Community radio in the United Kingdom

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In the United Kingdom, Community Radio refers to a system of licensing small, micro-local, non-profit radio stations, which started in 2002. In its early days, the pilot scheme was known as Access Radio. New legislation paved the way for this additional tier of radio, starting in 2005, and hundreds of community stations have since been set up. Unlike commercial radio licensing, which is generally advertised to cover a specific region, community radio stations are usually limited to broadcast areas smaller than commercial or BBC local stations, nominally within a 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) radius of their transmitter.[1]


The idea for this new level of radio broadcasting was piloted by the regulator at the time, the Radio Authority in 2002 with the licensing of 15 so-called Access Radio stations for a trial period of one year to test the feasibility of such stations.

The licences were extended in 2003 for a further year, and in 2004 a consultation was issued by the Authority's successor, Ofcom, on the creation of Community Radio. Following this, an invitation to groups to apply for community radio licenses nationwide was issued. One hundred and ninety two stations applied and of those, one hundred and six were awarded licences. The first new community radio station to be licensed was Forest of Dean community Radio, followed by youth-based AfanFM in Neath-Port Talbot and the first to go on-air was 103 The Eye in Melton Mowbray. As of 18 November 2010, 228 stations had been licensed over two rounds of licensing, with 181 broadcasting, 17 that had decided not to launch or handed their licence back, and the remainder preparing to start broadcasting.[2]


There was a second round of licensing in 2007, and as of 2010 Ofcom was considering a third.[2] Unlike in commercial radio licensing, which is generally advertised to cover a specific region, prospective operators are able to specify the target area and format of their station.

To obtain a community radio licence, applicants must demonstrate that the proposed station will meet the needs of a specified target community, together with required "social gain" objectives set out in the application. These usually take the form of a commitment to train local people in broadcasting skills or provide a certain amount of programming aimed at an underserved section of the population.

A target community can be defined either by geography or by reference to a particular sub-community in an area, otherwise known as a community of interest. A geographic community is any defined local area, particularly those that cannot sustain a fully commercial broadcaster. A community of interest can be any identifiable local community; existing community stations are aimed at groups as diverse as the elderly or youth, religious groups, speakers of languages other than English, lifestyle groups such as gay and transgender and cultural/recreational groups such as artists.

While there are exceptions in certain rural areas, community radio stations are usually limited to broadcast areas smaller than commercial or BBC local stations, nominally within a 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) radius of their transmitter. The normal allocated power for a new community radio station in an urban area is 25 watts vertically polarised, although most allocations permit the addition of a further 25 watts horizontally polarised. For some rural stations these limits are increased to 50 watts vertical plus 50 watts horizontal.


Following pressure from the UK's Commercial Radio Companies Association, later merged into Radiocentre, the Community Radio Order 2003 includes varying funding stipulations based on a community radio station's proximity to a commercial radio broadcaster. No community radio station is permitted to raise more than 50% of its operating costs from a single source, including on-air sponsorship and advertising. The remainder of operating costs must be met through other sources. These can include public funding via grants, donor income, National Lottery funding or charities. Regulator Ofcom also makes an amount of funding available annually through its Community Radio Fund. Stations may apply for this money in the same way as other grant funding.

However, where a community radio station lies totally within the transmission area of a commercial station with a population coverage of under 150,000, no sponsorship or advertising may be sought and all funding must come from alternative sources. In a small number of areas where a commercial station covers a population of under 150,000, a community radio station may not be licensed at all. This protects the financial interests of smaller commercial stations.

Access Radio pilot stations[edit]

The following stations took part in the Access Radio pilot beginning in 2002:[3]

Station Location Format Frequency
ALL FM South Manchester Multicultural 96.9 FM
Angel Radio Havant, Hampshire Over-60s 101.1 FM (now 89.3 FM)
Awaz FM Glasgow Asian 107.2 FM
Bradford Community Broadcasting Bradford Multicultural 96.7 FM (now 106.6 FM)
Cross Rhythms City Radio Stoke-on-Trent Christian music 101.8 FM
Desi Radio Southall, West London Punjabi 1602 AM
Faza FM Broadcasting as Radio Faza Nottingham Asian women's station 97.1 FM
Forest of Dean Radio Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire Rural community station 1521 AM, 1503 AM (closed December 2009)
GTFM Pontypridd, Glamorgan Local talk and music 106.9 FM (now 107.9 FM)
New Style Radio Birmingham Afro-Caribbean talk/music 98.7 FM
Northern Visions Radio Belfast General 100.6 FM (now closed)
Resonance FM Central London Artistic community 104.4 FM
Sound Radio Hackney, East London Multicultural 1503 AM (now closed)
Takeover Radio Leicester Children's radio 103.2 FM
Wythenshawe FM Wythenshawe, South Manchester Music and local talk 97.2 FM

Current licence regime[edit]

The Access Radio scheme was superseded by two alternative licence arrangements. The Restricted Service Licence (RSL) permits transmissions for up to 28 days and is available upon application. The Community Radio licence permits up to five years of broadcasting, but is only available on a discretionary basis when Ofcom opens application rounds.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Community Radio". Ofcom. Ofcom. Retrieved 4 May 2010.
  2. ^ a b Ofcom report 2010
  3. ^ Ofcom: Access Radio stations on-air
  4. ^ "Community radio". Ofcom. 2019-09-27. Retrieved 2020-06-04.

External links[edit]