Radio stopped the week in monitor scam

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The Independent Online
THE DREAMING spires and cloistered academic life can sometimes give the impression that time passes slowly in Oxford.

Listeners to the city's Oxygen 107.9FM found it more than just an impression in March when the radio station made a hoax of its entire output on 8 March, claiming it was a week earlier. What appeared to be a dry-run of an April fool's joke turned out to be an elaborate attempt to fool the Radio Authority.

Yesterday, Oxygen was fined pounds 20,000 and had its licence cut from eight to six years by the broadcasting watchdog because the student and youth- oriented station, which now has a new management team, had been aiming to dupe the authority that it had fulfilled its licence obligations.

Stations must by law keep tapes of their output for 42 days. But acting on a complaint that Oxygen had failed to meet requirements on programme format, the authority asked for a number of tapes to monitor its performance. The station was unable to provide the content for 1 March and so spent 8 March pretending it was a week earlier in its broadcasts. It then sent the tape to the authority.

When the regulator asked for a tape of 8 March, the station sent in the output for 15 March, labelling it 8 March. The authority then asked for an entire week's tapes only to find that none contained broadcasts from the seven days in question.

Sir Peter Gibbings, the authority chairman, said: "Oxygen FM has shown shocking disrespect for its listeners as part of an attempt to deceive its regulator. As the first student- targeted station this is an unusual licence but all licensees must comply with the terms of their licence."

In a statement, Oxygen said it was disappointed by the "substantial sanctions". "On this occasion, young staff at a small station clearly made a serious error of judgement," it said. "The company, its small staff and team of volunteers remain committed to providing a first-class service for students and young people in Oxford."

Senior management had been unaware of the breaches and the new team in charge is hoping that the decision can be revoked. Jerry Halford, the managing director of the station, said: "This happened six months ago and we have now put this behind us. We've got a fine station under a new team and things are looking rosy for us."