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Speak out on the Manchester Radio Bid

Published on March 29th 2005.

Click here to give feedback on the radio bid

Time to turn off Corrie on the telly, stop shooting people on the Play Station, wipe down your old wireless (radio not broadband networks) or unwrap your shiny new digital radio, as the airwaves of Manchester are set to be filled with the sound of music, or chatter depending on which one of 19 bids gets its way and wins a new licence currently up for grabs.

WIN WIN WIN!! - You can get involved too. Click here to send us your feedback on what you are looking for in a Manchester radio station and you can win a meal for two including the booze at Malmaison!

What’s a radio?
A radio is a form of media used by old folk in the olden days for reference material during the war. Currently making a comeback via the digital radio, the radio is once again becoming a ‘cool’ household item. A radio uses ‘plugs’ and sometimes even ‘leads’ to turn itself on. Modular dials where you have to use your hands have often been used to tune in to different radio stations across the country.

Manchester’s current radio output consists of GMR – the local BBC station, along with the likes of Key 103, Galaxy FM, Century FM.

But now there is space for one more. 19 companies submitted details of their bids to Ofcom on 9th February, but what Ofcom and Manchester’s listeners, will be looking for is the one that jumps out from the radio and hits you right between the ear drums.

So what’s missing on the airwaves? Some of the bids that are going in for the new radio licence are trying to fill a void, some are going for the wall-to-wall Dallas theory, the same as was picked up by cheap daytime Sky television stations whereby every man and his dog (and its puppies), jumped on the band wagon of easy to watch, lazyitis TV or shopping channels where couch potatoes could eat chips with one hand and buy a remote controlled washing machine with the other one.

So is our local radio going to go the same way? Is the answer to the space for a new radio station to educate, to entertain with original ideas and talent? Or is it to just dilute the public’s senses and give them more of what they’ve got. Let’s hope it’s the former, otherwise we’ll end up with local radio that’s listened to in the same way that Tony Blair wants us to watch the news – with lazy acceptance and an unquestioning attitude.

So, as a starting point, let’s take a look at the who’s the most listened to radio DJ by Mancunians? Chris Moyles? JK and Joel? Irish Alan (?!!)

Wrong on all counts, the DJ with most listeners in this part of the world is none other that Terry blinkin Wogan and his BBC Radio 2 show. So what’s Mr Eurovision got going for him that others haven’t?

Apart from a large set of lugs and a soft dulcet (annoying – Gordo) tone, Tel has the perfect show for the age group who mostly listen to the radio, a decent mix of modern and classic tunes, mixed with intelligent non-condescending chatter, it’s like having an iPod shuffle without knowing what’s on it.

BBC Radio 2 is a station we’ve settled on in the office as it’s seen as a happy medium somewhere in between Tristan’s love of Spaced out - Happy – Hardcore – Insane Tunes on ‘E’s’ (or S.H.H.I.T.E for short), my love of the Gin Blossoms and other bands no one’s heard of, Big Faye’s maturing musical taste (She used to like S.H.H.I.T.E, now she’s going to a U2 concert in the summer!), Gordo’s golden oldies, although he likes that new dance one with the girls in leotards (It’s got a good beat!) and Kelly’s general good taste in up and coming music.

Of all the bids in the pipeline, it looks to us like Celador are the most agreeable option going for this kind of market - agreeable music across an office, or even if you’re sat at home looking for something to listen to.

Indeed it’s hard to see how some of the bids are going to bring anything new to the party….

The Bids

Alice 97.7 FM is catering for 15 – 54 year olds via classic and contemporary rock, whilst Time FM are looking at a local angle for over 45s and Saga Radio (Manchester) don’t appear to be bringing anything new to the party – are these three Century FM in disguise? Of course, if they are, then they’ll probably work, but in terms of originality, may fall short.

On the flip side, we’ve got some of the bids admirably deviate from the norm and have a go at doing something different. Whether they are too different to be successful is for Ofcom to decide, we are unsure as to whether Masti Radio Ltd’s, Kismat Radio’s or Young Asian Sound FM Radio Ltd’s bid to cater for Manchester’s Chinese, Asian and Black community, nor 97.7 Fun FM’s bid to cater for families with young children under the age of 10, will work. Nice ideas, relevant ideas, but ones that won’t plug the sizeable space that’s there.

There’s also talk stations going into the mix. AllTalk FM Limited are going for local news based on Manchester, with 24 hour chatter. Time FM’s option is also heavily speech-led, as is Manchester CityBeat 97.7 and Manchester 97.7 Fm. Speech-led stations are, again, in our humble opinion, fine in small doses. BBC Radio 5 and TalkSport are leading speech only national stations, and the idea of the speech and news being locally based might be appealing, but it would be hard to top the BBC’s GMR in this space. GMG – owners of the Manchester Evening News have already pulled their talk station bid saying that the numbers of potential listeners simply don’t add up. This may, unfortunately, apply to all of them.

Classic rock is a common theme through a number of the bids, Virgin Classic Rock, Go-FM and The Arrow deal with solely with rock for the older generation. Manchester Kerrang sounds great to me personally, but might be too ‘out there’ for the whole city. The trouble with devoted classic rock stations is that they’re great for rock fans of a certain age, but where’s the mix for everyone else?

No doubt, it’s a difficult one to get to grips with. There’s a niche there but no one’s going to find it until a radio station that is capable of filling the void will be granted the licence and given freedom to develop into something that caters for the nation. We can certainly give them a good start though by telling them what we, the people of Manchester want from a radio station.

The best to us, in reverse order, look like the following:

98 FM Ltd and XFM Manchester, both adult alternative stations, leading with album-led credible music aimed at 30-59 year olds, we like this one solely for the reason that noone else really does this. Whether it’s successful or not is another matter. It’s like saying indie films are better than blockbusters, we all know it’s true, but that doesn’t make them more successful, and the higher numbers will always watch Bruce Willis in a vest than Paul Giamatti in a wine glass.

The Storm (Manchester) Ltd looks like a potential winner. Again its playing rock music, but for a younger generation as well as old folk like Gordo. In joint second place is Unity Radio, catering for younger people in Manchester providing debate and a broad range of modern underground music – could be a winner as long as they can get the younger generation to sit down long enough to listen to the radio.

97.7 The City seems like the best option to us and seems to fit the BBC Radio 2 model perfectly. They are going for a local service for 35 year olds and upwards, providing a wide music selection based on the best of today’s contemporary easy listening and the softer sounds over the last 40 years. Celador, the company behind the likes of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire and which boasts the considerable broadcasting talent of Chris Tarrant on its Radio Broadcasting Board, is also the company behind 97.7 The City. Celador’s promise to lead the way in promoting local talent has been fulfilled already by appointing Simon Cole, formerly a director at Piccadilly Radio in the late 80s. Also on board is Jim Moir, former controller of Radio 2 between 1996 and 2003.

Their bid concentrates on nurturing more local talent and basing their station around local entertainment, intelligent discussion, listener interaction and news and information – a good balance, we thinks…..

Click here to visit the 97.7 The City website.

Ultimately, Ofcom will decide who takes up the vote, but they need to hear from the people of Manchester. If you agree with us then you can visit the 97.7 The City site by clicking here and contact Ofcom via their site to tell them what you think or to support the 97.7 The City bid. It’s an important ask because in a year’s time, if you don’t lend your support and hear your voice, we’ll all be lumbered with a radio station that we don’t want. It’s decision time in May so there’s still time to get your voices heard.

We could also do with your feedback on what you want as your local radio station, so please fill out the questionnaire by clicking here. Remember, you could win a meal for two at Malmaison for 2 minutes of answering questions!

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