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WRS airs for last day as public radio station

Published: 30 Aug 2013 12:12 GMT+02:00

The station, owned by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC), is being privatized after five years of operation, although the new owners Anglo Media will not be able to keep its FM licence.

The company, headed by former WRS presenter Mark Butcher and expat entrepreneur Peter Sibley, will continue broadcasting on FM 101.7 through September.

After that the station will broadcast through DAB+ (digital broadcasting) and on the internet.

“It’s vital that the international community here retains its strong voice and we are making sure that high quality English radio continues, despite the unpopular decision by the Swiss federal government to remove FM from the region,” Butcher said in a statement.

Anglo Media has been running an internet station called Radio Frontier, aimed at expats in the Geneva area, which is being discontinued.

While WRS is a national radio station, it is based in Geneva and its FM signal can only be picked up in the Geneva area.

The federal government announced in May that it would not accept either of the bids for the station’s FM licence made by WRS management and Anglo Media.

That decision came after it released SBC from its obligation to further fund and operate WRS, which employed 20 people with a bureau in Zurich.

“In five years of operation, WRS failed to reach the Anglophone public in Switzerland,” Ofcom, the Swiss broadcaster regulator, said in a statement that was disputed by the station’s management.

Ironically, earlier this month WRS was named radio station of the year for French- and Italian-speaking Switzerland for the second year running.

The award came after the station boosted its listenership by 130 percent from the middle of 2011 to the middle of 2012.

Outgoing station director Philippe Mottaz said the award was a recognition of the station’s accomplishments but he acknowledged it was “bittersweet” given the SBC’s decision.

Friday marked the station’s last day of live broadcasting as a public station.

WRS originally launched in November 2007 after SBC took over World Radio Geneva, a commercial station that began in 1996.

Anglo Media has said it will be switching the focus of WRS to local Geneva coverage but is promising to open up new stations to serve the Zurich and Basel areas next year.

It said it is also working with authorities to win an FM licence back for the Geneva region.

Meanwhile, a company set up by another former WRS presenter, Conor Lennon, is also planning to set up DAB+ and internet radio stations in Basel and Zurich.

The “English Radio” network is to be established by Lennon’s Off-Piste Radio Network, which operates internet stations in Verbier (canton of Valais) and Chamonix, France, catering to tourists.

Malcolm Curtis (news@thelocal.ch)

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