It’s ‘Wave goodbye’ time for listeners – but why is a hugely successful local radio station being swallowed up?

The headline of the announcement, one month ago today, didn’t sound too bad. ‘Wave 105 is changing’ it said.
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Nevertheless, in times when radio stations, and good ones at that, are closing or being rebranded with unseemly haste, it was a line that warranted immediate investigation. And to their horror, devotees of Wave 105 soon found that it wasn’t so much changing but being wiped off the face of the radio dial by Greatest Hits Radio.

Since the move was revealed, Bauer Media – owners of Wave, Greatest Hits Radio and many other stations – have been trying, with increasingly regularity and to the point of great annoyance, to convince Wave listeners that ‘Greatest Hits Radio South Coast is the new name for Wave 105’.

It’s not, though.

Big changes are ahead at Wave 105Big changes are ahead at Wave 105
Big changes are ahead at Wave 105
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Greatest Hits Radio South Coast already exists if you have a Bauer/GHR app or listen to their output online, and it is now replacing Wave on 105.2FM. The upshot is that about 80 per cent of what Wave listeners can currently enjoy from their local station will be wiped out overnight – overnight tomorrow (Thursday, March 28) to be precise.

Two presenters survive at a station that has thrived in serving Hampshire, West Sussex, Dorset and Isle of Wight listeners for just over a quarter of a century. Rick Jackson will present the ‘GHRSC’ breakfast show, something he has done on Wave since 2017, and Mark Collins, who’s been Wave’s 9am to 1pm presenter for many years, will be on air from 1pm to 4pm. These two bits of news are very good, but in that regard they’re alone.

At all other times – so for 17 hours in every 24 during the week and all 48 hours of the weekend – as far as we have been told – it will be the national GHR output, though with some local news, travel and weather services inserted.

Many presenters, many shows, many features that Wave listeners have loved for years and years have simply been axed, without any consultation with the people who actually tune in. To name a few people and programmes deemed surplus to requirements: Steve Power, Tony Shepherd, Andy Jackson, Andy Shier, Gary Parker, Teenage Kicks, Indie Daze, The House Party, the Golden Hours – all of them and all of that, and more besides, as of midnight tomorrow... gone. All of this would be easier to comprehend were Wave a struggling little fish in a big radio pond. But they are not.

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Their listening figures have consistently shown growth – as recently as early February, just weeks before they were told the end was nigh, they recorded an excellent set of Rajar figures which showed the people of the south were continuing to listen to Wave – whether on FM, DAB, online or the app or smart speakers – in their tens of thousands, and more were tuning in all the time.

The reaction to GHR’s takeover of Wave from the station’s listeners has been almost exclusively negative. Within hours of the news being posted on the Wave Facebook page, around 2,000 people had commented or shown their feelings through the usual Facebook emojis. There was not one ‘like’ – it was all sadness, anger or ‘wow’, the last of those reactions obviously from the many people who could not quite believe what they were reading.

What will Bauer gain from this move? Well, they will be allowing people of the Wave catchment area to listen to GHR on FM, therefore will presumably increase their FM numbers next to the GHR name. But you would have to say that the vast majority of people in this part of the world who want to listen to GHR already do – on the app, online or smart speakers. And in fringier parts of the Wave 105 catchment area, you can already get GHR on FM.

Flashback to 2010 when Scouting for Girls dropped into Wave 105 - the station has hosted many big names in its 26 years on airFlashback to 2010 when Scouting for Girls dropped into Wave 105 - the station has hosted many big names in its 26 years on air
Flashback to 2010 when Scouting for Girls dropped into Wave 105 - the station has hosted many big names in its 26 years on air

And if having GHR on FM down here is so important to Bauer, one has to ask (and in fact I have asked – more of that in a minute) why they took it off the 106.0FM frequency it occupied in 2022, to be replaced by something called Nation Radio that does not seem to have caught on at all. Wave 105 has been broadcasting to the south since 1998, while it has been more widely available for quite a few years now through its other newer-fangled listening methods.

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Since news broke of its demise, people have described Wave 105 as many things – descriptions I have seen or heard include: an old friend, one of the family, part of the south’s fixtures and fittings, a comfy pair of slippers or an old sweater. It’s something people just like having there, it’s comforting – and this was especially the case during the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns when like many local stations it really came into its own (a subject I explored in this recent and similar piece trying to understand why the BBC had taken the axe to so much of its own local radio network).

And that homely and genuinely local feel has been a huge part of its success. It has never tried too hard to be different or be anything it can’t be. It has offered a wide range of music – everything from the odd 60s tune to modern-day releases – a much wider playlist, ironically, than GHRSC will offer, given that GHR is all about the 70s, 80s and 90s.

Many of Wave’s presenters have been there since day one, or soon after it. They are friendly, funny, warm, welcoming. Their voices are immediately identifiable to listeners, their shows have always been very interactive, long before it was the norm for radio stations to openly invite listener input, as pretty much all of them do now. Generally, the presenters live here, know the area, know the issues and problems that affect the south, and are great ambassadors for the region.

Wave 105 never seems to have struggled to attract local advertisers or sponsors, which again makes this decision all the more baffling. Can Bauer be sure of replacing the local advertisers it will lose with others who will come on board just because Ken Bruce and Simon Mayo are on the radio? This one of many questions I had for Bauer and their bosses, who I thought might like to explain their reasoning to the loyal listeners. Sadly I was to be disappointed.

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Through the Bauer press office, I first asked if I could interview a member of the management about the ‘Wave 105 is changing’ announcement. Their reply? “I’m afraid there’s no opportunity to interview/ask questions of the management team at this time.”

Fair enough – it’s often the way with these things. It’s partly why they have press offices. So I submitted my questions in writing in the hope that someone at Bauer might answer them.

These were my questions:

1 Why are you (effectively) closing down Wave 105, one of the most successful local stations in the Bauer empire?

2 What is the business/commercial case for this - presumably you have done an estimate of how many current 105.2FM / Wave listeners will no longer listen, balanced against the numbers you aim to add to those listening to Greatest Hits Radio?

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3 Did Bauer consider consulting listeners before making the decision?

4 Did Bauer consult with any or all of Wave 105's advertisers and sponsors before making this decision?

5 How much notice were presenters and other staff at Wave 105 given before the decision was made and before the announcement was made?

6 You say in your 'Wave 105 is changing' message that appeared on social media and on the Wave website you want to enable more people to listen to Greatest Hits Radio on FM. But across the Wave 105 area, people used to be able to do that - on 106.0 FM; in fact that outlet was probably responsible for many people in this area discovering GHR. Then (without any warning or explanation) it was replaced by something called Nation Radio on 106 - why was that? Was it not important to get more FM listeners on to GHR's numbers at that point? And why cannot GHR South Coast not now go back on to 106.0 FM, which would meet your aim of putting GHR on FM while protecting Wave?

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7 You also say in the announcement that many local elements currently enjoyed by Wave 105 listeners will still be there. With this pledge in mind, can you say how many Wave 105 staff - contracted or freelance - in addition to Rick Jackson and Mark Collins will have jobs in the Greatest Hits Radio set-up?

8 Other than the Monday to Friday Rick Jackson and Mark Collins shows, which would appear to take up less than 25% of total weekly air time between them, will any other Wave presenters, shows or show features survive?

9 How local will the news and travel news be on GHR South Coast? At present the news on 105.2 comes direct from Wave's studio and its news team from first thing to 7pm Monday to Friday and from first thing to 1pm at weekends, while travel is local, from local experienced travel operators, from first thing to 7pm Monday to Friday? Will this same level of local service continue?

10 Is there a concern the money raised annually by the Wave 105 arm of Cash for Kids will plummet substantially if there are fewer listeners, and far fewer local presenters and shows promoting the local Cash for Kids schemes?

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I hoped for answers but again was out of luck. The only reply: “As previously discussed we can’t provide anyone for an interview at this time and therefore we won’t be able to answer the questions you supplied either.” Very, very disappointing. And you wonder why they won’t even try to explain some of that away.

All Bauer could do was refer me to their original press release about the changes and to a website page which had more details. In the interests of balance, that press release and website info is below. But I suspect many listeners, like me, will still be wondering just why we are waving goodbye to Wave tomorrow.

It will be another sad day for lovers of local radio, another day when listeners wonder if their tastes and their opinions count for anything at all with radio’s big bosses. The website page that I was also referred to can be seen here.

The Bauer press release read: “Wave 105 is to enter a new era as it gets set to transform into Greatest Hits Radio – the home of Ken Bruce – from this Spring. As well as becoming home to one of radio’s most iconic voices, under its new name the station will also feature legendary broadcasters including Simon Mayo at Drivetime and Jackie Brambles in the evenings.

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“Current local Breakfast show host Rick Jackson will remain at the helm of mornings on the station, as well as Mark Collins on mid-afternoons.

“Greatest Hits Radio features a playlist of songs from iconic artists from the 70s, 80s and 90s, including Blondie, Queen, George Michael, Madonna, Fleetwood Mac, David Bowie, Elton John and Whitney Houston. The station also has shows from much-loved radio presenters including Martin Kemp, Kate Thornton, Jenny Powell and many more.

“The station will continue to provide local news and information for the region, including traffic and travel as well as commercial opportunities for local partners; and fundraising for disadvantaged young people within the community through its Cash for Kids charity will also carry on.”

Gary Stein, Group Programme Director for the Hits Radio Portfolio said: ‘Wave 105 is a well-loved and recognised station identity within the South Coast and we want to build on its fantastic success and secure its future by transforming it into a nationally recognised brand, bolstered by a national marketing campaign to ensure it has even more opportunity to grow.

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‘Unique to our other Greatest Hits Radio stations, it will have its very own Breakfast show hosted by the fantastic Rick Jackson in addition to a mid-afternoon show hosted by Mark Collins, and all the local news and information we know is important to audiences. This is all while offering a new look schedule and playlist that we know is loved by listeners across the nation.’

“The changes do unfortunately mean that a small number of roles will be put into consultation and freelance contracts reviewed. Bauer Media is fully committed to supporting all affected employees throughout this period.

"Following the changeover, for any listeners that would like to continue listening to a playlist of the biggest hits and throwbacks from the 90s to now, as well as shows from Gemma Atkinson and Mike Toolan, Sam Thompson, Fleur East and more, they will be able to do so by choosing Hits Radio South Coast on DAB, online or smart speaker. The station will also contain local news and information for the area.”

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