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John Isherwood – Another sad loss in Community Radio….

Friday, March 9th, 2012

Hello, I haven’t been on here for a while. Mostly because I’m incredibly lazy. I started writing a piece about on air promotions and stopped. Then I moved house in a month which I would like to forget. Seriously don’t sell a house and move, its a LOT of hard work. Anyway, work, yes I still do that. Last time I blogged on here I was on 2BR weekend breakfast and covering the rest of the day’s schedule as and when. Well I still occasionally pop up on 2BR but now I have upped sticks and moved two studios down the corridor to become a part of The Bee’s daytime lineup. I’m now on weekdays 10am-2pm. Come say hi, I talk rubbish and play lots of songs. Winning formula.

So after today’s events I wanted to write something. Today (March 5th 2012) my local community radio station, Rossendale Radio sadly had to stop live broadcasts and begin the process of shutting down. Rossy Radio was loved by many in the community. Where I live in Ramsbottom, we’re in the middle of a valley. Its a pain in the bum to get a good signal for certain stations. Key 103 and Real can be iffy on FM. Rock FM is occasionally just breaking up and the commercial options are Tower, Real XS and Smooth.  Rossendale Radio offered something in the middle ground for the area, which was nice. On air, it was a pretty well put together product. Some of the backroom staff and those who set it up are incredibly passionate and know the industry well, they made the station sound good.

Rossy is not the first North West community station to stop broadcasting. Cheshire FM went under earlier this year too. The reason for them dying is one which is affected the CR sector…  Money. Sadly radio stations are blooming expensive to run and with the way community radio is structured, recouping those costs is not easy. CR stations are allowed by OFCOM to make 50% of their income from advertising and sponsorship. The rest has to be made up of other investment, training grants etc.  Selling radio on this scale is not easy. There are no RAJAR figures to help show who is listening and how many there are, the sales pitch is difficult to begin with. Making that money is very hard and it was hard before the economy took a downturn. Now selling airtime on a community station is even harder and with the retraction of a lot of grants and funding, making that other 50% becomes even more difficult.

So far, this reads a bit bleak, well that’s because it is. As I said to a colleague today, its a hard slog selling commercial radio and making that tick and the commercial sector is better placed. Community radio has the odds stacked from the beginning. But, much like BBC Local, community radio has its place and maybe its time OFCOM and the government take a look at the way its structured and delivered.
BBC Local radio does things that the commercial radio sector would never do. They can do the gardening shows, the business shows. Just looking at BBC Manchester’s schedule and seeing the Jewish show, the LGBT show and others, this is exactly what I’d expect from them. Sure they can be run more efficiently, but that’s another story. They do what us lot playing the hits don’t do and that’s where they sit.

Community radio sits near them at the big radio table and can offer a wide range of programming. Whereas local BBC is there to service the region at large and not play Pink and Take That, community stations serve a more immediate area. They serve a tiny part of that larger mass and provide programming which is of interest to them. They can provide similar programming to BBC and also some more commercial style shows too. But what community radio also offers that BBC and commercial can’t are the training schemes and opportunities for people in the community to have their voice heard when normally they wouldn’t have a platform. What they shouldn’t have to do is attempt or even have to compete with the commercial sector. They shouldn’t even be trying to compete as the services are different.

So where does community radio go now? Well first and this is my opinion, OFCOM and the Government need to change the way that stations are funded. These stations should not have to chase the commercial sector. They are not there to compete with commercial rivals. For a start they can’t do that anyway, but they should not have to. These stations are there to support the community and provide the people in that area with another voice. They should engage the community with things that mean something to the area and the people. The stations should be funded in this way. Covered by grants and educational supplements in order to train and engage people in the community. The courses that can be offered at these stations can give people confidence and in some places a leg up in their career. They can teach life skills, technical skills and more. Broadcasting and being behind that microphone is something that requires a large amount of confidence, this can make a difference to someone. That can give them the confidence to advance their career somewhere.

In short, community radio needs to adapt to survive. I fear that many stations will end up in financial uncertainty if the way these stations licenses are issued is not changed then we will see more closures. Community radio should engage the community, give a voice to those who would never normally get a chance in the area and train people not just in radio but also in life skills. Forget trying to be commercial, do what you have written on the tin. Be about your community. There is a place on the dial for these stations, I just hope for the passionate people involved that they can survive.

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