Friday, 8 February 2019

558 AM, Radio's sea of controversy?

558 AM 

- radio's hotbed of controversy!

558 is a  much coveted readio frequency at the bottom of the Medium Wave Band. For those whose radio dials are marked in Metres, then 558 kHz is the same as 538 Metres.  Originally the ITU allocated the channel to stations in Egypt, Switzerland and Finland; in those days it was 557kHz, or 539 metres.

The channel came to prominence in Western Europe in September 1972 when the muchj loved North Sea station, Radio Veronica moved to it, after a high power Swiss mouth made it impossible to hear its programmes on 192.

After 12 years on 192 meters, at the top of the AM band, Radio  Veronica moved to 538 on BBC Radio One's fifth birthday at the end of September in 1972. It was also the day that transmissions were heard from Radio Caroline after a four year hiatus. The new frequency gave Veronica coverage well into neighbouring countries, including Belgium and the UK.

 The Battle Commences
All was fine until the following year when the UK's IBA decided to use the channel for Capital Radio in London. although only low power, this made reception of Veron ica difficult over a big chunk of its area.

Radio Veronica closed in 1974 and later,  Radio Caroline tried using the frequency for a short time, but the mast on the Mi Amigo was inadequate for the type of antenna they had in the mid 70s.  The IBA had meanwhile relinquished its use of 558KHz, whose long wavelength gave very wide area coverage.  The BBC thought it might be useful for one of their "local" stations and began a lengthy 'clearance' process to have it assigned to them for use in Essex, even though they had no firm plans to open such a station at that time.

In early 1984 another offshore radio station, LASER, opened up on 558 from an anchorage close to radio caroline, just off the mouth of the Thames. Laser 558 achieved huge coverage from the radio ship the Communicator, despite using only about 12 kilowatts power.

Laser 558 was hugely successful; accoridng to the official listener figures (RAJAR it attracted just under 5 million listeners in the UK alone, and probably more than that on the near continent, inc ourntriues like Hoilland, Blegium and France.  You can read more about Laser's success in  Laser Radio Programming, a book I published in 2017.  Click Here for details.

When Laser's crew decided to sail the ship into the UK,  Radio Caroline quickly moved onto the frequency.  They operated successfully on it for a few years; it probabbly gave them the widest coverage they had ever had, despite only a modest few kilowatts of power.

In 1990 the UK authorities tried to force Radio Caroline off the frequency and awarded it to a new multi-ethnic station, Spectrum Radio.  Eventually Radio Caroline capitulated as they had only low power available and a hurriedly built partial aerial system.

Spectrum continued on 558 KHz until 2017 when the frequency was taken over by Kelvin McKenzie, who operated TalkSport for many years.  He launched a new station called LOVESPORT on 558 in March 2018.  Depsite its name (and licence conditions) most of the output is general speech and very little of the content is sport.  Many believe it IS a sport station however, and this certainly is a deterrent to many prospective listeners who dont want to hear non-stop sport commentaries and sport.

Kelvin clearly now thinks that the future for Lovesport is DAB and online and he has decided to relinquish the frequwncy.  He has reached agreement with a Punjabi station which will see Lovesport move to 1584, at the opposite end of the Medium Wave dial (and with a much smaller footprint).  Panjab Radio meanwhile will take over 558 kHz with a capital-wide station in Punjabi and English.   The move required approval from OFCOM who are now seeking the views of affected listeners.


Why has Lovesport decided to abandon 
the coveted 558 frequency?  

Perhaps not enough listeners have chosen to access Lovesport on 558 Medium Wave? If so, the situation bears some careful examination.  Less than a year's operations seems a very short period to arrive at a decision to shut off the use of one platform for any radio station.

The market for local sport coverage in London is not at all crowded.  In the commercial radio sector, only national station TalkSport makes any attempt to cover sport.  It also competes with BBC Radio Five Live, but neither of these stations cater for local sport interest and must cover the whole of the UK.  The BBC national station is operated from its new base in Manchester.
BBC Radio london pays only marginal lip service to sport in the capital - so LovePSort has a wide open market to serve and ought to be able to attract an audience.

In similar markets, sport radio stations do very well.  In New York, the leading station is WFAN in terms of advertising turnover (its $76m is far higher than any UK station, even national ones).  WFAN is also down at the bottom end of the AM band, and despite AM being regarded as 'old hat' by many, it is still capable of producing handsome returns for its investors.

All things considered, one can only assume that the main reasons for the rapid take off that Kelvin had expected for LoveSport haven't materialised.  That however, must be a result of the dire lack of promotion by LoveSport for the 558 frequency and, perhaps, the word 'sport' being in the name which probably deters the majority of the potential audience.

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