Pultney Bridge, Bath

Pultney Bridge, Bath

So, radio today has today announced the closure of yet more small commercial radio stations, although in this case the article does imply there may be hope for the stations survival.

I’m not going to comment too much on the circumstances involved in the closure of the stations as I don’t know enough about it, and unlike some posters on digital spy I’m not going to pretend I do and risk any defamation accusations. Suffice to say the stations involved (Bath FM, Brunel FM, 3tr FM and Quaywest) have been through a rocky few years with several successive parent companies going into administration, and the inevitable knock on effect on-air leading to an almost constantly changing presenter team and I’d assume fairly low morale for all involved.

The Radio Today article also states that there’s rumours the stations may have been bought by the owners of Star 107.5 in Cheltenham – another station which has had a slightly rough ride over the years. As far as I can see, if true, this is probably a good thing for the stations involved.

I’m going to use Bath FM as an example, as after nearly 5 years living in it’s TSA (and hypothetically competing for audience) it’s the station/market I know the most about. The one thing Bath doesn’t really have is a local station serving its community – Heart/GWR have always provided the city with a local opt out at breakfast from their Bristol studios, with the city being an afterthought at most – and the BBC tag Bath content onto their Somerset and Bristol services, neither of which really serves the 83,992 people apparently living there.

There are however a few success stories of uber local stations doing pretty well against bigger rivals, because they’re better able to form strong links with their comunity. Jack FM in Oxfordshire, despite being a jukebox station for 21 hours a day, has found a really good niche for itself by having really strong local news and events information (the station had quite a nice write up from MG today in fact) likewise Rugby FM has always proved popular with the locals – largely by having one thing it’s rivals don’t have and that’s “Rugby”right at the heart of it’s brand. Neither Jack or Rugby have so far had any big rivals quivering with their RAJAR results – but both have found themselves a nice little share of the market and seem to be surviving nicely.

All of this brings me back around to Bath FM, and presumably it’s sister stations – if someone does happen to pick up the stations, for my money what they need if they’re going to succeed is to re-inject local into the stations. This is why I think the team behind Star 107.5 might just be a good thing for them. With their Cheltenham station they’ve proven that they’re not afraid to try things out with programming (while this leads to a slightly quirky program schedule), they’ve brought a big local name back to the air, taken the station out into the community with their fleet of various promo vehicles, and are behaving like a proper local radio station. I think this might just work in Bath, it’d need a lot of promotion, careful music programming and a willingness from the management to play a long game (Bath’s RAJARs have rather died since TLRC sold them) – but a station in Bath, called Bath which actually talks about Bath – might just have what it takes to snatch success from the jaws of disaster.

(Photo: DanielVDM on Flikr)