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GWR joins battle for new London FM licence

GWR's chief executive, Ralph Bernard, said yesterday that the company's struggling London News Radio associate will apply for the new FM licence for London being advertised by the Radio Authority.

LNR, owned 31 per cent by the Bristol-based GWR commercial radio company, will propose a business and sport format for the new service, which is expected to attract scores of applicants by the deadline of 9 July.

The news emerged as GWR announced interim profits of pounds 2.4m, an 18 per cent increase, on turnover up 50 per cent at pounds 21.3m. The pre-tax figure was deflated by expenses of pounds 690,000 arising from its aborted bid for Radio New Zealand.

"We rate this as a good, solid performance," Mr Bernard said. The fast- growing company is one of commercial radio's success stories, having built up a portfolio of 32 licences, representing just over 14 per cent of total radio audience.

The company's future growth prospects may be stymied by the new Broadcasting Bill, which sets a limit of 15 per cent of total market share for any company. As a result, GWR has looked overseas in recent months, buying Prospect Radio in New Zealand, and expanding in eastern Europe.

"We think there are other opportunities in the Asia Pacific as well," Mr Bernard said.

The UK strategy will continue to be based on consolidating its position as one of the six main commercial radio companies. Mr Bernard said he would seek to "rationalise licences" in the coming months, as it did by selling a direct stake in Isle of Wight radio this year.

Despite the limits imposed on radio companies, GWR plans to apply for at least three regional licences this year, including East Midlands. The company has yet to win a single new licence since the Radio Authority began the post-1990 round of awards. It has grown, instead, by acquisition.

GWR, through a joint venture, was also an applicant in the bid for the Yorkshire regional licence, which yesterday went to Kiss 102 FM.

Mr Bernard said GWR and its London News Radio partners, including Daily Mail & General Trust and Reuters, plan to relaunch the company's two services, one each on FM and AM, in the autumn.