Ofcom: Communities Are The Radio Stars

Ofcom Press Release - 9th March 2009

More than 8 million people are now able to tune into community radio stations and demand is still high for licences, Ofcom’s first Annual Report of Community Radio reveals.

Over 130 community stations are now broadcasting across the UK, with another 50 preparing to launch.

These not-for-profit radio stations cover small geographical areas and each typically provides 81 hours of original and distinctive output a week – mostly locally produced.

Community radio licensing was introduced by Ofcom and the first licence was awarded in March 2005.

Rich content

Community radio stations reflect the variety of cultures, demographics and tastes in the UK.

For example, there are stations catering for urban music fans (New Style, Birmingham) experimental music aficionados (Resonance FM, London) younger people (CSR, Canterbury), the Armed Forces and their families (Edinburgh Garrison FM) and religious communities (Cross Rhythms, Stoke-on-Trent).

In total, 41% of stations are aimed at general audiences in town or rural communities, 18% broadcast to general audiences in urban areas, but a significant proportion target specific groups such as young people (17%), minority ethnic groups (14%) or military communities (5%).

Wide social benefits

The Community Radio Annual Report also reveals that, on average, each station operates with 74 volunteers who together give around 214 hours of their time a week. Across the sector this represents over 100,000 volunteer hours a month.

In fulfilling their wider requirements to deliver social gain to their communities, each station are also required to provide training and accessibility.

For example, in the year to April 2008 Bang Radio, broadcasting in west London, delivered broadcast training to over 230 young people, and continues to offer further work placements to local school and college pupils.

Similarly, Wolverhampton’s WCR Radio provided accredited training to 49 of its 190 volunteers – 44 of whom now hold a qualification in radio production.

Funding community radio

The typical income of a community radio station is £66,500 pa – yet for some stations this is as little as £6,000.

The Report has established that a community radio station’s income is primarily generated through grants (45%), donations (12%) and in the growing area of service contracts with local authorities (11%). Across the board, on-air advertising represents 18% of total income.

Peter Davies, Ofcom’s Director of Radio Policy, said:

“Community radio is a real success story. It delivers rich and varied content to listeners and provides additional benefits through community involvement and training.

“Our Community Radio Annual Report reveals that, in just over three years, 130 stations have sprung up across the length and breadth of the UK. They reach many communities: from rural to inner city areas and serving diverse audiences with content ranging from religion, experimental music to RnB.”

“We are delighted that interest from those wishing to run such stations for their own communities remains high.”

Those connected to and working within the sector:

WCR’s (Wolverhampton) Zac Morris, 31, a former soldier currently seeking work said:

“Before I joined WCR I had no knowledge of all the technical aspects involved in radio.

“Now I can operate a studio, take interviews and I was broadcasting live on-air after receiving my training.”

Ian Wallace, Director of Gaydio based in Manchester, which is preparing to launch said:

“There’s a real excitement in Manchester’s gay community about the launch of Gaydio.

“As well as working with a great team of people we will also be reaching out to those people who do not currently have a lot of contact with the LGBT community, which can only be a win–win for everyone in Manchester.”

Jonathan Bellamy who runs Cross Rhythms FM, a Christian radio station based in Stoke, said:

“We have been thrilled at how well we have been received by local Christians but also by those without a faith. In particular, our unique music playlist mix of rock, pop, hip hop and R&B by Christian artists has proved a real hit.

“Our community focussed programming has included features on Media Action for Mental Health, Safer Cities Partnership, ADSiS (Alcohol and Drug Services in Staffordshire) and many, many others.”

Mark Page, who produces programming for a number of Army stations, said:

“Army audiences and their families, as well as civilians who live in the local area really value our output.

“Listeners of Community Radio with a military focus regularly hear from our boys and girls deployed in war zones - it is such a great feeling to know our programming gives such comfort to those who tune in and that it also provides real links with those outside bases.”

The full report can be found on the Ofcom website.

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