In My Opinion: John Collins: The Competition Commission, Capital and the future of a Scottish radio legend

THE Competition Commission has reported on the acquistion of GMG radio by Global Radio, the UK’s biggest radio operator.

Global own Capital Scotland, and, had the sale been approved without any conditions, they would also have owned Real Radio Scotland. But the combination of two large operators was considered anti-competitive in terms of the radio advertising market.

So, stations are first going to have to be sold off. In Scotland, this falls to a choice between retaining Capital, which has made a steady impact from its Pacific Quay studios in Glasgow and new acquisition, Real radio Scotland. It’s likely that if Real is retained, it will be transformed into ‘Heart’.

This isn’t happening in isolation. Across the UK, seven stations will need to be sold to allow the bigger sale to go through, but in almost every market Capital FM is one of the named stations.

While there’s a small part of me that would like to see Capital purchased and turned into a ‘son of Beat 106′, full of young attitude and loudness, there’s simply no way this will happen.

Global boss, Ashley Tabor’s first love is said to be Capital and Global have done a magnificent job creating a national radio station around the brand. I don’t see him giving up on it when there are creative options out there.

Similarly, Heart is huge, and I think the Real Radio stations in the GMG portfolio were the prize in this acquisition. Rebranded as ‘Heart’, they would provide a national network that appeals to the prized 25-44 demographic, with a female skew that’s an excellent sell to advertisers.

I don’t think it’s that straightforward, though.

While I’m not aware of any suitors prowling the radio marketplace, I could imagine a company coming along and buying the seven Capital stations that are up for grabs and simply licensing the brand and networked content from Global. Costs would undoubtedly be a little higher; a new back-office function would be one cost and I’m sure they would have to pay more than the internal accounting transfers for the networked programming.

This could happen in a bunch of ad hoc sales or could be a straight purchase for an existing group – if they have ready access to the funds.

As I understand it, this all has to fall into place in the next 12 weeks.

If a purchase-and-licensing deal happens with sales moving to a different house, Capital stays in Scotland and the path is created for Real to be transformed into Heart.

It’s always possible that Real will be bought and recreated as its former self, Scot FM, but I’m not at all certain that will happen simply because of the fact that Real is the ‘cash cow’ and has a decade-long heritage of huge audiences.

It’s going to be an interesting summer for radio-watchers.

John Collins lectures in radio broadcasting at Reid Kerr College in Paisley, following a 25-year career on both sides of the microphone at both the BBC and in commercial radio in Scotland. He still pops up occasionally on the radio, at Clyde 2 on a Sunday morning. Pic: Michele Dillon.