The race for London's airwaves began in earnest yesterday as 41 rival radio stations placed their bids for four new services.

There are two new licences available on each of the AM and FM wavebands.

In addition, Capital Radio's AM and FM frequencies have been advertised, but it is likely that London's oldest commercial radio station will remain unchallenged.

By 2pm yesterday all applications had been handed in to the Radio Authority's headquarters in Holborn, and by October the organisation must choose which four are to win access to the highly prized frequencies.

The last round of licence applications in 1993 caused upset when LBC lost both its frequencies. Two new stations - Country 1035 and Sunrise, the Asian station - were born.

Under the Radio Authority's remit to extend consumer choice, the applicants made up a wide variety of specialised tastes and interests.

Among the front runners were the American-influenced 'soft rock stations that pander to the tastes of the 25-40 age bracket favoured by advertisers.

Following in the wake of the album-track station Virgin Radio, which now boasts of being Britain's 'fastest growing radio station, were such prospective stations as London 106FM, planning to catch 'lapsed Radio 1 listeners', and Crystal FM, promising to avoid 'musical extremities' such as rap, dance and heavy rock.

The authority's awarding of an additional licence in Birmingham to an adult contemporary station - Heart FM - is exciting speculation that it will do the same in London.

Also joining the melee for access to the airwaves was a bid by Riverside FM, a consortium including American money, a French broadcast company and investors such as Dr Miriam Stoppard and Jeremy Beadle. It promises to provide 'high quality album tracks from the mid-Seventies, Eighties and Nineties.

Two women's stations, Radio Viva and London FM, also bid yesterday, the former backed by the PR guru Lynne Franks and the owners of Jazz FM, and the latter supported by Emap Radio and chaired by Joan Bakewell.

A couple of sports networks have applied, cashing in on the recent success of Radio 5 Live, but there was a noticeable lack of ethnic stations.

X-FM, which bid unsuccessfully last year, is tipped to clinch an FM licence to launch an indie station. Backed by Harvey Goldsmith, Robert Smith of The Cure, and Fiction Records, the band's label, the station has used two restricted service licences to devote airtime to the sort of bands whose names normally crop up in NME and Melody Maker.

Commercial radio's growth in London has been remarkable. From 1973 to 1987 there were two commercial stations on air - Capital and LBC.

Today there are 15, of which 10 are capital-wide. The sector has more than doubled its share of listening hours from 25 per cent in 1987 to 57.2 today.

Radio 1 has suffered most. Since 1986 its share of listening hours in the capital has more than halved to 8.8 per cent.

Also bidding yesterday was London Christian Radio, making its challenge on behalf of the capital's churches.

Its patrons include athlete Kriss Akabusi, actress Wendy Craig, singer Cliff Richard, the Duke of Norfolk and Sir Thomas Bingham, the Master of the Rolls.

The station is owned by a charitable trust chaired by Viscount Brentford, and proposes a speech-based format with news, views, advice and help for Christians across London.

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