Free Radio (network)
|Broadcast area||Birmingham, Black Country, Shropshire, South Staffordshire, Coventry, Warwickshire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire|
|Slogan||All the biggest hits - All day long|
|First air date||26 March 2012|
|Format||CHR (Free Radio)
1980s hits (Free Radio 80s)
Free Radio is a group 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.
The FM stations form part of the Bauer City 1 network, carrying local and network programming.
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. 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. As of August 2016, Free Radio is now aligned with the Bauer City 1 network. The four stations began carrying networked programming from Bauer's Manchester studios in February 2017.
Free Radio 80s
On 24 May 2012, Orion Media announced it would relaunch its Gold West Midlands stations on AM frequencies and DAB as Free Radio 80s. 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 programming to each of their coverage areas at breakfast and drivetime on weekdays and on weekend afternoons. The four stations share a regional programme each weekday from 10am-3pm, presented from Free Radio's Birmingham studios by Dan Morrissey. Output outside of these hours consist of programming from the Bauer City 1 network, broadcast largely from sister station Key 103 in Castlefield, Manchester.
Local programming for Shropshire & the Black Country and Herefordshire & Worcestershire is broadcast from studios in Oldbury and Worcester respectively, while programming from Coventry and Warwickshire airs from Free Radio's Birmingham studios.
Local news bulletins are broadcast on all stations 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.