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Perfect programming model for community radio?

personBy Art Grainger
access_timePosted 3 February 2015, 3.25pm est

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Now that the government have finally made up their mind on how community radio can be funded, perhaps now is the time for community radio stations to come of age, realise their potential and more especially realise their capabilities and try to live within them.

The trouble with community radio stations, especially those that serve small geographic communities, is that they are staffed by volunteers – or rather they are often NOT sufficiently staffed by volunteers to sustain an on-air service 24/7. Volunteers usually have something else that they need to do, such as working for a living. Employers are often quite inconsiderate in that they expect people to work during actual working hours, which for most people is sometime between 8AM and 6PM.

Despite this uncomfortable truth, we still see wannabe community radio stations applying for licences and as part of their application they put in their ambitions to have live local programming for every hour that God sends. Some of them succeed. Most do not. This ultimately leads to the situation of OfCom investigating several dozen community stations for possibly not meeting their promises of performance.

Meanwhile, in the cut-throat world of commercial radio, many small-scale stations have realised that they simply cannot sustain themselves either, so they choose to either network, voice-track or they simply do not bother with a presenter and “live” programming at all. Yet, strangely, it all works rather well. Putting aside the big group stations that have a presenter dropping in links from a remote studio umpteen hundred miles away, some stations seem to have a magic formula of putting out quite a lot of local information relevant to their audience, even though there is no-one in a studio actually saying it. Even more surprising is that those stations, i.e. Jack FM, Bob FM and The Breeze are staying well within their promises of performance, sometimes they exceed that and at the same time they even win awards for their production and creation of compelling programming. It has also been proven on this very website that Jack FM actually puts out more speech, despite having no presenters, than its commercial rival that has a gob-on-stick employed to say the station name 60 times an hour.

So I’ve been thinking. Community radio could learn a wee trick here. Since it is most difficult to get volunteers to reliably fill in weekday daytime slots all the time, why not play safe and not bother to have them at all? However, this is probably the best time of the day to put out the most amount of programming and content that is relevant to the area they serve and the people who could listen.

Jack FM works, with its non-stop music, along with its drop-in packages and traffic content. There’s no reason why community radio stations can’t do the same. We have lots of community stations that are simply automated jukeboxes with station idents (and occasional adverts) by day, although they do have a good amount of programs at nights and weekends (when volunteers are most available).

So community stations can and should try to make their daytime programming feature-packed with non-stop music and drop-in package and traffic items that are seriously heavy on community information. You don’t need presenters – that has been proven.

I have also listened to a few USA stations that are presenter-less outside of breakfast. They do a neat wee trick with their music by having a pre-recorded voice-over announcing the name of the artist and song, especially if it is a pre-release or new release and occasionally if it is a long-forgotten back-of-the-record-shelf classic hit. Community stations that have more diverse music policies could also do this, which would be especially handy if they have a format that includes pre-releases or even local unsigned acts.

Meanwhile, programs after, say, 6PM could be live or pre-recorded and usually be of the specialist type. I would suggest most community stations have a youth strand between 6 and 8PM, with specialist shows between 8 and 10PM. The station could go into automation after 10PM, with a late-night love song/chill-out/easy listening playlist up to midnight. Some shows that go out on weekday nights could also be repeated on Saturdays and Sundays, with the youth programs repeated on Saturday mornings and afternoons and some of the specialist shows repeated from Sunday lunchtime or so. Other shows at nights on Fridays and Saturdays need not be repeated, such as dance shows and rock shows, whilst some programs could also go out on Saturdays and Sundays only during daytime.

What you could have, with my suggestions above, is some seriously good sounding, highly professional content, with the right amount (and sustainable amount) of volunteers who are able to spend a lot more time ensuring that the quality of their programs is very good and easy to listen to. If you have too many volunteers spread too thinly across a schedule (who cannot guarantee their attendance), the quality inevitably drops, they are harder to manage and the overall output of the station is much less attractive to listeners.

If a station has a station manager, it is possible that they could present a breakfast show. Does it need to be live? Probably not! It’s community radio, not local radio. It could be voice-tracked. Traffic items could include what the listener would expect to hear, such as celebrity birthdays, whats-ons, live news bulletins on the hour, a pre-recorded local news bulletin dropped in and even some Euro or world news dropped in on the half-hour (since those bulletins are often sent by e-mail). Weather bulletins could be pre-recorded the night before. You don’t need to do live travel reports, you’re a community station broadcasting to a small area – but news of upcoming roadworks etc could be slotted in. Other than that, the presenter could pre-record entertaining links and features that need not be live.

A fine example of a truly automated station that also puts out speech packages is Passion For The Planet. Community radio could easily do the same.

Comments

PRO2 years, 1 month ago

All great points Art, although CR should reflect the area it serves.

From experience of working on a CR which ran with a broad ILR style format, it didn't work because it was simply trying to provide a service for too many people.

You should find a niche in the market, then provide that service which benefits the listener, the volunteers and one thing that I think a lot of CR's forget, is those who don't actively listen to the station. They're as much part of the community as those who take the time to tune in or play a part in the station.

Those who have targeted a niche are those who are still on-air. Rinse FM, Reprezent, Kane FM, Resonance FM, Skyline Gold (a classic hits format) and Angel Radio to name a few which have got this right who aren't providing a CR station for a minority group.

Maybe it's time for some CR's to stop providing things like travel news etc. If you really require that, BBC LR and commercial radio are still good for those essentials that listeners tune-in for leaving the CR to provide that niche service which people complain that they don't get from their local BBC/commercial station.

2 years, 1 month ago

It has also been proven on this very website that Jack FM actually puts out more speech, despite having no presenters, than its commercial rival that has a gob-on-stick employed to say the station name 60 times an hour.

How come?

<br />

It’s community radio, not local radio.

What's the difference?
And what do you expect a CR should sound like?

2 years, 1 month ago

Let's look at it another way.

The regional stations have become national, or part of a national brand. Witness Heart, Smooth, Capital etc.
The local stations have, in many cases, in turn, become regional. Witness Capital FM East Midlands, Signal 107, Heart Four Counties etc.

So why shouldn't the community stations become local? They can do the job of the many now part-of-a-network "sallie" stations, many of which should never have been licensed in the first place on a commercial basis. If you listen to some of the first small stations to come on air in the mid-late 90s, some of them were very local indeed. That's the niche that CR should now be allowed to step up and fill.

Obviously it's very difficult to staff a station with volunteers during the day. However, repeating commercial radio's mistakes isn't going to help matters. It's bad enough we have the Jack FM concept on commercial stations, let alone community stations which actually can be local without worrying about the balance sheet.

Taking my own local Jackalike, Quidem's Oak FM (of the Bohemian Rhapsody stunt fame 11 months back) the novelty's seriously worn off. After the breakfast show there's no appointment to listen. The "comedy" liners have been done to death, local information is incredibly sparse, the news is county-wide stuff that can be run on neighbouring stations, and it only has the music to really sell it, although I think they've played Primal Scream's "Rocks" more than they have Bo Rap. In my opinion, it's really not the way to run a local radio station and I seriously doubt other similar stations offer much of a better listen. And to suggest that Jack FM has more speech than "stations with a gob on a stick who say nothing but the station name 60 times an hour" is, I'm sorry, simply not true.

We need community radio to offer solid local content - even if that DOES have to be heavily voicetracked in the day due to use of volunteers. But going down the jukebox route hasn't been healthy for the commercials, and it certainly won't be for CR.

PRO2 years, 1 month ago

going down the jukebox route hasn't been healthy for the commercials

Oh, sorry, James, I appear to be challenging your points of view by asking for evidence. But would you like to back this up with any, you know, fact? It seems to me that the stations who have gone Jack have good audience figures, win a ton of awards, and are more profitable. Seems pretty healthy to me.

PRO2 years, 1 month ago

I seem to recall Jack FM Oxfordshire has won awards for ironically it's speech content.

2 years, 1 month ago

When I mean unhealthy I mean where is the content? Where is the appointment to listen? Of course they're profitable, you have very little in the way of presenter overheads. The audience figures are okay but yes they could be better.

You've said, several times, that speech is important and losing the personal touch will, long-term, will be damaging with the rise of on-demand music services.

2 years, 1 month ago

From my experience of community radio there seems to be two main types of broadcaster. They're best explained as two extremes.

Firstly you have the stations that focus heavily on the community project element, and get heavily caught up in volunteer engagement at the expense of actually considering whether the output is worth listening to. Typical of these stations, I find, tends to be woeful on-air content, wildly altering schedules and fifth-rate programming. At worst the listeners are an afterthought, at best they're catered for but given little reason to keep coming back for more.

Secondly, at the other extreme, there's very polished, well-rounded community radio stations that put out a product very comparable to commercial rivals. But this is often done through too much syndicated content, too many former local commercial voices, and basically playing it safe as a sort of commercial radio 'lite'.

The best model has to be a balance of these. Don't sacrifice the notion of providing a service to the local community, nor offering the local community a voice, in order to create the aforementioned commercial radio lite. But at the same time, don't just put any volunteer in front of a microphone and ignore the first and foremost point of community radio: to serve the listener and the local community, not the personnel and the station operators.

2 years, 1 month ago

I'd agree with that. Certainly if I ran a CR I would be scheduling the music, even if it was just using a free package like PlayIt Live. You have to do that to create a consistency across the sound. But it shouldn't, by the same token, be 7 in a row and Speed Links. A younger BBC Local is the ideal model in my head. A slick and professional sound with a strong music mix but with solid local content.

2 years, 1 month ago

Yeah, BBC Locals used to be good.

2 years, 1 month ago

Aye, but it shouldn't be "parish pump."

2 years, 1 month ago

An interesting read. Last year I had a similar, but different thought regarding the (unarguably successful) Jack format.

What about if a Jack station wanted to expand its footprint, but could not find a suitable commercial station to merge with, but there was a community station with suitable footprint?

Then how about the have an opted-out version of Jack running on that CR transmitter? It could have extra drop-ins as necessary to satisfy the Key Commitments, and probably retain bespoke evening slots as well which are commercially not so attractive, yet popular with volnteers. Dynamic RDS could handle the opt-outs.

The Jack station now has new territory over which to sell advertising. It retains most of this new revenue (they have most of the cost after all, employing a sales force) - but a proportion goes to the Community station to the maximum permissible under the rules. With their new-found easy cash they might re-invest in better kit, pay presenters or whatever.

Funding problem solved for the community station, new revenue for the Jack station, and (arguably) better programming for the listener - everyone's a winner!

The obvious target community stations would be ones with large coverage/population. Some of them are surprisingly large!

2 years, 1 month ago

Every so often, I see a thread, and I can't help but think what kind of mindset comes out with statements like these. Art, I have to ask, what were you really thinking when you wrote this?

...now is the time for community radio stations to come of age, realise their potential and more especially realise their capabilities and try to live within them.

Wow. Please, introduce me to these stations that are actively trying not to live within their capabilities, because where I am, EVERY community radio station is doing only 2 things.

  1. Living within the meagre income we get from fundraising, advertising and sponsorship.
  2. Living within the capabilities and availability of our volunteers.

If any community radio station was trying to live beyond either of those for very long, then you'd find it would be off-air pretty damn quickly.

And then you come out with this...

The trouble with community radio stations, especially those that serve small geographic communities, is that they are staffed by volunteers – or rather they are often NOT sufficiently staffed by volunteers to sustain an on-air service 24/7.

Who's trying to provide live programming 24/7????????????????????

Just from my region...
Penwith Radio: Automated between midnight and 8am.
Source FM: Automated overnight, from around 11.30pm to 9am, give or take a little bit.
CHBN: Automated overnight from 10pm to 8am.
Radio St Austell Bay: Automated overnight, usually 10pm to 7am
The Hub: Automated from Midnight, to either 10am or 2pm on weekdays

We don't have to be live 24/7, but we do have to have our own programming on 24/7.

we still see wannabe community radio stations applying for licences and as part of their application they put in their ambitions to have live local programming for every hour that God sends. Some of them succeed. Most do not. This ultimately leads to the situation of OfCom investigating several dozen community stations for possibly not meeting their promises of performance.

That's a broad statement. How about some proof of what you say to back up that statement?

So I’ve been thinking. Community radio could learn a wee trick here. Since it is most difficult to get volunteers to reliably fill in weekday daytime slots all the time, why not play safe and not bother to have them at all? However, this is probably the best time of the day to put out the most amount of programming and content that is relevant to the area they serve and the people who could listen.

For community radio, daytime is the most important time for FM listening. That is when we have our local audience at it's strongest. Whilst you're not wrong about it being hard to find volunteers to fill regular slots. But, at the Source FM, we don't have a lot of problems filling slots, even daytime ones. In fact, we have more volunteers, than we have slots in the schedule, by a large margin. And we always have new people volunteering with us every year.

Jack FM works, with its non-stop music, along with its drop-in packages and traffic content. There’s no reason why community radio stations can’t do the same.

There's some problems with your thought there.

  1. It takes having a volunteer, or probably more than one volunteer, willing to spend time producing small segments, rather than whole programmes.

  2. It takes time to teach volunteers about a playout system, and not all of them are wanting to use it.

  3. It requires the station to either have someone with production talent, willing to train, or to have enough money to be able to hire someone to produce such material, and since a lot of stations I know only have a single member of staff, usually the station manager, it puts a lot of pressure on a station manager to either fundraise the required amount, or ensure the training takes place, with people that want to do that.

I have also listened to a few USA stations that are presenter-less outside of breakfast. They do a neat wee trick with their music by having a pre-recorded voice-over announcing the name of the artist and song, especially if it is a pre-release or new release and occasionally if it is a long-forgotten back-of-the-record-shelf classic hit. Community stations that have more diverse music policies could also do this, which would be especially handy if they have a format that includes pre-releases or even local unsigned acts.

I have heard this too, and I love the idea, I think it's brilliant. There's one small snag with such an idea though. It's fine on a station that has a playlist of 500-1000 songs, and maybe only adds no more than 10 songs to the rotation per week. Community radio doesn't work that way. Our playout systems can be have 10,000; 20,000; 30,000 tracks or more. And we don't have the time to plan out rotations, nor often do we think that such a thing is actually something we should be doing. There's no point to us having live shows where the presenters don't pick the music they play. The rest of radio has decided to let the computer decide and take the human element out of it, so community radio needs to have that particular human element more present, not less present.

If a station has a station manager, it is possible that they could present a breakfast show. Does it need to be live? Probably not! It’s community radio, not local radio.

facepalm The most listened to time of the day, and you're actively advocating a non-live breakfast show?????? Has this suddenly become Takeshi's Castle????? This is madness you're advocating, not remotely close to sense or sensibility.

Admittedly, finding people who want to present a breakfast show is the toughest task in community radio, and a non-live breakfast show, in the Jack FM mould, might be a necessity, but I wouldn't advocate it as a preference.

Traffic items could include what the listener would expect to hear, such as celebrity birthdays, whats-ons, live news bulletins on the hour, a pre-recorded local news bulletin dropped in and even some Euro or world news dropped in on the half-hour (since those bulletins are often sent by e-mail)

Again, all these require a willing volunteer to do this, in advance.

Weather bulletins could be pre-recorded the night before.

Oh, that's living dangerously. Forecasts for a local area such as Falmouth can change quite radically, even from the previous night to the next morning. And the Met Office provides an updated forecast at 4am, pre-recording after 4am, could be feasible, but you are still in fairly dangerous territory.

You don’t need to do live travel reports, you’re a community station broadcasting to a small area – but news of upcoming roadworks etc could be slotted in.

Oh yes we do need to do live travel reports. Mainly at Breakfast and Drivetime, but I would argue at other times too. I had a broadcast journalist friend of mine come in on my show to be interviewed, and whilst he was in he listened to me delivering a travel bulletin. He happened to like the fact that I was doing it slightly different by doing the trains first, then talking about the local ferry services around the Fal river, something that rarely gets mentioned on either BBC Radio Cornwall or Pirate FM, and then finished off with the roads, and he even suggested that mentioning roadworks, other than advance warnings, wasn't necessary any more.

Other than that, the presenter could pre-record entertaining links and features that need not be live.

Again, that requires a volunteer to actually do this ahead of time, and have a good enough understanding of the playout system, to be able to voice track the show ahead of time.

Art, you usually make some good points, but this time, you are way off base.

2 years, 1 month ago

Martin Philip...

From experience of working on a CR which ran with a broad ILR style format, it didn't work because it was simply trying to provide a service for too many people.

Is that truly why, or is it more because it didn't do anything distinctive or different to distinguish itself from the other stations on the dial? Trying to serve a broad audience is not a problem, but not making yourself distinctive, is very definitely a big problem for any radio station.

You should find a niche in the market, then provide that service which benefits the listener, the volunteers and one thing that I think a lot of CR's forget, is those who don't actively listen to the station. They're as much part of the community as those who take the time to tune in or play a part in the station.

Err, that already happens to a degree, with outside events and social media, and I don't know of many stations that don't use social media to encourage followers to listen in. Ultuimately, we want to get those who are not active listeners to become active listeners, or even occasional listeners, maybe for one show a week.

Maybe it's time for some CR's to stop providing things like travel news etc. If you really require that, BBC LR and commercial radio are still good for those essentials that listeners tune-in for leaving the CR to provide that niche service which people complain that they don't get from their local BBC/commercial station.

Err, stop providing travel news?????? Are you out of your mind?????????

And by the way, I always thought radio was all about providing a service that the listener WANTS, and NEEDS, and community radio should be no different on THAT score.

2 years, 1 month ago

Josh, what Art is refering to is thread on the old Media UK discussion section where someone, I can't remember if it was James Cridland, Matt Deegan or Paul Easton, actually presented evidence that Jack FM, with their 3 minute news bulletin, one minute news headlines, 2 x one minute travel bulletins and one minute "Jack-tivities" feature, actually provided more talk than Heart did with 90 seconds of news, 2 x 45 second travel updates, and 3 x 30 second links. 7 minutes of Jack FM 'talk' compared with 4.5 minutes on Heart, or somethig like that, I think it was.

Having listened to both Jack and Heart, it wasn't a surprise to me, but it surprised a lot of people round these parts.

2 years, 1 month ago

Ian has made most of the points that sprang to mind when I read your post, Art. Essentially, you have fallen in to the trap of assuming that because there's no presenter outside of breakfast, the Jack format is essentially zero-effort radio.

The truth, of course, is very different. Behind the sweepers and the whats-ons and the news and all the rest of it are dedicated and extremely hard-working teams which, in truth, aren't all that much smaller than many ILRs I've worked at which had live programming from 6am to 7pm and sometimes beyond.

The challenge fo community radio stations isn't generally quantity of volunteers, it's continuity. When you have a small, full-time team, tasks are easly divided, deadlines are more easily set and met, resources can be more easily allocated and shared and contacts can be fostered. When you have 20, 30, 40, 50+ volunteers, some in every day, some in once a week, others sporadically depending on their availability, all sharing limited studio and office space and all with their own contacts, motivations and varying levels of experience and competency, what you end up with is a large but very inefficient team. Unless there are really clear handover procedures which everybody adheres to, it's very difficult to effectively and, most importantly, consistently collate and produce the sort of output you're advocating.

However, ere is certainly

2 years, 1 month ago

...fat fingers. Let me finish that thought.

However, I do agree with the general idea that there is room for some community stations to make better use of the excellent automation tools that we have available to us in the industry these days -- often at extremely competitive prices.

PRO2 years, 1 month ago

Err, stop providing travel news?????? Are you out of your mind?????????

Right Ian, lets say you listen to a niche format like Rinse FM where you rather listen to the underground music which is it's major selling point as a CR, but during Breakfast and Drive, the presenter then does a live travel bulletin which in some cases can be delivered badly? I can find that information either by listening to BBC London, LBC or others or what I normally do, check the travel apps on my phone instead.

CR's should be about providing a niche product that is under served elsewhere. That may mean in some rural TSA's, travel news is part of it, but is it really needed on city stations where the choice is full of this service from the BBC and commercial radio?

2 years, 1 month ago

James Martin...

Obviously it's very difficult to staff a station with volunteers during the day. However, repeating commercial radio's mistakes isn't going to help matters. It's bad enough we have the Jack FM concept on commercial stations, let alone community stations which actually can be local without worrying about the balance sheet.

As I already said to Art, every community radio station I know around my way, is constantly aware of the balance sheet, but not for the same reasons as commercial companies are. Commercial companies are more worried about profits than the service. Community radio is more worried about making sure we have enough money in the bank to pay the single member of staff, and pay for equipment that suddenly breaks down, and all the other unexpecteds. I wish we didn't have to worry about the balance sheet, it would make things so much easier. Unfortunately, that's not reality.

Taking my own local Jackalike, Quidem's Oak FM (of the Bohemian Rhapsody stunt fame 11 months back) the novelty's seriously worn off. After the breakfast show there's no appointment to listen. The "comedy" liners have been done to death, local information is incredibly sparse, the news is county-wide stuff that can be run on neighbouring stations, and it only has the music to really sell it, although I think they've played Primal Scream's "Rocks" more than they have Bo Rap.

I haven't listened to Oak, but from what you're saying, they've never updated their comedy liners, whereas Jack updates theirs weekly if not daily; their what's on feature isn't on at least every other hour; and they're falling into the same trap as most other commercial radio stations worldwide and relying on the music to define them, am I right on that, James?

And to suggest that Jack FM has more speech than "stations with a gob on a stick who say nothing but the station name 60 times an hour" is, I'm sorry, simply not true.

Well, let's say Jack has more content. Even in the evenings and overnight, they have quiz questions to play along with, and the Old Jokes Home, which are also daytime features as well along with Jack-tivities, which to be honest, is a lot more content than Heart provide.

We need community radio to offer solid local content - even if that DOES have to be heavily voicetracked in the day due to use of volunteers. But going down the jukebox route hasn't been healthy for the commercials, and it certainly won't be for CR.

I wouldn't say it hasn't been healthy for the commercials, but I agree on the general point. Going down the Jack FM route as a primary option is not the way community radio should be. Such material can be used as back up material for hours where volunteers might be hard to come by, but not the main plan, certainly.

2 years, 1 month ago

Martin Philip...

Right Ian, lets say you listen to a niche format like Rinse FM where you rather listen to the underground music which is it's major selling point as a CR, but during Breakfast and Drive, the presenter then does a live travel bulletin which in some cases can be delivered badly? I can find that information either by listening to BBC London, LBC or others or what I normally do, check the travel apps on my phone instead.

Okay, to keep that idea flowing, you are the presenter on that station I've been listening to, and I've waited for you to do travel news before I go to work, and now, you're not doing it. Now, I have to tune away to BBC London or LBC to get the travel, and you've just lost me as a regular listener.

By not providing the information I need, alongside the music I want, you are failing in your duty as a presenter, to hold onto me as a listener.

CR's should be about providing a niche product that is under served elsewhere. That may mean in some rural TSA's, travel news is part of it, but is it really needed on city stations where the choice is full of this service from the BBC and commercial radio?

YES. Because no radio station of any kind, especially not community radio, should ever give a listener any reason to tune away and not come back. Failing to provide basics, such as Weather and Travel at Breakfast and Drivetime, is a basic requirement, and a very big reason why a listener might tune away and not come back. If you're live at Breakfast, you need to do live weather and travel, bare minimum. Same at Drivetime.

2 years, 1 month ago

James Martin...

When I mean unhealthy I mean where is the content? Where is the appointment to listen?

Where's the appointment to listen on Heart?
Where's the appointment to listen on Capital?
Where's the appointment to listen on Smooth?
Where's the appointment to listen on Gold?
Where's the appointment to listen on The Breeze?

There's nothing on any of those stations that grabs me by the scruff of the neck and says "you must listen to me".

Jack, by contrast, outside of the live programmes, is practically grabbing me by the scruff of the neck every time. Their automation programming comes across far better than their live programming, strange as that might sound,

As for the content, well, I've already mentioned the Jack-tivities, the Old Jokes Home, the quiz questions to play along with, and the constantly updated comedy liners, I see plenty of content there, as well as News, weather and travel.

2 years, 1 month ago

Just to pick up on the travel news point -- do all CRs need to do travel bulletins? Probably not. But it's a decision that needs to be taken based on the audience profile. It's not essential to do travel just because it's breakfast -- you won't hear a travel bulletin on the Today programme, but 5 live Breakfast does four an hour. Different audiences, listening in different ways (Radio 4, as I recall, has a very low in-car audience, whereas 5 live's is huge).

The important thing (which applies to any radio station) is knowing who your audience are and how they listen.

2 years, 1 month ago

Katy Louise Blackwood...

...you have the stations that focus heavily on the community project element, and get heavily caught up in volunteer engagement at the expense of actually considering whether the output is worth listening to. Typical of these stations, I find, tends to be woeful on-air content, wildly altering schedules and fifth-rate programming. At worst the listeners are an afterthought, at best they're catered for but given little reason to keep coming back for more.

Now, this is being very unkind really. Community engagement is the most important thing for any community radio station, and the output is part of that engagement, but not all of it by a long chalk. And output is far from being ignored in these situations, rather the presenters themselves are encouraged and allowed to take direct responsibility for their own output. The station gives them the tools and the assistance and the training, but ultimately, the station is a facilitator, not like other stations at all.

...at the other extreme, there's very polished, well-rounded community radio stations that put out a product very comparable to commercial rivals. But this is often done through too much syndicated content, too many former local commercial voices, and basically playing it safe as a sort of commercial radio 'lite'.

Again, you're off base here. In Cornwall, there are 3 stations that are arguably commercial radio lite, that's Penwith Radio, The Hub and Radio St Austell Bay. Only one of those stations has an ex-professional, and he's ex BBC, not commercial.

The reason these stations went for commercial radio lite, is to try to maximise the revenue from commercial sources, get it as close to the 50% level as possible. Also, the music can be slightly different to what most commercial stations play, though there are similarities, but the style of the station and the presentation is familiar, and they believe that will mean listeners stay with them. It's a deliberate stylistic choice, not a by-product of ex-commercial radio DJs.

The best model has to be a balance of these. Don't sacrifice the notion of providing a service to the local community, nor offering the local community a voice, in order to create the aforementioned commercial radio lite. But at the same time, don't just put any volunteer in front of a microphone and ignore the first and foremost point of community radio: to serve the listener and the local community, not the personnel and the station operators.

But you can put any volunteer in front of the mic, with the right training. I have known presenters who when they came into radio couldn't string two words together in front of a microphone, and have become presenters on BBC and commercial radio, because they were trained well, and allowed to develop their skills at their own pace, without pressure. Even now, I help out other presenters in getting the hang of certain things and it's really satisfying to see them improve their skills and their presentation. And no volunteer who comes to you with a programme idea should ever be turned away because they don't know how to do it properly. A good training and coaching regimen is just what is required in these situations. If a presenter has content, then the presentation doesn't have to be perfect, but it does have to be listenable.

2 years, 1 month ago

Glyn Roylance...

What about if a Jack station wanted to expand its footprint, but could not find a suitable commercial station to merge with, but there was a community station with suitable footprint?

I think you'll find community radio stations have to be non-profit to have the licence in the first place, and a Jack FM station is a for-profit company, so they'd be disqualified from buying the community station.

However, with small scale DAB soon to happen, you might find that Jack FM stations start appearing on community radio mulitplexes alongside the community radio station, and that would be allowable, as I understand it.

2 years, 1 month ago

Simon Kelsey...

Just to pick up on the travel news point -- do all CRs need to do travel bulletins?

If the local BBC station and/or one of the local commercial radio stations does travel, then you need to do travel, to stop people tuning away.

This is reminiscent of a discussion that went on in Christian radio circles back in the 1980s in the US. Back then, most Christian radio was made up of syndicated "dollar-a-hollar" programming, with little to connect it to any audience beyond P1s. P2s were not tuning in in any significant numbers, and the format was slowly dying.

Somebody, I don't know who, came up with the idea of doing a Christian version of an Adult Contemporary station. Gospel, Christian pop and rock, mixed in with essential information such as weather and travel, and the argument that was being used at the time was "even Christians need travel bulletins".

The same basic thought applies here. Just because they are listening to a community station, doesn't mean they don't need the same information that listeners to commercial radio need, and why should community radio leave it to the BBC and commercial radio to do that, as it will just allow listeners to leave community radio behind and not come back to it. All radio is about providing not just what the listeners want, but what they need as well, and travel news definitely comes under the "need" section.

2 years, 1 month ago

Ian Beaumont

I think you'll find community radio stations have to be non-profit to have the licence in the first place, and a Jack FM station is a for-profit company, so they'd be disqualified from buying the community station.

You misunderstood me - I'm talking about a partnership or commercial arrangement, or even simply an airtime leasing arrangement.

At the thinnest end of the wedge it could be leasing just the breakfast and drivetime hours (they are generally the most difficult slots to get good volunteer presenters). A slicker more "populist" type of programming at that hour could also help the CR station capture listeners who then accidentally discover the other content. At the fattest end of the wedge the "Jack" vs CR ratio might be a lot higher, and the CR may chose to adopt similar format for its community hours.

I'm not saying it's right or wrong, but for a CR with a large potential audience but poor financial situation it could be an answer.

If successful, CR revenue rules might also be problematic, but there might be scope for some creative accountancy to minimise their impact? (respecting the letter, if not the spirit of the legislation?).

Fully agree with your DAB point. To be financially stable/viable I'd regard it as essential for each low-cost DAB mux to have at least one of those - a bit like "anchor stores" in shopping centres.

If it ever got to the problem of having too much revenue then that is easily addressed by paying the station manager more, or paying some of the key volunteers.

2 years, 1 month ago

Glyn Roylance...

You misunderstood me - I'm talking about a partnership or commercial arrangement, or even simply an airtime leasing arrangement.

Okay, but even under that kind of arrangement, you're talking about a significant change in a community radio station's key commitments and Ofcom are still very protective over those. Key commitments can be changed, but it's not easy, unlike commercial stations getting their formats changed

2 years, 1 month ago

Ian B
From my experience Key Commitments normally focus on social gain type things - community engagement etc, and less on music. A lot of that need not change, especially if the CR station keeps a number of hours exclusively for the "community bit". Thus the aim would be (if possible) to stick (or pay lip service to!) the key commitments. Granted if the key commitments need to change, then maybe the target station is not suitable for this approach.

2 years, 1 month ago

...also even if the Key Commitments did need to change, I wonder how Ofcom would react if approached by a struggling CR station saying "we intend to close, but we could save the station and still deliver social gain like this..."?

2 years, 1 month ago

Radio 1 has done alright without travel news... but I'd argue yeah, you need it. You're still competing with stations who ARE, and of course if the station can take advertising and/or S&P income, then it's obviously a sponsorship opportunity.

2 years, 1 month ago

If the local BBC station and/or one of the local commercial radio stations does travel, then you need to do travel, to stop people tuning away.

Not necessarily. Again, R4 don't do travel - do people switch away from the Today programme in their hordes every 15 minutes to find out what's happening on the motorways? No.

Don't misunderstand me -- I'm not saying you shouldn't do do travel. Far from it. But I am saying that, like any programme element, you should think about why you're doing it. "We need to do travel because station X does" is no better an argument for doing travel than "You shouldn't do travel because LBC do" is for not doing it. Neither considers the audience.

2 years, 1 month ago

@Glyn - in the way that Centre Radio, and later on Star Stroud, were the catalysts for a bit of a rethink in the commercial world, maybe that's precisely what we need to happen. In the case of Star, UKRD put forward a proposal to save the station that nowadays, ironally, would be accepted.

@Simon - Good points. I think James C has even gone as far to argue that travel news on the radio is an outmoded idea. For someone like me who always runs Google Maps Sat Nav on my Android for my daily 20 mile commute into Leicester city centre, to make sure I always get the fastest route available, I see his point, to a degree.

2 years, 1 month ago

I think James C has even gone as far to argue that travel news on the radio is an outmoded idea

He has -- like you, I disagree (it's easy for us, sitting here on the Internet with our tablets and smartphones to assume that everybody is the same -- the truth is that 'only' 77% of UK households have broadband access, only 60% of adults have a smartphone, only 50% use their phone to access the Internet at all and computer literacy overall is much lower than one might think). That's a different argument, however.

To fully illustrate my point -- I used to programme a university-based community radio station. On reflection these days -- did we need to do travel news? Our audience was 15-25 year olds, mostly students, most of whom living on or very near the University campus, the vast majority with no access to a car and the nearest place you might have got the train in from was way outside our MCA. Was three minutes of travel news an hour at breakfast really important for that audience, or would they rather have heard another song, or some more engaging speech content?

I'm not a believer in absolute decrees about things that certain stations must never do or must always do. But if you keep your audience in mind -- and ask yourself what's important to them -- you won't go far wrong. What is wrong is just doing something (or not doing something) 'because everybody else does it' or 'because that's what you do at Breakfast' or 'because we're different'. Audience should always be at the forefront of everything we do.

2 years, 1 month ago

Right Ian, I'm not going to spend time using this website's quoting facilities so I'm just going to answer some of your points in a straightforward way.

I'm glad that Source FM has more volunteers than program slots, it will be one of a few that are like that (represented by my comment "Some do") but I also know of many more community radio stations that definitely aren't like that. What gives that away are the very long periods of a computer playing out music and station idents with almost NO local or community content, until somebody turns up when they are available and decide to do a show.

If you need examples of stations that may not be fulfilling their commtiments, you need only look at the long list of community stations that OfCom are currently investigating. What I'm proposing is a solution to the shortfalls of these stations because the technology allows for it to be done and you can still put out compelling programming, with features, during automation - it is being done by some community stations right now and other radio stations inlcuding Passion For The Planet, Jack, Bob and so on.

You say how much tremendous effort would be required for people to come in and record packages and insert them into the playout system. You are right - but the beauty is that if they want to get involved, are dedicated enough, willing to go to the effort and so on, they can do all that WHEN IT SUITS THEM!!!! That could be at 3PM before they go on backshift or ridiculous O'Clock, when they can pop into a second studio, record whatever they want to record, do some production work, insert it into the playout system (by themselves or a program/station manager) to be played out during the day or night whenever they think it should go out. Ask the volunteers at Heartland FM how they have managed to do this for the past 20 years!!!!!

My suggestion for a voice-over forward announcing the name of songs and artists can apply to new songs, unsigned artists and lesser known tracks. It probably doesn't need to be done to the overly familiar songs that most people know. Let's face it, most stations that play out music for long periods without a presenter don't do that for any songs they play - and nobody seems to complain.

A breakfast show on a COMMUNITY station probably doesn't need to be live. The world won't stop. Trust me, if people really need live radio at that time of the morning, the community station won't be the first station that they'll be listening to, it's far more likely to be any other station, such as the BBC or a local commerical one. However, you can still have live news on the hour and even near-live traffic items , such as Euro-news (which is delivered by e-mail), weather recorded the night before and so on, inserted into the playout system.

For the vast majority of the time in most parts of the UK (things might be different in Cornwall), nothing so drastic will happen that the weather changes so radically as to make the forecast completely innacurate from the night before to 6 or 7AM - otherwise the Met Office's methods of forecasting are not up to much. We have come a very long way from Michael Fish's notorious error in the 80's.

Live traffic reports can be done more efficiently and professionally by larger stations serving much larger areas, where commuters will be listening. They won't be listening to a station that serves a radius of pissing distance from the transmitter for news of the queues. However, news of upcoming roadworks and traffic alterations would still be of use and relevance to the community radio listener.

As I said, Ian, a lot of community stations have been well and truly caught trying to provide a level of service, using volunteers, that they couldn't always sustain, which has been made evident with their ambitious applications to finally being investigated by OfCom for not meeting their intentions. If community stations are quite sensible and realistic about what they can fulfill without a doubt, even if that means long periods of automation during daytime, then they can do their job of being a valuable service and be on the right side of OfCom. That - is coming of age.

2 years, 1 month ago

For me, travel news is becoming more and more irrelevant as a radio feature. Google Maps is far more reliable - real-time data that also provides alternative routes and giving guidance when you need it, not when radio decides to give it to you. Yes, only a minority use that kind of service now, but every new user makes radio traffic less and less useful.

A well-resourced, consistent and reliable traffic service on a local is the next best, if you can have confidence they cover your patch well. Never got the point of national traffic bulletins - total hit and miss as to whether they'll get round to the jam you're about to drive into.

I'd be surprised if any community station has a budget to do travel, so I wonder why they bother. No traffic news is actually better than unreliable traffic news.

Ian, you've said that travel is a basic requirement at breakfast, when your station's in automation! But you do travel on your (weekly mid-morning?) show? Is that even a benchmark feature across the week at that time, or do you only expect listeners to travel on a Tuesday? What's the point?

2 years, 1 month ago

For me, travel news is becoming more and more irrelevant as a radio feature. Google Maps is far more reliable - real-time data that also provides alternative routes and giving guidance when you need it, not when radio decides to give it to you. Yes, only a minority use that kind of service now, but every new user makes radio traffic less and less useful.

We're getting off-topic, but I disagree with that. Yes, the information is available on the Internet and I might use that information for planning purposes -- if I know I've got a new/unfamiliar route I'll often stick it in Google Maps and note how long it reckons it's going to take in traffic -- but when I'm actually on the road I find I'm generally preoccupied with driving rather than fiddling with my phone. Yes, there are traffic-reactive satnavs available -- but who programmes a satnav for a routine journey, or if you know where you're going? The beauty of radio is the fact that it's passive -- the information just arrives in my ears. I don't know, maybe that will change on a significant scale eventually -- but, as the statistics I quoted earlier show, there's still a long way to go.

Re: national bulletins: I guess it depends what sort of journeys you're making. I always used to put 5 live on whenever I was driving down to my parents in London because I knew that if there was a significant problem on the motorways I'd almost certainly hear about it. Clearly, like any news service, it's not perfect and you can't cover every patch of slightly heavier-than-average traffic in the country, but I can't think of many times where I've been stuck in an enormous queue and I haven't been told either roughly where it ends or to expect it in advance.

Local traffic, on the other hand -- most people who travel regularly generally know where the hotspots are. Most local radio stations where I've done travel as either a presenter or journalist it would have been possible to read the bulletin without even opening Regis up -- every morning and evening the same roads and junctions would snarl up in the same order at the same time. That said, as a listener I would expect a local station to be on top of anything out of the ordinary, whether in an actual travel bulletin or just as a link -- if a road's just been closed, or there's a serious accident that's causing gridlock, I'd expect to hear about it.

2 years, 1 month ago

And in all the time we're having this discussion about whether traffic bulletins on community radio, we're still overlooking the fact that MOST community stations (including Ian Beaumont's Source FM) does not have a live breakfast show, when the travel news is probably needed most.

I'm surprised that Ian contests my suggestion about a non-live, automated, voice-tracked breakfast show when his own station does not put out any program at breakfast and is just an automated jukebox, meaning that the audience must be tuning elsewhere - but in his words :

"The most listened to time of the day, and you're actively advocating a non-live breakfast show?????? This is madness you're advocating, not remotely close to sense or sensibility."

So, apparently an automated jukebox with station idents and NO local or community information is better than even making an attempt.

As for Ian's other comments:-

"....we don't have the time to plan out rotations, nor often do we think that such a thing is actually something we should be doing. "

You don;t have to spend loads of time planning rotations. I used OTS-DJ for mine and it was capable of being programmed so that every third song was a new release, from the "new release" library. Every sing after 10PM was love songs, taken from the love song library and so on. I was able to program an entire week's worth of music 24/7 on my station, a task that took less than half an hour. The time was only spent copying songs across from a flash-drive and dropping them into the various folders of different music styles (or pre-releases etc) that would help in the software's construction of the playlist. That task itself took less than an hour in a week and was mostly done at home.

As for dropping items into the playout system, I was also able to do this from home (20 miles form the studio) using remote access. I would simply pick items from e-mail (such as Garrison Radio's army news) and slot them in.

I'm even more astounded that Ian said this:-

"There's no point to us having live shows where the presenters don't pick the music they play."

So, attempting to maximise your audience across the community with a wide, varied playlist across the decades is far less important than a community radio presenter coming in and playing their favourite songs for themselves (and possibly a few mates), to help pass the time and keep them off the streets for a few hours? How self indulgent and so very far removed from serving the community, when the presenter actually wants to play at radio stations and being a DJ, using public funding, to keep themselves entertained.

2 years, 1 month ago

Community radio stations need to be playlisted during daytime hours. Having a presenter playing their favourite songs is best suited for specialist shows at nights and weekends. Yet all too often I hear the local retired butcher popping in at 2PM every second Tuesday (because that's when he's available) and doing a live 70's show at that time - which makes absolutely no sense. That just reinforces my suggestion to have automation by day, at least for consistency, so that the retired butcher can pop in and pre-record his 70's show that can be scheduled for when listeners can make an appointment to listen at a time when they're least likely to be at work or otherwise.

PRO2 years, 1 month ago

if I know I've got a new/unfamiliar route I'll often stick it in Google Maps and note how long it reckons it's going to take in traffic -- but when I'm actually on the road I find I'm generally preoccupied with driving rather than fiddling with my phone. Yes, there are traffic-reactive satnavs available -- but who programmes a satnav for a routine journey, or if you know where you're going?

Google Maps is a reactive satnav. Jump in the car and it will give you a different route depending on traffic conditions right now. And for that reason, that's why running a satnav like Google Maps is good even you do know where you're going, since you don't know where the traffic is. Radio travel reports only work if a) you hear them, b) they cover the exact journey you are doing, c) give alternative routes.

2 years, 1 month ago

Google Maps is a reactive satnav. Jump in the car and it will give you a different route depending on traffic conditions right now.

Yes, and even before I get in the car, Google will pop up fifteen minutes before my usual commute and tell me that traffic on my route is fine/busy/blocked, compared to normal.

2 years, 1 month ago

Google Maps is a reactive satnav. Jump in the car and it will give you a different route depending on traffic conditions right now.

Which is brilliant if you're one of the 60% of adults with a smartphone and one of the 50% of adults that ever uses their phone to access the Internet. Like I say, we might get there in the future, but I'd say there's still a long way to go.

Radio travel reports only work if a) you hear them, b) they cover the exact journey you are doing, c) give alternative routes.

Well -- yes and no. You could say that about almost any content -- I mean, the news bulletin's pretty useless if you don't hear it but we wouldn't say it's pointless doing it for that reason -- and not every news story is going to be on my doorstep but it doesn't mean it will never interest or affect me or somebody I know, or that I can't infer as such without always being directly told. Travel's no different in that regard!

PRO2 years, 1 month ago

I would be interested to understand the overlap between "adults without smartphone" and "adults who don't drive" (or "adults who don't have a car"). I would suggest they are quite high.

Over eight in ten (83%) of adults now go online using any type of device in any location. Nearly all 16-24s and 25-34s are now online (98%), and there has been a nine percentage point increase in those aged 65+ ever going online (42% vs. 33% in 2012).
The number of adults using tablets to go online has almost doubled; from 16% in 2012 to 30% in 2013. While almost all age-groups are more likely than previously to use tablets in this way, use by those aged 35-64 has doubled, while use by 65-74s has trebled; from 5% to 17%.
Six in ten UK adults (62%) now use a smartphone, an increase from 54% in 2012. This increase is driven by 25-34s and 45-54s, and those aged 65-74 are almost twice as likely to use a smartphone now compared to 2012 (20% vs. 12%). Ofcom

PRO2 years, 1 month ago

Going back to travel news. On Thursday, we had a bus strike in London where 51% of bus services weren't working.

BBC London only did a summary of the twenty busiest routes and how many vehicles were out on the road. However this didn't cover my local route. Instead I was able to use an app on Android which was able to tell me exactly how long I'd wait for the bus and where it was.

Another win for the internet I'm afraid.

2 years, 1 month ago

I always have Google Maps on, even for my daily commute, for the reasons JC has stated. It's helped me avoid a few jams now that the radio didn't pick up, or it'd be too late by the time they did. And the "Time To Work" notification, always there for me when I wake up, is most helpful.

PRO2 years, 1 month ago

As for local news. I find I get more information from a hyperlocal website than from a community radio station. Even CR and small scale commercial radio in London covers too wide an area to be able to cover small scale news adequately.

This may be different on Ian's station which covers a different TSA mind.

2 years, 1 month ago

Well, yes -- you can get anything on the Internet, if you a) have a device, b) know how to use it and, most crucially, c) know where to look.

So what does that say about radio's role in the media landscape? If we can access all this content -- news, weather, travel, football scores, opinion, music -- on demand, in more detail and with more relevance to us as individuals -- on the Internet, what should we be putting on the radio?

2 years, 1 month ago

Thinking of how I programmed an online community station (as if it was on FM, as that was the intention), I couldn't get a presenter in before 8AM, so that was a whole 2 hours of peak-time listening that were in automation.

Was it non-stop music? Yes it was - but I still had local news (which I recorded the night before) that was inserted into the playout with a time-sync at the top of each hour through the day between 6AM and 6PM. We didn't take Sky News because we were online only and couldn't justify the expense. If we did I would have OTS-DJ ensuring that it was put out at the top of the hour, whilst I moved the local news to either 3 minutes past the hour or at half-past. I also had Garrison Radio's army news at 6.30AM and 5.30PM. I did consider FSN news for a few times in the day, probably at half-past the hour. I had pre-recorded Whats-On's and the "Get's Closer" community billboard (which promoted local charities and organisations) every 20 minutes. I also had a Thought For The Day inserted at 7.30AM, supplied by Glasgow's christian fellowship that used to supply that for Radio Clyde. The clock, even in automation, was reasonably busy, although I could have gone further and had VT'ed links for things like This Day In History, celebrity birthdays and so on.

It didn't take long to insert them into the playout system. An entire day's worth of traffic items such as those were inserted automatically by OTS (because I told it to), with time-syncs, at the push of a button, for which the software simply extracted the items from folders on the PC and compiled the playlist and traffic for an entire day in just a few seconds. All I had to was make sure the items were up to date.

If I was able to do that on cheap-as-chips software, every community station can do it. If SIBC can be presenter-less and instead have announcers on air putting out (pre-recorded) news and traffic items, community stations can do the same quite easily. It's not the "tremendous" effort that some people think it is. The work only has to be put into creating the traffic items in the first place - but if you put the effort in and polish it during the production phase, the overall output of the station sounds quite professional, as opposed to the the local Dave Doubledecks popping whenever he's free, with a pile of his favourite songs, mumbling and stumbling his way trough links whilst telling us how much he's in the mood for classics, whilst not being able to read a bulletin or mechanic of some kind very well.

2 years, 1 month ago

Well well, where to start?

Katy makes a good point which should underpin the whole discussion, and that is that CR stations do not all have the same objectives or the same measures of success. Her two extremes are spot on - it's the difference between those who exist to provide training for employability, community projects etc using radio as a vehicle, and those who want to provide a semi-commercial service where no Commercial station exists.

Of course there are stations in the middle, including Communities of Interest, stations which exist to provide DJs with a platform to promote themselves, and many others.

I come from the semi-commercial viewpoint. My town used to have a commercial station until the operator handed the licence back (my understanding) about 8 years ago. Perhaps they weren't making enough money to satisfy shareholders, but that doesn't mean there is no demand for a local station.

For me, Breakfast absolutely has to be live. As does mid-morning, which if programmed well will hold on to enough Breakfast listeners to be viable. Travel news is a must - note that this is travel and not just traffic. The listeners may not be drivers but they will still want to know if their bus is stuck somewhere or if there is a problem on the trains. Plus we can offer ultra-local traffic news which the BBC just cannot match. Not everyone has a smartphone or satnav. Travel news can be sponsored too, as can a local news bulletin, following the national news at the TOH (because you don't want to give listeners a reason to tune away).

Breakfast through to Drive is all about local content. Yes, it takes a lot of time and effort to go out and meet everyone but there are some shortcuts. Breakfast is where I would put interviews on council matters, the MP, police ... all the big hitters. Mid morning is slightly more laid back but still packed with local interest interviews, and great music of course. There is plenty of local content, you have to go out and find it. But once you've done that, those sources will keep coming back to you time and time again.

Volunteers. My goodness me, if all your volunteers have day jobs then I believe you have a problem. I'll bet a pound to a penny that your listeners don't all have day jobs, and surely if you want to connect with your listener then your volunteers should reflect them. What about parents at home, shift workers, students, the retired, housebound, work-at-homers? If your station sounds fab then you will have a queue of potential volunteers. It is just a question of training them and sorting out a succession plan to move them into key slots as they gain experience and skill.

Music policy - if your station is clear about its target market, your music database is populated with the right tracks, and your presenters are well trained, you should be able to stand back and let your presenters get on with it. You are a team all working towards one goal, which is to delight your local listeners.

When it's done right, you will hear this type of CR in local cafes, taxis, shops, people talking about you in the post-office queue, and interacting with your station in many ways. And when you have built that audience, the money will follow. That's just how marketing and business works.

2 years, 1 month ago

Very utopian Phillapa. Meanwhile in the real world, most community radio stations aren't getting volunteers coming through the door during daytime to keep the service of full live (daytime) programs (even though they really, really wanted to and said so on their licence applications) and are now being investigated by OfCom. Even those stations that are said by others on this thread to be choc-a-bloc with volunteers (and have more wannabe presenters than slots) still don't have any kind of programs before 9AM and instead have a computer playing music and idents with no local information whatsoveer - but breakfast must be absolutely live with travel news, interviews etc, even though not all potential listeners have daytime jobs, yet they still don't want to give up their time to get out of bed early and change from their jammies to come and do a breakfast show, unpaid!!!!!

As for "training for employability," that can also be done my means of pre-recorded shows, which would probably sound better. Again, the art of pre-recorded shows is something that most of the volunteer radio stations in Scotland excel in and have been doing so for decades now - but I doubt they would have been able to sustain their on-air output if the policy of the station was that programs absolutely must be live - the volunteers wouldn't be available. In Heartland FM's case, if it wasn't for OTS-DJ, the station would not have been ale to be on air 24/7, it would still be closed and off-air before 5PM on weekdays and would probably still have had a roster of "technical ops" playing pre-recorded shows from CD's (or minidiscs - as was the case), this was despite Heartland having some of the most loyal radio volunteers around.

2 years, 1 month ago

There's even free packages that can do of what Art speaks of... PlayIt Live has a scheduler built in and is free for example. For a freebie it is an excellent bit of kit.

2 years, 1 month ago

Art Grainger...

If you need examples of stations that may not be fulfilling their commtiments, you need only look at the long list of community stations that OfCom are currently investigating.

Investigations are not proof of misdeeds, Ofcom themselves say so. I'd be very careful about convicting stations because Ofcom is investigating.

You say how much tremendous effort would be required for people to come in and record packages and insert them into the playout system. You are right - but the beauty is that if they want to get involved, are dedicated enough, willing to go to the effort and so on, they can do all that WHEN IT SUITS THEM!!!!

But, and this is key, that relies on the fact that somebody wants to do breakfast, and maybe can't do it live. It also relies on a volunteer being interested enough to actually learn the ins and outs of a playout system to utilise to it's maximum potential. Most volunteers I know couldn't give a damn about the playout system, as long as it plays out the music they want to play. So, what you're talking about is an individual who is as rare as gold dust. Maybe you got luckier, or maybe you turned away a whole load of people who only wanted to do a show to play their own music. Doesn't matter which applies.

My suggestion for a voice-over forward announcing the name of songs and artists can apply to new songs, unsigned artists and lesser known tracks. It probably doesn't need to be done to the overly familiar songs that most people know.

Well, when I've heard these tags, they've been at the end of a track, not the beginning. And you're way wrong on not needing to tag every track.

From programming consultant Gary Berkowitz...

"...Identifying music is a major benefit to female listeners. When you bring up selling of music most agree that it is very important and their favorite station does not always do it. We (radio people) think they know all the songs. They (listeners) disagree. They wonder why their favorite station does not do a better job of telling them the songs played. Putting this info on your website is a step in the right direction, but not what they really want, which is to hear it on the air. This especially applies to newer and re-current songs."

It especially applies to newer, and unfamiliar stuff, but it should apply to every track, and if your library of tracks is 30,000 songs or more, that's a lotta work, for a team of volunteers.

A breakfast show on a COMMUNITY station probably doesn't need to be live.

Radio is at its best, when it is live. Not pre-recorded, not voice tracked, not edited to within an inch of its life, but live. Source has had live breakfast shows before, we don't at the moment, but that doesn't mean we won't have live breakfast shows in the future, even if it's only live from 8am say, as fellow community radio stations CHBN, and Penwith Radio start their breakfast programmes at 8am.

For the vast majority of the time in most parts of the UK (things might be different in Cornwall), nothing so drastic will happen that the weather changes so radically as to make the forecast completely innacurate from the night before to 6 or 7AM - otherwise the Met Office's methods of forecasting are not up to much. We have come a very long way from Michael Fish's notorious error in the 80's.

Not so far as you might think. What I described has already happened once this year, and has happened so many times, I've long since lost count. Forecasts for dry days, have suddenly turned showery by the next morning, and equally wet days, have turned to being far drier. Equally forecasts have been completely wrong within an hour of being valid. Pre-recorded weather is a recipe for radio disaster, and instant credibility failure.

Live traffic reports can be done more efficiently and professionally by larger stations serving much larger areas, where commuters will be listening. They won't be listening to a station that serves a radius of pissing distance from the transmitter for news of the queues. However, news of upcoming roadworks and traffic alterations would still be of use and relevance to the community radio listener.

Well, just to use some of our local stations as examples...

Falmouth is the start/end of a major A road, the A39, and Source FM can be heard most of the way along it to Truro, and could even before we upgraded the transmitter. Plus there's the most successful branch line in the South West, and the only one to have been upgraded to include an extra loop of track, dualling it around Penryn to enable two trains to pass each other, and both those need coverage, along with the local ferry services that operate around the Fal Estuary, which gets little to no coverage on the "professional" stations.

CHBN has within their broadcast area the A39, the A390, and just touches on the A30 as well.

Penwith Radio has the start/end of the A30, they also have Lands End Airport and the start/end of the main trainline to London.

Both CHBN and Penwith do regular travel news, and I do travel on my show as well, and we're still working to get a sponsored travel news service up and running.

As I said, Ian, a lot of community stations have been well and truly caught trying to provide a level of service, using volunteers, that they couldn't always sustain...

That's the nature of the beast. Every organsiation that relies on volunteers goes through this issue at some point. You live with it, and you just deal with it as it comes. It's not a big deal, it's a fact of life for every organisation that relies on volunteers.

If community stations are quite sensible and realistic about what they can fulfill without a doubt, even if that means long periods of automation during daytime, then they can do their job of being a valuable service and be on the right side of OfCom.

Daytime is the time you need to be most community focused. Automation can help, but it is not the be all and end all. It is just a tool to help us. Live programming is always the prefered answer, and training those presenters to provide the kind of service required, is how it needs to be done. Gentle encouragement, rather than dictats.

2 years, 1 month ago

Michael Cook...

Ian, you've said that travel is a basic requirement at breakfast, when your station's in automation! But you do travel on your (weekly mid-morning?) show? Is that even a benchmark feature across the week at that time, or do you only expect listeners to travel on a Tuesday? What's the point?

No, I've moved in the past couple of months and now do Monday drivetime, 4 to 6. But even on the Tuesday slot, I ended up covering two collapsed roads, several accidents, many a traffic jam, several major delays and a couple of incidents on the railways, and several cancelled ferry services due to adverse sea conditions. And besides, BBC Radio Cornwall do hourly travel during daytime, so you kinda have to do it as well.

What's the point? Providing a service is the point, or are you so defeatist that you think it's not worth bothering if nobody else does?

2 years, 1 month ago

Art Grainger...

I'm surprised that Ian contests my suggestion about a non-live, automated, voice-tracked breakfast show when his own station does not put out any program at breakfast and is just an automated jukebox, meaning that the audience must be tuning elsewhere - but in his words :

"The most listened to time of the day, and you're actively advocating a non-live breakfast show?????? This is madness you're advocating, not remotely close to sense or sensibility."

So, apparently an automated jukebox with station idents and NO local or community information is better than even making an attempt.

Nope, not at all. I never said that or even insinuated it, and by the way, I don't run the Source FM. I'm just a volunteer, but I have my own vision of how radio should be.

As it happens, we just lost our last live breakfast show that had been running on the station a couple of weeks ago, so now we're in automation at breakfast on weekdays.

And before you say, schedule a voice-tracked breakfast show, let me tell you, we're still learning the new-ish playout system, which we had hoped to do a controlled import of the database from the old system, running Radio Server Player, to the new system running Jazler RadioStar. That was ready to happen, and then the old system decided to completely crash on us, leaving us to do an emergency rescue of the data on the old server, and a quick and dirty import onto the new system, an import we're still cleaning up between a small group of us, myself included, who are only able to spend a couple of hours each on it, because that's all the spare time we have to access the studio when it's not live on air, or during our own shows. I only last week managed to set up a temporary clock on the system to make sure we had station idents on the automation, there's a lot of work still to be done, before we can even consider something like voice tracked programming.

I'm even more astounded that Ian said this:-

"There's no point to us having live shows where the presenters don't pick the music they play."

So, attempting to maximise your audience across the community with a wide, varied playlist across the decades is far less important than a community radio presenter coming in and playing their favourite songs for themselves (and possibly a few mates), to help pass the time and keep them off the streets for a few hours?

Again, way wrong. Source FM is not about telling our presenters what to do, and not letting them have any choice about whether they do it or not. We are facilitators, not dictators.

Just looking through our schedule, we have quite a number of shows that actually do serve the community in different ways.

One And All Show - Cornish issues.
Live & Direct - community information, occasional interviews
Food Glorious Food - produced by a member of the local food bank.
Radyo An Gernewegva - Cornish language programme.
Wild Side - Science and Nature.
The Green Show - Environmental issues
About You - Interviews with local people, a local version of Desert Island Discs if you like.
Rainbow Source - The only LGBT programme on the radio in Cornwall.
Steve Foster - commmunity information, occasional interviews.
Inside Local Music - live sessions from local artists, and in recent months, taking the show out into the community.
The Film Show - Film reviews and local cinema listings
Thank Source It's Friday - community information, regular interviews.
The Cosmic Arts Show - arts information, occasional interviews.
The Funkin' Arts Show - arts information, regular interviews
The Electric Radio Show - arts information, regular interviews
Cornish Cream - local music, live sessions from local artists.

Plus, let me add in the specialist shows...

Musical Allsorts - classic tracks from the 1930s to the 1970s
Supergran's Disco - classic tracks from the 1930s to the 1980s
Jazz Train - Jazz, unsurprisingly
Punky Reggae Party - late 70s/early 80s punk and reggae fusion
Collective Source - mix of reggae, jazz, soul and funk.
Chargrilled - heavy metal
Mixed Beats and Treats - various dance and club mixes
ChillZone - chillout music
Dymond B - Electronic music.

You see, rather than limiting our presenters to what we tell them to do, we encourage them to bring themselves, their own personality and sensibilities to their output. They choose the music themselves, they choose what subjects they talk about, and we guide them on how to do that within the required rules.

Source FM's soul comes from stations like WBAI or KPFA in the US, community stations that encourage diverse and eclectic programming, unfettered by computerised music scheduling or editorial policies. As long as it is within Ofcom rules, you can do it on the air. That's how we work. We can suggest, we can advise, but every programme is the individual responsibiity of that presenter. They are presenter/producer/managing editor for that show. It's a very different model of station than most others in the country, and nobody else in Cornwall, has the diverse range of music and content that we have.

That's why music scheduling is a complete no-no. It would undo one of the core values of the station, and that's just not going to happen.

2 years, 1 month ago

Art Grainger...

It didn't take long to insert them into the playout system. An entire day's worth of traffic items such as those were inserted automatically by OTS (because I told it to), with time-syncs, at the push of a button, for which the software simply extracted the items from folders on the PC and compiled the playlist and traffic for an entire day in just a few seconds. All I had to was make sure the items were up to date.

But how long did it take to set that up in the first place? More than a day or two I would suspect, like maybe a week or two of solid work on setting it up exactly as you wanted it?

2 years, 1 month ago

Setting it up was exactly my duty, just like you would have someone in a community station whose role is to be program manager, they would probably do that as well. It took a few (solid) days for categorising music but only a couple of hours for the algorithm needed to make OTS do the job of scheduling songs and traffic items, so that each day it was literally a push of a button and many hours worth of music, idents, news, whats-ons and even the beds that indicated when presenters could talk, would be created in just a few seconds. With this method I was able to create a whole week of programming in 5 or 10 minutes, with the rest of my half-hour spent on ensuring that new releases and audio packages were up-to-date and in the correct folders for OTS to select them.

So, Ian, in all this time that you have insisted that breakfast has to be live, with live travel etc., your station is in automation just now. How come you haven't volunteered to practice the morals you preach and actually get up out of your bed and do the breakfast show? Surely that's better than non-stop music with idents in what is, as you say, the key part of the day? More especially because the station allows you to play what you want to play, so surely that's of even more benefit for you to really enjoy yourself (if nobody else does) by getting up quite early to do the show and play all your favourite songs when you're in the mood for classics.

2 years, 1 month ago

Ian B

"It especially applies to newer, and unfamiliar stuff, but it should apply to every track, and if your library of tracks is 30,000 songs or more, that's a lotta work, for a team of volunteers."

So I take it all those commercial (and even BBC) stations who don't identify each and every track have got it all wrong. All those commercial stations that are non-stop music services and presenterless most of the time and don't ID tracks are in the wrong? I don't see the listeners minding to much. Also, with technology these days, the tracks can still have their titles shown on websites and even Radiotext if on FM and DAB.

2 years, 1 month ago

Ian B

"Just looking through our schedule, we have quite a number of shows that actually do serve the community in different ways."

Indeed and having looked at your schedule, I can see loads of specialist music programs in the middle of a workday, when most of the potential audience for those shows can't listen (bearing in mind that the narrower the music appeal - the fewer listeners you have, so you need to maximise the audience potential by making the show more accessible, such as at nights and weekends) and the audience who would have been listening but have no interest in particular styles of music being played for an hour or two would have switched to something else.

I also see magazine shows in the middle of a work day. Would they not be better placed at weekends (or even repeated)?

From what I see of the schedule of Source FM, it really is a mix-match of absolutely anything thrown in at any time of the day, regardless of who can and would listen. If you missed a show that was relevant to yo because you happened to doing what the majority of people do at that time, which is working for a living, you've had it. I also see a lot of shows with disco deejays or die-hard music enthusiasts playing what they want to play for themselves at times of the daytime schedule, ensuring that the listener is of secondary importance.

2 years, 1 month ago

The more Ian comments, the more he digs a hole for himself.

Despite, in his words, his station having more volunteers and wannabe presenters than there are slots for, Breakfast is one glaringly obvious slot that is currently vacant and has been for at least two weeks because nobody could be bothered to give up their time to do the show. This is also despite Ian saying that it's a crucial part of the day and it absolutely needs to be live and on air and any suggestion to have anything else in place of it is "utter madness."

Sadly for the listeners, this station has fallen into a trap that besets a lot of community radio stations. Listeners would have enjoyed a live, local breakfast show jam-packed with local information (no doubt) and bang-up-to-the-second live travel news (I assume) and lots and lots and lots of local features, all played out by a very honourable volunteer that sacrificed their early mornings to do the community a great service.

Now the listeners have non-stop music and a few jingles. Inconsistency, uncertainty and unavailability of programs "at a key time of the day" has no doubt made them tune elsewhere. This is something that happens to so many community stations, especially during daytime. The program schedule develops holes very quickly because the presenter can't do it anymore and there's no-one else available (for goodness knows how long) to do it instead.

However, if I, as a community programmer, made the assumption that volunteers can't be relied upon to always do live shows at the extremes of the day (or even during most of daytime) and I programmed the station to be non-stop music with key audio packages and traffic items going out at the exact same times each day, the same program would still be on air now as it was when I first put it out on air, which could have been a long time ago.

Which is better? Secure automated programming with traffic items and audio packages that audiences will know go out at the same times each day? Or a live breakfast that could be on air on Friday morning but not on air the following Monday and replaced with non-stop music and a few wee jingles?

2 years, 1 month ago

Art Grainger...

Setting it up was exactly my duty, just like you would have someone in a community station whose role is to be program manager,

No we don't, we don't have a programme manager. We don't have anybody who fulfils that role. That's why a small group of us are sorting out the playout system.

So, Ian, in all this time that you have insisted that breakfast has to be live, with live travel etc., your station is in automation just now. How come you haven't volunteered to practice the morals you preach and actually get up out of your bed and do the breakfast show? Surely that's better than non-stop music with idents in what is, as you say, the key part of the day?

If I was living in Falmouth right now, I'd be doing it. I'd have volunteered to come in 5 days a week to do it. But right now, due to better employment prospects, I'm in Plymouth, and helping them one day a week, doing about a 120 mile round trip. And I do that, because none of the community stations round here, fit what I want to do.

Cross Rhythms is Christian based, and I'm not even religious, never mind Christian, so I'd not fit in there at all.

Soundart, is too arty, I am more mainstream, my show would stand out like a sore thumb.

If there was a station like The Source round here, I'd go there in a heartbeat. But at the moment, there isn't. So I do what I can.

Is that good enough for you?

2 years, 1 month ago

Art Grainger...

So I take it all those commercial (and even BBC) stations who don't identify each and every track have got it all wrong. All those commercial stations that are non-stop music services and presenterless most of the time and don't ID tracks are in the wrong? I don't see the listeners minding to much. Also, with technology these days, the tracks can still have their titles shown on websites and even Radiotext if on FM and DAB.

Yes, they have got it wrong, because as Gary Berkowitz says, this keeps cropping up in listener surveys. And putting on the website or DAB radiotext, requires someone to look at a screen, but one of radio benefits is that it can be listened to whilst doing something else, and you're not able to spend time looking at a screen.

It's ego and arrogance to think you know better than the listeners what they want. And again, I come back to this, isn't radio about doing what the listeners need and want, not just what we think they want?

2 years, 1 month ago

Art Grainger...

Indeed and having looked at your schedule, I can see loads of specialist music programs in the middle of a workday, when most of the potential audience for those shows can't listen

It's not ideal, but you have to work within the limitations of available slots and volunteers. You can't impose dictats on volunteers, that's not how it works. I should know, I've spent over 10 years in the voluntary sector, doing various things including The Source. You have to encourage and persuade, not dictate.

I also see magazine shows in the middle of a work day. Would they not be better placed at weekends (or even repeated)?

No. What do you think most mid morning and afternoon shows on BBC local radio are? They're magazine shows. And, when we get the listen again server back up and running, you'll find you'll be able to catch up on shows like that , that maybe aren't schedule in an ideal time slot, but you'd be able to listen to them at a more convenient time.

From what I see of the schedule of Source FM, it really is a mix-match of absolutely anything thrown in at any time of the day, regardless of who can and would listen. If you missed a show that was relevant to yo because you happened to doing what the majority of people do at that time, which is working for a living, you've had it.

No, you don't, that's why we have the listen again service on the website, and we will have that back, once we get the server repaired. In fact, about a third of our listenership, comes to us via the listen again service.

I also see a lot of shows with disco deejays or die-hard music enthusiasts playing what they want to play for themselves at times of the daytime schedule, ensuring that the listener is of secondary importance.

No you don't. There are no disco deejays in the daytime slots.

I think you might be confused by the programme called "Supergran's Disco". That is Glenys McMahon, who actually runs an entertainment service that she takes into care homes, called "Supergran's Disco". She'll play music from the 30s to the 50s for the residents there, and as well as doing that, she comes in to the Source FM every Tuesday afternoon, and plays a bit broader mix for our audience, which is 35 and over basically, and then she goes to CHBN on a Sunday afternoon and does something similar.

To some degree we're all die-hard music enthusiasts, but we do know when we are on, and what kind of music we should be playing at that time. All daytime programming is musically, very mainstream and based on popular artists and genres, even if it is a bit broader than what you find on BBC or commercial radio, and even the specialist music programming, that is on in daytime, is more generally well known genres, than overtly specialist, or is a strong part of our key commitments, such as the local music scene.

2 years, 1 month ago

Art Grainger...

Despite, in his words, his station having more volunteers and wannabe presenters than there are slots for, Breakfast is one glaringly obvious slot that is currently vacant and has been for at least two weeks because nobody could be bothered to give up their time to do the show.

Nobody could be bothered??? You're sounding like a wannabe dictator, not a manager. You can't force people to occupy slots that they are not available for. You're preaching on a pedestal of automation is great, and volunteers seem to be cattle to be herded into the slots you need, it doesn't work that way.

Sadly for the listeners, this station has fallen into a trap that besets a lot of community radio stations.

No, it's not a trap. It's called working with volunteers. It's the nature of the beast. You cope with it, you deal with it, and you don't resent people for not being able to be herded into the slots YOU want them to occupy.

The program schedule develops holes very quickly because the presenter can't do it anymore and there's no-one else available (for goodness knows how long) to do it instead.

So, you'd rather shove an untrained person into the slot, and tell them to get on with it, rather than train them, coach them, guide them, and then let them loose? No, actually probably not, you'd be more inclined to just shove in some voioce tracked automation, and say that will do. We'd prefer a live show and a live presenter, rather then automated, soulless, heartless, edited-to-within-an-inch-of-its-life radio. We put up with automation right now, because we'd like to train up someone to take on the slot, and do it well, rather than just programme some fancy automation and be done with it. We like radio with a human touch.

2 years, 1 month ago

Good enough for me to explain why you can't do the breakfast show but it still highlights the problem that most community stations have with volunteers, even those within easy travelling distance, not being available to do slots, which gives rise to the default of a lot of community stations which is a computer playing a very random selection of music with a few station jingles and almost no local content, even at key times of the day.

Listen again facilities are great and quite handy - but as is often suggested on here, not everyone has the desire or ability to use them. So when you have specialist shows and magazine shows going out in the middle of a workday, when the most amount of people who could tune in would only be able to do so if it was on at nights and weekends, then it's a bit of a lost cause.

Some stations, such as Speysound, Isles FM and so get around this by repeating the shows 2 or 3 times in a week. The volunteers come in at nights and weekends for which their shows are either live or pre-recorded. Those shows are then repeated in the weekends (if they are on weeknights) and possibly repeated again in late afternoons. For the rest of the daytime, the programming is more streamlined (and occasionally automated) to be more suitable for general daytime audiences to maximise audience potential.

As for your statement about the BBC putting out magazine programs, the BBC structure their shows to be of lighter speech content, around a rigid clock format, so that it is possible to dip in and out and still get the essence of what they are discussing. Some BBC local stations break up the speech content with music. However, the more specialist speech programming that are aimed at minority audiences (such as arts, gardening, special languages etc) are rightfully placed at nights and weekends. The BBC rarely put out such shows in the middle of a workday and instead they put out the kind of programs that have more general and popular appeal for broader audiences. What I see on Source FM's schedule is the opposite of that.

Oh - and you do need to have a person whose appointed to program the station (perhaps with a deputy or two), otherwise the programming is going to end up being a bit of a dog's breakfast and less appealing to the listener due to inconsistencies and wild variations. It would certainly help for production work if you have someone (as opposed to very many people) who is focussed on perfecting the sound of the station, especially for production work. Let's face it, many of us on this forum heard your show and provided a critique on how it could be improved, which would be the role of a dedicated station programmer .....and you do want to make your show sound great for the listener, I assume? Unless you feel as though you ought to be free to whatever the heck yo like, whether the listener cringes and switches off or not? That would be quite a wasted 120 mile round trip, doing a radio show that you don't mind if you get no listeners instead of several thousand.

2 years, 1 month ago

"So, you'd rather shove an untrained person into the slot, and tell them to get on with it, rather than train them, coach them, guide them, and then let them loose? No, actually probably not, you'd be more inclined to just shove in some voioce tracked automation, and say that will do."

No Ian. Training them up (if they were really so green that I couldn't just let them loose on the airwaves) would mean that they would do a show at nights or weekends to begin with - live or be pre-recorded. There's no better way to ensure that a person perfects their show if they pre-record it and they get to hear their mistakes. If and when they're ready to do a live show in daytome, I would put them on - but only of they could absolutely guarantee their availability, which can be quite difficult in workdays, more so at breakfast and late nights - so it's easier to voice-track shows for daytime. Oh - by the way, Radio Scilly does exactly that. The station manager does a live breakfast show because he is guaranteed to be there, he's the manager - but he ensures that daytime output is secure with automated and voice-tracked output, especially with such a tiny pool of potential volunteers.

You talk of voice-tracking as if it was evil. I should point out to yo that I voice-tracked my Sunday night soul show because I'd rather be at home on Sunday nights. I reckon I sounded better being VT'ed because I filled my 2 minute links with content. If a messed up a link, I recorded it again. A 2 hour show took me half an hour or so to record (6 links an hour) and I already knew what songs that software had programmed from the "Soul" folder, plus a few musical features (e.g. Soul No.1's, Soul Artist Birthdays of that week, Spotlight on Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis and so on). When I listened to the show at home as it went out on air at 8PM, it sounded extremely slick and tight. It still had the usual community traffic items, adverts and public safety messages in as well.

2 years, 1 month ago

Art Grainger...

Listen again facilities are great and quite handy - but as is often suggested on here, not everyone has the desire or ability to use them. So when you have specialist shows and magazine shows going out in the middle of a workday, when the most amount of people who could tune in would only be able to do so if it was on at nights and weekends, then it's a bit of a lost cause.

I would have agreed with you, had it not been for Wild Side. That show gets a worldwide audience both on the live online stream and on listen again, and is consistently one of the more popular shows on the station. By letting some slots be appointment to listen, rather than the standard fare, we do end up with programmes that do far better than you'd think they should do in the slots they occupy. And there are no all talk shows, even Wild Side plays a small selection of songs, breaking up the talk segments.

Some stations, such as Speysound, Isles FM and so get around this by repeating the shows 2 or 3 times in a week. The volunteers come in at nights and weekends for which their shows are either live or pre-recorded. Those shows are then repeated in the weekends (if they are on weeknights) and possibly repeated again in late afternoons.

Well, that's all well and good, but we don't have those kinds of slots available for repeats at the moment. Only really after 11pm or before 9am, and I'm not sure that breakfast time repeats are a good idea either.

Now, when small scale DAB starts getting licenced, we could create an automated station to replay such material at more appropriate times, but I don't see that happening for a couple of years or so yet.

Oh - and you do need to have a person whose appointed to program the station (perhaps with a deputy or two), otherwise the programming is going to end up being a bit of a dog's breakfast and less appealing to the listener due to inconsistencies and wild variations.

Oh, I would agree that we do need someone to handle content issues, like a programme manager, but we've done pretty well as we are, and let's face it, most commercial radio programmers would consider Radio 4 a dog's breakfast, but it's the 2nd most listened to station in the country. Consistency on some things is helpful, and can provide structure, but you don't need to straight-jacket everybody in tight formats and content requirements.

PRO2 years, 1 month ago

Ian said...

You can't impose dictats on volunteers, that's not how it works.

Now, I used to run a hospital radio station, and I'm afraid it is how it should work. Your first duty is to the listeners: you have a very valuable resource of an FM frequency available, and you should be looking after it and providing a valuable and consistent sound.

You need to have some rules and guidelines, dictats, about what it is that your station does, what your normal music policy is, and what presenters are expected to do. It's not enough to just let people do what they want. That's what separates amateur from professional; and if your community radio station doesn't sound professional and polished, you're not doing it right.

2 years, 1 month ago

Art Grainger...

Training them up (if they were really so green that I couldn't just let them loose on the airwaves) would mean that they would do a show at nights or weekends to begin with - live or be pre-recorded.

And that's where we differ.

Most of our volunteers, had never done radio before they came to us. Even now, the vast overwhelming majority, have never done radio before.

So we have to train them in basic studio operation, and basic programme production, before we even let them on air.

You talk of voice-tracking as if it was evil.

That's how listeners see it. Imagine this: you're listening to a show on your favourite station and you want to call in to the studio, to pass on a birthday greeting. So you call the studio number, and nobody answers, cos nobody's there. How do you feel in that situation? Cheated? lost trust in the station? That's how listeners feel, if they're unable to interact with a programme they like, because it is voice tracked.

Ironically, the Jack FM style of pre-recorded features and imaging, with things like live news and travel, works, because it is honest about having no live presenters. Listeners will even put up with non-stop music and prefer that over voice-tracking. Had I not seen the evidence for myself, I would have doubted it too, but there you go.

2 years, 1 month ago

James Cridland...

Now, I used to run a hospital radio station, and I'm afraid it is how it should work.

Should work? No, it never does work. We've already seen community stations in other parts of the country where dictats come down from a station manager, resentment starts building, and before you know it, Orthodontic Jake is giving someone a gelignite mouth wash, and boom goes the dynamite.

And then we know what happens next...

..."They don't like it, Mr Mainwaring, they don't like it up 'em."

And before you know it, bye bye community radio station, in a cloud of resentment and mistrust.

If there were an easy answer to all this, somebody would have already found it, or invented it.

2 years, 1 month ago

That's to do with incompetent management, however, not the system in general. You don't have to be Pol Pot: if you're an effective manager you should be able to find a way of enforcing some basic rules and a format without building resentment.

I was always led to consider that broadcasting (on any station) was a privilege and not a right. If somebody affords me the privilege of broadcasting on their radio station, I expect to have to play by their rules.

Being a volunteer means you don't get paid. It doesn't mean you have licence to do whatever the hell you want. There are plenty of organisations where volunteers are expected to follow rules: why is community radio so different?

2 years, 1 month ago

That's how listeners see it. Imagine this: you're listening to a show on your favourite station and you want to call in to the studio, to pass on a birthday greeting. So you call the studio number, and nobody answers, cos nobody's there. How do you feel in that situation?

Does radio still do 'birthday greetings'?

2 years, 1 month ago

Oh Ian. There isn't one way to do anything. Also, just because you think something doesn't mean that it's true or correct. Open your mind! There's also more to life than traffic and travel!

2 years, 1 month ago

Ian - I'm a bit concerned that you seem to think of the welfare and the needs of the volunteers BEFORE you consider the needs of the listeners, for which a radio station ought to be for. If a radio station is NOT supposed to cater for the listeners before the desires of the volunteers, then there's really not much point in operating a radio station. You might as well try to run some other kind of voluntary organisation and project where this might be allowed - and good luck to you if you could.

If, as you have pointed out, that volunteers feel resentment because somebody is telling them what to do in an effort to make the product sound professional FOR THE LISTENERS, then frankly those volunteers should really go and take a hike and not bother comig through the door ever again. The project isn't and shouldn't be entirely about them - and if anything, the points you (try to) argue just reinforces my initial point that perhaps the best way for community radio to sustain itself is by having lots of automation, with a small group of volunteers who don't feel resentment because they cant get to play at radio stations and play at being a radio deeeeeejaaaaaaay, playing their favourite songs for themselves and wetting their underwear because they're firing off wee jingles all over the place. I'd rather not have volunteers that fall into that category and would certainly want to run a stable ship, even if it does mean having a smaller group of volunteers who get what the project is about.

PRO2 years, 1 month ago

Ian - a great manager will enthuse her team, make them excited to volunteer, make them feel valued, and produce a consistent professional sounding radio station by encouraging a house style and rulebook.

PRO2 years, 1 month ago

When I worked in CR, while I had the freedom to play what I liked, I had to play at least 14 songs per hour and there were compulsory reads.

Yet while I had that freedom to programme my own playlist, I felt that I had to be responsible for what songs were played out so that it didn't sound like a disjointed mess and kept links short and sweet. The longest was 90 seconds for the what's on guide.

Also if I wasn't available to do a live show, I'd pre-record as live the full show so there was that consistency, unless the PD could find another volunteer to cover for me.

I was lucky to also cover Drive which had a music policy of 60s to 00s and a showbiz skewed Sat AM show, which had a bit more speech content.

However I agree with others that community radio (and radio in general) is not black and white by any means. One thing I've learned since I returned to being a general listener is how the medium can open your ears to other ideas.

2 years, 1 month ago

Simon Kelsey...

if you're an effective manager you should be able to find a way of enforcing some basic rules and a format without building resentment.

Basic rules is Ofcom regulations, building regulations such as signing a register in case of fire, no food and drink in the studio, you must play the sponsor spots, and that's about it really.

Format, we don't use. Some shows are 95% music, some like Wild Side are about 75% talk. We vary in between. It's called Free Form Radio.

There are plenty of organisations where volunteers are expected to follow rules: why is community radio so different?

We follow the rules we are required to by law, but we don't impose things like you must play a certain amount of music, or you must do news every hour. We as a station choose not to go down that route. We encourage people to use things like the community events diary once per hour in their show, but at the end of the day, they are the producer, they decide.

2 years, 1 month ago

James Cridland...

Ian - a great manager will enthuse her team, make them excited to volunteer, make them feel valued, and produce a consistent professional sounding radio station by encouraging a house style and rulebook.

It sounds great in theory, but I've been looking into this already, and it's going to be very difficult to produce a house style that will work for everything from 75% talk shows to 95% music shows, much beyond encouraging them to use the sweepers and imaging and to remember to ID the station no less than every 15 minutes. In that sense, Free Form Radio is tough to make conform to a style, because the whole point of it, is that it is free form.

2 years, 1 month ago

There's more than one way to skin a cat.

However, I was on the management of a student radio station for a couple of years - and a "consultant" for want of a better word for another few years afterwards, and I had to fight like you wouldn't believe to keep the previous station manager's policy of having playlists in daytime, along with a rigid format, to the point both my degree and health suffered. Nobody else in the station considered the listeners. "Nobody's paid, people just want to come in and have a laugh." Nobody understood the point of having a consistent product across the day.

Our strongest year was probably my semaphore year where I was Head of Music, having along with another alumnus successfully introduced Selector into the station to replace StationPlaylist. I was fortunate to be blessed with a station manager and programme controller who both saw the benefit in having a consistent daytime product with specialist evening shows categorised by day. Broadly, Monday was Urban/RnB, Tuesday was General Interest (stuff where music wasn't the "specialty"), Wednesday was Party, Thursday was Rock/Indie and Friday was Dance. Then 8am-6pm we had a tightly-formatted CHR & 90s Anthems music log, but we allowed the concessions of 2 free spins an hour, 3 if you got through the entire log in time, an attempt to get jocks to think about how they could get their link across in a shorter, more concise way which by and large worked. It was great, people realised they could get an extra free spin if they shut up! We struggled to fill daytimes sometimes because of the playlist, but I would far rather have a consistent flow of music rather than jocks playing whatever they wanted in the day.

If I ever ran a CR now, there's no way I'd allow any free spins during the day.

PRO2 years, 1 month ago

Format, we don't use. Some shows are 95% music, some like Wild Side are about 75% talk. We vary in between. It's called Free Form Radio.

It is called unlistenable, self-indulgent shite, I'm afraid. #straighttalking

2 years, 1 month ago

OK, so practically with your free-form schedule, there used to be hourly traffic news on Tuesday mid-mornings on The Source, when you were on - and now there's hourly traffic news on Monday drive when you are now on...

Can we presume there's no longer traffic news on Tuesday mornings? And possibly not drive time traffic Tuesday-Friday? How can it not be impossibly confusing to a listener who turns on the radio on Monday afternoon (when you might report "no problems" on the local ferries) then on Tuesday afternoon (when there might be problems but no-one's doing a travel bulletin)?

Self indulgent is right.

2 years, 1 month ago

Art, I saw a couple of Ian's shows are about '30s-'80s music. If they are wherever they are, what do you think people who like it do at that time?
You can't please everybody ALL the time anyway. Switching channels isn't death.:)

2 years, 1 month ago

Art Grainger...

Ian - I'm a bit concerned that you seem to think of the welfare and the needs of the volunteers BEFORE you consider the needs of the listeners, for which a radio station ought to be for.

No, we consider all members of the community equally. Remember, community radio was originally, in this country, called Access Radio, and basically, we are a community access service. We serve as facilitators to the community as a whole. From our key commitments...

Social gain objectives

Source FM engages the community as whole, with a focus on those who do not currently have access to the facilities and services , such as schoolchildren, young people, senior citizens, the unemployed and the rurally isolated...

Access and participation

The station works with trained volunteers, who contribute to and present station output; the target is 40 people per year. The station provides appropriate and directed training to anybody wishing to volunteer.

Source FM gives partner organisations the opportunity to present around ten hours a week of programming on the service and encourages further volunteers from new partner groups to participate in station activities.

That's what we're there to do, not be commercial radio lite.

2 years, 1 month ago

That's what we're there to do, not be commercial radio lite.

Alright. So we have commercial radio delivering output for the shareholders, and the primary reason for community radio is to train volunteers and if anybody wants to listen then great.

So who's delivering output for the listeners?

2 years, 1 month ago

James Cridland...

It is called unlistenable, self-indulgent shite, I'm afraid. #straighttalking

Good god, man. Does radio these days require you to check your humanity at the door?!?

To both you and Michael Cook, I'll ask this question.

Since when is providing a service that the community as a whole can use and be a part of, self indulgent?

PRO2 years, 1 month ago

You're not. You are providing a jumbled mess of inconsistent noise that nobody listens to.

2 years, 1 month ago

James Cridland...

You're not. You are providing a jumbled mess of inconsistent noise that nobody listens to.

That's your opinion. Our server data and listener research tells us otherwise.

2 years, 1 month ago

When it degenerates into playing at radio stations to satisfy would-be broadcasters, rather than providing content for the audience

I bet there are great broadcasters and shows on your station. The challenge is to create a station structure that can showcase those elements to as many listeners as possible, in a world where there are thousands of media choices.

That demands some kind of editorial process which makes it as easy as possible for listeners to understand what the station is for and navigate its schedule reliably for the entertainment or information they need.

Can you answer my implied hunch - what happens now if there's a travel incident on a Tuesday?

2 years, 1 month ago

Michael Cook...

what happens now if there's a travel incident on a Tuesday?

As I've already stated, that's down to the individual presenter right now. It's their choice whether they mention it or not.

I know what you're trying to get at, you're saying because other people may not do it, I shouldn't do it.

I'd feel I was letting my listeners down, if I didn't provide live content of some kind. News, weather, travel, sports, doesn't matter. I will keep an eye on it, and if it's relevant, especially if it's local, it goes in the show.

I could no more not do live content on a live show, than you can avoid breathing.

2 years, 1 month ago

You everybody are right in one way or another.
There must be a schedule.
There must be a live presenter when the listener's peaking up.
There must be order.
But it mustn't be boring.

PRO2 years, 1 month ago

So as a listener, how would I know whether there are problems on the roads? Listen just in case Ian's on? What utter, amateur, nonsense.

2 years, 1 month ago

Please stop treating Ian as some kind of a moron - he seems to have already mentioned he's not boss there. And he stated he was FOR live stuff, he's for traffic news, right?
Am I the only idiot to have been reading all these long writings?:)

2 years, 1 month ago

Like it or not, James, I take pride in making sure I provide the service I think the listener deserves. Other presenters do what they feel is right.

PRO2 years, 1 month ago

Please stop treating Ian as some kind of a moron - he seems to have already mentioned he's not boss there.

Josh, you probably weren't around when Ian posted a comment on the old MUK where he claimed to have the answers on how a radio show should work. He was snooped by people on here and on eRadio, Radio Today UK's newsletter which were largely negative. This may explain why some people find his critique a bit hard to accept as gospel.

PRO2 years, 1 month ago

I take pride in making sure I provide the service I think the listener deserves. Other presenters do what they feel is right.

You are right to, Ian. But for the station to be as inconsistent as this - just vaguely random travel news depending on whether you are on are not - is amateurish rubbish. Nobody will tune in to you on the off chance you have a presenter who does travel news at that precise moment. This is Art's point; you are too busy telling us how brilliant you are to understand that listeners need a consistent, clear service, not a random amateur jumble of randomness. Your station is here to provide a listener service. Why doesn't it bother?

2 years, 1 month ago

Josh Lincoln...

I think you'll find that because I don't subscribe to current radio thinking, and instead base my opinions on what has worked in over 90 years of radio history, and the human condition, they find it very hard to take. I'm used to it, nobody who has their own vision about something is ever taken seriously at first. As Mahatma Ghandi once said, "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."

2 years, 1 month ago

I'd feel I was letting my listeners down, if I didn't provide live content of some kind.

The point is, you wouldn't be. Quite the opposite.

Other than any friends and family who might tune in to hear you, they are not "your" listeners. They are a listener to the station you broadcast on. They have no idea who you are. They don't know that you're the unilateral travel news guy.

I bet you do incredibly thorough travel news, Ian. But if your station provides timely trustworthy information one day, but not on the next day, or at breakfast, you set up an expectation that you can't fulfil. When a terrible incident occurs on a Wednesday and your station hasn't covered it, you lose that trust.

Saying "We're community radio - we don't do travel news" is fine. Plenty of other stations and programme strands don't do travel news. Community radio should focus on what you, uniquely, can do. What are the stories from your community you can share? What happened to you in Penrith this week?

2 years, 1 month ago

James, you seem to be off the rail: the topic is not about any particular station doing good, well, or whatever, but rather about what such a station shall have in & on.
The real question is - what will it become in a certain extreme? An iTune on air? WTF then!!?

2 years, 1 month ago

James Cridland, the output of the station is not the be all and end all of Source FM. It's a large part of it, but it's not all of it. The stuff we do in the community itself, is just as important.

Don't get me wrong, I'd love us to have travel news, all through daytime, every day, sponsored by a local sponsor, and the option is available, but so far, nobody's chosen to buy that package.

We wouldn't have had our listen again service, if it hadn't been for Miss Peapods in Penryn, who helped us fund it in the first place, and keep funding it now. And I thank them for that.

But it will take time to recruit and train people to provide a regular travel news service, and without sponsorship, I don't see it happening.

2 years, 1 month ago

Do you know, it's like Groundhog Day on here.

Every time I log on, it's the same five people having the same argument. Nobody seems to get anywhere. No-one learns anything, partly because nobody's interested in learning anything from the few remaining contributors with credible industry experience and partly because nobody ever seems to produce any facts or credible research to back up their views.

There must be more in radio to discuss than this, surely?

2 years, 1 month ago

Michael Cook...

Community radio should focus on what you, uniquely, can do. What are the stories from your community you can share?

I tend to de-personalise the show as much as possible, it's not about me, it's about providing music and information. News, sports, weather, travel, community events, community information, that sort of thing. I put my personality in, but I try not to personalise it, as I feel that tends to disconnect the listener from the presenter. But if I do speak about something, it's always from the heart.

When I have guests on, I am there to facilitate what information they need to deliver, and I am to do that, in a way that is less formal, and more enjoyable, for both interviewee and listener. Occasionally I will challenge in an interview, but I will always do it respectfully, and give the guest the chance to give their answer.

2 years, 1 month ago

Simon Kelsey...

Every time I log on, it's the same five people having the same argument. Nobody seems to get anywhere. No-one learns anything, partly because nobody's interested in learning anything from the few remaining contributors with credible industry experience and partly because nobody ever seems to produce any facts or credible research to back up their views.

You're not wrong. Even when you produce something that backs up what you say, some people will refuse to believe it.

I know not everybody understands the benefits of free form radio. I get that. Yes there are downsides too, but the same applies in reverse to heavily formatted radio. What is seen as one of Free Form's strengths, is a weakness in formatted radio.

If I were programming a station, I would have breakfast as about a 50/50 mix, the same in the midday hour between noon and 1pm, and drivetime would be about 60/40 music to speech. Most daytime hours would be about 65/35, evenings about 75/25, with a 65/35 hour aroound 10pm for extra information, overnight about 80/20, and live content of all kinds, would be a big part of the non-music content. Maybe somewhere in there, might be a more talk hour, maybe 60/40 speech to music.

2 years, 1 month ago

I'm probably a bit late to the party, but here's my thoughts.

The thing with community radio is there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach to it. You can’t just pick a community radio format from one area, copy it and plonk it in another city. However, there are some important things that all community radio stations should bear in mind. I write these comments with experience in management, music programming and imaging/production within community radio over 10 years.

Nail down who your daytime target audience is. Are you steering towards the housewives approach – or male taxi drivers? Go out into your community and find out the average age of your town or city. If you can’t afford a survey, visit local shops and dare I say… talk to people!

What stations are on offer in your area? What do they do well and more importantly – what don’t they do which you could do yourself? I’m talking niche areas like local music, local sport (maybe not the big city/town teams but the lower league clubs) and forge connections with your local councils, police, fire service and community groups.

Guests. Have a few guests talking about local topics or events throughout the day. Give them 10 minute spots in Breakfast, Midmorning or Drive. If the interviews go well – repeat them!

Music. This is always one of those topics that raises eyebrows, purely because everyone has their own idea as to what music should be played on air. From experience of programming overnight and automated music hours on community radio and having researched music radio in the UK intensively for the last 10 years, I’ve come to the conclusion that you have to play the favourites, but intersperse the clock with a variety of spice-classics that people will remember and love. I’m not talking about a song that peaked at 85 in the UK charts in 1962 – but tunes that that dominated the radio in the 70s, 80s and 90s that often get overlooked. Set your music scheduling system up properly with correct artist separation and try and make sure where possible, that correct versions of songs are on your playout system (no awful re-sings or 12 minute versions of tunes).

Events. Attend events where possible. If you don’t have the ability to provide an O/B, be there; hand promo items out and talk to people. Don’t produce an O/B and expect people to turn up because you’re there. Latch on to community fairs for example, with large footfall and go where the locals will be. Create an events diary!

Advertising. You’re unlikely to get Tesco or ASDA on board – but do target local garages, kitchen suppliers or garden centres. Price your advert packages competitively, but don’t price-out small businesses and more importantly, don’t undercut yourself. It’s difficult to sell airtime without RAJAR figures and often a lot of airtime is bought on trust. Keep good connections with your advertisers and S&P sponsors, build long relationships/connections and you may keep them on air. If your station sounds busy – more businesses might be prepared to put their hands in their wallets. Word spreads.
I could go on and on, but those are just a few points.

My overall conclusion is you need to slot in between BBC local radio and often a legacy commercial station. You will never be able to compete with say Heart - but compliment them on the dial. This is where some stations come unstuck. Don’t try and be all things to everyone (especially in daytimes) but find a compromise between what BBC local radio does well (local, community, guests) and what commercial radio does well – being popular and music driven. If you can encompass both – that's a decent starting point.

2 years, 1 month ago

Cambridge 105 is a great example of a good way to do it - not a right way, not a wrong way, but - in my opinion - a good way.

Off-topic, Simon Kelsey makes a very good point, one I've made for a few years. With the contraction of the industry, it was inevitable there'd be less to talk about. But in terms of discussion, there's many a time where it feels like there's only really myself, James C, Art, Ian, Josh and Martin Phillip about. Matt Deegan drops in occasionally if DAB's part of the topic. Very different to a decade ago, but by the same token we've seen DigitalSpy quieten down compared to what it was like a few years ago and of course, we've lost UKOnAir completely. What does tire me is the large proportion of the opinion articles on here which are geared around mobiles, apps, and digital. I'd love to see more articles on, for example, music programming and scheduling.

2 years, 1 month ago

Free Form Radio, as you call it Ian, can be done by people setting up wee internet stations where they can make up the rules and hope that somebody, somewhere on the planet, might be listening. That's probably the best place for that.

Unfortunately, from the way you describe some of the programming on your station, it seems as though the needs of the volunteers have come first, as you have hinted in your own posts (therefore you're not treating all of the community equally) and the needs of the listener come as a lower priority. Hence why your station seems to be putting out specialist shows and magazine shows when most of the potential audience for them is unable to listen but that's when he volunteers are able to it, so that's when it goes out. Surely it would make more sense to have those shows pre-recorded and placed at more accessible times in the schedule, whilst the other shows that have broader and more general appeal are placed in daytime (live, pre-recorded or VT'ed).

I'm also extremely wary of what you describe as "free form" radio, when the presenter applies what they like, schedules what they want, plays what music they like for themselves and for which there is no overall structure. It gives rise to such inconsistencies as to make the station an unreliable source of information and occasionally (sometimes often) an uncomfortable listen.

Then we have situations like a breakfast show on air this week - but not next week. A drivetime show with travel, weather and local information at 4PM Tuesday (presented by Ian the college student because he wants to put out a service to the community and is desiring to work on local commercial radio or the BBC later on in his career) but if you tune in at the same time on Wednesday you'll hear Bill's Country Favourites, on Thursday at 4PM it will be Ken's Jazz And All That, on Friday at 4PM it'll be Sid's Liquorice Allsorts, when he plays anything he likes from 1920 to the present day. The latter shows are occurring because those presenters have their favourite music that they want to impose on the listener and 4PM is the time they can make it into the studio, therefore regardless of what your daily workday routine is, that's what you're getting, even though the specialist shows are better suited for nights and weekends. The experience may be great fun for the volunteers and the community FM licence has now given them a platform to do it - but for the listener it is much less so.

I love community radio - but I find it extremely difficult, even as a community radio enthusiast, to listen to community stations that are programmed in this way.

2 years, 1 month ago

You know what Art, I don't agree with a lot of what you say but on this occasion you've got it spot on.

PRO2 years, 1 month ago

You know what Art, I don't agree with a lot of what you say but on this occasion you've got it spot on.

+1 that comment.

It's that disjointedness which makes this style of community radio such a hard listen. Even the station I volunteered on had compulsory reads that provided a service for the community throughout the day, regardless of the presenter or format of the show.

2 years, 1 month ago

Okay, I disappear for a few days, and the comedy value of the thread goes up 2000%

James Martin and Art Grainger...

You guys really think I'm a college student??? Ripping out jingles from jingle demos and making fake airchecks with them, pretending that I'm weekends on Z100???

It might actually interest you to know that I had my first experience of working in radio, and did my first radio show, back in 1990. I'm actually 41, will be 42 in April, and I dunno about you, but I don't actually know any 41 year old college students.

I even fell out of love with radio back in 2002, spent almost 9 years in a retail career, got the bug again in 2011, and came back to do the Source FM, about a year after spending a couple of months working with Radio Plymouth.

So, way to go guys, first class demonstration in how to make a fool of yourselves, and reinforce the notion that all media people live in a bubble.

Art Grainger, I guess you didn't take any notice about what I said about free form radio, or Source FM's inspiration. You should take a look at KPFA., and whilst they do have some programming stripped across the week, you can see that the schedule is a bit more of a hodge-podge than your standard commercial radio station. Their affiliate in New York WBAI also has a similarly hodge-podgy schedule, perhaps a little more so than KPFA. KPFT is also similarly free-form. As is KPFK.

And as for the definition of free form radio, well, yes internet radio may well be a good home for it, but it often takes more than a single person running a "back-bedroom" operation, as I've heard it described, to provide the kind of free-form programming, that we do on The Source FM, and on stations like KPFA and WBAI. The kind of stations you think of as free form, are actually more "eclectic" than "free form".

If you can find an internet station that does the same kind of programming style, I'd like to hear it, quite seriously, as every internet station I've ever found, is basically a non-stop music jukebox.

Look, I get that you guys love commercial radio, and love the fact it's tightly formatted, and computerised playlists and all that stuff. That's fine, but not everybody loves that tight formatting, or computerised selection, and those of us who don't, now have a selection of stations that can provide that difference, including The Source FM, Soundart Radio and Resonance FM.

Martin Philip,

I suppose anything that is designed not to be aural wallpaper, but actually designed to be heard and listened to, is hard to listen to if you're trying not to think too much. Also, we do radio as appointment to listen, in the same way that BBC Radio 4 do. And given their recent figures, you can't say that appointment to listen radio doesn't connect with listeners, because it obviously does.

Art Grainger,

You know what strikes me as strange though, you talk about being a fan of community radio, and yet you are showing as against the most democratic form of community radio out there. If there's anybody in the community who doesn't like our output, then they have the option to actually join the station, learn the techniques, and produce their own shows. It's the democraticising of broadcasting.

PRO2 years, 1 month ago

Also, we do radio as appointment to listen, in the same way that BBC Radio 4 do. And given their recent figures, you can't say that appointment to listen radio doesn't connect with listeners, because it obviously does.

And the fact they have a huge budget from the licence fee for programming and talent, established formats such as Today, PM, The Archers and Women's Hour, the ability to cross-promote programmes across numerous BBC brands along with universal FM coverage helps.

Radio 4 and your average 25w CR station aren't comparable.

2 years, 1 month ago

Martin Philip...

And the fact they have a huge budget from the licence fee for programming and talent...

Completely irrelevant. Budget has nothing to do with it. If Budget was the be-all and end-all of radio, Radio 4 would be the most popular station, followed by Radio 3. Clearly, that doesn't happen.

...the ability to cross-promote programmes across numerous BBC brands along with universal FM coverage helps.

Again, completely irrelevant. What matters is the content, and radio 4 does have great content, as you correctly pointed out. But great content has little to do with budget, and little to do with cross-promotion and nothing to do with coverage.

2 years, 1 month ago

You know, I come back from my lunch break and find myself totally confused by the waffling from Ian when he said.....

"You guys really think I'm a college student??? Ripping out jingles from jingle demos and making fake airchecks with them, pretending that I'm weekends on Z100??? It might actually interest you to know that I had my first experience of working in radio, and did my first radio show, back in 1990. I'm actually 41, will be 42 in April, and I dunno about you, but I don't actually know any 41 year old college students."

I wondered what the heck he was going on about, unti I realised that when I gave hypothetical examples of people (with names plucked from thin air) presenting types of shows, that I made the error of using the name Ian - and now Mr B thinks I was actually referring to him.

Sorry Ian - but I wasn't. I was using a hypothetical example of a person who may be called Ian, who may be a student and who may be a buddng radio enthusiast with long term ambitions of making it an occupation - but I wasn't actually referring to YOU. Now who's making a fool of themselves? Oh - and the other names I used (for hypoythetical purposes) do not refer to anyone on the planet who may have those names and who may present those shows with the show titles I used ....... I just thought I'd clear that up before I upset anyone of the same disposition as Ian.

As for giving me examples of stations in the USA (or whatever other country), that means diddly squate to me because their cultures and way of life are a little bit different from ours, so it doesn't really compare.

You may want to criticise my stance on how community radio sounds - but I am merely thinking of the listener. Frankly, a lot of community radio might be doing fantastically at getting loads of people involved, at public expense - but they sound like a bag of shite and absolutely no-one is listening, except for the people involved and possibly a few friends, family and radio anoraks.

So here's the reality. A lot of community stations have closed down, mainly due to he fact that the monies weren't coming in for the stations to sustain themselves and pay the bills. The business models and more especially the financial restrictions were just wrong. We have now turned a corner and the restrictions have been considerably loosened, meaning that community radio stations can take more advertising and have much less depenency on the public purse.

So, if your station sounds like a bag of shite, very amateur, quite inconsistent from one day to the next (or even one show to the next), has abolsutely no listeners (except for a very small hardcore already associated with the station in some way) but ticks loads and loads and loads of social inclusion boxes, do you think advertisers are going to come forward?

However, if with the new restriction levels, community radio stations get heir act together to refine their product, have a consistent sound, sound reasonably professional (even if it does mean VT-ing, automation etc when volunteers are not available or can't be relied upon to do shows), as well as providing some means of social inlcusion and more importantly have a few more people actually bothering to listen, do you think advertisers are likely to take interest and help the revenues come in an pay the bills?

That's the real world.

PRO2 years, 1 month ago

Back in the real world, WBAI, quoted here as a shining example of "free form radio", attracts less than a 0.1% share in New York City, where it broadcasts. They don't take commercials - hardly surprisingly, since the numbers make it impossible to sell - and the 2013 listener donation drive on the station only got in around 50% of the money they needed to survive. You could argue that this is because listeners are mostly ambivalent to the hodgepodge of programming on the station.

I speak as an occasional listener to Off The Hook, a poorly-produced hour-long programme about technology, hosted by the editor and some of the editorial staff of 2600 Magazine, a publication I have subscribed to for many years. I listen to the programme via a podcast; dipping into the channel as live (either in NYC or online) results in an impenetrable incoherent mess.

2 years, 1 month ago

You guys really think I'm a college student??? Ripping out jingles from jingle demos and making fake airchecks with them, pretending that I'm weekends on Z100???

No but you ripped that off from a Z100 jingle demo tape.

PRO2 years, 1 month ago

Radio 4 would be the most popular station

Ah, but it is....in London, thanks to it's agenda setting news and current affairs output and heritage show formats.

What matters is the content, and radio 4 does have great content, as you correctly pointed out. But great content has little to do with budget, and little to do with cross-promotion and nothing to do with coverage.

So how do your listeners who are dying to hear the "free for all" content going to discover your station if you only have a small scale transmitter which may not reach all of your potential audience and an internet stream?

I'm not anti CR by any means, but as Art mentions the inconsistency of some community station output doesn't do the station or it's volunteers any good if the programming is all over the place, especially in daytime.

There are stations in London at least which after some initial niggles have figured out that programming to a niche but viable audience is the best way forward. I remember when Resonance FM started and it used to have a show where a trumpet player would play it down the phone for 30 mins was a bit odd, however bar one show which targets older listeners, it's all about providing artwork on the radio to a Guardianista audience who'll help fund it's output.

Rinse FM again champions an audience who like various genres of urban/dance music. Listeners will again contribute by buying the Rinse label music, go to their events etc and they're able to provide a Youth Academy for their younger listeners who may otherwise end up in crime etc. This was an ex-pirate who turned it around after initial issues with Ofcom.

And briefly Reprezent gives London's youth a voice on legal radio which they didn't have before. All of these stations have that clear focus. I really can't say the same for the majority of these CR's who do the pseudo ILR format without the budget.

2 years, 1 month ago

Martin Philip;

So how do your listeners who are dying to hear the "free for all" content going to discover your station if you only have a small scale transmitter which may not reach all of your potential audience and an internet stream?

Let's start with the internet stream. We have our own app on Android platform, and we're working on developing it for Apple's App Store as well. We have an arrangement with local newspaper, the Falmouth Packet, and they have our stream available on their front page. The stream is listed on the iTunes Radio Directory, on the TuneIn app and site, on Wunder Radio from Weather Underground, and on the UK RadioPlayer as well.

Social media for us is Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus, and as we've discovered, Facebook is where our listeners are most active, though we have almost 2,000 more twitter followers than Facebook likes.

In the Falmouth/Penryn area itself, we are now in our third year of hosting a regular summer event in Kimberley park, called Parklive, which runs from April to September, and happens monthly during that period. Also, shows like Inside Local Music come from various music venues across Falmouth and Penryn and provide events for free. Last year, we provided a stage and live broadcasts from the Tall Ships event in Falmouth, and every year, we broadcast live and provide a stage at the Falmouth Sea Shanty Festival.

I would say we're out and about more than any other radio station in the South West. We are more visible than just about everybody else.

I'm not anti CR by any means, but as Art mentions the inconsistency of some community station output doesn't do the station or it's volunteers any good if the programming is all over the place, especially in daytime.

I don't disagree that daytime needs more consistency for a community radio station, and heck, we do manage to keep the output pretty mainstream all across daytime, it's not perfect but nothing will ever be "perfect", as different people in the audience have different tastes. You want consistency, but we don't want the commercial radio straight-jacket approach, as that will not distinguish us from Heart and Pirate FM, who lets face it, can do that approach far better than we can. What we can do is somewhere between what the BBC does and what commercial radio does. We might do more music most of the time, like commercial radio, but we do interviews and features of local interest, in the same way that BBC Local Radio does, and we do it with our own personality and style.

At the end of the day, we have so many competitors out there on FM and DAB, that we have to do something very distinctive, very different, in our output to reach out to those listeners, and say, we're here, listen to us, and grab their attention.

There are stations in London at least which after some initial niggles have figured out that programming to a niche but viable audience is the best way forward... ...All of these stations have that clear focus. I really can't say the same for the majority of these CR's who do the pseudo ILR format without the budget.

I don't disagree with you on the last point, and all the examples you state are perfectly valid, but London is a very different market to Falmouth/Penryn. We can't afford to be too niche as a station. Our area has a weird personality. Because we have Falmouth University in our area, there are lots of students around. But Falmouth is also a seaside town, and somewhat of a business hub, for the southern peninsula of Cornwall. Penryn, is also a market town. And we have many rural villages around our area, such as Constantine, Stithians, Carnon Downs, Devoran and Flushing. Also, on the other side of the estuary, St Mawes and St Just in Roseland pick us up well, and St Mawes is linked to Falmouth by a passenger ferry, so we can't really ignore St Mawes either. Our TSA, if you like, is an area with multiple personalities, and to not serve even one of them to some degree, would alienate a large section of our potential audience.

I know it sounds so simple, pick a niche and serve that, but in the Falmouth/Penryn area, that I feel would be detrimental to the station's future, especially as we have volunteers from all these different areas, with all these different community personalities.

2 years, 1 month ago

Well, it looks as though my point is being proven.

2 days and 2 community radio stations (so far) have been found in breach of their key commitments. They have FAILED to put out ANY programming, even when they said to OfCom that they would. When OfCom monitored them, they heard a computer playing out music and jingles (and maybe some commercials).

So - let's get back to being sensible and live in the real world. If stations can't manage to be live - go automated with community audio packages inserted into the playlist or VT programs - and tell OfCom that's how you're going to manage to stay on air. Pre-recorded shows are the next best option.

No doubt many more community stations will be found in breach over the next few days.

2 years, 1 month ago

What are those commitments?
The news said N.Manchester had had to "blah-blah" for 10 hours a day.
Is it universal or - individual?

2 years, 1 month ago

No - it is individual. The commitments that a community station has to adhere to are the very same commitments that the community station write down themselves, in their own application to OfCom for a community radio licence. OfCom agree to this, believing that since it was the community station who said they could do this, then they should be able to achieve that. However, it appears that some (or most community stations, in their attempt to secure a licence, have made promises that they couldn't keep.

Consequently, some listeners have made complaints to OfCom about their local community station not putting out programs when they said they would and instead have been putting out very long periods of music and nothing else. By the time the listener has noticed and the complaint is made, this would have been a situation that has occurred for quite some time, even though the community stations who have been found guilty by OfCom (who only get to hear snapshot of the output, rather than several weeks of it) have come up with their own reasons to suggest that the situation has only recently occurred due to (insert excuse here).

1 year, 8 months ago

And so another one falls foul of their own intended format that they could not satisfy.

Penistone FM this time - and they say it was because they didn't have any presenters "present" at the time when they were being monitored.

Again, the safest method would be a Jack or Sam-esque format of automated music, interspersed with pre-recorded bullies, What's-On's, community spots, other (short) speech items about the community and so on .... and maybe even some voice-tracked shows that contain all of the above, as well as the presenter telling you what they played and the name of the station.

The other day I was listening to a live community radio show in the mid-morning. It was a pleasant enough listen - except that it contained absolutely NOTHING about the community - not a single bit of information about the area or what was happening within it, for the hour that I was listening to it. It was just a presenter playing his favourite songs to fill the time and occasionally playing one or two listeners requests.

When community radio stations are just toys for wannabe radio people, one has to wonder why OfCom bother to dish out the licences. At the very least a clock format could be introduced so that pre-recorded What's-On's and other bits of traffic are interspersed between the presenters favourite songs that they want to impose on the listener (or two listeners if they have that many).

Or should I realise that I apparently don't know what community radio is all about?

1 year, 8 months ago

Art, neither Jack nor Sam is a CR station.

By the way, Ofcom wants to simplify Key Commitments.

1 year, 8 months ago

Josh - you've missed the point.

You are right that Sam and Jack or not community stations - but there are similarities with them and many community stations.

Sam and Jack are small local stations that can't or don't want to afford to pay for presenters to present shows during daytime, so they opt for automation outside of breakfast - but they do fill the 20 hours or so each day with lots of local content, much of which is pre-recorded and inserted into the playlist.

As we are now finding, many community stations can't seem to get unpaid volunteer presenters to actually give up their free time and do shows, especially during daytime (when they probably have to work for a living, which can be a real nuisance). So those stations end up being in automation anyway, albeit they tend to play non-stop music and station idents - and normally without local content of any kind. This is despite the fact that they put in their own licence applications to OfCom that they would get presenters to fill those slots and fill the clock hour with loads of speech .... and then they get penalised!!!!

So, as I've said before, wouldn't it be downright common sense to create your community station with a format that has a presenterless schedule at times when you know it's going to be really difficult to get volunteers to fill those slots - but still fill the playlist with short audio packages and traffic that features local content? Then at nights and weekends, when volunteers tend to come crashing through the door in their droves, you can have live or pre-recorded shows.

Now I am just waiting on the usual suspect to show his complete lack of knowledge and sense and tell me that I don't know what community radio is all about, even though back in 2001 I ran an RSL as an intended community station and then (with hundreds of other poeple) lobbied the Regulator to create Access and Community Radio licences.

1 year, 8 months ago

What local content? The "jukebox" we have is currently as local as my right bollock. Which was born in Leicester.

1 year, 8 months ago

James, I've no idea where Art got that impression. I've played a Jack for some 24 hours non-stop recently - I can hardly say I could notice any much local content there.
What was that? Ads??
Apart that those two are still NOT community stations and don't seem to have any commitments...

1 year, 8 months ago

Jacktivities, anyone? Bobalong's on Bob FM? Is that not local content? It's certainly more than what a lot of community stations are putting out on air when they can't get presenters in to say something.

Yes Josh, I know that Sam and Jack are not community stations - but I am referring to how the formats can be similarly applied - and help to prevent community stations from being penalised, if they are just realistic about their abilities to get live and/or speech content.

1 year, 7 months ago

It is refreshing to see so much thought and passion go into this discussion on Community Radio - and I think that is right and, obviously as a director of such a station, I think it is important.

Of course, there are many types of Community Radio station and one solution will never fit all - Our station is a city station and as such our priority is always to offer a service to the people who live and work in our city that they are not getting from the traditional local radio outlets.

Our objectives are the very traditional Reithian goals to entertain, educate and inform - although not neccesairly at the same time - and with the continuing cuts to the ability of BBC Local stations to actually provide a truly local service we are finding that there is more and more for us to do.

What gives us value is our engagement with the local community - and Our involvement in what They are involved in. For example, We strive to cover as many large local events in the city with live outside broadcasts as we can - to the extent that we do more OBs in our city than the BBC and all the ILR stations put together.

Similarly on the music front - we heavily feature local bands and artists with a special weekly two hour show just for them, and their own "unsigned chart" where they can showcase their songs. The best of these we also filter into our daytime playlists and we do a midweek "chart update" on our Breakfast and Drive-time shows.

We also host an annual award ceremony to honour the best live acts in the City which is attended not only by the bands themselves but by our colleagues at our local BBC station who we invite to present one of the awards. On the panel of Judges this year is John Peel's wife Sheila Ravenscroft who, like us, has a passion for encouraging new artists.

As for Travel, yes for us it is very important - we have a lot of taxi driver listeners :) - and we broadcast the travel update every 20 minutes from 7am til 7pm. We see it as all part of providing a local service along with our local news bulletins - and we have recently gone into a loose partnership with our local newspaper group.

Now, I don't say that we have got everything right yet, and getting the daytime music offering right is a constant source of debate and discussion - It is important, but actually we are not neccessarily here JUST to offer another source of music - there are already plenty of choices out there and in the end it is the local connections in our programmes that is our strength.

We do find it important to be broadcasting live and we broadcast approximately 17 hours of live programmes every day - our listener feedback and figures (such as they are without being privvy to RAJAR!) suggest that live is best as it encourages engagement with the audience.

All this, with no licence fee money and no government or local grants - the public are getting great value for money from Community Radio I'd say!

1 year, 7 months ago

I enjoyed working in CR for a while after I started, but I stuck it out for about 18 months and then called time on it as it just felt like no-one was listening as I got no interaction from listeners, and since we weren't covered by RAJAR and with the station boss not seeming bothered about all that, I had to call it a day.

When I started I was out of work, but then when I was back in work I spent a few weekends going into the studio to record the coming week's show, and then was able to put it together at home and email it in. It was usually the student temp who'd put the show onto the system, after receiving the email, but when the academic year changed over, a new one came along and wasn't much cop. The station boss was there less and less often, and the final nail in the coffin, for me, came when neither was in and the show did not go out. 8hrs work down the drain (including recording it and putting it all together)

It's been a while since I worked for them but I still listen occasionally. They've currently got a Breakfast guy doing 4 mornings a week as well as a weekend evening show. For no money, what does he get out of that apart from being exceptionally tired??

1 year, 7 months ago

Well Dom, probably a wise decision to leave as I am not sure CR is for you.

Personally, I find I get the most listener interaction when I am broadcasting something that our local listeners are interested in - and with CR that can also mean making sure the community knows that you are going to be broadcasting well in advance with publicity on social media to all the group pages of the target audience concerned, and maybe getting some comments about the content before the show begins. I take a personal responsibility for this and don't feel it is just the role of the station manager or webmaster to do it for me - after all it's my show!

Community Radio works best when broadcasters also want to give the community something, and not just for those who's motivation is to see what they can get out of it.

As far as music radio is concerned, If you are not broadcasting with the listener in mind - then you may as well be playing your records to yourself in your bedroom. There is always going to be a limit to the number of listeners interested in a local "DJ" playing his/her record collection unless they really are a big name on the local scene and already have a following - it has to make a connection somewhere.

If you want listener interaction make sure there is some reward for the listener who interacts - that their opinion / observations are read out on air - that they get a request played etc etc

Of course the whole place is run by volunteers - so sometimes problems occur that in a properly funded set up wouldn't happen - but for me the sense of triumph in overcoming these problems as they arise is all part of the enjoyment I get out of being involved.

1 year, 7 months ago

Well, I did so some requests when I did the show live but this isn't possible when it's pre-recorded. If I was getting paid a living wage for it, I'd happily do it and could build from there, but there are limitations when, at the time my show goes out, I have to be in the office having an unhappy time.

There's something wrong with the world when a lot of CR DJs are clearly passionate about what they do, yet those broadcasting on mainstream radio just rabbit all over the songs without a care in the world.

1 year, 7 months ago

To me it's about the programming. I've helped at a 3 community stations now and there seems to be no structure. The night starts with a book show, moves into a rock show and ends with a trans based rave show. Whilst some of the shows are actually pretty good the programming is just all over the place meaning no one's listening. The last 3 stations I helped at seemed to be more focused on listen again and downloads over live listening. That is come in, do a good show (to no one) but then promote it via listen again. I'm old fashioned (ex hospital radio manager blah blah lol) so I believe in formatting your live programming first. Whilst I agree helping the community is great, trying to please ALL the community is impossible (especially in London) be a rock station, be a youth station, be a hip hop station whatever... but be one thing only and don't try to be a thousand things. As someone has already said find your niche and stick with it.

1 year, 7 months ago

Yes some good points Ashley, but surely CR stations decide in their own Key Commitments what communities they are going to serve, what sort of service they are going to provide and what they are going to do. Sadly some appear to lose site of their own promises in these Key Commitments (as has been observed earlier in this thread) - but the structure is there from the start.

The problem is that they can only programme what they have available - so to be able to sensibly programme they first need a big enough pool of volunteer talent (making a range of programmes) that all believe in what the station is, and what those volunteers themselves are, doing on it.

Yes, it is easy to get obsessed with listen again when you are a CR station - I think it is because it is something you can actually measure - what is more important is who is listening on FM and that information CR stations have a very hard job to be able to afford to measure.

If you want real listener involvement you must really know the community you are broadcasting to - and they must know YOU.

They need to know the very basic things like when you are on, how to tune in and then believe that you will be broadcasting something they want to hear.

Especially in the early days, a CR station's first job is just to get itself known and noticed and it actually needs to actively and openly market itself to it's core community to a much greater extent than more established stations. As I have mentioned above - we find that having a very visible presence doing Outside Broadcasts from community events that are attended by many thousands of people a very good way of doing this.

1 year, 7 months ago

Yeah I probably strolled off topic slightly there! :)

1 year, 7 months ago

Ashley - But everyone has their own niche. I did a show about movies, videogames and TV releases and reviews, mixed in with music. If they were to tell me to do a book show instead, there'd be no point as I don't read books.

1 year, 7 months ago

There's something wrong with the world when a lot of CR DJs are clearly passionate about what they do, yet those broadcasting on mainstream radio just rabbit all over the songs without a care in the world.

They're having their "unhappy time in the office", Dom.;)

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