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Who would have thought a soft rock station launching in 1994 would shape local radio in 2008?

Tuesday, 18th September 2008
Middle-of-the-road heads to Middle England
Local radio station identities face the chop as parent group pursues quasi-national brand to boost ad sales

29 of the UK's local radio stations, including heritage stations such as Severn Sound and Fox FM in the south Midlands to the northern home counties' Chiltern Radio, are facing a switch to the Heart brand as part of far-reaching proposals by radio operator Global Radio, in a deal involving the purchase GCap Media's One Network of local radio stations and other regional brands earlier this year.

The plans include a significant expansion of the Heart and Galaxy brands throughout the UK, with networked shows outside of breakfast and drivetime. Heart already operates in West Midlands, East Midlands and London, while Galaxy can currently be heard in the North-East, Birmingham, Manchester and across Yorkshire.

Just seven stations acquired by Global Radio will retain their current identity - Capital 95.8 in London, Nottingham's Trent FM, Leicester Sound, Derby's Ram FM, Crawley-based Mercury FM, the Welsh capital's Red Dragon and Ten 17 in Harlow. The remainder are poised to switch to the adult contemporary sound of Heart in a roll-out - due to be completed in an 18 month time frame - from 1st November 2008, with Power FM in Hampshire rebranding as dance and r&b station Galaxy.

As part of the GCap deal, Global Radio will sell five Midlands-based stations to avoid referral to the Competition Commission: Birmingham's BRMB, Beacon Radio Shropshire, Beacon Radio Wolverhampton, Coventry's Mercia and Herefordshire and Worcestershire's Wyvern FM. West Midlands' based Heart on 100.7FM already broadcasts to the same areas as these stations. East Midlands' Heart on 106FM will be offered as a franchise in order to allay competition concerns in this region.

Xfm Scotland is set to fall under the Galaxy banner, with the two frequencies of Choice FM in London taking Galaxy's networked output, but retaining the Choice name.

The changes bring to an end - in some cases - more than twenty-five years of local identity, with Chiltern Radio and Essex FM waving goodbye to their name after 27 years and Severn Sound relinquishing the name it has used since 1980.

Stations giving up their current identity over the next 18 months are: 2-Ten FM, Buzz, Champion 103, Coast 96.3, Chiltern Radio, Essex FM, Gemini FM, GWR, Hereward FM, Horizon Radio, Invicta FM, 2CR, Lantern FM, Marcher Sound, Northants 96, Orchard FM, Plymouth Sound, Fox FM, Q103, Radio Broadland, Severn Sound, SGR FM, South Hams Radio and Southern FM.

The proposals indicate space could be freed up on regional DAB multiplexes where Galaxy and Choice are currently broadcast in tandem, but could lead to headaches for DAB digital radio listeners in the northern Home Counties trying to find their local Heart breakfast show from a station list that includes London's, Bedford's and the three counties' Heart all showing identically on the display.

Global's aim is to make it easier to sell airtime to advertisers, by packaging the stations under the soon-to-be familiar banners of Heart, Galaxy and Hit Music Network working alongside its existing Classic FM, Xfm, Gold Network and LBC brands.

100.7 Heart FM launched in the West Midlands in September 1994, playing "all your soft rock favourites" before a switch to adult contemporary music in 1996. The original Galaxy 97.2 launched in Bristol in 1990, but under different owners now goes by the name of regional Kiss 101.

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