Does UK Small-Scale Radio Licensing Need Rethinking?

A recent report by radio consultant David Lloyd to Ofcom says that the UK government should rethink its approach to community and small-scale radio.

In an ideal world it would be nice for us all to have a community radio station with news and information about what is going on in and around the area. However, when you are talking about areas within say a London Borough, my own area – Colindale – has a population of only 17,098 and the nearest bigger area is Hendon with just 18,472 people. The whole Borough of Barnet has a population of 379,691.

Without delving into heaps of statistics, one has to work out what percentage of the population will listen to the radio at all and then how many of those will listen to ‘our’ station.

Would there be sufficient content to make it “local/community” without resorting to playing the Top40? Would it be funded by advertising or by one or more people with deep pockets?

I suppose the cheapest way of providing the service is ‘back-bedroom’ and hiring air-space on something like Shoutcast.

However, time and effort is involved because the local stories would need to be researched and written up. Would presenters want to be paid or would it be voluntary for the love of the community?

Incidentally, we used to have two local newspapers in the Borough. One folded up completely and the other has amalgamated all its titles across the Borough into one. Even after that, they still use stories from other Boroughs — of no great interest for those wanting local news.

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, when we were campaigning with the Campaign For Independent Broadcasting for an end to monopoly radio in the UK, we strongly believed that the only criteria for the limitation on the number of radio stations in any region or locality should be technical feasibility and commercial viability. I think the same still holds today.