GWR to lobby over licence limits

GWR Group, the radio operator, is to lobby Chris Smith, the National Heritage Secretary, for a relaxation of the rules on UK radio ownership.

Henry Meakin, GWR's chairman, said yesterday that the group would be meeting with Mr Smith "in due course" to discuss ways in which the current points system - which allows any one operator a maximum 15 per cent share of the UK audience - could be changed.

Mr Meakin said GWR's14.9 per cent share of the audience prevented it from acquiring further licences in the UK, and it has therefore been forced to focus on acquisitions overseas.

The radio company will also confront Mr Smith about allowing commercial radio companies to compete more effectively with the BBC. Unlike commercial radio stations, BBC stations do not have to comply with the "Promise of Performance"' in the Broadcasting Act, which requires them to stick to promises on content and audience profile made at the time of applying for licences.

Commercial radio stations have consistently argued that BBC stations can unfairly change their remit in response to competition.

GWR yesterday announced that it was to sell its St Albans-based radio station, 96.6FM, to Essex Radio for pounds 725,175 in cash and Independent Radio News shares. GWR's chief executive, Ralph Bernard, said as he unveiled a 41 per cent increase in underlying earnings for the 18 months to the end of March, that Classic FM had moved into profit since GWR bought it last August. Mr Bernard said he anticipated first profits from London News Radio later this month.

He added that, following the merger of Capital Radio and Virgin Radio Holdings and Capital's subsequent withdrawal from its sales operation, Media Sales and Marketing, GWR had decided to take its own national sales in-house. MSM represented all of GWR's stations except Classic FM.

Continued expansion overseas was planned, Mr Bernard said, with Eastern Europe a likely area for further acquisitions. A new station based in Poland is to go on air in September.

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