Orion stations become Free

Orion Media

Midlands-based radio company Orion Media has announced it is rebranding four of its stations under one name, Free Radio, a move that will see four long established radio call signs disappear from the airwaves – Mercia, Wyvern, Beacon and BRMB – the latter has been broadcasting in Birmingham since 1974, being the first commercial radio station in England to broadcast outside London.

Orion is not the first radio company to reposition local stations that traditionally operated with different names under one brand, Global Radio being most prolific in this domain renaming most of its regional FM stations either Capital FM or Heart (indeed had Global not been forced to sell BRMB to then start-up Orion to get regulator approval for its 2007 purchase of GCap, the Birmingham station would almost certainly have now been operating as a Capital station).

The logic of such a rebranding – even if it means axing 35 year old radio brands – is that, as internet radio takes off, and as many of the barriers to market entry that have traditionally protected FM radio stations from new competition slip away, and as previously local radio stations start to have national and even international reach, it arguably becomes impractical to manage and maintain numerous different brand names, in Global’s case over 40.

As many of the local FMs have long shared music and programming policies, and in many cases actual programmes, why not have one brand name across the network of stations? Or so Global, GMG Radio and now Orion have asked (Bauer Media, UTV Radio and UKRD are in the main still maintaining local station names at the moment).

Confirming the name changing at Orion, the firm’s CEO Phil Riley told reporters: “The decision to change the name of our stations after each one has been broadcasting in their areas under their original names for so long has not been easy or one that we have taken lightly”.

He continued: “We have given this a great deal of consideration and undertaken detailed research. The original on air names of each station means a lot to all of us at Orion, and we know and understand the deep affection many people have for those names. However, the radio market has changed dramatically recently and we have to adapt and respond”.

Riley added that the name changes would not affect programming or music policies at the four stations, saying: “Although the names are changing, the commitment we have to provide the best mix of music and presenters along with local news, sport, weather and traffic remains our number one priority. Even when we are in network mode on Free Radio, we will be broadcasting from and ensuring the station serves only the needs of the region”.