Ofcom is to write to all community radio licensees to remind them about the need to notify the regulator of any likely breaks in transmission.
It follows the case of west London station Westside FM, which ceased broadcasting for four weeks, before airing a month of pre-recorded programmes because of a studio move.
On 25 February 2011 Ofcom received a complaint from a listener who had "…noticed dead air on 89.6 [the Westside FM frequency] each day". They also said they had "noticed they were on dead air on another occasion a week or so ago."
A few days later during a phone conversation with Ofcom, the station confirmed that it had not been broadcasting for a number of weeks. The company behind Westside – BBA Media – later said that it had to vacate its studio premises at the end of January 2011 when its lease expired. In mid-January the licensee found suitable premises to move into, however, the lease on the new premises was only due to be signed in the first week of March. By the end of January, with no extension available on its current premises and no studio for live programmes to be broadcast, the licensee “decided to broadcast pre-recorded shows for a short period of time.” The licensee said it had negotiated with a company based in the same building as its transmitter to house the broadcast playout system in order to continue broadcasting pre-recorded programming. However this solution did not come to fruition and the station was off air and not broadcasting output until “…finally on 26th Feb we got an automated service back on air”. The station says it aims to restore its service to normal by 1 April.
Ofcom says it had previously been in correspondence with the station over plans for a studio and transmitter site move. They say that they were therefore concerned that they were not informed of the problems that subsequently arose. A spokesman said: "By ceasing to broadcast its licensed service over the period in question, and informing us that it will not be able to provide the service for at least another month, BBA Media is clearly in breach of its licence conditions. We have therefore formally recorded this breach by BBA Media."
The regulator added that community stations failing to stick to their licence requirements also mean things like social gain and volunteering opportunities are lost, to the disadvantage of the community being served by the station.
Ofcom says it will shortly be writing to all community radio licensees to highlight this. They added: "Licensees should contact Ofcom if they foresee or are experiencing any problems, such as technical issues, building works or studio moves, that may affect their ability to provide their broadcast service. Providing the licensed service is a fundamental function of a community radio service and failure to do so is a significant breach of the licence."