The case for an independent radio station for Teesside, Darlington & Hartlepool

Some arguments for keeping a radio service for Tees Valley



Local MP, James Wharton, has been invited to meet Ofcom after picking up on the issue of the TFM closure/move and writing to the regulator in protest. He has kindly invited me to join him. Here is the case I intend to make. If you have any additional points please email me a letter that I can give to Ofcom. My email address is The meeting is next week.

The original licence to broadcast in the North East sub-region was granted in 1974. It resulted in a popular ILR (Independent Local Radio) station that produced innovative programmes and local news. In programming terms it was extremely successful, garnering large audiences and producing some of the top people in UK broadcasting. Financially it was sometimes tough but successive owners were able to sustain a local service – indeed there is no evidence has been published to suggest it was losing money at the beginning of this year.

The move of programming to Newcastle happened at the convenience of its corporate owner, Bauer, which has now reduced its cost base. It was possible because of a change in the broadcasting map introduced in the dying days of the last Labour Government and passed into law in the first days of this Government. The map was put out to consultation with very little fanfare at a time when people were distracted by a general election campaign.

Since the map was published the structure of the North East has changed. The Government agreed to two Local Enterprise Partnerships in the North East, one specifically charged with promoting the economic interests of Tees Valley – Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Redcar & Cleveland, Stockton and Darlington.

Today there is no dedicated commercial radio station for this new economic area. The practical effect of the Ofcom policy is to provide a programming a news service from Metro in Newcastle. Driving to work in the morning, traffic news is mixed in with that from Newcastle and local news is judged against competing stories from Newcastle. The music on the two stations was always similar but the programming comments from presenters are now Newcastle centric. All of this has happened on a technicality using a rule that was little known or understood by the public or local decision makers and which in contemporary times rules counter to the Government’s policy of creating a distinct economic area for Tees Valley.

Before the new broadcasting map was introduced a report was commissioned by Ofcom, its author was the respected John Myers. In his report he suggested the policy should not apply to radio stations with a proven audience of 700,000 people a week. TFM has more than 800,000. Ofcom did not implement this aspect of his report, if it had Bauer would not have been able to move to shared programming without full consultation.

If Ofcom will not reconsider its decision – it says it won’t - then there is a strong case for it to test the market and advertise a new licence for a stand-alone commercial radio station for the local area. There are plenty of frequencies available.

I have no financial interest in this matter; my only concern is that losing its own dedicated radio service suggests this area cannot sustain a radio business and damages its reputation to the business community as a whole. I am told that there are several groups local who would consider bidding if a licence were advertised. If Ofcom is to act in the public interest – and not as a regulator that appears to be too close to those it regulates - it has a moral duty to advertise a licence and test the market.

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The case for an independent radio station for Teesside, Darlington & Hartlepool