Harrogate sadness over Stray FM's rebrand as national chain criticised for 'cultural vandalism'

Sadness over Stray FM's rebrand by a national chain after nearly 30 years of being Harrogate's radio station.Sadness over Stray FM's rebrand by a national chain after nearly 30 years of being Harrogate's radio station.
Sadness over Stray FM's rebrand by a national chain after nearly 30 years of being Harrogate's radio station. | other
There's a sense of sadness and shock today in Harrogate and beyond about news of the transformation of the town's radio station Stray FM, whose roots lie in a portable cabin in the 1980s, into 'Greatest Hits Radio' as part of a national chain.

Owners Bauer Media Group. who acquired Stray FM, a station which has always prided itself on delivering "“proper local radio for Harrogate, Craven & Wharfedale” in 2019, have been condemned as 'cultural vandals' for the radical rebrand.

In total, 49 out of the 56 FM licences acquired will be renamed and join their Hits Radio Brand Network, creating the UK’s largest commercial radio network.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Greatest Hits Radio will play music from the 1970s, 80s and 90s along with as yet to be determined "regional drive time" content and networked breakfast shows.

But Harrogate listeners fear this is more than a rebrand for Stray FM whose first full-time broadcast took place in July 1994.

While the national company says they will retain local news and information as well as local traffic and travel, Stray FM's new owners admit some roles will be put into consultation and freelance contract.

The story of Stray FM is one of humble roots and community effort followed professional success and regular expansion.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The past 30 years have seen the station grow from a tiny independent set up by a group of radio enthusisats including its first station manager J Peter Wilson, which operated from a transmitter on top of the clocktower at St Aidan’s School during the Harrogate International Festival to a full-time, award-winning operation.

Media conglomerate Bauer has already been accused of "breathtaking cultural vandalism" after it announced the "rebrand."

But Bauer Media say they are fully committed to supporting all affected employees throughout this period and will be working closely with them over the months ahead.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The company owns 36 per cent of commercial local radio licences in the UK after acquiring the more than 30 stations that came with UKRD, Wireless and Celador and Lincs last year, according to Parliamentary records.

Records also note that OFCOM has relaxed the regulations regarding local content for commercial local radio stations so that they no longer have to produce a local breakfast show and are obliged only to produce three hours of local content, as opposed to seven previously on weekdays.

They are able to do this from regional centres distant from the area covered by the local radio station.

Politicians across Yorkshire have condemend the changes unveiled by Bauer for its stations in the region.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Former Labour MP John Grogan, who represented Selby and later Keighlegy, said the stations had been "closed under the cover of" the coronavirus pandemic.

He said: "This is an act of breathtaking cultural vandalism from a company which has been busily acquiring local stations unchecked by regulators or government.

"Indeed Bauer only got its hands on some of these stations when the Competition and Markets Authority gave the green light in March.

"Now together with Global it dominates the market.

"Many of these local radio stations are heavily involved in community activities and provide news bulletins to a young audience which other outlets find it hard to reach.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"In a lot of cases such as Minster listening figures have actually been going up."

Coun Keith Aspden, leader of City of York Council, said: “The news regarding Minster FM is incredibly disappointing, not only for their staff, but for the many residents who rely on Minster FM for the latest local news."

He added: “Minster FM has been a pillar of our community for many years now and they will be sorely missed. I would urge Bauer Media to consider the impact of this decision on York residents during this difficult time.”