Alternatives to Commercial Radio

Updated November 2021: Spelling/grammar corrections, plus some minor updates.
As has been widely reported, many radio listeners (both digital and analogue) have lost local programmes on their local commercial radio station. This has been the result of two acquired monopolies, Bauer Media and Global acquiring most commercial radio stations in the UK, and merging several local stations into national brands.

There is little for the listener to do, as protests and petitions go largely ignored, and the regulator Ofcom has permitted the changes. However, one course of action is to be boycott Bauer Media and Global owned stations.

This may not be easy, as several national DAB/DAB+ radio stations are also owned by these two companies, and by tuning around the dial, chances are you’ll end up on a Bauer or Global owned station.

Bauer Media own the following stations (not including brand extensions):

  • Absolute Radio
  • Greatest Hits Radio (some FM stations carry local opt outs to satisfy license requirements)
  • Hits Radio (includes localised versions such as Metro Radio which have a local breakfast show on weekdays only)
  • Jazz FM
  • Kerrang
  • Kiss
  • Magic
  • Planet Rock
  • Scala

Global own the following stations (not including brand extensions):

  • Capital FM (minimum required 3 hours local programmes on a regional basis)
  • Capital Xtra
  • Classic FM
  • Gold
  • Heart (minimum required 3 hours local programmes on a regional basis)
  • LBC
  • Radio X
  • Smooth Radio (minimum required 3 hours local programmes on a regional basis)

Starting with National alternatives, there are the usual BBC stations, plus Talk Sport on DAB and MW (owned by News UK), and UCB1 on DAB. These stations are available in most areas, with the BBC having particularly good DAB coverage.

If you can receive the SDL national DAB multiplex, Talk Radio, Virgin Radio and soon to launch Times Radio are also options (all owned by News UK). Sunrise Radio and Premier Christian Radio are also options if you’re after religion based programmes. There’s also Jack Radio and Union Jack from Oxis Media, both rock/pop music based, two Virgin spin-offs, forces station BFBS, and children’s station Fun Kids.

On a local level options will vary considerably. The BBC still maintain a network of local stations in England, and regional (nations) services for Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Most broadcast 5 Live overnight, but day time programmes are still locally produced.

Additionally, some local commercial stations do remain, including Radio Essex, Sun FM, Kingdom FM, More Radio, and KMFM, amongst others. Most are on FM, but some like Pure Radio in Central Scotland are DAB only (although Pure and Wave FM in Tayside are about to merge to form an enlarged Pure Radio). Sadly, Imagine FM and Ipswich 102 previously listed here have also now fallen to the Bauer Media combine.

Community radio stations also exist in large numbers, although with much smaller coverage areas. Many have a local ethos, which may appeal to displaced Bauer and Global listeners. However, some of these stations are a more specialist music and religious offering, so are not a replacement for local commercial stations.

There are far too many community stations to name check them all, but they include Amber Sound (Amber Valley), K107 FM (Kirkcaldy), 107 Meridian FM (East Grinstead), Pride Radio (Newcastle and Gateshead), and Radio Tyneside (also Newcastle and Gateshead).

Moving online, there are loads of stations to choose from, such as Cyber Rock, Pure Beat Radio, Motorsport Radio and many others. Tunein (app and online) may be a good place to start, and the Radio Feeds website does list some online only stations.

And, if you really hate radio now (and to be honest I can’t blame you), streaming services such as Spotify and Amazon Music offer a low cost way to explore new music. Loads of music videos are available on Youtube as well. You could always download an MP3 or two, or go back to those spinning disks called CDs and vinyl records.