Free Radio (network)

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Free Radio
Free Radio network logo.png
Broadcast area Birmingham, Black Country, Shropshire, South Staffordshire, Coventry, Warwickshire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire
Slogan "Let The Music Set You Free"
All Frequencies
  • FM:

    96.4 MHz

    Black Country and Shropshire
    97.2 & 103.1 MHz

    Coventry and Warwickshire
    97.0 MHz, 102.9 MHz

    Herefordshire and Worcestershire
    97.6 MHz, 102.8 MHz
    and 96.7 MHz
First air date 26 March 2012 (2012-03-26)
Format CHR (Free Radio)
1980s hits (Free Radio 80s)
Owner Bauer Radio

Free Radio is a network of five Independent Local Radio stations in the West Midlands of England. The network, owned and operated by Bauer Radio, was launched on Monday 26 March 2012 as a result of the rebranding of four stations - BRMB, Beacon, Mercia and Wyvern. On Tuesday 4 September 2012, a secondary AM station broadcasting 1980s chart music, Free Radio 80s, was launched.


Free Radio

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BRMB began broadcasting to Birmingham and the surrounding areas on 19 February 1974 - the fourth ILR station to launch in the UK and the first station of its kind outside London. Beacon Radio has served Wolverhampton and the Black Country since 12 April 1976 with its licence area expanded to cover Shropshire in 1987. Mercia Sound (later Mercia) was launched in Coventry and Warwickshire on 23 May 1980, followed by Radio Wyvern in Herefordshire and Worcestershire on 4 October 1982.

These stations were initially run independently of each other, although by the late 1980s, BRMB and Mercia were under the ownership of Midlands Radio plc, alongside AM station Xtra AM, which broadcast on both stations' former AM frequencies. The group was bought for £18 million by Capital Radio plc in 1993, who sold Mercia to the GWR Group but retained BRMB. GWR went on to buy Beacon from its holding company BCCL in 1995 and Wyvern FM two years later. The four licences came under the same ownership in 2005 when GWR and Capital merged to form GCap Media.

GCap was taken over in 2007 by Global Radio but the Office of Fair Trading ruled in August 2008 that Global would need to sell off BRMB, Beacon, Mercia, Wyvern and Heart's East Midlands station due to concerns over competition interests. The stations were bought in May 2009 by a consortium led by former Chrysalis Radio chief executive Phil Riley, trading as Orion Media. Heart East Midlands continued to operate under a franchise agreement with Global until January 2011, when the station was rebranded as Gem 106 and replaced most networked output with local programming from Nottingham.

On 9 January 2012, Orion announced that it would rebrand its four West Midlands stations as Free Radio from March 2012 onwards.[1] The former on-air station brands were phased out on Wednesday 21 March 2012 in preparation for the rebrand, which took place on Monday 26 March 2012 at 7pm.

On 6 May 2016, the network's owners, Orion, announced they had been bought by Bauer for an undisclosed fee, reportedly between £40 and £50 million.[2][3]

Free Radio 80s

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On 24 May 2012, Orion Media announced it would relaunch its Gold West Midlands stations on AM frequencies and DAB as Free Radio 80s.[4] The station broadcasts locally produced programming playing 1980s chart music alongside news & information and sports programming. The station launched on Tuesday 4 September 2012.


The four Free Radio local stations broadcast daily breakfast and weekday drivetime shows to each of their coverage areas. Output outside of these hours consist of networked programming, broadcast largely from Orion's headquarters in Birmingham, from where local output for the Birmingham and Coventry stations also originate. Programming for Shropshire & the Black Country and Herefordshire & Worcestershire is broadcast from studios in Oldbury and Worcester respectively.

Up until the rebrand, BRMB, Beacon and Mercia also broadcast live football commentaries on Aston Villa, Birmingham City, Coventry City, West Bromwich Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers matches.[5] The commentaries were broadcast on Free Radio 80s until the end of the 2014-15 season, although sports programming continues on the station.[6] Local news bulletins are broadcast hourly from 6am to 7pm on weekdays and from 7am to 1pm on weekends with headlines on the half hour during weekday breakfast and drivetime.


  1. BRMB, Mercia, Beacon, Wyvern to be Free, Radio Today, 9 January 2012
  2. Bauer buys radio group Orion Media, The Guardian, 6 May 2016
  3. Orion Media sold to Bauer for £50m, The Telegraph, 6 May 2016
  4. Gold to be Free Radio 80s in West Mids, Radio Today, 24 May 2012
  5. Feature: Orion's Phil Riley on Free Radio, RadioToday, 11 January 2012
  6. The new season on Free Radio 80s, Free Radio, 4 August 2015

External links

Bauer Radio is a UK-based radio division of the Bauer Media Group.

The Bauer network is divisible into two main groups, the Bauer City & Bauer National portfolios, with Place consisting of locally focused services primarily broadcast on FM/AM and local digital platforms, and Passion consisting of national and quasi-national music-genre services delivered nationally and quasi-nationally, mainly through digital platforms.


Bauer's The Place network was originally known as the Big City Network. In 2006, many of the former Scottish Radio Holdings stations were added to the network and branded as Big City Network Scotland and Northern Ireland, although all stations kept their original logos, with the exception of CFM. West Sound was the only AM station in the network although it did not carry any of the networked programming carried by the FM stations.

In April 2011 Bauer Radio announced it would be restructuring its radio portfolio into two divisions: locally focused and heritage stations, including many of the Big City stations, South Coast station Wave 105 and London station Magic 105.4 FM would also become part of the "Bauer Place" division, with branded music-category stations such as Kiss and Kerrang Radio forming a second sub-brand, "Bauer Passion" - the Big City Network identity was dropped as part of the restructuring.[1]

In April 2013, Bauer announced it would merge its two North East England stations, Metro Radio and TFM. Both stations broadcast shared programming from Newcastle and Manchester while carrying separate branding, news bulletins and advertising.[2]

In September 2014, Bauer announced it would be restructuring its radio portfolio as from January 2015. Magic AM in England was dropped in favour of the stations reverting to their heritage station names.[3][4] The stations now form part of the new 'City 2' network serving both Scotland and Northern England. A 'City 3' network on DAB replacing The Hits Radio (in most areas) launched on Monday 19 January 2015.

At the beginning of March, 2016, Bauer moved two of its popular stations, Planet Rock and Absolute 80s onto the Sound Digital multiplex, meaning that many thousands of people were no longer able to listen to those stations. East Anglia, the South West, most of Kent, Cumbria, most of Wales and Scotland and many areas in between had none of these transmitters at all. A Change petition for Planet Rock was started on 4th March and numbers increased as people learned that they would no longer be able to listen to what had been the only nationwide DAB rock station. The issue was reported in local press in some areas [5] Planet Rock and Absolute 80s began broadcasting just a retune message loop from 18th April and the switch-off occurred on 30th April.

On 6 May 2016, Bauer announced it had brought Midlands radio group Orion Media for an undisclosed fee, reportedly between £40 and £50 million.[6][7]


Bauer City

  • Bauer City 1 – 16 Hot AC local radio stations on FM and DAB in Northern England and Scotland
  • Bauer City 2 – 15 AC local radio stations on DAB and AM in Northern England and Scotland
  • Bauer City 3 – 12 CHR local radio stations on DAB in Northern England and Scotland
  • Free Radio - 4 CHR local radio stations on FM and DAB and 3 80s-themed stations on AM and DAB in the West Midlands

Bauer National


DAB multiplexes

Bauer operates twelve wholly owned DAB multiplexes and also six jointly owned multiplexes with other operators (three with UTV Radio and three with Global Radio). Bauer operates the following DAB multiplexes:

Bauer Digital Radio

Bauer's wholly owned digital multiplexes are primarily located in areas where the firm operates local FM stations; the original group of Bauer (formerly Emap) DAB multiplexes are located in the following areas:

Score Digital

As part of Emap's takeover of Scottish Radio Holdings, the firm gained control of Score Digital, the DAB multiplex operator owned by SRH. Competition guidelines required the merged firm to divest of one of the multiplexes obtained in this deal, and so the Ayr multiplex formerly run by Score was sold on to Arqiva. The remaining Score multiplexes have since been relabelled as Bauer multiplexes.[8]

The ex-Score DAB multiplexes are located in:

UTV Bauer Digital

The Wireless Group and Emap entered into a venture to run the following three DAB multiplexes. These multiplexes were initially branded as TWG-Emap multiplexes; following the sale of TWG to UTV (creating UTV Radio), the multiplexes were relabelled as UTV-Emap, and following the sale of Emap's radio assets to Bauer, the blocks were renamed again as UTV-Bauer. Bauer owns 30 per cent of the UTV-Bauer venture, with UTV holding the remaining 70 per cent.

CE Digital

Bauer and Global Radio jointly own CE Digital Ltd, each holding 50% of the venture. The CE operation was established by Emap in partnership with the Capital Radio Group, which through mergers subsequently became part of GCap Media and later Global Radio. The 'CE' multiplexes take their name from the initials of Capital and Emap, and have not been renamed despite the identity changes of both operators.

CE Digital operate the following DAB multiplexes:


  1. "Bauer drops Big City image", Radio Today, 14 Apr 2011 Archived 4 May 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  2. TFM leaves Teesside to share with Metro, RadioToday, 5 April 2013
  3. Greatest Hits Network Change request form Ofcom
  4. Magic Changes Ofcom Request Form Ofcom
  6. Bauer buys radio group Orion Media, The Guardian, 6 May 2016
  7. Orion Media sold to Bauer for £50m, The Telegraph, 6 May 2016
  8. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.

External links