South Wales commercial FM station holder Nation Radio Ltd. has petitioned the United Kingdom’s broadcast regulator for a format change. It has informed Ofcom that it wants to alter its “Character of Service” from a modern rock station targeting listeners age 15 to 34 to “one which requires the service to play rock-oriented music and to be male-focused (with no target age group specified).”
Before you become annoyed, perplexed, amused, or whatever at the “male-focused” request, note that in the UK commercial stations actually have to go through a formal process when they want to change formats—as opposed to the United States where they do so at will and if you don’t like it, well, tough testosterone.
The signal got started in November 2007 as Xfm. Then GCap Media sold it in 2008 to a local group and it became “Nation Radio.” The frequency covers a population of around 870k adults, which Ofcom defines as people 15 or older. The station prides itself on promoting Welsh bands like the Manic Street Preachers, Stereophonics, and Kids in Glass Houses.
The government is soliciting online responses to this format change proposal. I’m guessing that being from the South Wales area will probably enhance the chances of your commentary being taken seriously. The last time radio station gender orientation questions crossed my desk the theater of debate was Israel, where feminists launched a class action lawsuit against Kol Barama—basically a guys only Orthodox signal. But that was a far more inflammatory situation, obviously.
Here are some excerpts from Nation’s format change request:
“We believe that recent market changes have opened a significant gap in local commercial radio provision for males in South Wales. For instance, Real has dropped much of its male leaning speech output, such as its nightly peak time sports show and moved to a more female oriented music output. The impact of this is confirmed by reviewing RAJAR and music monitoring which shows the existing stations to be extremely female biased. We noted, with particular interest that Real Radio, which was a very male dominated station at the time of applications in Dec 2006, with 56% of its listening hours from men, has completely reversed its market position. Of the other services only Gold – an AM, predominantly networked service from London – has a male bias but its classic pop hits are readily distinct from Nation’s rock oriented output, whilst it also serves only a sub-area of the wider Nation Radio footprint. Nation’s ABC1 appeal is also distinctive with the format continuing to appeal to upmarket males as we combine rock music and relevant local news, speech and information.”
Some interesting comments on the competitive state of the “modern rock” genre here:
“Whilst Nation has made good progress in developing an identity and brand for itself, it is restricted in its ability to move with its audience’s tastes and demands. At the time of its application it stated ‘musically, rock genres are least represented, but the most demanded by audiences’. Yet Modern Rock itself as its core sub-genre has dwindled in appeal and we have found it difficult to develop a viable wider station based on this sub-genre alone. This is illustrated in the decline of other modern rock oriented services, many of which have closed on DAB and/or on FM in recent years, even at a national level where viability has been difficult to achieve.
Nation remains well behind its modest application revenue forecasts and the loss of audience potential in younger age groups is now threatening its viability. Without a significant improvement in listening hours, Nation will almost certainly need to dilute its Welsh produced hours or even consider joining a national network, which would deprive Wales of further local programming and risk local jobs. Many specialist music services have evolved more radically than we are requesting (Jazz FM to Smooth, Choice to Capital, XFM to Capital, Original to Jack). Nation Radio will continue to give exposure to a wide range of rock genres that the original application demonstrated were under-represented in the music output of existing South Wales commercial stations. These genres are even more under represented today than in 2007.”
The closing date for responses to the Ofcom consultation for Nation Radio is November 7.