Community radio stations are having a tough time. They are restricted in their advertising and dependent on rapidly diminishing grants, but that's not stopped another 30 from applying for licences. All of the applications are in for round three of the Community Radio licences, from groups which reckon they can make a go of …
Keep the 50% cap
But remove the anti-competition requirement?
Protecting the big against the small
Imagine the outcry if there was legislation limiting the competition small corner shops could make to Tesco. This is clearly discriminatory legislation, protecting the big commercial stations against small local ones.
My thoughts on radio listening
i wrote this post last week, in my view it's what's wrong with the Community Sector and indeed UK radio
Move over to internet radio
Move over to internet radio and tell ofcom to swivel. It's a pity the recevied wen't a lot cheaper.
The US has lots of listener-funded stations
The botom 4 MHz of the FM dial in the US is reserved for "noncommercial-educational" stations. No adverts allowed, though "underwriting announcements" are permitted. (It's a fine line, but impacts the tone of the station.) Most are owned by universities (blue states) or churches (red states). Some are independent. There are also now some "low power FM" stations on other frequencies under slightly different rules, but also noncommercial.
The usual funding method is to ask for listener donations. They have pledge drives, sometimes running for a week a few times a year, when programs are interrupted to ask people to phone in pledges, or (more recently) done via the station's web site. Boston's biggest news-oriented radio station (WBUR) works this way; it's owned by Boston University, and raises hundreds of thousands of dollars several times a year. A similar model works for the New York market's funky (it mostly plays non-RIAA music) WFMU, once owned by a now-closed university and now independent.
Is that permitted in the UK? Or are Brits too cheap to shell out a few quid to sponsor their favorite station?
Radio Free Brighton
I'm the technical director of Radio Free Brighton.
We made the decision not to bother with FM at all and are 100% online.
It does make it harder to reach some of our key target demographics, but on balance I think it's a decision we're quite pleased with.
>Or are Brits too cheap to shell out a few quid to sponsor their favorite station?
I don't like to add up all the money that gets conned out of me and the missus for various PBS stations. It makes the TV license bite in the UK seem great value for money.
Good examples of community radio. Local TV might be superfluous in multimedia age.
"The reality is that many Community Radio stations are run as clubs for people who want to make radio rather than services of value to the community"
A sweeping overgeneralisation. From my experience being involved in three still running and thriving community radio stations that began around 2006 (below) I would disagree because they are all examples that have done some good in their respective communities, in many ways.
Here's some examples of that good:
1. Express FM 93.7 Portsmouth: many projects, for example many many live outside broadcasts championing local events and causes, Radio For Change a volunteering project to encourage local people to make programmes about matters that affect them, supported by national VInvolved; a soap opera akin to The Archers involving local people as players, building self-esteem, giving creative input; Wired For Work, a series on case studies of those with disabilities and long-term-illnesses finding work and starting businesses (this programme I produced); various local live music programmes; a programme about Volunteering in the community (a programme I produced and co-presented). Credit to everyone else involved.
2. Skyline 102.5 FM Hedge End, near Southampton
Helped many young people find construction jobs through on-air promotions, helped raised awareness of local charitable causes.
3. Unity 101.1 FM Southampton
Several series discussing the cultures of various ethnic groups in the City: clothes, food and festivals.
What of people who like doing radio for its own sake? I would agree that any station can have its share of that type, but if they are good at what they do then they add value to a station by attracting listeners and advertisers from elsewhere. Some people may see the experience as a stepping stone to professional radio - certainly the case for a few involved in the 3 stations above, people there have gone on to work nationally and locally for the BBC and other stations. And what's the problem with that? It's an opportunity for someone, we all need opportunities. I think the key is in balance and having a good mix of people with different personal agendas at a station.
Hopeless dreams? If one doesn't base their entire self esteem on being successful in radio then no, not hopeless at all, and if they see radio as a tool for the toolbox achieve something meaningful, and not for its own sake. If someone presenting a radio show offers something that listeners cannot get for themselves or elsewhere, then this is the foundation to success.
rinse.fm is another community radio station that is thriving, previously an urban pirate station, now legal, it has a track record of developing original artists, for example Katy B. This station is a great story for that reason, no Simon Cowell in sight, or the artificial system of fame in the X factor, these artists developed organically. The station is authentic and true to its roots, rather than 1Xtra reflecting similar genres which although very good, wouldn't exist if the pirates covering the genre existed first. History tells us that a state broadcaster can't necessary develop original talent, think Radio Caroline and then the reaction of the BBC in launching radio 1. But now they are here to stay, those BBC outlets provide worthwhile output and in some cases items that the market alone cannot provide.
"They present an interesting model of what Local TV might be like in another decade or so."
Not so, radio and TV are different mediums: one can do something else while listening to the radio and radio requires much less technical resource to work well. With TV, lighting, sets, makeup are all required. Because TV is a captive medium, the need to grab attention constantly is much higher and demanding - something I fear is not attainable on the proposed new wave of local TV. The other reason why local TV may not work is lack of cross promotion, something which the major broadcasters, particularly the BBC, enjoy. So if ITV and BBC regional TV had to, by law, go into partnership with and carry promotions of local non-profit TV then it may work.
That said, I'm surprised that a distinction is still made in media organisations in the age of convergence. A radio station should think of itself as a multimedia organisation, with a website, a youtube channel, facebook and twitter pages. That way it can reach the largest audience and justify its relevence. With that, the wave of local TV perhaps becomes irrelevant because existing outlets can already do it.
Fail to see the point
I can't see anything that can be done by community radio that can't be achieved in any number of other ways that are far easier to set up and run, and are almost invariably more entertaining. I shrink in terror at the day the land is stalked by (rather 70s) anorak clad Kevins stalking the land with video as well as sound equipment, getting visually outraged at everything from squirrel infestations to precariously laden rubbish bins.
The obsession with community everything for the last few years just emphasises the fact that anything worthy of the name is long, long departed, and impossible to recreate. People make communities, not radio stations.
+1 I agree
"People make communities, not radio stations."
Totally agree with this point.
Also, I suggest that it may be flawed for community media be consumed by this Government's Big Society policy, supposedly bringing power back to the people, locally. The intent might be that they can diminish the BBC arguing that its services to local communities are no longer required.
It's flawed because at some point there are may be many stations, resulting in a diluted and duplicated effort, quality will suffer, when rather there should be a fewer stations that do what they do very well with any public money they are awarded. Several larger outlets have more critical mass, more money to do bigger things rather than money scattered over many small outlets.
Obviously Ofcom aren't responsible for ensuring they are viable, they don't run these stations, they are there merely to offer licenses. So some will fail inevitably.
"achieved in any number of other ways that are far easier to set up and run, and are almost invariably more entertaining."
Agree, there are lots of other ways: the web, youtube, facebook groups, twitter, charities, other organisations, voluntary groups, concerts, festivals...
Bit of a joke
While some of the stations are worthwhile and viable, others are a bit of a joke. Often run by "anoraks" with little or no business sense and who often end up in fighting among themselves after 6 months. The stories of the ego's of 1980's radio 1 DJ's have nothing on some of the community radio lot.
And what's worse is that many of the stations simply aren't viable. One station locally which has been trying to launch for a while will be broadcasting to an area of no more than 4,000 people. 4,000! Without major grants that will never ever run at anything other than a loss. Just how much will a local butchers shop pay to advertise on a station where the audience figures will often be counted on the fingers of one hand?
Hell it's hard enough to run a proper commercial outfit with no advertising restrictions with a population of less than 200,000. And that's with a professional sales team. In the last couple of years countless stations have gone to the wall or been merged with neighbours.
The stations that survive will be those professionally run with a decent amount of people within their transmissions, that can keep costs super low while attracting both advertising money and revenue from other sources. Although the lack of grants will still make things super hard.
Welsh community tv
Down in deepest Welsh Wales we have our own community tv. S4C. It broadcasts throughout the country, costs £millions and research has shown some programmes have under 100 viewers. Despite this complete failure, the government is attempting to get joking tv stations running in Cardiff, Swansea & Llanelli, when I know they won't get any viewers at all.
It's bloody obvious they're going to be another drain on the BBC's finances and the only business that stands to gain is the dirty digger's satellite broadcaster.
On egos, languages and cultures and Lottery funding
Ego is part of the human persona. It's only a bad thing if it's to the detriment of others. Saying ego is bad is like saying one is vane because they check their appearance is smart before they go to work in the morning. It's OK in the right measure.
Myself I've met some lovely empowering people who became friends during my time at community radio, some I've maintained that friendship with after I left due personal commitments. But people move on and lose touch sometimes.
My programmes were heavily reliant on guests and interviews, booking them for weekly slots sometimes became very challenging. It would have been easier to just pop one record on after another, but then I would never have been given a show on that basis, and personally I wouldnt think I was doing anything worthwhile in that people can get that jukebox style show from their ipods and other stations.
Welsh Language programming: can or should a language (and culture and heritage that goes with it) be preserved at the expense of perhaps more needy causes such as serving disadvantaged? This is candidate for a lottery funded project if there ever was one, I think. Because the lottery is a voluntary tax, my view is its designed to fund things that include either 1) not so popular but a godsend to those it helps 2) non-essential but culturally enriching 3) or useful nonetheless. Or all of the above. It's kind of immune from public outcry that would occur if mandatory tax was spent on such things, and people can just vote with their feet by just playing the lottery.