Select Committee on Scottish Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Scottish Radio Holdings (PDB 9)

  Scottish Radio Holdings (SRH) began life in the early 1970s when a consortium of local businessmen in Glasgow came together to apply for the third commercial radio licence to be offered in the UK (the first two were in London). The Group obtained the Glasgow licence against fierce competition, and so the seeds of today's successful commercial radio industry in Britain were sewn.

  The first two London stations were not an immediate success and quickly hit financial problems. It was not until Radio Clyde burst on the scene on 1 January 1974 that the picture changed. Clyde was an instant success and revolutionised the UK broadcasting map from what had proven to be a shaky start elsewhere. With capital of a mere £150,000, but with high profile backers such as Sean Connery and Jackie Stewart, along with a unique blend of broadcast and business talent, Clyde quickly established itself as the market leader, a position it has never relinquished in all the years since its birth.

  In Scotland, Clyde was followed by a separate grouping, establishing Radio Forth in Edinburgh, and soon other Scottish cities too had their own local stations. Ownership rules though in the UK at that time were highly restrictive and all the radio companies were private limited companies unable to expand or easily trade their shares. In the late 1980s and early 90s all that changed and Clyde and Forth began to expand by taking over other stations. In 1991, the two companies saw the inevitable logic of combining their strengths and merged to create Scottish Radio Holdings plc, with a full quote on the London Stock Exchange.

  In 1995, the company expanded into weekly press with the purchase of the largest local publisher in Northern Ireland, Morton Newspapers, and then grew its portfolio into Scotland and the Republic of Ireland.

  Two years ago, the Group moved into outdoor advertising in Britain and has some 4,500 large billboards in Scotland and England.

  Today SRH owns radio stations in all the major Scottish conurbations, in Carlisle and West Cumbria, the south of England, Northern Ireland and has made an agreed offer for the only independent national station in the Republic of Ireland.

  The company also now has 41 weekly newspapers in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and a widespread outdoor poster business across Britain.

  The radio stations owned by Scottish Radio Holdings have always placed considerable emphasis on news and information. Many of Scotland's leading broadcast journalists have passed through the portals of one or more SRH station.

  While, as a significant shareholder in Independent Radio News, the SRH stations take much of their national and international news from that source, it was long recognised that in Scotland stations had to source for themselves Westminster news of particular interest to Scotland, and, indeed, all news emanating from Scotland. This caused, and still does cause, considerable difficulties for some of the small and not so small stations outside SRH ownership. For many years, for example, the SRH stations led by Radio Clyde have employed their own Westminster correspondent in order to supplement coverage from IRN, something smaller groupings have been unable or unwilling to do.

  With the advent of the Scottish Parliament the group recognised an immediate need for a Political Editor based in the Scottish Parliament Press Centre, reporting national Scottish stories for the group as a whole, and local stories for individual stations. Our staff are regularly first with the news from the Scottish Parliament, something quickly recognised by senior politicians and journalists when our Political Editor, Colin McKay, won the inaugural Kenny MacIntyre Award for Young Parliamentary Journalist of the Year.

  There is little doubt that, due to the direct relevance of the debates within the Scottish Parliament at key times of the day, we are doing more parliamentary news than ever before. This has a cost, of course, particularly if it is to be done well. Being a collection of jointly owned stations, we are able to share that cost, thus ensuring that our listeners are properly served in this area. Had we been prevented from consolidating into Scottish Radio Holdings then I have little doubt that Scotland and its Parliament would be much less well served. That is one of the reasons why the new media ownership regulations being considered by Government is so important to proper coverage of news and current affairs. Fragmentation will not best serve either the listener or the news process.

  I would be happy to enlarge on this should the Committee so wish.

4 December 2001

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