Media regulator Ofcom has rejected Spectrum Radio’s request to increase the number of hours it dedicates to Asian programming.

Talks between the multicultural London radio station and Ofcom had been ongoing for the past few months.

Currently Spectrum Radio broadcasts eight hours of Asian programming per day with the Midland’s Sabras Radio on air between 07:00 – 13:00 weekdays (07:00 – 12:00 weekends) and Sikh religious Amrit Vela daily between 04:00 – 06:00. Spectrum Radio was looking at increasing its Asian output by a further four hours to a potential twelve hours of Asian shows per day.

Spectrum Radio broadcasts on 558AM in Greater London, along with, Sunrise Radio on 1458AM, Kismat Radio (a part of Sunrise Radio) on 1035AM and Club Asia (973AM).

Ofcom had welcome responses from the industry to Spectrum’s request. It received two. Both submissions raised concerns that an increase in the provision of Asian programming would effectively change the nature of the service to an Asian station, with some minority programming.

One response came from the Sunrise Group, which owns Spectrum Radio’s rival stations Sunrise Radio and Kismat Radio. The letter dated 18th August 2006 outlined the following:

“Spectrum appears to argue for economic reasons, the proposal is really to allow Spectrum to become another more ‘generalist’ Asian station, we doubt that this is needed or appropriate. London is home to the largest Asian population but is, exceptionally, already served by three city-wide Asian stations, as well as several existing and recently-licensed community services at a more localised level.”

The letter by Avtar Lit, Director of Sunrise Group, pointed out that Spectrum failed to provide any evidence of demand or support for the changes.

“…The request seems to be based on a desire to increase profitability, stating that this application is made with the intention of supporting Spectrum۪s continued viability۝ and that we have hitherto found that our Asian output produces greater returns, hence this submission۝. Whilst economic considerations may be relevant in Ofcom۪s overall assessment of a format change, they are not one of the statutory grounds for allowing a change.”

Sunrise Group’s letter also made reference to the Asian output that is carried out presently on Spectrum Radio.

“The major part of Spectrum۪s existing Asian output is provided by Sabras Radio. This is essentially a simulcast of Sabras۪ Leicester service (not the most relevant to Asian Londoners) with non-stop music from 12:00 to 13:00. The remaining 2 hours a day allowed are made up by either the Amrit Vela Sikh religious programme (Punjabi) broadcast daily between 04:00 and 06:00 or the daily Tamil (mainly spoken in south India and northern Sri Lanka) programme between 19.00 to 21.00. Arguably, Spectrum already provides 10 hours a day of programming for the Asian community۝, rather than the 8 hours specified in its existing Format.”

Ofcom confirmed last week that it had rejected Spectrum Radio’s request to increase its Asian output hours because the proposed change would represent a substantial change to the character of service as it would allow Spectrum Radio to allocate 50% of its output to programming for the Asian community.

Ofcom also said that the proposed change would narrow the range of programmes available in the London area. There are already three AM services providing Asian programming to London on AM. The proposed change to the Spectrum Radio service would effectively provide a fourth and result in a reduction of hours available for other non-Asian communities currently served by Spectrum Radio.

Ofcom also pointed out that the submission from Spectrum Radio did not demonstrate demand or support for the Format change amongst persons living in Greater London.

No doubt the news has proved a major blow for Sabras Radio who was looking at its presence being increased in the competitive London market. Not all is lost though, Spectrum Radio could re-submit its application to increase its Asian output with public support from Sabras Radio and Amrit Vela listeners on Spectrum and full justification of why a change like this is required.