The most prominent stations are the national networks operated by the BBC.
The introduction of digital radio technology led to the launch of several new BBC stations:
The BBC also provide 40 local radio services, mainly broadcasting a mix of local news and music aimed at an older audience.
Also available nationally are three national commercial channels, namely Absolute Radio, Classic FM and talkSPORT. As with the BBC, digital radio has brought about many changes, including the roll-out of local stations such as Radio X, Kiss and Kerrang Radio to other areas of the United Kingdom.
Commercial radio licences are awarded by Ofcom, a government body which advertises a licence for an area and holds a so-called beauty contest to determine which station will be granted permission to broadcast in that area. Stations submit detailed application documents containing their proposed format and the outcome of research to determine the demand for their particular style of broadcast. Original 106 (Aberdeen) was the last radio station to be granted a licence by Ofcom.
Most local commercial stations in the United Kingdom broadcast to a city or group of towns within a radius of 20–50 miles, with a second tier of regional stations covering larger areas such as North West England. The predominant format is pop music, but many other tastes are also catered for, particularly in London and the larger cities, and on digital radio.
Rather than operating as independent entities, many local radio stations are owned by large radio groups which broadcast a similar format to many areas. The largest operator of radio is Global Radio which bought the former media group, Gcap Media. It owns Classic FM and London's most popular commercial station, Capital London. Other owners are Bauer Radio and Wireless Group, which mainly own stations that broadcast in highly populated city areas.
Many of these stations, including all the BBC stations, are also available via digital television services.
Community radio stations broadcast to a small area, normally within a 3-mile (5 km) radius, and are required by the Act to be not-for-profit organisations, owned by local people, on which the broadcasters are mostly volunteers. They are recognised under the Communications Act 2003 as a distinct third tier of radio in the United Kingdom. The community radio movement in the United Kingdom was founded in the mid-1970s, broadcasting through Restricted Service Licences, the internet and cable television.
An Access Radio pilot scheme, launched in 2002, gave fifteen stations, including Resonance FM and ALL FM, trial licences, and this has blossomed into a lively sector, overseen unofficially by the Community Media Association.
The broadcasters predominantly serve an easily defined racial community such as Asian Star Radio in Slough, or a geographically defined community such as Coast FM, Speysound Radio & The Bay Radio. They can also serve religious groups, such as Christian radio station Branch FM in Yorkshire. As well as this, they can also be linked with universities and student unions who run the stations under a community licence, for example Smoke Radio in London, Demon FM in Leicester, and Spark FM in Sunderland.