Community radio

Published: 20 October 2023
Last updated: 20 October 2023

Community radio stations provide a new voice for hundreds of local communities across the UK. Fuelled by the hard work and enthusiasm of volunteers, they reflect a diverse mix of cultures and interests and provide a rich mix of mostly locally-produced content.

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 can cater for whole communities or for different areas of interest – like a particular ethnic group, age group or interest group. For example, you can listen to stations which cater for urban or experimental music, while others are aimed at younger people, religious communities or the Armed Forces and their families. They can also bring community benefits such as training and community news and discussion.

To be kept informed about community radio, including when we invite applications, subscribe to broadcasting email updates.

Ofcom recognises the value of volunteer inputs as part of the total operational turnover of some community radio services. However, we believe it would be inappropriate for any community radio station to be able to generate all of its funding from a combination of on-air commercial revenues and the value of volunteer inputs. 

We have guidance covering volunteer inputs used by the community radio sector. This guidance sets specific financial values on volunteer inputs provided to community radio stations.

Guidance for community radio stations that wish to use volunteer time as part of station turnover (PDF, 251.8 KB)

Changes to this guidance

October 2023

The Community radio: volunteer input guidance (the Guidance), including the section on Volunteer Rates, has not been reviewed by Ofcom since 2015. During this time, the National Living Wage has been slowly increasing and has recently surpassed the rates Ofcom previously stated in the Guidance for a ”Senior Volunteer” and ‘Standard Volunteer’ that Community Radio licensees can use to calculate the value of their volunteers’ input. As such, it was important for Ofcom to update the rates used in the Guidance.

Ofcom decided not to consult on this update to the guidance. This is because we decided that the change would not:

  1. involve a major change in the activities carried out by Ofcom;
  2. have a significant impact on persons carrying businesses in the markets for which Ofcom has functions; or
  3. have a significant impact on the general public in the United Kingdom.

Additionally, Ofcom has only updated Section 5 of the guidance (all other sections remain untouched) and we consider that while there will be an impact on the Community Radio sector following this change, it would not be significant. Rather than consulting more widely, we considered it important to make the change quickly while seeking input from the two Community Radio Trade bodies (Community Media Association and UK Community Radio Network) prior to publication.

By publishing this guidance now, Community Radio Licensees will be able to use the revised rates for both ‘Standard’ and ‘Senior’ volunteers when the Annual Reports focused on 2023 are due for submission.

In the UK, the strongest estimate of earnings for individual occupations comes from the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings, run by the Office for National Statistics. This survey has a sample of approximately 300,000 people in employment each year and provides robust, fine grained estimates of pay for different occupations. We have therefore taken estimates of volunteer rates in the community radio sector from this survey. This also matches the way that the Cabinet Office suggest organisations account for volunteer value.

Finally, Ofcom notes that the Government intends to publish a consultation which will, in part, focus on reviewing the funding rules in place for the Community Radio sector. Despite this upcoming consultation, we consider it remains relevant to publish this updated guidance now so that the Community Radio sector can use the revised figures prior to any changes in this area in the future. This Guidance will be reviewed and updated from time to time where necessary.

Many more people across the UK are now able to tune in and enjoy community radio, following work by Ofcom to extend coverage and improve reception.

Community radio stations are fuelled by the work and enthusiasm of volunteers. They reflect a wide range of cultures and interests, and provide a mix of locally-produced content including news, information and discussion.

During 2019, Ofcom agreed to improve the quality of the coverage of 63 community radio stations, and extend the coverage of 33, bringing the benefits of community radio to a wider audience than ever.

We are now processing applications for new community radio licences and expect to make awards to successful stations by the end of March 2020.

This will be the last round of community radio licensing on FM or AM for the foreseeable future, as we will shortly begin licensing new local digital radio stations that will use cutting-edge ‘small-scale DAB’ technology, pioneered by an Ofcom engineer. We expect to invite applications in 2020.

More information on our small-scale DAB consultation and our work to support community radio is available.

Community Radio Statement: update on our stated priorities (PDF, 197.3 KB)

Frequently asked questions

A community radio station's programmes will reflect the needs and interests of its audience. But rather than ‘talk at' its community, the station should become a central part of it. This means creating direct links with its listeners, offering training opportunities and making sure that members of the community can take part in how the station is run. Community stations typically provide 93 hours of original and distinctive output a week, mostly locally produced. On average, stations operate with 87 volunteers who together give around 209 hours of their time a week.

Individuals are not entitled to hold a licence. We only offer licences to registered companies (or equivalent bodies such as those created by statute). No company or organisation can hold more than one community radio licence. There are also restrictions on ownership between commercial radio and community radio.

It means any profits generated by the community radio station cannot be given to shareholders for example, or to benefit the people running the service. However, this requirement does not prevent stations from paying staff. Any profit or surplus must be used for securing or improving the future provision of the radio service or for delivering social gain/community benefits to the station's target community.

Each station can carry advertising and sponsorship, although there are rules on how much income they can take from these sources (income above £15,000 from advertising and sponsorship must be balanced with additional income from other sources). A small number of community stations – where they overlap with small commercial services whose studios are not co-located with other stations – are restricted to a maximum of £15,000 from advertising and sponsorship.

Applications will be made available for public inspection on the Ofcom website. Shortly after the closing date for applications, we will announce the number of applications received, and subsequently we will publish on the Ofcom website all parts of the applications received other than those parts we agree to keep confidential. The published parts will include the name(s), address(es) and daytime telephone number(s) of individuals nominated to handle any press or public enquires on behalf of the applicant.

Licences for each region are awarded in batches on a rolling basis. If the number of applications received for any region is high, consideration of all applications is likely to take a number of months. Successful groups are required to start broadcasting within two years of the licence award.

The licence will last for up to five years at a time. Community radio licensees may then apply to Ofcom to extend their licences for two further periods of up to five years each.

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