The end of music radio on AM? TuneIn cuts stations off; and DRM's relationship with the BBC

Above: the future home of the International Broadcast Centre for the 2032 Olympics. It’s currently a glass factory on the Brisbane river, and a large plot of land.

Brisbane station 4KQ (oldies music) has been sold - to SEN, a sports radio company that owns a variety of sports radio stations. Radio Info covers the news - the price is $12m (US $8.5m).

4KQ’s owners, ARN, had to sell it under ACMA’s ownership rules: they own 4KQ and KIIS 97.3, and had bought Grant Broadcasters for a large slab of money in November which gave them neighbouring stations River and Hot 91.1 - stations which have overlapping transmission areas.

Currently #3 in the market, 4KQ does pretty well as an oldies station; but the new owners see there being more benefit in taking SEN onto an AM frequency in Brisbane (it’s been on DAB+ for a while). As I covered back in November, though, 4KQ might be a market leader in the Brisbane market - but only a market leader for audiences aged 55+. 75% of its audience is 55+; 53% aged 65+, but a very low amount of 40-54 audience, suggesting that the station - successful as it has been - hasn’t been sufficiently concerned with maintaining new replenishers.

Audiences who want (similar) music on AM now have just one choice - to flick up the dial to 4BH 1116, a poor frequency recently vacated by talk station 4BC.

4BH, owned by Nine Radio but operated on their behalf by Victorian-based ACE Radio, has no locally-sourced programming at all, with all output coming from Melbourne. The music policy is lower-tempo - RadioApp calls it “Easy Music 4BH, Brisbane’s Place To Relax”, but the website doesn’t use that positioning. Even so - the last twenty minutes have been full of Stevie Wonder Isn’t She Lovely; George Michael and Aretha Franklin I Knew You Were Waiting; Fleetwood Mac Rhiannon; and Rod Stewart and Sailing, and one speedlink from Cathy Jubb, who we learn from her biog is a fan of Carlton. Hmm.

4BH is the obvious winner from this, but other recipients might be talk services ABC Radio Brisbane (612) or 4BC (882) - ABC playing some music. The only station playing music other than 4BH is Switch Brisbane 1197, a “youth community radio station” which, last time I heard, was without a studio and doesn’t appear to have updated its website since December. Judging by the music they play, it’s unlikely to appeal to 4KQ’s audience (Purple Dance Machine Dopamine was playing when I tuned in).

The question here is whether AM music radio has a longterm future in big cities (I’m not very sure). It’s needed in more sparsely-populated areas like outback Australia; and it’s still got a future for talk - at least for now - but I’m not sure we’ll get any music stations back.

PS: I guess ARN hasn’t sold the 4KQ name; so they could potentially just keep 4KQ going on DAB+ and on their iHeartRadio app (at least, the popular breakfast show and a non-stop music service). That could be quite a stunt to pull: “by popular demand…” More likely that the breakfast show moves to another station; or, hopefully, just gets a jolly good, affectionate, sendoff. Co-presenter Laurel Edwards has been doing it since the early 1990s, after all.

Switch Brisbane 1197 has a link on its website to “LISTEN NOW”, which takes you directly to their page on TuneIn. That’s unlikely to happen in the UK from this week.

TuneIn has removed more than a thousand stations from its catalogue in the UK. It’s “out of an abundance of caution” after the company lost a court case a few years ago, and they’ve removed a number of stations that are, apparently, licensed anyway.

A long time ago, I did ask both PPL and PRS for a list of their licenced online radio broadcasters, so that I could ensure I only linked to broadcasters who had licences. They refused to send me a list. I wondered whether I could check with them whether individual stations had licences; they told me that I couldn’t.

It does highlight that:

a) TuneIn and other large US companies couldn’t care less about your radio station, and it’s risky relying on them

b) there is a clear part to play for companies like Radioplayer

c) the music collection agencies could be rather more helpful

DRM (Digital Radio Mondiale) is part of the BBC World Service’s story says a long article from DRM Consortium chair, Ruxandra Obreja. The article - which starts with a criticism that James Careless has “once again” ignored DRM - talks about the excellent radio station from the BBC, and invites the lustre of that great station to rub off onto DRM, the digital radio standard.

The BBC has lent its brand, and its premises, to the DRM Consortium as a past venue for the DRM General Assembly and its logo adorns the DRM Consortium website as a member. Press releases from the DRM Consortium used to be sent from a BBC email address, and were adorned with a BBC postal address, too.

The article includes a picture of an AM transmitter in the UK, which “beams BBC World Service content in shortwave DRM to Europe and beyond”. And it does - but for just one hour a day, between 0500-0600 GMT; a detail that is only hinted at in the article.

DRM is certainly “part of the BBC World Service’s story” - but a small current part: it’s also broadcast from Singapore for two hours a day. And that’s it, according to the DRM Consortium’s own website.

Meanwhile, the BBC has done a number of pieces of research on DRM, including a longterm trial in Devon, which I felt important enough to cover when I was working for the BBC in 2009 - a trial which uncovered “challenges”.

This article suggests that DRM is a big part of the BBC’s strategy. That seems misleading.

DRM is a great technology: very, very clever and technically robust. A lot of admirably clever people work on it. However, there has been next to no input from those that understand how the wider radio market works: no knowledge from commercial radio, or major receiver manufacturers. A search for Digital Radio Mondiale on eBay (UK) doesn’t find a single receiver; one on eBay’s global site does give me one receiver - costing $2,300 marked “parts only” (and, ominously, from Switzerland).

I’d have liked to have seen it succeed; and while we’re told DRM is big in India (they say 28% of new cars come with it; though I don’t see any home receivers on Amazon India), it does’t appear to have made it anywhere else. I’m afraid James was right to have passed it over. Is it too late? I hope not.

  • Spotify’s Pandora-like “Stations” app is to close. It was one attempt by Spotify to pretend that it could pretend to be radio; and failed to do very much at all.

  • There’s an NME in Australia, who knew? In this article from it, a man from ARN has uses a lazy Buggles headline. Mate, nah.

  • The man in question - the boss of CADA (pron CAY-der) - which is a new FM station available in Sydney, and DAB station in the capital cities, which is - we’re told - a new youth station from commercial radio. It’s Australia’s Home of Hip Hop and R&B, though whenever I’ve tuned in this week it’s sounded as if it’s disjointed edits from a podcast - no radio furniture, namechecks, or anything remotely connected to the music they’re playing, but I’m not the target market though. It’s supposed to be quite the radio reinvention, so for the benefit of radio I hope it does well.

    • Here’s the TV ad for it, which is sixty seconds of its target market dancing to something, and then a logo for a brand new brand which fails to mention it’s a radio station, so is - as far as I can tell - a waste of time and money; but, again, I’m not the target market. I genuinely do wish it does well.
  • Meanwhile in Wales, The Wave in Swansea is giving up on local radio, taking everything except the breakfast show from England. I’m surprised it took Bauer so long; the other radio station they run in the city, Swansea Sound, turned into Greatest Hits Radio a while, and its only local programming - from Cardiff, an hour’s drive away - is 1pm to 4pm.

  • I’d quite like to be a little more positive about radio in this newsletter, so here’s a piece of research from the US showing how people have changed their listening to radio in the last few years. 20% say they’re listening more often, so I’d like to focus on that, rather than the 34% who are listening less often.

  • But if you’d like some more positive vibes, could I recommend you enjoy this presentation from Jacobs Media - it’s on May 10, and free to watch. It’s research from radio’s superfans, and worth watching, as all of Fred’s stuff is.

  • And here’s some more positive news about radio - the fancy houses that ex-radio people live in. Here is a nice picture of a house owned by Lawrence “Moonman” Mooney, who worked for Triple M breakfast in Sydney for a bit until his contract was terminated, he copped a fine for COVID-19 rule-flouting, and is now settling in to take his old employers to court. Meanwhile this piece also includes photographs of Alan Jones’s house; a fantastically tasteless ten-bedroom house with a blue-dyed ornamental lake. He also fell off the radio in 2020, after advertisers were beginning to desert his peculiar brand of misogyny and climate denial, and even a primetime slot on Sky News failed to save his broadcasting career.

  • Meanwhile, some good work from the BBC, who did a study removing all BBC content from people for nine days to see how they reacted. Most people - even people vehemently against the licence fee - didn’t like it. As a nice touch, people were given back the 9 days of licence-fee: just £4.

  • And, stupid Nadine Dorries, the stupid culture secretary in the UK, said in an interview that Channel 5 did much better after being privatised. Channel 5 has never been publicly-owned.

Want to supercharge your radio show? Here’s a £1 week-long trial of Show Prep - from a world class radio consultant and the best show-prep writer in the UK. Great for UK stations, or for English-language stations everywhere, too. (ad)


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