Bauer purchase sees loss of Rochdale, Oldham and Tameside local station

If you like listening to local radio stations on a bog-standard analogue radio receiver, Bauer’s latest acquisition should fill you with dread. After 21 years of serving Oldham, Rochdale and Tameside, Revolution 96.2 will be consigned to radio heaven. Alongside Piccadilly Radio’s immediate successors, and ultra local radio stations like Yorkshire Coast Radio and Wish FM, it will be one of many local stations snapped up by Bauer.

From the 16 November, Revolution 96.2 FM will be swallowed up by Bauer’s Greatest Hits Radio juggernaut. Instead of being a local station with a potential reach of 525,000 listeners, it would be a mere outpost of a national station. From Monday, the songs you will be hearing on GHR in Leighton Buzzard will be the same songs you’ll be listening to in Haughton Green. The only difference between localities would be a different set of adverts.

Therefore, the dulcet tones of Elliot Eastwick will be replaced by Rossie’s Greatest Hits at Breakfast, with Tony Dibbin’s show going out on weekends. Instead of Andy Hoyle, Clint Boon and Steve Penk, the voices you will hear on Pat Sharp, Janice Long, Rick Houghton and Darren Proctor. Though Pat Sharp and Janice Long have been well known for nearly four decades, some of Revolution’s listeners might remember Rick Houghton and Darren Proctor from Key 103.

Greatest Hits Radio already has a Greater Manchester-wide presence on its AM service. It goes out on 1152kHz, inherited from Bauer’s ownership of Magic 1152 (previously Piccadilly Radio’s AM service). In addition to its AM transmitters on Ashton Moss, it has taken on Wish FM’s frequency, leaving the good people of St. Helens and Wigan without a true local radio station. It is also available on our City Region’s DAB multiplex.

Revolution 96.2 began broadcasting on the 30 August 1999. For the people of Tameside, Oldham and Rochdale, it was their first truly local radio station. It has its roots in Oldham FM which had a Restricted Service Licence. From Oldham FM, they inherited the studios in Town Square Shopping Centre before moving to Sarah Moor Studios in Oldham Edge. The Sarah Moor Studios was formerly a public house and night club.

By the noughties, with Clint Boon having significant input, Revolution 96.2FM gained a great reputation outside its core transmission area. The former Inspiral Carpets singer changed its music policy with emphasis on local bands and indie music. Despite getting much acclaim, listeners went elsewhere. On the 30 September 2007, they faced serious competition when Tameside Radio opened with U2’s Beautiful Day. Tameside Radio’s approach saw a loss of listeners from The Rev to their rivals in Ashton-under-Lyne. Revolution was put up for sale.

In 2008, Revolution was sold to Steve Penk. After being the youngest DJ on an Independent Local Radio station and national fame through his wind-ups, Penky went for a more mainstream feel. Though this lost the station street cred, its listeners did return to Revolution. Despite that, the station made losses due to the global financial downturn which cut advertising revenues across the UK’s commercial radio stations.

By 2014, Steve Penk sold the station to Credible Media. Headed by Matt Ramsbottom, his aim was to run the station “from a business perspective” and build links with community groups – particularly the Oldham Coliseum theatre and Oldham Athletic Football Club.

Sale to Bauer Media Group

After Hirst, Kidd and Rennie fell into liquidation in August 2017, the printing presses at Rhodes Bank fell silent. The Oldham Evening Chronicle ceased publication after 163 years. Filling the gap was two new weekly titles: one was Newsquest’s The Oldham Times. The other was Quest Media Group’s Oldham Reporter – an Oldham equivalent of their Tameside and Glossop weekly titles.

In October 2017, Revolution’s parent company, Credible Media bought the rights to the Oldham Evening Chronicle name. The iconic weekday evening title was revived in online form in February 2018. Steps towards reviving a print-based edition were taken with the launch of Oldham Evening Chronicle Magazine, a quarterly publication. It is a free publication available at ASDA, TESCO and Sainsburys supermarkets in Oldham and Saddleworth.

With the initial success of its online edition and subsequent quarterly magazine, Credible Media chose to focus on the Oldham Evening Chronicle. Particularly the revival of its weekday printed title. To finance this, Credible Media sold The Revolution 96.2 FM to Bauer Media Group. On‘s article (22 October 2020), Credible Media’s Managing Director Matt Ramsbottom said, “We will remain at our headquarters here in Oldham and invest in securing the future of the Oldham Chronicle brand.”

On one hand, it could be argued that the death of local print media has been grossly exaggerated. With the Coronavirus pandemic, people have turned to their radios and local news sources. If you’ve ran out of cat litter, there’s no way an iPad will ever replace an old newspaper. Swatting flies with a digital tablet isn’t a good idea either.

Selling a viable radio station to a nationwide broadcaster is quite a gamble, though one that could pay off. Whether Credible Media relaunches the Oldham Evening Chronicle as a paid-for title or a freesheet remains to be seen.

Where next?

The Revolution will be missed among its regular listeners. On Monday, they will see the station’s transition as a retrogressive step, not least for the lack of local coverage.

The very principle of the sale is a sound one. As for the company concerned, the worst possible outcome from a local radio broadcasting point of view. Though Bauer’s power base has shifted to Castle Quay, Manchester (with The Hits’ national base over there), it is the loss of local voices at a professional level that matters. This gap has been bridged by community radio stations, mainly run by volunteers. For anybody wanting to start out in local radio, the chances of being paid for your efforts and subsequent national fame are few and far between.

Though community stations serving a small area are a good thing, it is harder to promote up and coming bands on a station with fewer potential listeners. Not least smaller budgets than a radio station with half a million potential listeners.

Commercial radio seems to be going about things in a similar way to Britain’s deregulated buses. Smaller stations like The Revolution and Wish FM added choice to the established ILR stations like Piccadilly 1152. If you replace the three stations with Greater Manchester’s bus operators, you would have Citibus, South Lancs Travel and GM Buses. The split of Piccadilly Radio’s AM and FM frequencies in 1988 could well be the split of GM Buses into GMS Buses and GM Buses North five years later.

All three operators were gobbled up by national bus owning groups (FirstGroup, Stagecoach, Rotala and Go-Ahead as of 2020). For Bauer, you could read Stagecoach in 1996 with Global being Arriva or FirstBus in their most acquisitive ages. It is fair to say that Greatest Hits Radio could be the Magic Bus to the Stagecoach Gold of The Hits Radio brand. With regions, just a simple identifier and the same livery, like our buses. Also the same obligations to shareholders on a national scale, instead of a truly local service. As for having a different breakfast show on each of the station’s regional frequencies, that (alas) has gone the way of the 400 Trans-Lancs Express bus route.

If you live in what was Revolution’s broadcasting area and you like the cut of Greatest Hits Radio, I am all right with that. Personally, it isn’t my cup of tea, but you will find the FM frequency a vast improvement on 1152 kHz (MW) on your car radio.

If you are seeking an alternative radio station in Oldham, Rochdale or Tameside, don’t forget:

  • My Tameside Community Radio: launched in 2018, it is an online radio station with a diverse range of music and speech programming. Many of the presenters were formerly heard on Tameside Radio 103.6 FM, with the reason for this being changes to the radio station’s programming policy. The volunteers from the FM station moved on to form My Tameside Community Radio, taking some of the previous station’s jingles with them. (Online only)
  • Tameside Radio: the original community radio station for Tameside, launched on the 30 September 2007. The station has its roots in Tameside General Hospital’s Eight Towns Radio, which started out as Heartbeat Radio in October 1983 and had a few Restricted Service Licences in the early 1990s. Since 2018, more syndicated programming has been added to the station. On the flip side, it does have ex-Revolution fave Andy Hoyle, who presents an early weekend morning breakfast show. Mike Wallbank’s The Show That Time Forgot is always worth listening to, on those very Sundays I ever get to catch the station. As mainstream music playlists go, always different to the usual stuff on national stations. (Available online and on 103.6 FM)
  • Oldham Community Radio: before Tameside Radio arrived in 2007, this was one of my usual radio stations. After a series of nine restricted service licences from 1994, Oldham Community Radio finally got a permanent licence in 2007 and started broadcasting in March that year. If you prefer speech and easy listening music, Oldham Community Radio is a must. It is now the only radio station in Greater Manchester to have a dedicated brass banding programme with Gilbert Symes’ Community Brass. (Available online and on 99.7 FM)
  • Crescent Community Radio: Rochdale’s Crescent Community Radio has a unique selling point in being “the sound of Islam on the radio waves”. As well as music and religious programming, it has speech based programming in English and Urdu languages. (Available online and on 99 FM)
  • Roch Valley Radio: covering Rochdale and Bury, its transmission area covers both boroughs. The station has its roots in Birch Radio, Birch Hill Hospital’s radio station and HFM, a community radio station based in Heywood. (Online only)

Our thanks go to everyone at Revolution 96.2 FM for making the station a great success and a joy to listen to over its 21 years in existence. From the behind the scenes staff to the creative geniuses that asked us what our favourite pies were on their Facebook page. How can we not forget the presenters.

As a certain Swedish group once said…

S.V., 12 November 2020.

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