Small stations bring big benefits for local communities

18 November 2010

Around 11 million people are now able to tune into community radio stations across the UK. This figure is up 17% year-on-year and an increase of more than a third (36%) since 2008, according to a new report by Ofcom.

The Community Radio Annual Report provides a snapshot of community radio in the UK, which reveals a flourishing sector. Since the first station went live five years ago, a new community radio station has launched, on average, every 10 days. Today, a record 181 community stations are broadcasting and another 30 are preparing to take to the airwaves.

Community radio stations typically cover a small geographical area with a coverage radius of up to 5km and are run on a not-for-profit basis. They serve a wide range of communities, targeting diverse audiences from rural to inner city areas with content ranging from community news and information to religious issues to experimental music and RnB, for example.

Ofcom Chief Executive, Ed Richards, said: "The Community Radio Annual Report provides an encouraging picture of the state of community radio in the UK. In general, it's been a challenging few years for the radio sector. Community radio has shared these challenges. Despite this, it continues to deliver local content and other community benefits. It is a genuine success story, and a great credit to the thousands of volunteers and enthusiasts that make it happen."

2 million hours of volunteering

All stations involve volunteers in various jobs, including as presenters. The average station reports the involvement of around 75 volunteers over a year. Across the industry more than 40,000 volunteer hours are spent each week producing more than 15,000 hours of original radio output. Ofcom estimates that, with over 180 stations on air, volunteers currently contribute more than 2 million hours per year to community radio.

Chris Jones from Harborough FM in Market Harborough said: "One of the most satisfying achievements is watching people who initially came to us with little or no broadcasting experience being transformed into very competent community radio broadcasters."

Diverse audiences

A large number of community radio stations provide services for minority groups.

For example, Diverse FM in Luton broadcasts in community languages such as Bengali, Hindi, Gujarati, Urdu, Pahari, Polish, Arabic, Swahili and Patwa.

Ashuk Ahmed at Diverse FM said: "Communities are offered radio slots to broadcast dedicated programmes, enabling them to 'have a voice' by raising issues that are relevant to them and promote better understanding of each other’s culture, religion and issues … this has brought about better community cohesion, enabling celebration of cultural diversity and understanding."

Several stations also provide services for rural communities, such as Tempo FM in Wetherby (West Yorkshire). "The station provides a much appreciated "Voice for Wetherby" to the considerable benefit of the community, on a very limited budget," said Stuart Robinson from Tempo FM. "Creating a new focus for the area through the medium of radio, by linking the various communities within the associated towns has been a great achievement."

Social gain

In addition to providing unique content, community radio stations deliver wide benefits to people in the areas in which they broadcast. This includes offering training and work experience opportunities, contributions to local education and providing a voice to those, such as older people or speakers of minority languages, who may find it harder to access the media.

Rob Green from Halton Community Radio in Runcorn (Cheshire) said: "Our station reaches parts of the community that other stations and community groups cannot reach; for example the house-bound and severely disabled. Without the station they would not be able to participate in local discussions and debate. This was the main aim of the station and we are proud that we have managed to achieve this."

shmuFM in Aberdeen has worked with a range of partners to create a full-time training programme for prison inmates including the production of programmes for broadcast on the community radio station. Murray Dawson from shmuFM said: "The scheme has provided encouragement, motivation and support to prisoners who continue to develop their skills, post release, which has contributed towards a break in their cycle of re-offending."

The full report is available here.