Ofcom has begun taking applications for new community radio licences in the South West of England and Wales as part of a new round of licensing.
New licences across the UK over the next three years will add to the current crop of 228 licensed not-for-profit community radio stations.
The regulator says the third round of licence advertisements are in response to expressions of interest from more than 270 individuals and community groups wanting to apply to run stations.
Ofcom says since the first stations took to the air in 2005, a new community station – which either broadcast to a community of interest or a geographic community within around 5km – has launched on average every 10 days. Around 11m people now live in an area with access to community radio.
Applications are invited on a region by region basis – with the South West and Wales the first areas where potential licensees have until 21 July to submit their documentation. Later this year, Scottish groups will be invited to apply, followed by five other regions – one every six months up until early 2014.
Ofcom Director of Radio Content and Broadcast Licensing, Peter Davies, said: "Over the past six years community radio stations have provided a voice for hundreds of local communities across the UK. Our postbag has been inundated with a high level of interest for new licences, which gives a strong indication of the likely level of demand in this licensing round."
Next year's regions for stations to be considered are Northern Ireland and the North East/Cumbria. In 2013, Ofcom will seek applications first from Yorkshire, the Humber and the North West and then from the West and East Midlands and East of England. Finally in early 2014 applications will be open for stations in the South East of England.
Applicants are being reminded that in many major towns and cities there are no suitable FM frequencies available, hinting that Ofcom would like to see applications from areas not well-served by lots of local and regional radio stations already.