Regarding national and regional radio, the ORF dominates the Austrian radio market. In 1993, parliament enacted the first – disputed – legislation to grant licenses to private commercial radio operators. It took another five years before the legal basis could be established. By April, 1998, most of the 53 licensed radio operators were on air. This put an end to the national public service monopoly in the radio sector. In 2001, a new law on regional radios removed some obstacles for media companies to own and operate radio channels. The initial intention was to restrict ownership of dominant newspaper publishers. However, their interest in this medium and their lobbying was strong enough to succeed in removing most of these ownership barriers.
Since 2001, media owners (newspapers, radio, television) are eligible to own 100 percent of a radio station as long as the reach of the radio does not overlap with the reach of its other media. In Vienna as well as in the Austrian provinces, publishers made use of these new rules and acquired shares in local and regional channels. One national terrestrial radio frequency was licensed and granted to Krone Hit Radio, operated by the Kronenzeitung. By 2016, some 75 private radio operators were granted licences.
On average, Austrians listen to radio programmes for 185 minutes every day (2016). In the first six months of 2016, 70 percent of radio listeners’ time was dedicated to one of the radio channels of the ORF and 27 percent to one of the private radio stations. The market situation changes slowly. More than 25 years after the first private licenses were granted, the most popular ORF radio programme (OE 3) still had a larger market share (31 percent) than all private stations together (29 percent, in 2016).
Austria belongs to the group of European countries which are not bothered by digital radio. For more than two decades, switching from FM to DAB or DAB+ was not even debated. Only in May 2015 a first test was launched in greater Vienna and less than a dozen private stations started transmitting in the DAB+ standard. ORF decided not to participate with its programmes, thereby limiting the attractiveness of the programme ensemble. In February 2016, radio operators were invited to declare their interest in DAB+. First licenses were planned to be advertised early in 2017.