James Cridland

Weird broadcast laws in the UK

Spencer Howson promotion on a Brisbane ferry, February 2016

Broadcast law is a fascinating thing, and nowhere more so than the UK, which has a lot of very odd rules and regulations about how commercial radio has to work after accidents of history led it to grow the way it did.

I love this essay from Andrew Bowden highlighting some of the current “oddities” in commercial radio, some of which are likely to disappear at the start of next year, thanks to the Media Act 2024, the last deregulatory gasp of the Conservative government.

My favourite is the 24-hour all-Welsh version of Capital that quietly exists in North Wales; a half-hour farming programme on Hits Radio in Lincolnshire; and a two-hour Afro-Caribbean show on Fridays on Capital between 2am-4am, but only in Birmingham. Lovely stuff.


It’s been a “winter break” week in Australian radio, where everyone in radio goes on holiday together, seemingly. The benefit of that has been hearing Ellen Fanning on ABC Radio Brisbane breakfast, who sounded authoritative and excellent - deserving of a more permanent slot, I hope; and then, the return of Spencer Howson.

Howson last graced ABC Radio Brisbane as the station’s long-term #1 breakfast show host, leaving in 2016. His return, as fill-in for afternoons (12.30-3.30) for a week, was a delightful listen - a mix of slow, gentle “talkback” on various subjects, some interviews, and some archive audio.

The best radio, to me, is where you, as a listener, feel part of a club. That feeling was evident during Howson’s reappearance on the station, eight years on, as listeners called him to express joy and delight at the return of an old friend; quoting catchphrases and old features. Radio’s unique selling point - a human connection, a shared experience - were in evidence all this week.

On his first day, Howson enquired after a few old listeners who he hadn’t heard from in the last eight years. Some called in, delighted to have been remembered; and in one rather poignant moment, one person called in to report that one of the regulars Howson was asking about had passed away in 2019. “But he’d have been delighted that you’re back.”

Since he was last on the ABC, he has made it to the target age demographic of its listeners for the first time. He claims that he doesn’t want to go back full-time (he works as a lecturer and a radio trainer). But you can’t help feeling that his listeners have other ideas.

  • Not new, but reconfirmed - SRG/SSR, the Swiss public service broadcaster, will close its “obsolete” FM transmission network on 31 Dec 2024, in favour of DAB+ broadcasting. “The share of people who listen to radio exclusively via FM is currently stagnating at less than 10%” the broadcaster says (my bold).

  • Speaking of which, the WorldDAB Automotive 2024 event which happened recently is now available on YouTube, should you wish to watch. Session 1 from Jacqueline Bierhorst, the President of WorldDAB, is worth a watch for an update of how it all is going across Europe.

  • As AM continues its slow switch-off in the UK, Ofcom, the regulator, has made an announcement as part of their Engineering Code updates - saying that AM transmissions in the UK can now have a wider audio bandwidth - allowing the UK to move from 6kHz to 9kHz audio bandwidth limits (roughly what we get here in Australia), meaning AM audio should sound less like a crappy telephone. Hurray, you may think - better audio quality; well, kind of. Most globally-available radio receivers use a bandwidth of 4.5kHz anyway, so you’re unlikely to hear it on most radio sets, as far as I can understand. This could also mean that AM transmitters will use even more electricity. It seems an odd decision to be making at the sunset of that waveband; but it should benefit the right people with the right radio receivers, so…

  • I was excited to see “the imminent launch of the BBC News Channel livestream” in the BBC international app here in Australia. Announced on June 3, I was impatiently hitting the refresh button. Far from being an “imminent” launch, it’s still not happened: and it rather disappointingly looks as though we won’t get the proper live channel launch for the results of the UK General Election. Some people tell me that the reason is that the BBC is pulling almost all its channels from Foxtel/Binge/Flash on July 31. That’ll leave quite a hole. If you’re in Australia, and want the BBC News Channel on your TV, there’s still Fetch TV, which isn’t losing it.

    • And, talking about the General Election in the UK - obviously please vote, don’t forget to take your ID, and ideally make sure your friends vote too, because this one’s important.

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