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Sunrise Radio Crisis: Start of the end?

Avtar Lit - Sunrise Radio
Avtar Lit - Sunrise Radio

With the crumbling of Dr Avtar Lit’s TV and radio empire, BizAsia looks at when the crisis for the UK entrepreneur started and how it ended up where he is now.

The signs
When Sunrise Radio abruptly ceased broadcasting on various digital platforms, starting with Birmingham (summer 2012), questions were raised as to why the station would pull-out such a coveted market, where it was competing with old rival Radio XL in Birmingham.

In February 2013, Sunrise Radio and its sister station Punjabi Radio both left DAB digital radio in the West Midlands market completely. This proved to be another shock as the station was still broadcasting as a ‘national’ broadcaster on digital but leaving out the main Midlands area. In the same month, the bad times continued with Sunrise Radio and Sunrise TV being removed from digital television including Sky Digital. This turned out to be the biggest sign of Lit’s financial troubles. A couple of weeks later, in March 2013, Kismat Radio and Punjabi Radio both ceased broadcasting on digital television. Also in March 2013, Sunrise Radio Group was forced to sell its majority share in Radio Plymouth.

A media spokesperson who spoke to BizAsia on the condition of anonymity said, “As you’ve pointed out, there was no turning back on Sunrise Radio’s troubles after spring 2013. It’s a shame it has come to this for such a pioneer in UK Asian broadcasting but the economic climate, as well as the perception of the company and some of its workers contributed to its downfall.”

In May 2013, the financial troubles became evident with flagship station, Sunrise Radio going on-air to pledge for donations to keep the station afloat. The station used the BBC as an example saying that if it can be funded by a licence fee then why could a commercial radio like Sunrise Radio cannot. However, that just seemed a cover-up, until it became public knowledge in August 2013 that Sunrise Radio Group owed HMRC a tax bill of �400,000.

Prior to this, Sunrise Radio was taken off air in Scotland on digital radio due to spiraling costs. Punjabi Radio shut shop completely in June 2013 after it ceased broadcasting in London on DAB digital radio. In the same period, Kismat Radio went off on in Bradford on digital radio.

On 1st December 2013, Sunrise Radio Group went through its biggest ever rebranding exercise after main station Sunrise Radio was rebranded to Sunrise Radio 1, Buzz Asia followed to Sunrise Radio 2 and Kismat Radio to Sunrise Radio 3. While, most of the programming remained the same, the on-air signs changed completely to just ‘Sunrise Radio’ for each station.

A spokesperson for a popular broadcaster, who wished to remain anonymous told BizAsia, “Sunrise Radio’s woes is an example of not getting too big for your boots. It had expanded what was a profitable business, to something to compete with others, with costs that spiraled out of control. Avtar Lit tried all sorts by even registering new companies to retain its radio enterprise but it became too late. The Sunrise Radio brand will always remain a iconic name in the media world.”

On Monday 13th January 2014, the inevitable happened! The Sunrise Radio Group was put into administration. On Monday 20th January 2014, the news sent shock waves through the media industry after BizAsia exclusively announced that Grant Thornton UK had been appointed administrators of Sunrise Radio Limited (Sunrise Radio 1), Kismat Radio Limited (Sunrise Radio 3), Time FM 107.5 Limited, Tristar Broadcasting Limited and London Media Company Limited.

A presenter at the station spoke to BizAsia but did not want to be identified, “Many presenters at the station haven’t been paid four nearly three months so no surprise it has come to this. A lot of us presenters come in to do a show and leave so most of the times we’re not so clued in on the corporate side of things. However, there have been feelers in the studios about changes happening to save costs with one of them being shifting HR and production work to India.”

Sunrise Radio 2
The licensee ‘Buzz Asia Limited’, which broadcasts as Sunrise Radio 2 (formerly Buzz Asia) has escaped administration. No big surprise as last week (week commencing 13th January), presenters from Sunrise Radio 1 begun shows on Sunrise Radio 2. It started with veteran Sarita Sabharwal moving to the mid-morning show on Sunrise Radio 2, which was the same slot she was known for on Sunrise Radio 1. This week, another popular voice, Ravi Sharma started his stint on Drivetime on Sunrise Radio 2. So, will Sunrise Radio 2 become the new Sunrise Radio 1?

With administrators taking control of Sunrise Radio 1 and Sunrise Radio 3, no doubt the stations will soon go into automation programming to save costs. They will continue to trade for a short period of time until the administrator explores potential sale options for the stations.

Lit is not letting go of his radio empire without a fight! With the ways things stand, he’s going back to basics by putting his efforts into just one station. But for how long can he continue with him facing legal cases from creditors, other clients and moreover other non-media related issues…! Watch this space..!