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XS Manchester won’t be replaced by Capital Xtra following OfCom ruling

By | Published on Thursday 2 April 2020

Capital Xtra

Capital Xtra is not coming to the FM dial in Manchester after UK media regulator OfCom refused permission for Irish media firm Communicorp to re-purpose the frequency currently used for XS Manchester as a new outlet for the London-based Capital service.

The UK division of Communicorp controls a number of FM frequencies around the country, all but one of which pump out radio stations actually operated by rival media company Global, ie Capital, Heart and Smooth. Most of the programming on those frequencies comes from Global’s HQ, with Communicorp providing any local programmes and overseeing advertising sales.

The one exception to that is rock station XS Manchester, which Communicorp entirely operates. But late last year the media firm asked OfCom for permission to change the ‘character of service’ provisions attached to the FM licence utilised by XS Manchester.

The proposed change was from a “a rock and speech service for 35-64 year olds, with a strong commitment to local news, current affairs and interactive debate” to “an urban contemporary music service featuring music of an Afro-Caribbean origin”. That was basically part of a plan to shut down XS Manchester entirely and broadcast Global’s Capital Xtra on its FM frequency.

Given that’s a significant change, OfCom put the matter out to public consultation, with more than 70 parties responding, all but two opposing Communicorp’s proposal. Among other things, opponents pointed out that Capital Xtra was already available in Greater Manchester via the national DAB network, as was the BBC’s 1Xtra which has a similar musical remit.

Others said that Communicorp’s argument that Global’s Radio X – on FM in Manchester – replicated what XS Manchester does was untrue, not least because Radio X is London-centric and XS is very much a Manchester-based service. And some argued that the speech programming requirements in the XS licence gave the station a “Mancunian” flavour not found on any other commercial radio stations in the region.

Having considered all those submissions, OfCom has decided to decline Communicorp’s request. It said in a statement on Tuesday: “Following [the] consultation, Ofcom has decided not to approve the changes to the ‘character of service’ proposed by [Communicorp]. It means that the ‘character of service’ contained in the existing published format for this licence will remain unchanged”.

Following that OfCom decision, Communicorp has indicated to Radio Today that it now intends to keep operating the XS Manchester service as normal.

While the character of service requirements have not changed, OfCom has agreed to reduce the number of hours of locally-made programming required to be aired by the station each day. That request, it said, was in line with its own existing rules and therefore wasn’t part of the public consultation. Though – XS not being part of a national network – it might be hard for Communicorp to find non-locally made shows to fill its airtime anyway.