Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Broken Heart

There’s a very quiet crisis developing in the broadcast media industry in Wales.

In March Radio Ceredigon owners Tindle announced they had sold the station to Town and Country Broadcasting who, in turn, announced they would be moving the station from its traditional home (and indeed broadcast area) in Aberystwyth to Narberth in Pembrokeshire – already home to Radio Pembrokeshire, Radio Carmarthenshire and Scarlett FM. The station has been playing a mix of jingles and music ever since with the promise the new Radio Ceredigion will be along shortly.

Last week more than 50 jobs were lost in Caernafon as TV company Barcud Derwen went into administration while its neighbour Antena also issued some staff with redundancy notices. And this week another blow to the north west media industry as its owners announced Heart radio (formerly known as Champion FM and Coast FM) would be moving from its base in Bangor to Wrexham to form a new super station: Heart North West and Wales.

These days there are only a handful of people working out of the studios in Parc Menai (pictured) but the implications of the move are more wide reaching. For starters the station was obliged by Ofcom to broadcast a certain number of hours of Welsh-language programming every day, Welsh language news as well as Welsh music – none of these issues have been formally addressed by Global Radio to my knowledge.

They’re issues that have prompted a statement by Cymdeithas Yr Iaith Gymraeg – see a partial translation below:

Gerallt Roberts, a member of the Gwynedd/Môn branch of Cymdeithas Yr Iaith Gymraeg, said:

"For months Cymdeithas Yr Iaith has been in dialogue with officials from Heart FM about our concerns that the station no longer reflects the community it’s supposed to serve by playing a very high proportion of English music. We feel that the decision to move the studios from Bangor to Wrexham will do nothing to alleviate our concerns about the future of the station as a forum to discuss and reflect the full range of Welsh life in Gwynedd and Môn.”

Osian Jones, Cymdeithas’ organiser in the north added:

“This decision proves Heart FM isn’t serious about its claims to be a community radio station. We’ve been worried for months about the Welsh language offering on Heart FM, this decision will do nothing for Heart FM as a Welsh-language station for Gwynedd and Môn.”

“We’re asking OFCOM to reconsider the Heart FM licence, because it’s become obvious that the station no longer fulfils it’s licence obligations...”

That will be a tall order for Cymdeithas. Ofcom announced in April that radio companies would have far more powers to alter their licence obligations without seeking approval from the authority.

But the implication are wider still. Real Radio no longer wants to broadcast a radio station to North Wales, instead proposing a new national service (based in Cardiff) and other than Radio Maldwyn which is still going in Newtown there is no local commercial radio outside Cardiff, Swansea, Narberth and Wrexham.

So why do we care?

For starters there’s no longer a training ground for young talent in mid and north Wales. Aled Haydn Jones – now one of the most successful radio producers in the country – started his broadcast career at Radio Ceredigion in Aberystwyth. Many presenters on Radio Wales, Radio Cymru, Real Radio and S4C are veterans of these dying stations too. In the medium and long term, it could prove to be an almighty blow to the creative industries in Wales and an obstacle for any young people with an ambition to inform, educate or entertain through broadcast media.

And what of the local communities who listened to their local station to hear people who talk like they do and talk about the things they care about? The lives the presenters of the new Heart FM lead in London is far removed from the lives their listeners lead in Pwllheli, Menai Bridge and Conwy. In an era where localism seems to matter more than ever, and there are more powers being devolved to the Assembly and local authorities there will be fewer individuals keeping watch over them and fewer people informed of their activities as a result.

The future is very uncertain indeed. This is by no means the end of this story.

Dewi Tri



Jingles said...

Its a great shocking news for me, i am really surprised to read out this post, i am still looking forward for more updates.

Anonymous said...

There is a real opportunity here for OFCOM to setup community based radio stations to supply content to the larger parent company. Local, or at least regional (North Wales) content could be produced with volunteers working alongside professionals for 10's of thousands, not 100's of thousands. Look at some of the hyperlocal website that are springing up to see what can be done with a bit of enthusiasm.


Heart is a good brand, but needs to be MORE like it was in 2007, i.e. local 6am-7pm weekdays, 8am-7pm weekends, 8am-4pm local Sundays.

Obviously it has to evolve to go with the times, but the basic scheduling model above worked, so why network like this?

Maybe Heart Wirral could get Steve Wright from Radio 2 to do their local breakfast show?

Heart listener with conscience crisis said...

According to the Ofcom requirements for Heart, available at:

"Heart North West and Wales weekday daytime output (0600-10:00 and 16:00 - 19:00) and weekend (0800-12:00 Saturday and Sunday) output is produced and presented for Heart at our local studios based in Wrexham."

Fair enough.

"We also provide output in the Welsh language on Heart 96.3. This is broadcast every weekday from 5am to 6am and on Sundays from 7am to 8am"

This is blatant tokenism, given the timings. Do they think only farmers speak Welsh, because they're about the only people who'll be up and about at 5. It is even worse than the Welsh language TV scheduling in the pre-S4C era. No doubt, in due course, Heart will be calling for the Welsh-language requirement to be dropped on the grounds that no-one is listening.

Their treatment of the Welsh-speaking audience is disgusting.

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Broken Heart