In addition, the founders have committed to distributing any surpluses to local charities and good causes.
Radio is a fundamental medium for the transmission of information, and as part of that, a widely-accepted means of advancing education for the benefit of the general public. The use of radio for education has been an integral part of radio broadcasting since its advent in the 1920s and 30s, when, together with information and entertainment, it was considered one of the three main services that the new medium would and should offer its audience.
Since then, Community Radio Stations in particular have proven to be an effective and affordable way of promoting, sustaining and increasing both individual and collective knowledge and understanding of specific areas of study, skills and expertise. This is especially true in the case of ‘informal’ forms of education, such as adult and community education, where local and community radio offer the following advantages:
• Accessibility – close ties with their local communities, able to engage with local listeners and organisations, and respond to their educational needs and preferences;
• Affordability – educational radio programmes can be produced inexpensively on local and community stations;
• Attractive – a personal, friendly reliable medium; and
• Availability – local and community radios are available around the world.
Community Radio Stations also have an attractive variety of programming styles with which to engage listeners, including talk shows, interviews, panel discussions, documentaries and features, radio drama, music and magazine programmes. Nor is it costly or difficult to arrange for radio programmes to be produced and broadcast in different languages, giving voice to the different cultural and ethnic groups within the local community, who may enjoy less representation, access and provision to education through other means. In addition, programme repeats and Play Again features give listeners control over when, where and for how long they access content. Radio Bath’s website is being developed specifically with these sorts of needs in mind.
Community Radio Stations are also trusted source of information and entertainment, covering topical issues of interest and importance to the community, that repeatedly draws local listeners back to it. Once engaged, listeners may stay tuned to other programming they might not otherwise have chosen or encountered, including educational content. Equally,organisations promoting of social development recognise that Community Radio can help marginalised groups learn about and gain the confidence to engage with their local community within the security of their own homes, rather than, say, attending an evening class with strangers at a local institution.
The opportunity to learn media, journalism, ICT and other skills at a radio station is frequently more appealing than classroom-based training, particularly to young people, as well as facilitating their personal, social and educational development to enable them to gain a voice within the local community, and more generally
Community radio has itself developed from the community arts movement of the 1970s and 1980s, which promoted involvement, dialogue and self-representation. Most stations do not regard the arts as a ‘separate sphere’, but as integral to the objects of the radio station and the communities they serve. Consequently, they programme across a range of art forms, with particular reference to the specific cultural interests and heritage of the different communities they serve. All share a fundamental commitment to the idea of social gain and accessibility, which is a requirement for the award of a community radio licence from Ofcom.
“Radio is Art; Presentation is Performance”
Approximately 70 per cent of the Community Radio programming is music-based, much of which features solo DJs playing out commercially available recordings. However, recent advances in computer software now enable people from all parts of the local community to give expression to their personal enthusiasms and expertise in the form of self-produced ‘curated’ programmes. Community Radio Stations also play an important role in broadcasting local live music, providing platforms for professional and amateur musicians alike. The advent of low-cost broadband telecommunications is overcoming the problem of remote broadcasting, and Community Radio Stations today often play a central role in local events, festivals and carnivals, including their own. Thus, the musical output of community radio can be enormously diverse, both in terms of the genres and the variety of formats.
In addition to music, many Community Radio Stations demonstrate a high commitment to literature and spoken word programming. The most popular forms of broadcast in this area are poetry or literature readings, but they also include reviews (e.g. book, streaming services, theatre, cinema and art gallery), programmes on local heritage and history, and culturally specific programming about minority communities. Drama is another feature of some; Community Radio Stations’ output, driven by the interests and enthusiasms of local amateur and community groups, and reflecting local cultural characteristics or to raise awareness of particular local issues. Participation in radio drama can have a powerful effect on the self confidence of those taking part (especially in marginalised communities) and provide a route into further education and training. Sports programmes featuring local teams and participants is another way in which Community Radio Stations successfully engage with their communities, and programmes about the sciences and the environment are also growing in popularity.
In 2004, at the start of Community Radio broadcasting, the Department of Culture, Media Sport predicted that Community Radio Stations ‘can help to increase active community involvement, local education, and promote social inclusion. The stations can provide a training environment for a new generation of broadcasters, and can tailor themselves easily to the needs of their immediate community.’
As voluntary organisations themselves, Community Radio Stations have a vested interested in the advancement of community development, particularly the recruitment and training of volunteers. Community radio has been estimated to provide over 12,500 volunteering opportunities and 15,000 hours of original radio across the UK per week. The benefits accruing to local individuals who volunteer at Community Radio Stations range from fun, personal satisfaction and self-fulfilment to greater involvement in the community and a sense of ‘giving something back’. There is strong anecdotal evidence that many volunteers working in community radio go on to pursue a related career in ‘mainstream’ media.
Community Radio Stations cannot function without training its largely voluntary workforce. Radio Bath aims to provide support and opportunities for more than just its own volunteers, however. We seek to engage with, promote and help fundraise on behalf of local community groups and charities, sharing stories of their work and building links to individuals and businesses in the local area who can assist them with volunteering, donations and fundraising activities.
The social ‘reach’ of community radio is potentially enormous. As the Community Media Association (CMA) notes: Groups and individuals feeling excluded can bring their stories to a wider world. Young people who did not succeed at school can tackle literacy issues through media education. Diverse communities can be served with appropriate and culturally sensitive information. Fragile communities can be strengthened through genuine community broadcasting. [CMA., Response to Scotland’s Draft Culture Bill, 2007.
A report on the future role of the third sector in social and economic regeneration from the Treasury draws attention to the role of community radio in providing employment and supporting community cohesion. [HM Treasury and the Cabinet Office, ‘The future role of the third sector in social and economic regeneration – interim report’, 2006.] In addition, as Radio Bath is able to establish its own operations, we aim to support other local radio stations in the wider area with shared programme content, training, equipment, licences, access to broadcasting infrastructure and fundraising.