Ofcom backs Capital Xtra’s Choices

Ofcom’s Broadcast Bulletins are always an interesting read. Well, for radio bods like me they are. They detail Ofcom’s decisions on major complaints and for people who want to understand the regulator a little better it gives quite a bit of background into their thinking.

Issue 264 has just come out and in amongst slapping Radio 1 down for Lily Allen’s swearing and resolving similar naughtiness on The Wright Stuff it also talks about the complaints Global Radio’s had over Choice’s rebranding to Capital Xtra.

Many original Choice listeners have been unhappy about the shift to Capital Xtra away from its Afro-Carribean roots and complained to Ofcom that it was deviating from its analogue formats:

A targeted music, news and information service primarily for listeners of African and Afro-Caribbean origin in the Brixton [or North London] area but with crossover appeal to other listeners who appreciate urban contemporary black music. The service includes 21 hours per week of complementary specialist music.

There were three issues that came up:

  1. Was the daytime music in format; and
  2. Was the specialist music in format; and
  3. Was it delivering a satisfactory news, community news and information service for listeners of African and Afro-Caribbean origin in the Brixton and North London areas

You can read Ofcom’s full response here (PDF), but here are the main bits:

With regard to the station’s music policy, as set out above, we acknowledged that a greater ‘dance’ component had been injected into the station’s music mix. However, taking an overall view of the music output across both monitoring periods, and also taking into account the increasing overlaps between urban and dance music, it was our view that Capital Xtra’s music output remained compliant with the requirements of the Format. Nevertheless, we have reminded the Licensee that the Formats continue to refer explicitly to, “urban contemporary black music”. We consider that such music, including genres such as rap, hip hop and R&B, must remain the station’s core music offer.

In terms of local and community news, we noted that a separate London news feed is provided for the two FM licences which is different from the news bulletins broadcast on the (national) Capital Xtra DAB service. Consequently, a range of local London stories were aired, including some that would have been of particular interest to the African and Afro-Caribbean community. We noted that the local news bulletins broadcast by Capital Xtra were also compliant with the Format requirement to provide local news bulletins at least hourly at peak-times (which Ofcom defines as being weekday breakfast and drivetime, and weekend late breakfast).

We recognised that, in sharing most of the output with the national Capital Xtra DAB service, some of the previous local ‘feel’ of Choice FM has inevitably been lost. However, it was ultimately our view that the station’s news and information provision was sufficient to remain compliant with the requirements of the two London FM Formats, and was consistent with Ofcom’s localness guidelines

The output of Capital Xtra has changed in some respects in comparison to that of the former Choice FM, and we acknowledged complainants’ concerns about these changes. However, on balance, we did not consider that the changes meant that the station had ceased to be targeted primarily at listeners of African and Afro-Caribbean origin in the areas of London stated (as the Formats require). We therefore concluded that Licence Condition 2(4) had not been breached.

Some would argue that this is another example of Global riding rough shod over people’s radio stations and that Ofcom is weak. I’m sorry but I don’t really agree with that narrative. There’s no question that these stations have changed over the time, they were licensed in 1990 and 2000 so no real surprises there.

And that’s the nub of it really. Should radio stations be preserved in aspic? When the first station was licensed in 1990, there was no internet, no multi-channel TV, no digital radio, no mobile phones. Should, 24 years later, we be judging it the same way?

Have the Afro-Carribean community been ‘let down’ by the regulator? I don’t think so. Have they been ‘let down’ by business? Potentially more likely.

However, there has never been more opportunities for stations to be on-air. Licensed community radio, DAB across London, DTV, the Internet – they’re all options. Big ones. In Q1 of this year Capital Xtra’s share was 0.8 and 1Xtra’s was 0.7%. The idea that an FM licence is the only way to cater for audiences is no longer true.

102.2FM in London was licensed as a Jazz station, Smooth is very much not one now. Radio 2 used to play Mantovani. It doesn’t so much any more. Asian talk now comes out of radio tuned to 1035AM, it used to be Country.

The world moves on. It is a shame if you like the old. But there’s never been a better, and easier time, to build the new.

One thought on “Ofcom backs Capital Xtra’s Choices”

  1. I am curious about the method Ofcom uses to assess the music played by a station. Does Ofcom have a team of music experts familiar with the genres in question who are able to fairly judge the quality and targeting of the music output? Or do that just conclude everything is ok if they hear some beats and someone rapping?

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