Banbury FM is looking to hear from any other online radio station around the UK that want to campaign for the use of an FM licence.
Recent coverage of the station’s plight to ask for a local frequency has resulted in other stations in the same situation getting in touch.
Banbury FM’s Managing Director Andy Green said: “We are concentrating on providing a quality locally focused station for our area. What became apparent from our recent press coverage was how many other stations are in a similar position to us.”
Ofcom has told Mr Green its policy is to prioritise the roll-out of small-scale-DAB, but a case can be put to them as to why a local round of analogue licensing for their specific area should supersede the regulator’s current policy prioritisation.
“They caveated that saying “the bar for exceptions to our policy is very high”.
In the last few weeks support for Banbury FM’s campaign has grown with unanimous motions in favour of the station’s proposals being passed at District and County Council levels, with cross-party support.
At the most recent Oxfordshire County Council full meeting Cllr Kieron Mallon spoke in favour of the station. “I think a local radio station is a truly important part of the social fabric of any conurbation,” he said.
“It serves an important purpose, not only to keep us entertained as we travel around but keeping us up to date with genuine local news and reporting back on genuine local issues to the people it purports to represent… local businesses and events, working with schools, local hospitals as well.
“Market towns are underserved by current broadcasters, it is far, far too centralised. A radio station dedicated to a market town and its rural catchment area is much needed and this became even more evident during the pandemic.”
Banbury FM is also the leading partner in a bid to ensure local ownership and control of a small scale DAB multiplex for North Oxfordshire in an, as yet, unannounced future licencing round. But the station, and others it has spoken to, are concerned at the length of time the process is taking, the spiralling costs to be effective in rural areas and the detriment the project is having on those listeners who are still firmly analogue.
Post-pandemic Mr Green believes Ofcom need to urgently redress their priorities and help areas like North Oxfordshire which are crying out for truly local stations like Banbury FM. He said: “The shoots of recovery are appearing and people are getting used to a new normal. Local radio services to help an area grow are needed now.
“The roll out of small scale DAB is taking far too long and evidence is emerging that ownership is being concentrated in a small number of investors. Additionally for a large majority of older listeners FM is a way of life. They are very much underserved.
“I fully expect we will be told that digital is the way forward and FM is old technology. But I suspect the recent falls in FM radio share of listening is more down to large swathes of the FM waveband now being occupied by pseudo-national networks squatting on local frequencies. Listeners who enjoyed their own local service have simply moved elsewhere, or given up.
“Ofcom, the DCMS and politicians need to address this issue now.”
Listeners to Petersfield’s Shine Radio in Hampshire are similarly affected. Presenter Claire Vennis said: “Our listeners love being in touch with the local community but they say they want to hear us in the kitchen and the car on their existing radios.
“Ofcom’s delay to the SSDAB rollout puts their hopes back indefinitely and means many local people simply cannot get easy access to the community connections they crave. Having just collected Silver for the best digital station at the Community Radio Awards we understand why listeners want free and open access to local community broadcasts via FM radio.”
Bucks Radio in Aylesbury is another station that is doing its best to serve its community, but hampered without access to a traditional platform. Content Controller Nathan Cooper, said: “Aylesbury and the surrounding towns and villages are no longer served by a truly local station. Since we started this project to keep local radio alive, our biggest stumbling block has been the lack of FM or small scale DAB licence. The only criticism from listeners and businesses has been based on not being able to easily connect while on the move.
“While we have provided an app to enable listening on the move, it’s not the same as simply being able to get in a car and tune in, or just turn on a radio. The support, and appetite, for Bucks Radio remains strong, but like so many stations trying to provide essential local listening, we are being held back by an industry that seems to have turned it’s back on those who were once served so successfully by heritage stations that formed a significant part of everyday life”.
Rutland & Stamford Sound finds itself in a similar position. Station Manager Rob Persani said: “Whilst we are exploring SSDAB, we still believe there is much to gain from an FM frequency, particularly for the more isolated parts of our area where broadband speeds are slow and rural isolation is at its highest.
“The loss of a community based local radio station on FM here in September 2020 is something we believe needs urgently addressing, and although online take up of our station is very encouraging, FM would mean we could economically make our radio station portable for the vast majority of our audience at an achievable cost, something no other platform can currently do.’
Any stations wishing to add their voice to calls for Ofcom to reassess their position and make FM frequency available for them should contact Andy Green via email on email@example.com.