TFM - Our exhange of letters with Ofcom

Graham Robb publishes his exchange of letters with Ofcom about the relocation of TFM programme services from Stockton to Newcastle




Mr Peter Davies, Director of Radio Content and Broadcast Licensing

Ofcom,Riverside House
2a Southwark Bridge Road
London SE1 9H


April 7 2013

Dear Mr Davies,


I write, in a personal capacity, to urge you to hold fire before announcing approval to changes in TFM’s broadcasting remit. For background in my professional life I am a high profile member of the local business community and somebody heavily involved in local politics and act as an adviser to leading politicians in the area. I am a strong supporter of the current Government and I believe any decision to change this licence will severely undermine other important aspects of Government policy for Tees Valley. I intend to take the matter up with Ministers and Opposition spokesmen and ask you to consider Ofcom’s position before making a public announcement.

On April 5th 2013 the 22 staff who worked for the renowned commercial radio station serving Teesside, Hartlepool, Darlington South Durham and North Yorkshire moved their jobs after the owner of TFM announced it was to migrate its production to its sister station Metro Radio in Newcastle.

According to a report in the respected trade journal Radio Today: “The new TFM will launch on Monday with all programming originating from Metro Radio in Newcastle including Steve and Karen at breakfast.

Bauer Media confirms all programmes on Metro Radio will be on TFM, Steve and Karen at Breakfast, Brian Moore on mid-mornings and Stu Elmore on 3pm till 7pm, but with split adverts and news. The stations already shared off-peak programming prior to today.

Offices in Stockton will close with remaining staff moving further north from Monday. The TFM Radio name, and all on and off air branding, will be retained, as will TFM’s local news and information.

The two stations are in the same “Approved Area” of the North East, so permission to merge them can be given without consultation.”

My own experience is both in radio and a long-term involvement in politics. I started my career as a presenter on TFM (then called Radio Tees) when I interviewed Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who chose the station exclusively to talk about regeneration.  I then went on to stand for Parliament twice in the local area and was the media adviser to several Conservative leaders and MPs, including Rt Hon William Hague MP. In business, I am chairman of the local committee of the Institute of Directors and was one of the local business leaders who was consulted by local politicians about a change to the map for regional policy to introduce LEPs.

It is in this respect that I believe Ofcom might make a terrible mistake, which could be open to legal challenge, if it allows this change without consultation. My point is based on the map and my belief this decision runs counter to Government policy dealing with the economic infrastructure of Tees Valley. The area won one of the first bids for a Local Enterprise Zone and has been short listed for City Deal status to encourage its development as a recognised sub-regional entity.

The reason Ofcom could give for nodding this change through its that it takes place in an ‘approved area’ for radio licence changes of this type. However, it should be noted that the approved area – the North East of England - was determined by Ofcom BEFORE the current Government decided to change the way the North East is governed. In this respect the approved area is severely out of date and needs amending. If it were amended to fit current Government thinking and recognised economic areas, then the approved area would no longer be valid and this change would need to go out to consultation. There is, in my opinion, a case for a review and possible legal challenge on this narrow but important point. There is certainly a moral case for Ofcom to consult the people of Tees Valley before this change is made. For decision makers who are unfamiliar with North East geography and politics, this decision is the equivalent of allowing a radio station with a licence relating to Liverpool to close its doors and be broadcast from Manchester – it runs completely contrary to the contemporary localness agenda.

TFM started life as one of the first independent radio stations (ILR) in the UK and its licence has been bought and sold several times since the mid 1970s. However, after each sale programmes and news were always originated locally and the station sustained significant support in terms of audience and advertising. It most recent licence was renewed in 2012 with an expiry date of 28 June 2025, the long period this licence has to run makes it worth millions. To change the structure of delivery away from the local area with so little consultation would be a serious mistake by Ofcom, especially given the hard work by the business and political community in Tees Valley to establish itself as a distinct part of the UK economy. 

I am familiar with the regulations under which you are considering this move but I believe the points I make above give you adequate scope to hold the decision until further consideration has been given to public opinion. Nobody should lose sight of the fact that these airwaves belong to the people. They do not belong to Bauer Radio or Ofcom. In my opinion, Ofcom has a moral duty to ask the people before their radio services are spirited away. If Bauer, or any other group, cannot make the licence pay then it should be re-advertised. I am sure there are several competent and experienced people who could run the service along the lines the original licence was granted. Merely nodding through changes at the behest of corporate radio operators is not good enough. Ofcom might let Teesside down and needs to review its position as soon as possible.

Yours sincerely,


Graham Robb, Senior Partner, Recognition PR




Dear Mr Robb,


Thank you for your letter of 7th April.


I sympathise with your concerns. Ofcom understands and supports the importance of local radio, and we have a specific duty under section 314 of the Communications Act to ensure that each service broadcasts an appropriate amount of local material, a suitable proportion of which is locally made. However, we also have to act proportionately and not undermine the viability of the commercial radio sector.


Following debate in Parliament, the Digital Economy Act 2010 introduced a new provision which allowed for radio stations to co-locate and share programmes within areas defined by Ofcom. We drew up the areas and consulted fully on them before implementation. In drawing up these areas we took account of both local affinities and population sizes which affect viability. Our 2010 statement, including consideration of consultation responses can be found here:


One of those approved areas is the North East of England, which comprises roughly the areas served by Metro Radio and Tfm. In allowing stations to merge in this way, we said that it would be important for the merging stations to continue to provide local content which is relevant to the whole of the combined area and that if they did not do so, they would potentially be in breach of their licences.


We said at the time that we would not consult further on any proposals by stations within approved areas to co-locate and share programme, but that stations proposing to take advantage of the DEA provisions should let us know in advance, so that the change could be formally approved as being in line with statute and policy and be properly reflected in the licences. This is what Bauer Media has done and Ofcom has formally approved the plans. Bauer is now effectively implementing the policy we consulted on in 2009-10.


Since the implementation of the DEA, over 100 stations around the UK have taken advantage of the policy and are already doing exactly what Tfm and Metro are doing. These areas include Norwich and Ipswich, Exeter and Plymouth, Oxford and Reading, Southampton and Bournemouth.


Given the circumstances I'm afraid it would not be appropriate to consult again on the policy.


I am writing separately to Mr Wharton, who has also written to me on this matter.


Yours sincerely,


Peter Davies




Dear Mr Davies,


Thank you for your reply.


I note your comments and explanations. I fully expected you to take this stance.


However, the position remains that Tees Valley is now without an ILR station providing local news and content. The transmissions on TFM from Monday have shared news and traffic reports across the entire North East but split adverts across the region – advertisers gain local audiences, but listeners lose local news & traffic. Furthermore, you have given no weight to my principle point that the region has changed since your map was published and therefore your map is not contemporary to the current structure of the North East.


Given you have made it clear you will not consult further, can Ofcom advertise a new licence and give another operator the chance to provider a Teesside based service? There are many frequencies in the locality that are not currently used.


Best wishes


Graham Robb MPRCA

Partner in Recognition Marketing & PR LLP

Lingfield House

McMullen Road



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TFM - Our exhange of letters with Ofcom