Report: Small-scale radio licensing needs a rethink

A new independent report has urged Ofcom and Government to rethink their approach to community and small-scale radio in the UK.

The report by radio consultant David Lloyd seeks to examine the scale of the impact of community radio on the most vulnerable commercial stations in the UK for the first time, and offers recommendations to Ofcom on how the two sectors might more successfully co-exist.

Drawing upon fresh interviews with station representatives, market and revenue analyses and programme monitoring, the report identifies the risk faced by the smallest commercial stations when additional community stations are launched in their areas, with minimal regulatory oversight.

The report details cases where the most severe threats are evident, particularly stations in Wales, Scotland and those serving specific ethnic groups. It goes on to set out a series of recommendations for how commercial and community stations can collaborate, by working together to extend the benefit of small-scale DAB and on key campaigns such as the ‘Mental Health Minute’ that was broadcast across all UK radio in 2018.

Siobhan Kenny, Chief Executive at Radiocentre, said: “This report is a comprehensive study on how small commercial radio stations in the UK can co-exist and collaborate with community radio. Based on the evidence, it is clear that there needs to be some changes from both Ofcom and Government to ensure that the smallest commercial operators are able to survive and thrive alongside a distinctive community radio sector.”

David Lloyd added: “Given my love of radio in all its formats, I approached this report with caution. However, following my investigation I have concluded that there is a real issue here – if small communities are to continue to be afforded decent quality local radio, then the licensing and regulation of both community and small-scale commercial radio needs a rethink.”

The report was commissioned by Radiocentre following Ofcom’s announcement of a further wave of community radio licensing, and an invitation from the regulator to existing community stations to apply for better coverage.

Community radio in the UK started in 2002, with the number of new services increasing over the years. Characteristics of the services were outlined in the Communications Act 2003, followed by specific details in the 2004 Community Radio Order. In 2015 the Government lifted many of the restrictions on community stations taking advertising revenue and opened up the licensing of new services. By the end of 2017, 236 community radio stations were in operation, with over 30 further licences awarded so far in 2018.

To view the report online click here.

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  1. Adrian says

    The coming change in local output required by local commercial stations makes it doubtful in my eyes if any communities (large or small) will have decent local radio from them with or without the community stations.How many of these small commercial stations mentioned are left now (after all the take-overs) and if the surviving ones only have to do 3 hours a day local output surely it a bit much to say they are being threatened by community radio..The community stations will have to fill the gap and I believe they should have restrictions lifted in the same way the others are being allowed to as they are not permitted the same amount of advertising,mostly don’t have anything like the finance available as the commercial companies and yet they are still expected to produce more local output than the big boys-and this will be even more necessary as output from the once local stations elsewhere is gradually cut to nothing.

    1. Dave says

      This report is commercial radio saying enough is enough to ofcom over community radio & the small scale DAB.

  2. A concerned listener says

    With Ofcom removing all the spoken word commitments a few years ago, you wonder if some community stations have fallen into a trap? Did they ever really care about their community or were they just looking for a cheap, subsidized way to operate their own radio business?

    A number of community stations are little more than commercial sound-a-likes, spending the bulk of their hours in automated pop playout or broadcasting generic shows downloaded from the internet. Often the only local content is traffic and travel, some What’s Ons and the odd guest. No different from that of a traditional small-scale commercial.

    Do these stations deserve the allowances and reliefs afforded to that of a true community service?

    Perhaps it’s time to re-instate some realistic key commitments, for Ofcom to clearly define what community radio is (and what it is not) and make those who simply want to run a commercial juke box compete on a more level playing field with their genuine commercial counterparts.

    1. GREG says

      Is your concern really for the listeners? This just isn’t true is it? Name one community station that actually is like that? There is not one named example in this report! No, this is just radio centre bluster and diversion tactics to try and make people think it’s NOT the large nationalised commercial stations that are destroying the few local commercial radio stations that are left by taking all the national ad spend away. Oh no! it’s somehow the community radio stations that actually CARE about local radio and listener choice rather than just care about making a profit that’s causing all the problems. HA!

  3. Lawrie Hallett says

    Not quite sure how a report commissioned by RadioCentre can be considered to be “independent” 🙂 Would RadioCentre call a CMA commissioned report “independent” – I rather doubt it!

  4. Greg says

    So sad for those poor local commercial station 200 Watt Goliaths being bullied by those nasty community radio station Davids with their massive 25 Watt transmitter slingshots that are staffed by people who actually care about content rather than the bottom line…. So sad…. Surely if they can’t stand a little local competition from the minnows of the radio world they deserve to fall …. Boo hoo, so sad.

  5. Lee says

    How about lifting the restrictions on income for commercial radio as they are filling the local programming gap which the big groups like Global and Bauer have destroyed.

  6. Lee says

    My last message should have said “how about lifting the restrictions on income for community radio….”

  7. GREG says

    Trying to be nice here – but it’s hard to believe that a GOOD local commercial radio station that serves it’s listeners well can really be threatened by a tiny community radio station run by amateur enthusiasts? Isn’t it more likely that they have lost share and revenue to the large networked commercial chains – and that this report is trying to find a scapegoat for that trend? It’s like blaming the mice nibbling your toes for the pain when there’s an elephant standing on your head.

  8. Radio Producer says

    Biased reporting again…Community radio generally, is struggling due to the ridiculous outdated regulations set by Ofcom
    If a commercial station is struggling given its near free reign for financial success, then it is hardly the fault of community radio, which does not have that luxury.
    A level playing field is what is required, rather than some scapegoat bluster by an organisation which clearly has a vested interest…
    But Ofcom aren’t going to rubber stamp this, as the corporates snap their fingers and the regulator comes running….

    1. Nicholas says

      Of course it’s biased – it was commission by Radiocentre. They represent COMMERCIAL radio. What make it worse is that there’s no objective research in this report – it’s an opinion piece. It’s virtually worthless. It just serves to start an argument and divide the wider radio industry at a time when it desperately needs to come together. Digital and OOH media is laughing all the way to the bank and radio implodes on itself. Well done Radiocentre.

  9. Radio Geordie says

    There are many small-scale commercial services which would probably work better as a community radio service which is aimed at specific audiences.
    Signal 107 & Touch Radio are two such examples of services which are struggling even though they merged a number of neighbouring areas to reach a decent sized TSA.

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