In early-October, it was announced that UK DAB Networks, operator of the Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) networks for Winchester and Basingstoke had entered voluntary liquidation due to the business no longer being “viable”.
Operating 19 community radio stations in Winchester and 13 in Basingstoke, the DAB digital airwaves are a lifeline to a number of radio station social enterprises coming out of the pandemic and into the cost-of-living crisis when introduced around a year ago. The risk of long-term closure of the local DAB networks posed a real threat to the future of radio stations such as Basingstoke Community Radio, Hospital Radio Basingstoke, Outreach Radio and Winchester Today, which are not available on FM.
Under the leadership of Osman Sen-Chadun from Outreach Radio, two new local consortia were formed to develop new business plans with the hope that the liquidator would be allowed to transfer the licences to the group, if approved by Ofcom.
On Wednesday 22nd November, it was confirmed by OfCom that the two new consortia, comprising of Basingstoke Community Radio, Hospital Radio Basingstoke, Outreach Radio, Voice FM, Winchester Radio and Winchester Today, had successfully taken over the DAB licences for Winchester and Basingstoke under two new organisations, Winchester DAB Limited and Basingstoke DAB Limited.
Mr Sen-Chadun, from Chandler’s Ford, said: “We’re very relieved and extremely fortunate to have been able to take on these DAB licences. It’s a lifeline that will enable us to ensure future continuity of service to all radio stations affected by the unfortunate demise of UK DAB Networks.
“Now begins some major re-engineering works, that will allow us to operate these services in a financially sustainable manner, which in turn will offer a greater level of protection to our valuable local radio services, many of which are charities, social enterprises and not-for-profit organisations.
“The engineering work has to begin immediately as we’ve now taken on these licences, but it’s our firm intention to restore the radio services back to air as soon as possible.
“This is an unprecedented situation, which requires administrative, legislative and engineering support from the broadcast regulatory body OfCom, who have been incredibly supportive in advising our consortia during this process.
“We have shared our learnings with OfCom so that they too may gain a clearer understanding of the issues and challenges we have faced, and in turn, may be able to advise and protect other licencees in the future.
“With OfCom’s continued guidance and support, and in the hope that our new technical plans are accepted and signed off as soon as possible, we are certain that we can keep downtime to a minimum.
“Christmas advertising revenues are at risk for all radio stations impacted by these changes, and winter is never the ideal season to undertake this type of engineering work.
“Although we would have preferred to carry out this work in the New Year, the timing was out of our control and we were forced by legal hurdles, but we have our lifeline, and will do our best whatever the weather.”
Winchester and Basingstoke DAB transmissions are now off-air pending the completion of re-engineering works, but should be back on-air again very soon.