Praise for community radio despite struggles

Media regulator Ofcom has told Radio Today they continue to be impressed with how many community radio stations are managing their resources despite the tough economic climate.

It follows news this week of another impending station closure in the sector, and reports several more could fold because of funding problems.

Earlier this week we reported on the plight of Norfolk-based Wayland Radio which has announced it will cease broadcasts at the weekend because of difficulties following public sector spending cuts and the budget squeezes faced by the voluntary and charitable sector across the UK.

Most community radio stations are allowed to fund 50% of their operations through commercial revenue, with the remaining half coming through a count of ‘volunteer time’ and other grants and donations.

A handful of stations – like Takeover Radio 106.9 in Sutton-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire – have restrictions on their licences that mean no funding at all can come from advertising or sponsorship. Station Manager Gareth Hussey told “More and more community stations are starting to disappear and we really fear that we could be the next one. We’re having to run a fundraising event this weekend and if it’s unsuccessful then it will be the end for us. We need to find £8,000 pretty urgently to survive.”

Takeover Radio – like several other community and hospital stations desperate for cash – are hoping copying Chris Moyles’ ‘longest radio show’ will create some good local publicity to encourage people to put their hand in their pocket and support their community radio station.

“We have applied for over £100,000 in funding over the last 12 months and only been successful on one occasion with a grant of £1,300 from Notts County Council,” Gareth adds. “We cover one of the poorest areas of the UK and the local commercial station has made it very, very difficult for us and the local district council have also let us down in favour for the local commercial station because of money.”

The closure of stations and news of rising debts and past due credit at others, coupled with a decline in grants to apply for, has prompted some people in the sector to question the restrictions on the proportion of income that can come from commercial revenue.

In a statement, Ofcom told “The current restriction on advertising income for community radio is that (most) stations can take up to 50% of their annual income from the sale of on-air advertising and sponsorship, a minimum of 25% must come from other sources, and a further 25% can be made up of the value of volunteer input. This 50% limit is enshrined in legislation, and is therefore a matter for Government, rather than Ofcom.”

A spokesman for the regulator added that in the current economic climate, Ofcom continues to be impressed with how community radio stations manage their resources. “They provide very local services with lots of community benefits by harnessing the input of local volunteers and in some cases a very small number of paid staff too,” he said.

A total of 229 community radio licences have been awarded by Ofcom across the UK, with just under 200 of those currently on air. A third round of licensing has just begun, with more than 30 applications received from groups in Wales and the South West of England.

You can use our handy guide to see applications and licence awards for the first two rounds of licensing in the community radio sector.

Posted on Thursday, August 25th, 2011 at 8:42 am by RadioToday UK

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