Agapao International, the charity which held the licence for community station Rossendale Radio, has been found in breach of Ofcom conditions after closing the station down.
Broadcasts ended on 5th March and Agapao told the regulator on 21st March that it hoped to transfer the licence to another organisation so it could return ‘within a couple of weeks’. That didn’t happen the licence was handed back by the charity last week, on 16th April.
Ofcom decided that since the Haslingden-based station was off the air for six weeks before the licence was formally handed back, the owners had breached the licence terms.
Ofcom says that on the day of Rossendale Radio’s closedown (5th March), the station manger had contacted them to ask about the procedure for surrendering a licence, but gave no indication of a timeframe. Later that day, Ofcom was contacted by the owner of the technical equipment that the station used to broadcast its service who said he was going to be removing transmission and studio equipment that evening. He also indicated that the station had stopped broadcasting at 3pm.
Ofcom wrote to Agapao International on 9th March to ask how it was complying with its licence conditions. The charity replied on 21st March and said that on the day of the closure an interested party had offered to get the station back open. Agapao wrote: “They have experience of running community stations, the transmission equipment needed and the ability to take on the licence, if agreed by Ofcom. We are pursuing this course of action and hope to be broadcasting within a couple of weeks. We would ask that grace be given to allow the partnership to develop, which would restore a much valued asset to this community.”
No request to transfer the licence was made, and Agapao surrendered the licence on 16th April. Radio Today has been told that a number of local people in the Rossendale area of Lancashire were interested in taking over the licence but the licensee did not respond to their enquires ahead of returning the licence to Ofcom last week.
Ofcom ruled that by ceasing to provide its licensed service from 5 March 2012, the licensee was in breach of licence conditions 2(1) and 2(4) in Part 2 of the Schedule to the community radio licence. Ofcom has therefore formally recorded a breach by Agapao International.
It said the licensee had not directly notified them that it had ceased broadcasting and also allowed transmission equipment to be removed. The regulator added that it had expected, as per Agapao’s letter of 21st March, a request to transfer the licence to another organisation by 4th April. Ofcom also said that there was no indication as to whether ‘off air’ activities in the licence’s key commitments (training and volunteering opportunities) had continued, but it assumed not since the station had closed down. “This was to the
potential disadvantage of the target community,” it said.
Rossendale Radio founder Tony Nixon, who was made redundant by Agapao International in December, told RadioToday.co.uk: “A number of local people and organisations had been working behind the scenes to rescue the station but our emails and calls were ignored and instead the licence was surrended by Agapao’s CEO Louise Chicot last week. I find this extremely sad and frustrating knowing all the time, effort and money put in by a lot of passionate people over the last few years. The station was a massive part of the community – we had more than 5,500 likes on our Facebook page and so many people are missing what was the only radio service to really cover the Rossendale valley.”
A Facebook group set up to call for the station to be brought back has more than 1,600 supporters. A meeting has also been arranged by some of the former volunteer presenters to talk about applying for a new community radio licence for the area next year. Ofcom will invite applications for North West England again in Spring 2013 under phase 3 of its community radio licensing programme.
See the full ruling in this week’s Ofcom Broadcast Bulletin (p50-52)