|Broadcast area||Birmingham and the West Midlands|
|Slogan||The Biggest Hits, The Biggest Throwbacks|
|First air date||19 February 1974|
|Sister stations||Free Coventry & Warwickshire|
Free Herefordshire & Worcestershire
Free Shropshire & Black Country
Greatest Hits West Midlands
Free Birmingham (formerly BRMB) is an Independent Local Radio station serving Birmingham and surrounding areas. It is owned and operated by Bauer and broadcasts on 96.4 FM and DAB Digital Radio, as well as online. The station is part of the Hits Radio network, which broadcasts a mix of chart and contemporary hits alongside local news and information.
Launched on 19 February 1974, on 261 metres medium wave, (1152kHz) and 94.8 MHz FM, BRMB was the fourth independent local commercial radio station to begin broadcasting in Britain after Capital Radio, LBC and Radio Clyde. Broadcasting a mix of popular music with local news, live football coverage, information and specialist output, the station became popular amongst residents in Birmingham and later changed its main FM frequency from 94.8 to 96.4 in 1986.
The original station name, BRMB, was not an acronym (contrary to popular belief – some believed it stood for Birmingham Radio, Midlands Broadcasting). Instead, the original company, Birmingham Broadcasting Ltd., wanted something that combined a US-style call-sign with the company name – e.g. Birmingham – (BRM) and broadcasting – (B); equalling BRMB.
Presenters such as Ed Doolan, Les Ross, Phil Upton and Tony Butler became regulars on the station – Les Ross was the UK's longest-serving breakfast presenter, presenting BRMB's flagship weekday breakfast show from March 1976 to March 1989, followed by a second stint between August 1993 and September 2002. Former head of sport Tom Ross also found fame on the station when it began broadcasting live commentary of West Midlands football matches every Saturday afternoon – Ian Crocker was also involved in the coverage early on.
In 1988, as a response to government disapproval of the simulcasting of programmingon both FM and mediumwave, a sister station was launched on the 1152 kHz frequency. Xtra AM became BRMB's 'gold' service, playing classic hits, while BRMB itself began to cater for a younger audience. At this stage, BRMB was part of Midlands Radio plc, which was bought out along with Radio Trent, Leicester Sound and Mercia Sound by Capital Radio in 1993. However, they sold the other stations to the GWR Group whilst Capital kept hold of BRMB and Xtra AM. Xtra was on the air for nine years until the majority of its programming was switched to London, where it was simulcast with Capital Gold.
On 8 August 2008, it was confirmed that due to competition 'conflict of interests' in the West Midlands (and in other areas), BRMB would be sold by Global Radio, along with other West Midlands owned GCap/Global stations Mercia FM, Wyvern FM, Heart 106 and Beacon Radio. In July 2009, the station was sold officially to a company backed by Lloyds Development Capital and Phil Riley which was named Orion Media.
On 9 January 2012, Orion Media announced that BRMB would be rebranded as Free Birmingham, along with its sister West Midlands stations Beacon, Mercia and Wyvern. The BRMB brand, together with neighbouring stations Mercia, Beacon and Wyvern, were phased out on Wednesday 21 March 2012 in preparation for the rebrand, which took place at 7pm on Monday 26 March 2012. Live football commentaries on Aston Villa and Birmingham City matches continued to be broadcast on Free 80s on AM and DAB until the end of the 2014–15 season.
On 6 May 2016, the station's owners, Orion, announced they had been bought by Bauer for an undisclosed fee, reportedly between £40 and £50 million. In February 2017, most of Free 's off-peak networked output from Birmingham was replaced by programmes originating from Key 103 (now Hits Radio Manchester).
In May 2019, following OFCOM's decision to relax local content obligations from commercial radio, Bauer announced Free's Birmingham breakfast show would be shared with the sister station in Shropshire and the Black Country from 8 July 2019, presented by Dan Morrissey. The localised weekday drivetime shows were initially replaced by a single regional show, presented by Andy Goulding.
Local programming consists of Hits at Breakfast on weekdays from 6-10am which is produced and broadcast from Free's Birmingham studios. The programme, presented by Dan Morrissey, also airs on Free's station in Shropshire & the Black Country.
Free in Birmingham broadcasts local news bulletins hourly from 6am-7pm on weekdays, from 7am-1pm on Saturdays and Sundays. Headlines are broadcast on the half hour during weekday breakfast and drivetime shows, alongside traffic bulletins.
Local bulletins are produced from Free's Birmingham newsroom. National bulletins from Sky News Radio are carried overnight with bespoke networked bulletins on weekend afternoons, usually originating from Radio Aire's Leeds newsroom.
BRMB was originally based in Aston Road North, in the Aston area of Birmingham, near the Spaghetti Junction. These were the former Alpha Television Studios, the home of ATV and ABC Weekend Television until 1970.
The current Free Radio studios are based in the Brindleyplace development near Broad Street in Birmingham city centre. Since August 2011, local programming for the Coventry and Warwickshire station has been produced and broadcast from Birmingham.
Free in Birmingham organises a number of annual public events including the Walkathon and the annual Live concerts at the LG Arena. The station also sponsors the Bupa Great Birmingham Run and the Acorns Midnight Walk.
Notable past presenters
- Ed Doolan
- Phil Upton (now at BBC WM/BBC Coventry & Warwickshire)
- Graham Torrington (now at BBC WM and BBC Devon)
- Elliott Webb (now at BBC Hereford and Worcester)
- Margherita Taylor (now at Classic FM)
- Carlos (later at Smooth Radio)
- Harriet Scott (now at Magic 105.4)
- Paul Hollins (now at Smooth Radio)
- Jeremy Kyle (now at ITV)
- Tom Binns
- Tim Shaw (now at 97.4 Rock FM)
- Mark Crossley (now at Absolute Radio)
- Graeme Smith (later at Real Radio North West)
- Robin Banks
- James Merritt (now at Heart Network)
- Ed Nell (now at Free Radio Shropshire & Black Country)
- Jo Russell (now at Gem 106)
- John Howard (later at BBC Radio 4)
- Sam and Mark
- Adrian Juste
- "Radio Today". Radiotoday.co.uk. Retrieved 3 August 2017.
- Feature: Orion's Phil Riley on Free, RadioToday, 11 January 2012
- "Free – All the Biggest Hits – All Day Long". Free Radio. Retrieved 3 August 2017.
- Bauer buys radio group Orion Media, The Guardian, 6 May 2016
- Orion Media sold to Bauer for £50m, The Daily Telegraph, 6 May 2016
- Free to reduce local breakfast and drive shows, Radio Today, 30 May 2019
- Hits Radio Network stations to drop local weekend programmes, Radio Today, 30 May 2019
- Bauer to network drivetime across 11 licences in North and Midlands, Radio Today, 5 August 2019
- Free - Public File