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Story FM Gains Momentum

Belgian radio station plays music, shares news for Flemish

Flemish Prime Minister Kris Peeters pushes the button during the Story FM launch. Photo: Story FM ANTWERP, Belgium — Sanoma Media launched Story FM on March 29 last year.

The move adds to the Dutch-language repertoire available in the Flanders region of Belgium and also strengthens the media group’s position as multimedia content provider.

With activities in more than 15 countries, Sanoma Media is the publisher of “Story,” a popular magazine in Flanders, and co-owner of TV stations VT4 and VijfTV.

In various Eastern European countries, the Sanoma group also operates Story TV, which airs international programs and movies. And in the Netherlands and Flanders, Sanoma owns the SBS TV stations.

More Dutch music

The launch of a radio station in Flanders was the next logical step in the group’s strategy to become an omnipresent multimedia player.

“Story magazine has always devoted much of its content to Flemish artists and showbusiness,” said Frederik De Swaef, Story FM editor. “And despite the government’s efforts to have more Dutch-language music on the radio, Flemish artists don’t really get the airplay they should — radio is the perfect complement to the magazine in this instance.”

When it began, the station targetted the 25- to 54-age-bracket, which is a slightly younger audience than Sanoma’s print medium. Story FM has since altered its demographic, placing more emphasis on females aged 25 to 44. The station has also fine-tuned the amount of Dutch-language content it broadcasts. In the beginning it aired almost exclusively Dutch musical genres (from ‘Schlager’ to folk) with some international light AC music mixed in. “Today, six months after the kick-off, we see that quality Dutch-language material is not sufficient to operate a station with,” said Wim Weetjens, Story FM program director and Sanoma business development manager.

“Well-produced music, good recordings, but not enough to fill a program 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Nevertheless, more than 60 percent of our programming still consists of Dutch-language material — we’re the only station that caters to both a substantial part of the audience and the domestic music industry,” he said. “We do better than (public radio) VRT Radio 2, which airs approximately 35 percent of Dutch-language content.”

De Swaef explains that Story FM provides its listeners with a nonstop music program, national and international news on the hour and show business news or local news bulletins every half hour.

Modest start

“We get the international news from the Belga news service; the Story magazine editorial team provides the show business news, which makes print and radio perfectly complementary,” he said. “Some of our journalists already have public radio experience and their enthusiasm and knowledge allow Story to provide professional content.”

The station, which began broadcasting on the 107.0 MHz FM frequency, previously used by FG Radio, on the cable networks and via the Internet, welcomed Flemish minister president Kris Peeters to its official launch in Antwerp last March.

“It was a modest start,” said De Swaef, referring to its broadcast reach. “But it goes without saying that we are extending Story FM’s potential audience. Our first goal is to ensure overall coverage in Flanders via the airwaves, and for this, we are negotiating with other independent stations to decide which frequencies will carry the Story FM signal. The local radio market is under pressure these days, and we are looking for viable partners throughout the Flemish mediascape.”

De Swaef emphasized that in 2016, when the existing frequency-plan will be reviewed, Story FM wants to present a solid record that demonstrates the station’s position on the market so that it can be a real contender for a national frequency.

For its broadcasts, Story FM makes use of an existing FM antenna on the Antwerp Tower building, the city’s second highest building. The musical content (produced from a PC radio playout system) and news bulletins are transmitted through the group’s server from the Story editorial offices in Berchem to the Antwerp Tower transmitter site.

For the moment, Story FM’s technical facilities are also rather humble — the configuration consists of a studio with a new playout system and a recording booth for news bulletins.

Toward expansion

“We actually rent external broadcast services to put our signal on the air — the investment in infrastructure and equipment is minimal. Once our parent company Sanoma relocates to Mechelen later this year, we will build a new, full-fledged radio studio,” said De Swaef.

On Nov. 6, Story FM announced a first expansion of the station’s broadcast coverage. Sanoma concluded a deal with the RGR radio network for use of the network’s nine FM frequencies in the provinces of Antwerp and Brabant. Story FM began using the additional frequencies on Nov. 11, boosting the station’s potential audience and extending its presence to key urban areas such as Leuven, Lier, Turnhout, Geel, Aarschot and Mechelen.

The expansion of Story FM’s transmission infrastructure coincided with the introduction of a new playout system from GML Broadcast. This replaced the initial PC radio system.

“Story FM is the first GML Broadcast automation user in Belgium,” said Peter Kluyver, AV solutions manager at Broadcast Facilities Nederland, the company that developed the playout system some three years ago.

“We use the Wireless Antwerpen Network for the IP transfer of our signal to the 10 antenna sites. The WAN provider is an excellent alternative for a radio beam link, allowing the wireless transfer of high frequency IP data,” said Weetjens.

“Each of the transmitter sites is equipped with a WAN receiver picking up the IP signal and a specific ID code. This code allows us to split up our content for three specific broadcast areas. Following the media decree, stations must offer specific regional news bulletins for each region, in this case the city of Antwerp, and the respective provinces of Antwerp and Flemish Brabant. By encoding the particular signal stream, each individual transmitter site gets the right content.”

Most of the additional sites are equipped with DB Broadcast PM 300 FM transmitters and DB Broadcast P1 directive antennas. The Mechelen site is using two Elti antennas. In Turnhout and Geel, Story FM relies on RVR’s PTX30 transmitters and RVR 1000 W amplifiers.

Since Story FM’s launch, the station’s management has continued to fine-tune the station’s profile and image, now targeting a predominantly female audience. “This will undoubtedly benefit our cross-media collaboration with magazines such as Story, Feeling and Libelle, but also with TV Station ‘Vijf TV’ eyeing the female public,” said Weetjens.

“The expansion of Story FM’s frequency package perfectly fits our audiovisual strategy,” said Anouk Mertens, Sanoma Audiovisual managing director. “We want to strengthen our leading position on the Flemish print media market with activities in other segments, and Story FM is part of it.”

Marc Maes reports in the industry for Radio World from Antwerp, Belgium.