Legal advice sought in Highland radio bid

By Harry Walsh

LEGAL advice has been sought as the battle for the control of the North Donegal airwaves intensified this week when detailed submissions from the two applicants were posted on the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland website.

Highland Radio, who have been operating the licence for the past for 23 years, are being challenged by Donegal Commercial Radio Broadcasting Limited (DL) for the new 10-year licence which comes into effect in September 2014.


However, within hours of the two applications ‘going live’ on the site, Mr Gerry Rabbitt, Chairman Highland Radio had issued an ‘Urgent Media Notice’ to local media outlets.

It has claimed that there are ‘serious inaccuracies’ in the DL submission, although the company declined to be more specific when contacted yesterday. Mr Rabbitt said legal advice had been sought. DL’s Charlie Collins said the company stood over its submission.
The submissions outline their respective vision and their commitment to produce high quality, well researched programming and music.

It also give details of the membership of both applications, ownership and control of same as well as market analysis, financial and business plans.

DL Commercial Radio, which names former Highland Radio General Manager Charlie Collins as its CEO, proposes to have its headquarters and main broadcast centre in the iTek building on Business Park Road, Letterkenny with a satellite office and studios in Carndonagh.

Their business plan is for 60 staff, 24 full-time and 36 part-time – with staff costs in excess of €1 million per annum.

Projected profit

The projected profit and loss account shows a turnover in excess of €2 million in Year 1 with a net profit of €262,528 rising to a turnover €2.3m and net profit of €292,465 in Year 5.
There are nine shareholders of Donegal Commercial Radio Broadcasting Limited. They are Paddy Simpson, Charlie Collins, Philip O’Doherty, Mary G Blake and her husband Damien Blake, Enda Nicholls, Mark McCloskey, Danny Doohan and Brian McGill.


Five of the above nine, namely Paddy Simpson, Charlie Collins, Philip O’Doherty, Mary G Blake and Damien Blake are joined by Lisa Birkett as directors with professor Roy Greenslade and Grace Ann McGarvey named as Independent Directors.

Paddy Simpson and Enda Nicholls are the two largest shareholders with 29pc and 20pc shareholdings respectively (which equates to 319,000 ordinary shares of €1 each and 220,00 shares) with Mark McCloskey (15pc), Danny Doohan and Philip O’Doherty (10pc each). Brian McGill and Charlie Collins have acquired five per cent of the ordinary shares with the balance, 3pc each, going to Damien and Mary G Blake.

The shareholders have agreed that no shareholdings will be transferred within the first three years from the date of licence award.

It is envisaged that Charlie Collins will be Chief Executive Officer with Kieran O’Connell, a former Revenue Commissioner, Financial Controller and Damien Blake the Compliance Officer.

In its Executive Summary, DLFM says it is built on an extremely solid foundation.
“Our shareholders have committed and already put in place the required capital resources to launch the station and cover all investment and working capital requirements. Our directors and independent directors represent the highest order of the range of skills required to run a local media organisation – experienced broadcasters and journalists, skilled business operators, community activists, digital media professionals and a renowned professor and media ethics expert,” the summary read.

In his opening address Shaun Doherty, Managing Director, Highland Radio, said that for 23 years Highland Radio has been Ireland’s number one local radio station with the largest listenership and market share than any other county in Ireland.

“In this submission we will demonstrate to you that: Under our leadership, Highland Radio has since 2008 increased listenership, market share and staffing by diversifying our business model to ensure continued profitability,” Mr Doherty said.

Highland’s Managing Director also stated that financial projections show a steady growth in the coming years and that funding was in place to support the station’s growth.

New programming

Boasting 23 years experience, Mr Doherty said that they remain “fresh, relevant, exciting and dynamic”.

The introduction of new programming and talent search promotions to appeal to younger audiences and develop new Irish talent are just two of the ways Highland hopes to sustain its success.

Donegal Highland Radio Limited is owned and controlled by Orangold Limited, which is turn is owned and controlled by Gerry Rabbitt and his family.

“Gerry Rabbitt and his family made a massive financial investment in Donegal Highland Radio Limited (Highland FM) in 2008. The Rabbitt family has invested two generations of its family and a large private investment of €4 million in the business. This commitment is further evident in the fact that in the past five years no shareholding director has ever drawn down remuneration.

“It cannot be overstated that a successful outcome to this application is important to the continuation of Highland Radio as a voice for all of the people of North Donegal, a service proven to be technically and financially successful; the retention of all staff and their livelihoods and, not least, the financial future of the Rabbit family who have committed so much to Highland Radio,” the submission reads.

The application group is made up of Gerry, Timothy, Maureen and Fionnuala Rabbitt, Shaun Doherty, Billy Patterson and Patricia McBride.

A summary of the company key financial figures are as follows: Net Assets at year end 2012 (€439,723 – €369,042 in ‘11), Net Current Assets at year end (€339,903 – 2012, €248,819 2011) with bank reserves of €82,5627 compared with €38,569 in 2011.

The proposed management structure of Highland Radio will be as follows: 20 permanent full time, 33 permanent part-time with a projected turn-over of €1.718 million in Year 1 rising to €1.857m in Year 5 with profits rising from €479k in Year 1 to €525K in Year 5.

The submissions will remain on the website for the foreseeable future. The new 10-year licence does not come into effect until September 2014.

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