Scot-FM promised a Scottish view of Britain; it produced Scotty
McClue. Tony Currie argues Scots are the losers.
SCOT-FM, about to launch its fifth new breakfast presenter in seven
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months on the air, is a bad joke. Its share of the available audience in
Glasgow is less than that of Ayrshire station West Sound in a city it
doesn't even target, and out of the 157 British radio stations whose
audiences were measured between September and December 1994, it came
151st with a 2.1% share -- the only stations below it were niche London
stations, ill-named Manchester station ''Fortune'', and Radio 3.
Scot-FM has lost all the leading Scots it has paid dearly for -- Haig
Gordon, Kaye Adams, Margo MacDonald, Donnie Munro, Steve Hamilton -- and
appears to have placed all its faith in a character who seems to be have
been contrived from the music hall. Cheap, two-dimensional programming.
An insult to Scotland and no sense of being Scottish at all.
It's 15 months since my company, Radio Six -- like five other
applicant groups -- received a call from the Radio Authority with the
news that our application for the central Scotland regional radio
licence had failed.
The authority had decided instead to award it to a consortium made up
of Grampian and Border Television.
I had no doubts then that their choice was ill-judged. Indeed as Andy
Park -- former programming genius at Radio Clyde and front man for one
of my competitors -- said at the time, ''It was a sad day for
Prior to that fateful December 1993, the Radio Authority had a wide
choice of propositions to consider. Ours offered a 24-hour news and
speech station. The others' formats were Celtic/rock music, easy
listening music and information, contemporary rock, country music, and
The authority's duty under the 1990 Broadcasting Act was to award the
contract to the group which -- in its opinion -- would extend listeners'
choice in our areas and which could demonstrate financial stability and
professional qualifications appropriate to launching and maintaining the
service throughout its eight-year licence period.
Yet when the award was made to Scot-FM, its postal address was the
home of its front man, Art Sutter (where did HE go?); not a single
executive was named in its proposals, and not even one of the 13
broadcasters it named in its application schedule ever made it to day
It promised between 51% and 65% of speech content during peak times,
yet its Breakfast Show relies on music as its staple diet. And although
chairman Sir David Steel promised: ''A unique Scottish view of Britain,
the world and central Scotland's place in it at the core of our
programming,'' many of the news bulletins are now mere re-broadcasts of
those originating at local station London News Radio, complete with the
inevitable Home Counties accents and news bias. A bulletin last week for
example referred to a climbing accident ''in the Scottish Highlands''
but could not be any more precise.
But then the Radio Authority is unlikely ever to hold Scot-FM to any
of its promises. Like all quango regulatory bodies its primary role is
to protect and preserve itself. It cannot ever be seen to admit a major
mistake since that would bring into question all of its secretly-made
Membership of the authority is bestowed as a gift from the Government
and at the time of the award only one member was Scottish and none had
any professional broadcasting experience. They are, of course, advised
by a professional staff, but unlike its predecessor body, the IBA, the
Radio Authority has no offices, staff or presence outside central
London. The sum total of our interrogation by authority officers was a
half hour -- on the telephone with one of them.
Thus the potential of a powerful new voice in Scotland has been wasted
by a London-based body which could only have selected Scot-FM because it
had some vague idea that Grampian and Border Television were ''safe''
players. The fact that experience and success in television cannot
guarantee similar success in radio appears to have been overlooked by
the Radio Authority. Or was it impressed by the glossy paper and its
''People's Friend'' prose? There certainly wasn't anything of substance
in it, was there, chaps?
As Scot-FM took shape in its headquarters in Leith, chosen perhaps for
their ease of access from Aberdeen, Grampian appointed Tom Hunter to run
the operation for them. Hunter had been successful as managing director
of Oxford-based FOX FM. But although its 229,000 weekly reach looks good
on paper, it's the only local commercial station in its market and
Hunter could hardly have failed.
This bluff, hearty man who claims Scottish roots -- his father was in
the Army and his parents now live in Ayrshire -- has in fact never, in
his adult life, lived or worked in Scotland.
The first programme controller he appointed left ''owing to ill
health'', and Hunter then brought Justin Bryant to Scotland. He had been
a producer at the speech station in London -- prior to its closedown
after failing to secure licence renewal.
None of this should have prevented Scot-FM from achieving its avowed
aim of being what Sir David Steel described as ''a very Scottish
station''. But neither Hunter nor Bryant seems to have been capable of
finding the feel and flow of Scotland and identifying what the central
belt is all about.
They have resorted -- or been forced into -- persistent crisis
management. First equipment failures, then audience failures left no
time for such luxuries as reflection or assessment. Kaye Adams's Sunday
morning show attracted not a single caller one week, and the late night
phone-ins fared little better on many occasions.
Now Scot-FM cites 58,000 callers to ''Scotty McClue'' in a week. Jimmy
Gordon, managing director of Radio Clyde, questions whether there are
that many listeners even tuning in at that time of night, let alone
calling the station. But BT's call measuring system only records number
dialled, not calls answered, so failed calls and hoax calls get rounded
into the total.
Meanwhile, as more of the original team of stars pack their bags and
leave the Number One Shed at Leith Docks, Hunter persists in his
attempts to assure all and sundry that things have never been better.
''It's official -- Fastest-growing station in Scotland'' proclaims an
anonymous voice at regular intervals. Not a difficult state to achieve
when you've started with no listeners and risen to 234,000 in eight
months. Scottish Radio Holdings reaches 1,435,000 in Edinburgh and
Glasgow alone every week, by the way.
Given the opportunity to offer his wisdom to the assembled UK
commercial radio elite at the recent Dublin conference, Hunter chose to
lampoon his rival Jimmy Gordon instead. The most successful man in UK
commercial radio, by the way.
Inevitably, Hunter and his team will go when the shareholders have had
enough. Waiting in the wings is Reuters, which now owns London's speech
radio and provides Sky and GMTV with its news and whose expansive
ambitions are hardly secret. Don't be surprised if, after a decent
interval, control of the station passes south and a few discreet words
in the right places allow it to tear up its original ''Promise of
Yet again Scotland loses out.
* Tony Currie is a freelance journalist and broadcaster. He was
previously controller of programmes at the Cable Authority. He was
managing director of Radio Six Ltd when it failed to win the Central
Scotland Radio Licence.