|Broadcast area||Birmingham, Black Country, Shropshire, South Staffordshire, Coventry, Warwickshire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire|
|Slogan||The Biggest Hits, The Biggest Throwbacks|
First air date
|26 March 2012|
On Tuesday 4 September 2012, a secondary AM station broadcasting 1980s chart music, Free 80s, was launched.
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 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 local 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 aligned with the Hits Radio network, with the four local stations beginning to carry networked programming from Bauer’s Manchester studios in February 2017.
In May 2019, following OFCOM's decision to relax local content obligations from commercial radio, Bauer announced it would cease local programming for two Free stations in Shropshire & the Black Country and in Herefordshire & Worcestershire.
As of 8 July 2019, Free Radio carries two separate breakfast shows - one for the Birmingham, Black Country and Shropshire areas and a second for Coventry, Warwickshire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire. The four local drivetime shows were replaced by a single regional programme for the West Midlands, presented by Andy Goulding. Local news bulletins, traffic updates and advertising for the four licence areas are retained. Local weekend afternoon programming were replaced with additional network programming from Manchester.
From September 2019, the regional drivetime show was replaced with a further networked programming from Manchester, including opt-outs for local news and traffic.
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 broadcast locally produced programming playing 1980s chart music alongside news & information and sports programming. The station launched on Tuesday 4 September 2012.
On 7 January 2019, Free Radio 80s ceased broadcasting and replaced by Absolute Classic Rock on AM and DAB in Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Shropshire. Greatest Hits Radio West Midlands launched as part of the Greatest Hits Radio network on 105.2 FM in Birmingham and on 1359 kHz and DAB in Coventry, Herefordshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire.
All networked programming originates from Bauer’s Manchester studios.
- Hits at Breakfast, presented by Dan Morrissey, broadcasts to the Free Radio stations in Birmingham and Shropshire & the Black Country.
- Hits at Breakfast, presented by John Dalziel and Roisin McCourt, broadcasts to the Free Radio stations in Coventry & Warwickshire and Herefordshire & Worcestershire.
Bauer’s Birmingham newsroom broadcasts localised news bulletins on the hour from 6am to 7pm on weekdays and from 7am to 1pm on weekends with headlines on the half hour during weekday breakfast and drivetime.
- BRMB, Mercia, Beacon, Wyvern to be Free, Radio Today, 9 January 2012
- Bauer buys radio group Orion Media, The Guardian, 6 May 2016
- Orion Media sold to Bauer for £50m, The 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
- Gold to be Free 80s in West Mids, Radio Today, 24 May 2012
- Free - Public File