rovers, with former Bristol Rovers captain Geoff Twentyman at the heart of what the BBC state is 'the most extensive sports coverage in the west', and there's also local rugby commentary too. 

BBC Radio Bristol reporters were in attendance when Concorde took off for the first time from Filton Airfield, and on the momentous occasion when the SS Great Britain returned to Bristol docks.  The demolition of Eastville Stadium took centre stage on Radio Bristol and there was also live broadcasting with the people of the St. Paul's region when the area was regenerated.  Also notably, BBC Radio Bristol were on hand to cover the sailing of the replica ship, The Matthew to Newfoundland plus it's return to port in Bristol in 1998.  

25 years after launch, the station celebrated it's Silver Jubilee as listeners raised over 30,000 for Cancer and Leukaemia in Children.  It's also raised a considerable amount of awareness for a new Children's Hospital for Bristol - the Wallace & Gromit Appeal.  After 30 years, the station remains totally committed to bringing local news to local people.  .

Station reporters are based in Taunton, Bath, Bristol, Wells, and Weston-super-Mare, and broadcast to the West for 16 hours a day reaching a quarter of a million listeners.  Airtime is shared with BBC Somerset Sound


BBC SOMERSET SOUND:  Holding the mantle of the UK's only BBC local radio station broadcasting just on AM, BBC Somerset Sound took over the BBC Radio Bristol AM frequency of 1323 on 11th April 1988 broadcasting from studios at Paul Street in Taunton, with a smaller satellite studio in Yeovil.  It was back in 1978 that an emergency broadcast centre was set up at Taunton's County Hall when severe storms hit the region.  Despite the turmoil, the service went down well, and the public cried out for a special service for the area.  But they had to wait a whole ten years for it!. It went on to spend 14 years in Russian.  At least, that was the verdict of it's listeners - but what they were actually hearing was interference from 'The Voice Of Russia' which transmitted on the same frequency as the Taunton based BBC station.  But the use of a new frequency at 1566AM has now finally put a stop to the interference and BBC Somerset Sound is now Russianless!

The problem stemmed from a mix of the lie of the land between the West Country and eastern Europe, wet winter weather, which exacerbated the problem and a rather weak Taunton transmitter which was over-ridden by the powerful Russian signal which steamed in on 1323AM, the station's previous frequency.  At times, Russian broadcasts were literally dropped onto the county of Somerset, shadowing or obliterating the BBC transmissions.  However, Somerset Sound's service gets out a bit too, and it is the same set of circumstances that means broadcasts can be heard in Canada and Finland.  The new frequency is one of many recent investments in the station.  BBC Somerset Sound moved to new modern studios in August 2002, from it's previous cramped conditions above a local cafe.  Broadcasting House is at Park Street in Taunton, with additional facilities at 1 North Lane in Yeovil, and The Engine Room at 52 High Street, Bridgwater.  Air time is still shared with BBC Radio Bristol.


107.4 BCRfm plays music, and provides news and local information relevant to Bridgwater and the surrounding area. It came to air 4th July 2001 and broadcasts on 107.4FM from studios at Royal Clarence House, York Buildings, High Street, Bridgwater in Somerset.  Independently owned, it particularly targets Bridgwater, Cannington, Huntworth, North Petherton, Spaxton, Stogursey, Pawlett, Puriton, North Curry, West Huntspill, Highbridge, Sydenham, Wembdon and the surrounding areas, Highbridge, bring the farthest north, North Curry to the south, Nether Stowey to the west, and the unusually named Westonzoyland to the East.  


BATH FM quite understandably serves Bath and is an independently owned local station with adult contemporary music, local news, information, traffic and travel.  It came to air 15th November 1999 from studios at Station House, Ashley Avenue, Lower Weston in Bath.  It occupies the far end of the dial and arguably the furthest spot on the dial, at 107.9FM.  Bath FM, as Bath Radio Limited, was the successful applicant from two others and were quickly in when the Radio Authority first advertised a licence for Bath and surrounding areas.  The board is made up of a group which includes some celebrity names: notably Chairman Andrew Brownsword, and Directors, Rugby and TV star Jeremy Guscott, and political interviewer and report Jonathan Dimbleby.  Applications were invited by the Radio Authority on 24th July 1998 for licences in Bath, Weston-Super-Mare, Bristol and Portishead, Clevedon & Nailsea.  Thirteen applicants were involved, three for the Bath area: Spa FM Ltd, Radio Bath Ltd and Bath FM by the closing date of 3rd November 1998.  

It was 8th April 1999 when the RA announced it's award, referring to the immense level of support for a local radio service but that it's decision was influenced by the winning applicant's management expertise, with locally based businessmen Andrew Brownsword as chairman, and the radio experience of the launch director, Richard Johnson.  The rest of the board was made up of locally based national celebrities and senior figures from the major institutions of the area.  This, the RA felt, would ensure that the service remains in touch with the tastes and interests of the local listeners.  The RA particularly liked the strong level of financial and human resources and the strong knowledge of local business.  They also noted the carefully-targeted promotional strategy presented which involved links with local organisations and opinion formers which would go some way to helping establish the service.  The application included a well-carried out and presented audience survey.

Reaching approximately 93,000 adults, Bath FM can be heard by listeners from Corston in the west to the oddly named Box in the east, from Peasedown St. John in the south to Marshfield in the north.  Studios are based in a converted railway station in Lower Weston from which a service consisting of a mix of songs from years gone by and a choice selection of today's best hits.  Notably, they offer voluntary groups and charities free publicity through the 'What's On' feature and local people can air their voice in another on-air feature - 'Your City'.  A team of three journalist generate local news programming which includes a half-hour programme each weekday. 


BREEZE 107 (working title) / 107.7 WFM / STAR 107.7FM: On 24th July 1998, the Radio Authority advertised licences for Bath, Weston-Super-Mare, Bristol and Portishead, Clevedon & Nailsea.  All in all, thirteen applicants took part.  There were three applications submitted for a new small-scale alternative local licence for the Weston-Super-Mare area by the closing date of 3rd November 1998: WSM FM (Four Seasons Radio Ltd), Waverley Radio Ltd & Breeze 107 (Weston Radio Company).  On 8th April 1999, the licence was awarded to Weston Radio Company Ltd to run for eight years from the start of transmissions.  The RA acknowledged the strong level of support for a radio station in the locality and the number of applicants, but preferred Breeze 107 on the grounds of it's local ownership and the range of backgrounds shown at board level.  The involvement of a local newspaper was seen as beneficial as well as the involvement of the chairman of a local bus company.  The local ownership element was seen as a key factor in the content of letters of support submitted with the application.  The involvement of Jon Darch, an highly experienced radio man was seen as another bonus, especially as he is a local man anyway.  As with several bids from the applicant team, a small number of staff operating on a tight budget was seen as a plus point with no concerns raised on financial parts of the bid which included only caution projections of audience take up.  On launch, the station was set to include light pop tunes from the last three decades with some older tracks, a Sunday morning classical music show and, along with the usual speech elements, a daily phone-in, interviews and interesting items such as racing tips and brainteasers.  Local newspaper the Weston & Somerset Mercury would provide news content with station staff having access to archives and newspaper staff being trained to obtain recorded material.  The RA commented that these proposals would broaden listener choice considerably in the local marketplace.  

On 23rd October 1999, the station launched - and as with the neighbouring Kute FM bid, the application name of Breeze 107 was dropped in favour of 107.7 WFM.  The launch was the culmination of the bid by Westcom Media Limited, set up in 1998 to apply for the very licence they eventually won.  Expansion plans for Westcom led to the acquisition of Cheltenham based FM station CAT FM from TLRC (The Local Radio Company).  Jon Darch was the Westcom MD and the purchase of CAT FM was for an undisclosed sum.  

In 2001, Westcom was in turn acquired by UKRD.  Monday 18th March 2002 heralded the further rollout of their STAR radio brand.  WFM became STAR as of the breakfast show on that Monday morning - the station would continue to play four decades worth of music with a strong emphasis on local and national news coverage.  The rollout of the new brand took place after extensive research into what listeners wanted to hear on a local station.  The creation of a regional brand provided continuity for listeners travelling further afield.  The re-launch was backed up by a significant advertising campaign on buses, in local press, and, of course, on-air.

(Other STAR stations are: Star 107 (Stroud in Gloucestershire - previously Easy FM & 107 The Falcon), Star 106.6 (for Slough, Maidenhead & Windsor in Berkshire previously Star 106.1), Star 107.5 (Cheltenham in Gloucestershire - previously The CAT/CAT FM), Star 107.3 (Bristol, Avon/Somerset - previously 107.7 WFM), Star 107.9 in Cambridgeshire formerly a Dawe Media owned station - previously known as 107.9 The Eagle, Red Radio 107.9FM, Cambridge Red 107.9FM, Cambridge Cafe Radio 107.9FM and  Cambridge Community Radio (RSL)) and The Fens Star 107 in the Fenland area of Cambridgeshire - formerly X-CEL FM)


KUTE FM (RSL) / 107.3 THE EAGLE / STAR 107.3: Kute FM first appeared legally in 1995 providing a training facility in the Bristol area.  Our research has shown that station has some pirate radio history to it - but on 1st February 1998, using 105.8FM, a trial service was launched, again in the Bristol area.  It then joined with UKRD and Western Newspapers Ltd, the latter being a wholly owned subsidiary of the Bristol United Press, and Mail Marketing Limited.  The reason for this amalgamation was for a very good reason.  Following the end of the February 1998 broadcast, and as quickly as 24th July 1998, the Radio Authority invited applications for licences for Bath, Weston-Super-Mare, Bristol and another for Portishead, Clevedon & Nailsea.  A total of thirteen applications for the 'SALLIES' (small scale, alternative local licences) were received by the closing date of 3rd November of the same year.  For the purposes of this profile, there were six for the Bristol licence: Cabot FM (City of Bristol Broadcasting Company Ltd), Future Radio Ltd, Powerjam Radio Ltd, Republic Radio (Waterbeach Communications Ltd), Respec FM (Respec Radio Ltd) and Kute FM (Bristol Community Radio Ltd).  On the 8th April 1999, the RA awarded an eight year licence to Kute FM.  Commenting on the award, the RA acknowledged UKRD's expertise in small-scale service launches with low budgets and multi-skilled staff.  They also referred to news sharing and joint sales and marketing set ups with the local newspaper affiliate.  Kute FM carried out a high profile publicity campaign with the paper and backed up their application with evidence of support from the listeners of the trial broadcasts.  The station proposed a soul and soft rock format, featuring 10 hours of off-peak specialist shows including soul, r&b & fusion jazz as well as a MOBO (Music of Black Origin) show.  Community programming was proposed for three hours a week which would include information for ethnic minorities with speech placed at 30% minimum throughout airtime.  Their application was deemed to be financially sound and it's cost projections were thought to be realistic.  Revenue projections were based on high audience forecasts, but the RA felt them to be achievable on delivery of the proposed station format.  

On the 26th November 1999, the station launched as 107.3 The Eagle, a branding also available in Guildford, Essex through it's operator UKRD.  One of the more notable gimmicks for the station, was an echo of it's Guildford counterpart.  Said to be a creation of the Cyberstar Corporation, of Orlando, Florida, the overnight presenter was Talon - a 'sister' to 'Twinkle'.  In reality, this was a voice-tracked computer playout system - but the gimmick is fun!  Talon never took to the air in November 1999 when the station launched but did act as a station mascot.  The station launch publicity was carried out by local promotional business 'The Creative Department' who used simple but effective posters and ads which appeared on the back of buses and on billboards - the campaign used lines from familiar pop songs

November 2000 saw a new senior management team moving into place at group HQ - a new strategy was put into place, that being of enhancing existing assets and developing clusters of stations.  Bristol and Cambridge stations were rebranded - and so, in this case, 107.3 The Eagle became Star 107.3, with 'less of the rap and constant yapping', 'better music and more of it', and less of the 'wind-up calls and kiddie countdowns'.  The change in format has resulted in the airplay of more popular classics from, more prominently the eighties and nineties, but also some more from the seventies.  Station output comes from studios at the Bristol Evening Post Building on Temple Way in Bristol.       

(Other STAR stations are: Star 107 (Stroud in Gloucestershire - previously Easy FM & 107 The Falcon), Star 106.6 (for Slough, Maidenhead & Windsor in Berkshire previously Star 106.1), Star 107.5 (Cheltenham in Gloucestershire - previously The CAT/CAT FM), Star 107.7 (Weston-Super-Mare in Avon/Somerset - previously 107.7 WFM), Star 107.9 in Cambridgeshire formerly a Dawe Media owned station - previously known as 107.9 The Eagle, Red Radio 107.9FM, Cambridge Red 107.9FM, Cambridge Cafe Radio 107.9FM and  Cambridge Community Radio (RSL)) and The Fens Star 107 in the Fenland area of Cambridgeshire - formerly X-CEL FM)


IVEL FM: In it's final 13th year of statutory life (2003), the Radio Authority has awarded it's 150th analogue radio licence - on this occasion for the South Somerset area of Yeovil.  Four applicants entered the running with the winner being RIL Ltd backed Ivel FM who are now celebrating the award of an 8-year licence.  Ivel FM will offer a friendly locally involved radio station aimed at the 25-64 age bracket, with coverage of local news and information and conversation on life in the county and area.  Musically, popular favourites from the last four decades will feature.  RIL Ltd have become a major radio player, operating stations in Dorchester, Warminster and Shaftesbury.  Amongst the management of Ivel FM, there's ex-Orchard FM's Christine Haigh, Yeovil Town's Chairman John Fry and a local business entrepreneur, retailer Alan Newberry.  In it's time, the RA have issued what's turned out to be an average of 1 new station per month.  Ivel FM hopes to be operational by the end of the year using two transmitters covering Chard and Ilminster and Sherborn and Castle Cary.  


ORCHARD FM started it's service to Yeovil and Taunton on November 26th 1989, originally playing a mix of classic hits from the 60's, 70's, 80's and 90's plus the current chart.  Originally an independent station, it spread it's wings locally under the name Orchard Media Limited, the founder of which started Lantern FMOrchard Media also included Wessex FM and Gemini FM/AM. The group was fairly successful.  In 1999, the management of the group sold out to GWR who, not surprisingly, turned the station into another 'indenticlone' with the 'Better Music Mix' line heard so often in so many places.  As a result of the 25million takeover, 60's and 70's songs were eradicated from the playlist and a GWR, which could stand for 'Great Window Revolving' saw popular station presenters moving on, Bob McCreadie & Tim Manns, two prominent broadcasters, with Bob moving to The Eagle in Guildford and Tim moved to Bath FM, moves heavily promoted in the local newspaper the County Gazette.  

The station has broadcast from Haygrove House, Shoreditch, near Taunton in Somerset on 96.5 (Taunton), 97.1 (Yeovil) & 102.6 (Somerset).  The building which houses the studios (affectionately called 'Orchard Towers') was originally someone's house, but a clever conversion then came about after purchase.  It is set in one acre of grounds which include a tennis court - however this tranquility is shattered when you understand the need for extensive sound proofing and double glazing - the M5 motorway roars by just seconds from the building.  Fond memories are held by local radio fans and interested parties for a series of Open Days which were held annually up to GWR's purchase in 1999.  

It is currently licenced until New Year's Eve 2004.  Along with a couple of other stations in the GWR empire, there are rumours that the station is to be sold.

LATEST: February 2003: Orchard FM were the only applicant following the RA's request for declarations of intent for the FM radio licence for the Taunton & Yeovil area.  Fast-track procedures and a re-awarding of the licence will apply as along as the station retains it's current format and formally re-applies with a suitable application before the end of March 2003.  



RW + WR = GWR written by Andrew Rogers: This article is reproduced from under their terms and conditions - see link above.

Independent Local Radio came to Bristol on 27-Oct-1981 with the opening of Radio West. The Bristol franchise battle had been hard fought and two groups, Radio Avonside and Bristol Channel, came together to form the winning consortium. The choice of on-air name presented few challenges, as the BBC had provided two years of free publicity courtesy of Eddie Shoestring.

The station launched with high hopes and appeared to generate a great deal of positive reaction, but cracks soon started to show. Breakfast show presenter Nino Firetto was moved to weekends within six weeks, and the lack of focus to the music policy meant enormous gear-changes within the daytime schedule as presenters indulged their personal musical tastes. In summer 1982 the first JICRAR figures gave the station a reach of 30% and a share of 13.2%, excellent by today's standards but behind both Radio One and the long-established BBC Radio Bristol.

Meanwhile, Wiltshire gained its own station on 12-Oct-1982. Wiltshire Radio launched with a very different station sound to Radio West, continuing the news-based breakfast and drive-time shows pioneered at Hereward Radio by programme controller Ralph Bernard. With no local BBC competition, and indifferent reception of the BBC national networks in its coverage area, Wiltshire Radio found it easy to capture the No.1 slot locally, achieving an enormous reach in its Swindon heartland, and began to make money.

Back in Bristol a host of star names came and went as Radio West's situation went from bad to worse. Enormous cutbacks in broadcasting hours were made in October 1983 and, although these were restored in September 1984, the station never really found its financial feet, although the programming output had become far more polished and consistent. In May 1985 an approach was made to the directors of Radio West by Wiltshire Radio, and the stations planned a "merger" which would take place on 1 October 1985.

Although subtle hints were dropped and a couple of presenters said their final goodbyes a few weeks early, programming plans for the new station were kept under wraps until Radio West's last week on air, when it became clear that what was planned for Bristol was an opt-out from the main Wiltshire service, which would retain the current Wiltshire Radio schedule. Only breakfast, mid-morning up to 11 a.m., one hour in the afternoon and drive-time would be separate, with the breakfast and drive-time shows being news-based. All of West's specialist programmes, including the award-nominated classical music programme and the pioneering computer programme Datarama, were to be dropped.

So four minutes into Monday 9-Sep-1985 programme organiser Mark Seaman made the final announcements and Radio West closed down for the last time, after a "Final Hour" retrospective presented by Trevor Fry. The next few weeks saw Bristol treated to test transmissions for the new station, with continuous music interspersed with news bulletins, promotions for the new programmes and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra's finest jingles. Then at 6 a.m. on 1-Oct-1985, listeners heard GWR for the first time, with three separate GWR-AM breakfast shows for Swindon, West Wiltshire and Bristol. The Bristol presenters were Steve Orchard and Richard Evans.

Separate programming for Bristol continued with Trevor Fry's mid-morning show until 11 a.m., although Swindon and West Wiltshire combined for Dave Bowen's show. Then Johnnie Walker introduced the first totally networked show, which went out initially, in Bristol at least, on one stereo channel only. At 2 p.m. Johnnie made way for that staple of 80s local radio, Telephone Exchange, a Tradio-type programme that had a separate Bristol edition presented by Mark Seaman. Dave Barrett was networked from 3 to 5, when all three stations had separate drive-time programmes. Called GWR-PM, the Bristol edition was presented by Steve Egginton, Radio West's Head of News. Networked evening and overnight programmes were presented by Mark Baddeley, Bob Harrison and Paul Phear, who had been Radio West's afternoon presenter.

From the point of view of Wiltshire listeners, little had changed, apart from 24-hour broadcasting, the introduction of the West Wiltshire opt-out (which mysteriously disappeared after a few weeks, due to "poor reception") and the appearance of a "G" before "WR" in the station jingles. In Bristol everything was completely different, not least the technical hitches that often occurred within networked programmes when news bulletins and commercials for the separate areas were broadcast. There was little change in the music policy - in fact, comparatively little music was broadcast during the daytime, with the bulk of the nine-hour needletime allowance being channeled into the evening and late-night shows. The overall effect was to move the station much closer to BBC Radio Bristol in sound, and the expected improvement in audience figures did not really come about, with the first JICRAR reach in the combined area being 31%. 

Over the next three years, the sound gradually evolved into a much more music-led station, with the news-based programmes reduced in length, then relegated to the AM-only Brunel Radio, then disappearing altogether. Finally in 1992 GWR-FM relaunched as "The New GWR", rapidly mushrooming into the vast FM network we know - and love - today.

Text Andrew Rogers
Compilation Transdiffusion Broadcasting System.  Used with permission.



Up until 1985, in the South West and elsewhere in the country up until the early part of the 1990s, the initials GWR stood for Great Western Railway.  This isn't so much the case nowadays, certainly within radio circles, and arguably outside it too.  GWR became particularly dominant by buying up smaller radio groups - dog eat dog you might say.  It's growth began in 1989, when it merged with Consolidated Radio Holdings to acquire stations in Reading (210) & Bournemouth (2CR) Midlands Radio, home of Radio Trent (Derby & Nottingham), Leicester Sound, BRMB, Mercia and GEM were swallowed up in 1994, BRMB being spat out towards Capital Radio, Peterborough's Hereward FM and Kings Lynn's KL-FM (which was soon sold in 1997),  the Chiltern Radio Group, home of such greats as Northants, Chiltern and Horizon Radio was swallowed in 1995, East Anglian Radio Group, home of Radio Broadland and SGR was acquired in 1997and another M5 corridor station, ex-Midlands Radio station Radio Wyvern too.  Amongst others, there was Orchard Media, owners of Orchard, Lantern & Gemini FM plus Westward Radio in 1999.  

Amongst all of those acquisitions was the ding-dong 'do we don't we own' Plymouth Sound in 1999 which it had previously owned part of along with Capital Radio plc.  There was also a 45% element of South Hams Radio with it.   Research showed that within six months of the acquisition of Plymouth Sound, both AM & FM, after nine years of being non-GWR and having a regular audience of over 60,000, AM audiences plummeted to around 20,000.  Audiences were taking a dive across the Commercial Radio sector, but GWR seemed to be hit harder than others.  Obligatory rebranding followed - much to the horror of fans of the guises of the stations previously.   

Over recent years, the Group have taken a part share of many radio stations, either taking more or offloading completely over time, with the station now fully in control of Classic FM GWR was involved in the INR bidding process with Classic FM but took control of the station fully in December 1996 when it purchased the 83% it didn't already own.

The new Millennium saw GWR get hold of DMG Radio from Daily Mail & General Trust, adding six more stations in Southend-on-Sea, Harlow, St Albans, Rochester, Tonbridge and Crawley to the company's portfolio.  Finally, Wales has been GWR'd when Marcher Radio was grabbed consisting of Coast-FM, Champion 103 and MFM stations. 

CLASSIC GOLD: The AM brand name Classic Gold, (known within radio circles in previous years as 'Classic Gaps' due to networking problems), once a lively jingle and classic oldies led station, has been rolled out, to such an extent, from it's humble beginnings as Brunel Classic Gold (15/11/1988 - 936/1161/1260kHz AM), to be a National Network, launched on Digital platforms..  Bournemouth's 2CR AM service was branded 2CR Classic Gold 828, along with Reading's 210 Classic Gold 1431.   Heavy resistance prevailed in areas where the older, smaller radio group names had been favourites.  Coventry's Mercia Classic Gold was next (1359, the old XTRA AM frequency)  GWR made comments it would not be rebranding stations such as Nottingham & Derby's GEM-AM, purchased from Midlands Radio in 1993.  This was, of course, a lie, but for the time being, GEM-AM and WABC, which they got when they purchased Beacon Radio in 1993, were left to run live and local 24hours day unlike 2CR & 210 which took output from Brunel in Swindon.  Classic Gold arrived in Luton and Bedford (792/828) when the Chiltern Radio Network was taken, Northampton (1557) and Gloucester (774).   Another great GOLD station name to bite the bullet was WGMS, The World's Greatest Music Station in Peterborough which became  Classic Gold 1332.  The Chiltern takeover enabled the station to be based at Dunstable's HQ where the SuperGold service had previously been so popularly based.  Eventually, a 'happy' medium was struck as the names were retained as an after-thought, i.e. Classic Gold GEM and Classic Gold AMBER.  Networking and local programmes showing a GEM/NOT GEM, AMBER/NOT AMBER ever changing clash of names in general links and during ad-breaks.  1996 was when East Anglian Radio was acquired and so the brand arrived in Norwich, Ipswich and Bury St. Edmunds as Classic Gold AMBER.  This change though, did take some time to reach fruition.  The old Midlands Radio station, Radio Wyvern was taken too, becoming another outlet on 954 and 1530kHz.  This was later sold to Muff Murfin who kept the format, but not the networking output.  

In 1998 GWR lobbied the Radio Authority to allow them to network Classic Gold for up to 20 hours a day, saying that the use of higher profile presenters (such as Mike Read, Dave Lee Travis, Simon Bates) would allow listeners a better quality service than they would otherwise receive.  The Radio Authority agreed, and so at this point all the Classic Gold stations (including GEM and WABC) began to be networked from Dunstable for 20 hours a day, with the exception of the Breakfast Show, which was presented locally so as not to be seen to be allowing a national licence via the back door.  The local programme was later changed to be Drive-time, to allow Mike Read and later Dave Lee Travis to present a networked breakfast show.

In 1999, GWR bought Essex Radio, bringing Classic Gold (after much petitioning by locals) to Southend and Chelmsford (Classic Gold Breeze on 1359/1431kHz AM), as well as Reigate and Crawley (Classic Gold Breeze 1521). This deal meant that GWR had to sell a number of its licences to avoid going over the ownership points limit, so it sold 12 of the Classic Gold stations to a new company, UBC, Classic Gold Digital Ltd (of which GWR is a major shareholder).  GWR also ensured that they have the right to buy back the stations, when ownership rules allow.  The network is still run from Dunstable, so nothing has changed, apart from the fact that all the stations are now branded Classic Gold Digital, which brings with it some ridiculously long names!

In 1999 GWR also purchased Orchard Media, meaning that Classic Gold arrived in Plymouth (Classic Gold Digital 1152) and Exeter (Classic Gold Digital 666/954)

Classic Gold broadcasts in the following locations: 
Bristol / Bath 1260 AM and Digital 
Bournemouth, Dorset 828 AM 
Coventry / Warwickshire 1359 AM and DAB 
Exeter / Torbay 666 / 954 AM 
Gloucester / Cheltenham 774 AM 
Herts, Beds & Bucks 792 / 828 AM 
Norfolk / North Suffolk 1152 AM 
Northamptonshire 1557 AM 
Nottingham / Derby 999 / 945 AM 
Peterborough 1332 AM 
Plymouth 1152 AM 
Reading 1431 / 1485 AM 
Suffolk (Ipswich / Bury St Edmunds) 1170 / 1251 AM 
Swindon/Wiltshire 936 / 1161 AM 
Wolverhampton / Shropshire 990 / 1017 AM and Digital 
Crawley / Reigate 1521AM 
Southend, Essex 1359 / 1431 AM
South Yorkshire Digital Only 
Liverpool Digital Only
SKY Digital Channel 859 

On 31st October 2000, the Radio Authority said it had finally agreed to proposals from GWR for the disposal of 12 local AM licences to Classic Gold Digital Ltd, a company 80% owned by Unique Broadcasting and 20% by GWR Group.  As part of the deal GWR Group took a 3.9% shareholding in Unique Broadcasting.

The Authority also agreed to GWR's acquisition of the five licences held in the Marcher Radio Group, but said it considered GWR "controls" these licences and the stations would be included within GWR's ownership points total.  Marcher's AM service came under the Classic Gold umbrella at this time.  

The East of England regional station, Vibe FM, in which GWR Group has a 49.99% shareholding, was also agreed but the Authority determined that GWR again in this case does not control the licence.  The Authority said it believed that GWR "does not and will not have control over the programming output of Vibe FM."

Most people will remember the year 2001 for two major events - there were global repercussions after the World Trade Centre fell on September 11th, and that year was also terrible for farmers across the UK with the re-emergence of the terrible Foot and Mouth disease.  Both disastrous events have been the focus of blame in all businesses - with a so called 'knock on' effect down the chain.  Whether these events made any dent into the radio business including GWR isn't known as no group has ever stuck their head up and used it as an reason for a downturn in revenues to my knowledge.

Ownership restraints placed by the Radio Authority meant GWR had to choose what it wanted to do.  Gradually, the Classic Gold stations were sold off, finally being totally acquired by UBC.  The anticipated re-branding of the network has not yet materialised and so the GWR sound remains.  

The company offloaded LBC and London News Radio to Chrysalis in late 2002, and the new owners set about on a rapid revamp as of 2003.   

GWR also has various part share radio interests abroad in places as diverse as Bulgaria, there's a joint venture with the BBC in Poland, Austria was GWR'd in 1996, Salzburg's Radio Melody was part purchased (24%) and Antenne Wien in Vienna (39%)  Classic FM also broadcasts in Holland, Finland and South Africa.  

They're the majority shareholder in Digital One, the licence holder of the national digital radio network launched in 1999 featuring Core (GWR), and Planet Rock (NTL run by GWR).  They have also created a wholly-owned subsidiary, NOW Digital to apply for local digital licences as advertised by the Radio Authority.  It has already won the licence for the Wolverhampton, Shrewsbury, Telford, Bristol & Bath, Coventry, Southend and Chelmsford area.  They are also involved in a third London multiplex licence and are a third of Score Digital along with Scottish Radio Holdings (SRH), and Guardian Media Group (GMG).  They are now branching out into the internet field with, which they hope will develop into a national network of locally orientated sites and, a radio entertainment portal to enhance group brands.  

GWR meanwhile continue to seek an interest in and acquire more FM stations, with only these frequency stations in their portfolio.  The tired, often used line of 'Today's Better Music Mix' has finally in 2002 been replaced with the similar but slightly different 'Today's Best Mix' line - and associated lines such as 'The World's Best City' and 'Pride Of England' added as tag lines to station IDs.  A corporate 'flare' logo, albeit in various garish colours, has been rolled out across the group, with the 'flare' representing the GWR 'Mix' network carried overnight - careful not to feature the exact locations of phone callers, just in case the lack of localness shines through maybe?   Nevertheless, GWR Group continues to be the butt of many jokes within the radio industry, and meanwhile I myself have heard (and I mean this most sincerely) members of the public commenting on how neighbouring Midlands stations '....sound the same as ...' a neighbouring station they usually listen to but lose when they drive out of the area.   The worm has always showed signs of turning maybe?


QUAY WEST RADIO: Radio stations really don't come much smaller than this - it serves just 31,000 people in and around the area of Minehead and is based in the tiny harbour at Watchet, West Somerset.  Broadcasting on 102.4FM since the 15th August 1998, with a mix of soft adult contemporary hits from the 60s to today, local comment and lifestyle information, this was a station that your AIRCHECK editor visited whilst holidaying locally with a 'by chance' visit with a radio friend whilst the ladies visited the harbour flea market.  Based upstairs in an ex-Customs office, there's an office area to the right, with the two compact studios to the left.  At the time of visiting, ex-Midlands radio presenter, Valleys Radio and Radio Northampton,  now based at Radio Pembrokeshire / Haven FM in Pembrokeshire, Keri Jones was on-air, and off-air.  The system in use at the time was one of 'record it now, stick it in the computer and let it play out later'.  This created the weird effect of Keri talking to us whilst he came out saying something completely different on-air!

Keri was one of the team who set the station up, along with Phil Greatorex, back in 1998.  The owner of the commercial production company CAP, Wayne Fitzgerald owned a major share of the station until it was bought out.  It has just four presenters: three full-timers and one freelance - Spencer Bishop, Geoff Carter, David Mortimer (Station Programme Director) and Paul Ritchie.  David Mortimer began his full operations at Quay West in December 2001 after what had been an extremely difficult time for the station - which history states, was probably when the station was at it's lowest.   Previously David appeared as a stand in for a few months back in the summer of 1999 and oversaw the change of management.  In late 2002, local businessman Paul Andrews, owner of two local companies (Wessex Direct and Choice Stationery Supplies) invested in the station which has enabled it to make an even stronger footing locally.  As RSL broadcasters have found elsewhere in the UK, recruiting long term advertisers who will take out several campaigns proves difficult - each advertiser is looking for quick results and proof of the campaign being worthwhile, this is undoubtedly a problem which has affected Quay West in such a small broadcast area.  

It's current licence includes the requirement that seven hours must be locally produced and presented during weekdays, eight hours on Saturdays and four on Sundays.  Speech, amounting to 15% of daytime output. includes community news, coastal reports, farming, discussions, community access features and what's-on information.  Local news operates hourly during peaktime.  Musically, we're talking ex-top 40 hits from the 60s to present with current tracks amounting to no more than 50% of the music output.  Evening programming is permitted to feature locally complementary specialist music shows.  In addition to it's 102.4FM conventional broadcast, programmes are also carried on the Minehead Butlins TV channel service.           

For quite a time, Andy Marriott, obviously a good friend of founder Keri Jones, was a voiceover on otherwise sung station jingles - (here's a link for you! - since that time, despite changes in tthe station jingles, they still use the quaint line '...from the bracken to the beaches...'   Another memorable part of the jingle package was the news-in jingle which included the use of the sound of bells, as recorded at Dunster church - a pleasant, warming and local touch.             (awaiting development)


FTPRadio (For The People) 97.2 / GALAXY 101 / VIBE 101: FTP (For The People) Radio 97.2 launched in 1990, broadcasting solely to Bristol.  After one year on-air, it was bought up by the Chiltern Radio Group (CRG) who re-launched it as Galaxy Radio 97.2.  Later, CRG won the regional franchise for South Wales and The West and re-launched the station as Galaxy 101 in 1994.  

GWR Group, by acquiring CRG, they acquired Galaxy 101 but, under the Radio Authority's guidelines at the time, could not own more than one FM station GWR-FM, in an overlapping area, so had to seek a buyer.  Chrysalis Radio purchased the station which was to become the 'mother ship' for the Galaxy network of stations.  

But, under Chrysalis, Galaxy suffered poor financial results and was officially a loss-maker.  This led the owners to make a major decision - to sell the suffering flagship station, whilst other parts of the network thrived and would therefore continue.  In September 2002, it was sold to GWR Group once more but this time in partnership with Scottish Radio Holdings, - and they have re-launched the station as Vibe 101 from January 1st 2003.  The 97.2FM transmitter remains from the FTPRadio days as it offers better reception in the city than 101FM does.  Vibe Radio Services Limited (GWR/SRH) operate the same format as is currently running on the sister station Vibe FM 105-108 in the East Of England.  

Vibe 101 will also be heard on the Chrysalis-backed MXR regional DAB digital radio multiplex serving South Wales and The West of England, following a carriage agreement between the station's new owners and MXR.  

On 16th May 2003, the Minister responsible for Competition, Melanie Johnson expressed her concern that the merger between the two radio groups in this case was "against the public interest".  Although the deal was quite a sizeable one, the ability for such a merger to happen was seen as likely to be the first of many.  Ms Johnson had concerned about not only this deal, but any future similar deals should the initial one be allowed to continue, especially in light of what was then the pending Communications Bill.  She therefore referred the issue to the Office Of Fair Trading, who then negotiated with the two groups to secure appropriate undertakings to deal with what was seen as possible anti-competitive effects of the merger.  There not being such forthcomings, the Competition Commission overruled the 12.5m GWR deal to merge it's 'Vibe' brand with the takeover of the old Chrysalis station.  This overruling therefore put a stop to anyone else considering a similar venture.  

So what was done, had to be undone - and GWR were required to reduce it's share in the merged station - Vibe 101 from just under a half to a quarter, ensuring that they sold a share to a third party authorised by the OFT, or by doing it indirectly though VRSL, which could reduce it's interest in the station with a pro-rate reduction in GWR's rights as a shareholder.  If GWR chose to retain any interest in the station at or below 24.9% percent, it must satisfy the OFT that, the Commission told GWR that it could not have any management control - what it referred to as a "material influence" on the station.  The third requirement ordered GWR to stop it's arrangment that it's in house sales arm, OPUS, sells advertising for the station.   If these factors could not be accepted, then the Commission ruled that GWR would have to sell it's shareholding in VRSL completely.  Overall, the Competition Commission's report ruled that the merger would operate against the public interest as it would reduce competition in the local radio advertising market in Bristol and Bath and into the surrounding Taunton and Yeovil areas.  A total of four months were put into the investigation from start to finish, so hardly a decision taken lightly by the body.  They also concluded that higher advertising prices may have to be paid by smaller businesses in the area and other vulnerable companies, and that other stations would be at a disadvantage if the merger was to be allowed as it increased GWR's market share of advertising revenue and broadcasting coverage in the areas.  In short, the pros arising from the merger were far outbalanced by the cons - benefits such as a broader listener or advertising facility would arise irrespective of the merger and were therefore not sufficient to offset any adverse effects.  

GWR responded by saying they were disappointed at the recommendations, claiming they were severe.  They wanted to meet around at table and thrash out a new deal.  Having mulled over the requirements, by the Thursday 22nd May 2003, GWR declared the requirements to be "unworkable" and sold it's stake to Scottish Radio Holdings for 17.64m, what it saw as in the best interests of GWRSRH meanwhile were also disappointed with the Commissions findings and conclusions but expressed content that the agreement was quickly reached to address the concerns raised.  SRH therefore now completely own the regional dance station, formerly the nucleus of, but now in no way related to Chrysalis Radio or the Galaxy brand through these moves.  It broadcasts from Radio House, 1 Passage Street in Bristol on 97.2FM (Bristol) & 101FM (Severn Estuary) with it's classic and contemporary and R&B format. 


DIGITAL:  The Chrysalis-backed MXR regional DAB digital radio multiplex serves South Wales and The West of England



In it's final 13th year of statutory life, the Radio Authority has awarded it's 150th analogue radio licence - on this occasion for the South Somerset area of Yeovil.  Four applicants entered the running with the winner being RIL Ltd backed Ivel FM who are now celebrating the award of an 8-year licence.  Ivel FM will offer a friendly locally involved radio station aimed at the 25-64 age bracket, with coverage of local news and information and conversation on life in the county and area.  Musically, popular favourites from the last four decades will feature.  RIL Ltd have become a major radio player, operating stations in Dorchester, Warminster and Shaftesbury.  Amongst the management of Ivel FM, there's ex-Orchard FM's Christine Haigh, Yeovil Town's Chairman John Fry and a local business entrepreneur, retailer Alan Newberry.  In it's time, the RA have issued what's turned out to be an average of 1 new station per month.  Ivel FM hopes to be operational by the end of the year using two transmitters covering Chard and Ilminster and Sherborn and Castle Cary.  

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