South Africa’s Independent Communications Authority (Icasa) has issued three AM frequency licences for new radio stations in Gauteng and the Western Cape in what licensees describe as an “arduous” process.
LM Radio and talkSPORT 540AM in Gauteng and Magic 828 in Cape Town will start broadcasting within the next year or two. [LM Radio, which broadcast from Mozambique, was shut down in 1975 after Frelimo decided no foreign influences would be allowed to broadcast. SABC took it over, and it became Radio 5, now 5FM. It started broadcasting in Mozambique again in 2010.]
LM Radio CEO Chris Turner says it has taken nine years and millions of rands to reach the point where the station – currently broadcasting in Mozambique and Lesotho – can prepare to launch by the end of this year.
He says the process was hampered by the SABC and Sentech, which told Icasa AM was “dead in the water and had no future”. “They’re the competition,” says Turner. “Why would Icasa listen to them?” After a public inquiry, Icasa issued an Invitation to Apply (ITA), which clearly showed there was interest in the AM frequency.
“New AM technology is far more efficient than in the old days of LM Radio, Capital Radio and 702,” he says. “The audio quality is very good and at night, you can pick up AM stations all over the country.”
“It’s been a real labour of love, involving untold hours of hard graft and requiring dogged persistence, but we pledged to realise our vision and now we have the result we feel we deserve!” says Andrew Fehrson, director of Cape Media.
Like LM Radio, it will broadcast a mainly music format. Cape Media’s David Capel says, “…the vision is to really supply a radio station that people want, rather than one that is forced upon them by someone else’s ideas and agenda”.
Cape Media and Sekunjalo both run print media operations, but Capel says they brought in the required expertise to launch their broadcasting operation. “Cape Media brought highly experienced radio and television personality, Tony Sanderson, on board several years ago with the specific intention of entering the digital market, as well as radio and television. This is another significant step in that direction – and we have waited four years for the license to be granted!” he says.
A consortium headed by the UK’s UTV was awarded the licence for sports station talkSPORT540AM. UTV is one of the United Kingdom’s three terrestrial analogue independent national radio broadcasters. talkSPORT, as its name implies, offers 24-hour sports phone-ins, discussion and live sports commentaries. The South African version will do the same.
“As global audio partner of the Premier League we know what a huge appetite there is for sports radio around the world, and had first-hand experience in South Africa as official broadcasters of the 2010 FIFA World Cup,” says Scott Taunton, UTV Media (GB) chief executive. “Our joint venture partners know South African sport and media better than anyone, including Jomo Sono who brings tremendous local insight. I’m looking forward to expanding talkSPORT even further as we launch this exciting new development in the brand’s history.”
The talkSPORT bid’s four joint venture partners from South Africa are Direng Investment Holdings (Pty) Ltd; Jomo Sono Investments (Pty) Ltd; Courageous Holdings (Pty) Ltd and Altivex 705 (Pty) Ltd. Each holds a 20% stake. Direng, with Times Media Group, recently also invested in Mpumalanga commercial station Rise FM, formerly MpowerFM.
“We’re putting exciting plans in process for the station’s launch, including our on-air talent and hope to be looking at being on-air some point towards the end of next year,” says Laura Wootton, head of communications for UTV.
“We will be covering major South African sports – as a commercial station we will tailor our output to target a wide listener base. In terms of foreign sports talkSPORT is global audio partner of the Premier League and broadcasts Barclays Premier League matches internationally, so we’ll have the ability to broadcast that,” she says.
LM Radio’s Turner says the station’s proposition is built on the fact that there is “no music radio for the over-35 market” and their market research showed there was a need to cater to this market. They’re pitching to all races, in the LSM 8-10 demographic who earn over R11 000 a month. “Our format is based on the original LM Radio ‘all music all day’ offering. There will be minimal talk, between five and eight minutes per hour, and only 30 minutes of news a day, as Icasa requires. The style of music will be uplifting and hopeful, songs with stories and mainly from the ‘60s to ‘80s era. That said, we will also play modern music that fits into the format. We won’t be stuck in one era.”
He says news that LM Radio would be launching in Johannesburg had spurred a bunch of former DJs, from stations such as Capital Radio and Springbok Radio, to send in their CVs. “There’s no problem with on-air talent,” Turner says.
Capel agrees. “There will be two overseas radio personalities joining us, and the rest will be new, young unknowns in the world of radio. It is our intention to create a completely new style of radio in South Africa,” he says.
Magic 828 – which isn’t related to the UK station of the same name – pledges to play the hits in a “mainly music” format, but will include “a touch of talk, a note of news and a splash of sport that will resonate with listeners from Khayelitsha to Constantia. Community, comfort, memory: Magic 828 will play the tracks that track listeners’ lives, cutting across all barriers, be they age, colour, gender or religion”.
Of course, like all media, advertising will play a key role in the survival of the new stations.
“The station will be a high-profile credible product so we’ll be targeting premium advertisers, similar to the kind of brands we work with at talkSPORT in the UK,” Wootton says.
Turner says LM Radio’s advertising strategy is to target the “under-appreciated ‘prime timers’”. “Our advertising focus is on the mature market who are under-sold by the agencies but who have more disposable income than most,” he says. “Other stations aren’t giving this group a platform.”
Capel says Magic 828 will be” targeting advertising across the full spectrum, and particularly intend to grow the advertising pie in the Western Cape market, with affordable advertising”.
And Wootton believes that as talkSPORT will be “a high-profile credible product” their ad sales teams will target “premium advertisers, similar to the kind of brands we work with at talkSPORT in the UK”.
The new licences herald an exciting new phase in South African radio, and provide investors with new opportunities in the sector. “Investors,” says Turner. “I am open to potential investors. They would be most welcome!”