Unlike the situation in Zimbabwe, the Media landscape in the UK is a far more plural and egalitarian one. Amongst other factors, this level playing-field ensures community Radio Stations have a far greater chance of success in the UK than they would in Zimbabwe.
Radio is an extremely popular medium in the UK, with 89.6% of the population listening at least once a week; a figure that has remained stable for five years. The continued popularity of Radio in the UK has led to the creation of a large number of successful Community stations. The number of UK Community Radio stations rose from 239 to 251 between the years of 2016 and 2017 (Ofcom, 2017). (Buckley) discusses the rising impact and presence of Community radio in economically-developed European countries like the UK by declaring Community broadcasting to be ‘independent, community-based and not run for profit’ and ‘having a growing presence in the European media landscape gaining policy-level recognition by the European Union and the Council of Europe as a contributor to media pluralism’.
In comparison to Zimbabwe, Community Radio in the UK appears to be a somewhat lucrative business. UK Community Radio revenue totalled £11.6m in 2016, a far cry from the impoverished system in Zimbabwe. Compare this to the £526m revenue collated by UK Commercial Radio stations though, and it becomes apparent that Community Radio is barely scratching the surface when it comes to money (Ofcom, 2017). Investment then, is perhaps the biggest hurdle that embryonic Community stations have to jump in the UK. According to research, the average income of Community Radio stations fell by 5% in 2017; the third consecutive year that annual income has decreased in the industry. The average annual revenue of a Community Radio station in the UK stands at around £80,000. Stations that appeal specifically to Religious Communities are said to be more popular and profitable (Ofcom, 2017).
Emerging through local grassroots initiatives, and often accompanied by mechanisms for direct accountability to the community served; a central function of Community Radio is to challenge the conventional model of public-service broadcasting (Buckley).
This ‘serving of the community’ is a centric factor in the success of Peterborough’s ‘Salaam Radio’. Created in 2016, their aim was to ‘tackle negative stereotypes of Islam and to provide the community with its first Muslim radio station.’ Within it’s first year, the station became immensely popular amongst Peterborough’s large Muslim community, with a total of 12,000 weekly listeners and a further 30,000 individuals connected via Social-Networking site Facebook (Bawden, 2017). Managed by seven permanent Directors (Companies House), the station relies largely on donations and grants. Salaam were amongst a group of Community Radio projects to be granted a licence by OFCOM (Peterborough Telegraph). The Government’s ‘Office for Communications’ (OFCOM) is responsible for the regulation and governance of all Community Radio stations in the UK. Unlike the spiders-web of laws and legislations that often provide barriers in Zimbabwe, the registration process for Community stations in the UK is comparably straightforward. However, maintaining a licence to broadcast could become costly under a new government scheme. The ‘Small-Scale DAB’ scheme or ‘SSDAB’ for short is set to be rolled-out by the UK Government after a successful pilot. Inspired by Norway, the theory behind this is to move all UK Radio Stations from ‘FM’ Wavelength to Digital DAB. This is likely to become a financial stumbling-block for many small community stations in the UK (Bawden, 2017).
Surviving on scraps, moving to Digital broadcast may be beyond the reach of many community stations who are already struggling with high transmission costs. Because of this, OFCOM have intervened and instigated a ‘Community Radio Fund’ designed to offer grants to help contribute to running costs of Community stations in the UK. Despite their intervention, there are concerns amongst the industry that the new ‘SSDAB’ Licences, which could cost around £20,000, may be dominated by Commercial stations with ‘deep pockets’ unless adequate restrictions are implemented to avoid this. Ofcom’s fund though, has continued to support Community stations, granting around £150,000 between 10 stations in June 2017 (Bawden, 2017).
Despite OFCOM’s generosity, the instigation of a Community Radio station in the UK can still prove costly. Even before the Government introduce said new measures, embryonic stations have to pay £600 to OFCOM as an ‘Application Fee’ alongside an £850 ‘Wireless Telegraphy Licence’ (RadioandTelly.co.uk). In addition to this, Community stations are still expected to abide by strict rules and regulations devised by OFCOM. The regulatory body fined Nottingham based ‘Radio Dawn’ £2000 in 2017 for breaching the Community Radio Licence (RadioToday.co.uk) This constant expense that Community stations in the UK face has led to the demise of many. Several stations have been forced to source funds through ‘Crowd-Sourcing’. 40 Community stations are appealing for help online with Scottish station ‘TD1’ pleading for £2500 to be able to broadcast for another 12 months (Crowdfunder.co.uk).
Like the landscape in Zimbabwe then, there are issues that plague the industry in the UK. Whilst legal and legislative problems may not be as fierce as they are in Zimbabwe, financial issues continue to cause problems for small-scale Community Radio stations. Whilst government schemes may seem to be moving the industry forward, they are in fact pricing organisations like Salaam Radio out of the market and thus depriving the community of a valuable commodity.
(OFCOM, 2017) – OFCOM Communications Market Report 2017 (Radio & Audio Chapter) – https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0014/105440/uk-radio-audio.pdf
(Bawden, 2017) – Bawden, Anna – ‘Community Radio Breaks down barriers between Faith, Gender and Sexuality’ The Guardian (21/02/2018) – https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/feb/21/community-radio-stations-digital-future-volunteers
(Buckley) – Buckley, S. – Third Pillar of Media Pluralism: Community Broadcasting in the UK and Europe – http://www.lse.ac.uk/media@lse/events/MeCCSA/pdf/papers/SteveBuckley.pdf
(Peterborough Telegraph) – ‘Salaam Radio goes On Air’ (10/07/2016) – https://www.peterboroughtoday.co.uk/news/salaam-radio-goes-on-air-1-7469044
(Companies House) – Companies House .GOV (Salaam Radio Ltd) ‘Persons with Significant Control’ – https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/company/09290224/officers
(RadioandTelly.co.uk) – Community Radio Station Set-Up Costs – https://www.radioandtelly.co.uk/communityradiocosts.html
(RadioToday.co.uk) – ‘Nottingham Radio Station fined £2k by Ofcom’ (27/02/2018) – https://radiotoday.co.uk/2018/02/nottingham-radio-station-fined-2k-by-ofcom/
(Crowdfunder.co.uk) – Fundraising for Community Radio – https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/fundraising/community-radio