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GCap threatens legal challenge to new digital radio licences

LONDON - GCap Media's chairman Ralph Bernard has said the company could take Ofcom to court if the regulator opens the way for more national digital stations.

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Bernard said GCap would take the action to defend its interest as the sole owner of national digital radio capacity, which it expected to have to itself for more than a decade.

The capacity was licensed to Digital One, which is owned by GCap and cable company NTL, in 1998 for a 12-year term by the Radio Authority, the old radio regulator.

GCap's anger stems from the belief that the regulator is changing course on digital radio. It now appears, especially after comments by Ofcom chairman Stephen Carter last night, that Ofcom wants to allocate new spectrum to two additional national digital radio multiplexes, carrying potentially 20 new stations.

Carter was giving the Guardian Media Group lecture at the Radio Festival in Edinburgh. His comments confirmed recent industry speculation that Ofcom was looking at the possibility of extra capacity for national digital radio.

Bernard's former company GWR set up Digital One and invested in building the network of new wave transmitters "on the clear understanding that it would be the only national digital radio multiplex", Bernard said.

"If Ofcom breaks the terms of our original understanding and grants additional national licences, our board will have no option but to consider a judicial review of the decision," Bernard said.

Digital One carries a mix of stations including BBC national and local stations as well as GCap's Classic FM, Core and Planet Rock; Saga Group's PrimeTime Radio and Life Digital Radio; Virgin Radio; TalkSport, recently acquired by Ulster Television; and OneWorld, owned 51% by Channel 4 and 49% by UBC.

Waiting in the wings to snap up the licences are operators such as Chrysalis and Emap, who have only been able to take advantage of regional digital licenses.

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