CLT set to join bidders for London FM radio licence

CLT, the Luxembourg-based broadcaster, is expected this week to confirm it is bidding for the hotly contested London FM licence, offering a "pop" music format similar to its successful Atlantic 252 station.

The group joins a range of media companies angling for the licence, possibly the last FM frequency in London to be awarded along the conventional radio spectrum. Industry executives expect at least 20 applications to be lodged by the time the deadline expires on 9 July.

Among other hopefuls is Capital Gold, currently broadcasting on AM, whose backers hope to move the service to FM in a bid to improve transmission quality. Capital, the dominant commercial radio company in London, would return its AM frequency to the Radio Authority if it wins the FM licence.

"Capital Gold is just not very satisfying on AM," Richard Park, group director of programming at Capital Radio, said late last week. "AM is just not the appropriate place for a Gold format." He said that the station's playlist of hits from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s needed the higher standard of FM to win bigger audiences and compete effectively with BBC radio.

Other likely bidders for the London licence include Black FM, Choice, and Festival, a listings and entertainment channel backed by Time Out, the London listings magazine. An early favourite in radio circles is XFM, which is aiming at a youth audience. Also likely to apply is Zone FM, a gay channel.

Under changes to the Broadcasting Bill, now being debated, radio companies will be allowed for the first time to hold two FM licences in a single region, following intense lobbying from companies such as Capital. The new freedom could encourage other holders of FM licences in London to apply.

The Authority, which is expected to take three months to reach a decision, uses three broad criteria for the award: financial viability, broadening choice, and enhancing fair and effective competition.