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Tuesday, 19 November, 2002, 14:26 GMT
Liberty loses its freedom
Liberty website
Liberty's website: The doomed station is still on air
Nick Higham

It's not really a surprise that London's Liberty Radio is about to lose its licence.

The AM radio station is the least successful in Britain.

It accounts for just 0.1 per cent of all radio listening in London, the lowest share of any station listed by the radio audience research organisation Rajar.

Liberty was not a success when it was launched as Viva, a station for women.

It was not a success when it was taken over and renamed by Harrods boss Mohamed Al Fayed, who lavished 7 million on it over the years.

Lynne Franks
Liberty's predecessor, Viva, was founded by Lynne Franks
Nor has it been a success since he sold it to Universal Difusao, a Lisbon-based offshoot of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, an evangelical religious group which originated in Brazil in the 1970s.

Liberty and its staff will be put out of their misery next July, when the station's current licence expires - unless it chooses to go early.

Waiting in the wings to take over is Club Asia, one of seven groups (four of them Asian) which challenged Liberty for its licence - and yet another example of the boom in Asian media which I wrote about here a few weeks ago.

Club Asia, which already broadcasts on digital satellite and the internet, is the brainchild of two sisters, Sumerah and Humerah Ahmad.

Mohamed Al Fayed and Michael Jackson
Mohamed Al Fayed even recruited Michael Jackson to promote Liberty
Sumerah is programme director, Humerah finance director. Their father Tofail Ahmad was chairman, but he has been barred by the Radio Authority from any involvement with the running of the station because he has a conviction for evading customs and excise duty and VAT, and has been replaced by the Asian-born peer Baroness Flather.

The company, partly backed by EMG, the publisher of the Asian newspaper Eastern Eye, impressed the Radio Authority with its plan to target what Club Asia believes is an underserved audience of 15-to-34 year old "second and third generation" Asians.

It spent 60,000 on research to build up what the authority called a "compelling case".

The station mixes Western and Asian music, including bhangra, Asian garage and Hindi film music, and, though it broadcasts mainly in English, says it welcomes calls and contributions in Asian languages as well.

Club Asia logo
Club Asia's logo: Its music will fill the airwaves next year
Sumerah Ahmad admits that an AM licence is not ideal for a station aimed at a young audience, but says Asian listeners realise an FM station could be a long time coming and will take what they can get.

The challenge for Club Asia will be to try and seduce mainstream advertisers to the station - something many Asian media have struggled to do.

She thinks the station may be helped by the new census, which is expected to show a big increase in London's Asian population when it is published next year.

But Club Asia's success has disappointed at least one of the other applicants, Saga Radio, which was aimed at another growing and supposedly under-served audience in the capital - the over-50s.

This column also appears in the BBC magazine Ariel.

The BBC's Nick Higham writes on broadcasting

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