AM Transmitters to Close in U.K.

Absolute Radio may follow BBC local stations in AM switch-off
By Will Jackson ,

LONDON — The United Kingdom’s Absolute Radio may have to close its AM network of transmitters, the station has warned in a letter to media regulator Ofcom.

The Bauer Media-owned broadcaster is requesting permission to switch off more than one-third of its medium-wave transmitters, and to reduce the power at others.

Writing to Ofcom, Dee Ford, Bauer’s Group Managing Director – Radio, says “AM is no longer front and centre of listener interest and while it continues to offer a valuable service to some listeners, the world of radio listening is unrecognisable compared to when the provisions of the original AM licence were drafted.”

Dee Ford is Group managing director – Radio of Bauer Media, owners of Absolute Radio.

Absolute Radio wants to reduce the transmission power at the five largest sites in its network by 3dB. “The power of the large AM transmitters was established over 25 years ago to protect (now much reduced) night-time audiences, from incoming interference that has now largely disappeared”, Ford writes.

In a second round of changes, Absolute would close 12 of its smaller AM transmitters, which it claims are “no longer commercially viable for a music-based AM radio service.” This would allow it to invest “a modest level of capex” in the remaining sites, and to release spares for maintenance.

Ofcom reports that Absolute’s figures suggest the move, including savings on electricity, would reduce the total annual transmission costs for its AM network by just over half, with coverage reducing from 90.5 to 85.4 percent of the U.K. adult population. The station would continue to broadcast on national DAB digital radio.

In the letter to Ofcom, Ford writes that if the changes are not permitted, “this will be likely to have the terminal effect of closing the entire AM network from April 2018 or some later date.” Ofcom is now consulting on the proposal.

Sharon White is chief executive of U.K. media regulator Ofcom.

The move comes just days after the BBC closed 13 of its AM local radio sites, with seven stations losing all medium wave transmissions, and a further three reducing coverage. In a statement on its website, the BBC says that after audience feedback and coverage data was analyzed, the sites chosen for closure were “unlikely to be value for money in the longer term.” Meanwhile, last month in the United States, the FCC released data showing the loss of 30 AM licenses in 2017.

However, demonstrating there is still a demand for AM licenses in some quarters, the famous off-shore pirate station Radio Caroline returned as a legal community radio station in December 2017. It broadcasts to the east of England from a 1 kW transmitter at Orfordness on 648 kHz, a frequency formerly used by the BBC World Service.