Page last updated at 07:51 GMT, Tuesday, 16 June 2009 08:51 UK

Radio stations share common voice

By Jamie McIvor
BBC Scotland news

Radio Tay boss Ally Ballingall is now director of Bauer's AM Scotland
Radio Tay boss Ally Ballingall is now director of Bauer's AM Scotland

Many familiar voices disappeared from Scotland's airwaves this week as a new practice of sharing programmes among radio stations took a step forward.

Quietly and with no fanfare, a revolution has taken place in Scottish commercial radio.

Listeners to Scotland's best-known medium wave (AM) stations - Clyde 2, Forth 2, Northsound 2, Tay AM and Westsound - may have been wondering where some of their favourite DJs have gone and why they are hearing, what, to them, may be unfamiliar voices.

The answer is that these stations have just undergone a massive shake-up, unprecedented in Scottish commercial radio.

The vast bulk of their programmes are being "pooled" - in other words shared with each other - and broadcast across Scotland.

This means that the medium wave (AM) local stations have almost become a Scottish national station in all but name.

Apart from the breakfast shows, news and traffic reports the bulk of programmes are now being heard across the country.

The practice - known as "networking" - has been common south of the border for some time.

Economic downturn

Supporters argue it makes economic sense and that some listeners would rather hear a good programme broadcast across a group of stations than an average one broadcast locally.

While the owners of the stations, Bauer, have not said whether the move is about economics, the whole of the commercial media - radio, TV and newspapers - is suffering from the economic downturn. Advertising revenue has been falling.

Bauer said it "is constantly looking for new and creative ways to entertain listeners and the restructure of AM programming will allow the company to broadcast the best, most popular shows from across the network to a wider audience. "

The person in charge of the AM stations in Scotland is Ally Ballingall, boss of Radio Tay and well known to listeners in the area as Ally Bally.

Ironically the changes mean he may now win fans in other parts of the country.

In a statement he said: "I am really delighted to be taking up this new challenge and am committed to bringing quality local programming to listeners across Scotland.

"Commercial radio in the UK today is more competitive today than ever, so my vision is to create stations which will be at the heart of the local community for many years to come. We are broadening listenership with new programmes which we are sure will delight audiences around the country."

While the idea of networking programmes between local stations grew in popularity south of the border, it has only become commonplace in Scotland in recent months

Until five years ago, Scotland's long-established local radio stations were owned by Scottish Radio Holdings - a company which grew out of Radio Clyde, the first legal commercial station in the UK outside London to go on the air in 1973.

The company was bought over by publishing company Emap and then sold on to Bauer.

Radio Clyde's first chief executive Jimmy (later Lord) Gordon always insisted the secret of successful local radio was its localness.

The idea that Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen or wherever the listeners lived was, as he once put it, at the centre of the universe.

It was about the accent of the DJ, the things they spoke about, even comments about the weather outside.

While the idea of networking programmes between local stations grew in popularity south of the border, it has only become commonplace in Scotland in recent months.

Bauer's FM stations - such as Clyde 1, Forth 1, Tay FM, Northsound 1, Radio Borders, West FM - share programmes from 7pm each evening.

Commercial sector

Meanwhile rival stations such as Real and Smooth FM share some programmes, especially in the evenings, with their sister stations south of the border creating, critics argue, quasi-national networks.

The move appears to have caused little public concern so far, apart from a few newspaper stories about individual long-serving DJs being axed and with it the inevitable disappointment of their personal followers.

Indeed the challenges facing commercial radio - largely based on popular music and DJs - are unlikely to attract widespread political concern, unlike worries about the future of the newspaper industry or regional news on ITV.

Yet local radio in Scotland - other than local news - has been left to the commercial sector since the early 90s when the BBC closed services such as Radio Highland to concentrate its efforts on the main Radio Scotland service.

Some siren voices now wonder if truly local radio services in Scotland may increasingly be provided by tiny local stations, such as Lochbroom FM in the Highlands and Heartland FM in Perthshire.

Stations which serve small geographical areas and which are sometimes run as small businesses or community projects rather than money-making ventures.

Only time will tell if the changes to Bauer's medium wave stations will be successful.

But their transformation into a Scottish network in all but name marks the end of a chapter in the history of Scottish radio.



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