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Free-form Radio Helsinki gets last-minute reprieve

Finland’s largest newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, has sold its Radio Helsinki outlet to a group of investors. The paper had said it would shut down the station next month.

Maria Veitola
The station's new editorial director Maria Veitola: “The right people found each other." Image: Yle

On Thursday afternoon, Helsingin Sanomat's acting editor-in-chief Riikka Venäläinen announced that a buyer has been found for Radio Helsinki, a local station with an estimated 90,000 listeners weekly.

Known as an eccentric, playlist-free community station that features virtually any kind of music and talk show imaginable, Radio Helsinki was established in 2000 and bought by the newspaper in 2005. However ad sales remained low and the station lost as much as 400,000 euros a year.

The deal, for an undisclosed price, includes the business and the brand – but not the station’s coveted broadcast license and 88.6 FM frequency. The Sanoma group will transfer it to its commercial television channel Nelonen in November.

Radio Helsinki’s new management has applied for a permit under a local radio licensing round that ended on Thursday. If it is approved, the station would move to a new frequency.

New team: Hard-nosed business background

The new consortium of owners – called Pro Radio Helsinki – includes former Helsingin Sanomat editor Paula Salovaara, who founded the community station 13 years ago. Salovaara was one of three Helsingin Sanomat editors who quit the paper last month. She denied at the time that her departure had anything to do with the radio station.

Others investors include Tomi Ruotimo and his software consultancy Houston Inc, Timo Everi, chairman of the board of the HIFK ice hockey team, and the leading ad agency Hasan & Partners, in which Everi is a partner.

The new company’s CEO will be former DataCenter sales manager Ville Arponen, with Maria Veitola as its editorial director. She has a long career as a broadcast host and journalist at Nelonen, Radio Helsinki and Helsingin Sanomat.

“This all worked out well,” she told Yle. “The right people found each other and created something good: in other words, rescuing Radio Helsinki and giving it a new start.”

Balancing personality and profit?

Though the station has never made a profit, it has played a crucial role in the Finnish music sector – as evidenced by its being voted Radio Station of the Year for seven of the last 10 years at Musiikki & Media, the nation’s biggest music industry event.

With many musicians, producers and record label staffers among its DJs, the station has helped to introduce many domestic and international acts to Finnish audiences. The station estimates that a quarter of the nation’s population lives within its listening area. It also claims many listeners via the internet and cable TV around the country and abroad. More than 33,000 of them supported the "Save Radio Helsinki" Facebook page.

The new owners aim to make the station profitable while retaining its irreverent format-free format – and continuing cooperation with Helsingin Sanomat. Ruotimo told the paper that the new management has many innovative ideas for generating revenues, with traditional ad sales only expected to bring in half of the station’s income.

The station will continue to broadcast from the Sanoma building next to Helsinki Railway Station until a new studio space is found. According to the newspaper, the new owners are planning a street-level city-centre studio that will be visible to passersby, with an adjoining cafe – and eventually a TV channel.

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