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

Scotland.''

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

Christian-biased programming.

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

one.

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

decisions.

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

Performance''.

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.