TROUBLE ON THE AIRWAVES
Early prophecies of failure for the government‘s two year experiment in community radio look set to be fulfilled. as radio groups battle against time to get their applications into the Home Office in time. Yesterday (31 Oct) was the final deadline — extended from 30 Sept — for community radio action groups in the 21 Home Office designated areas. to get their bids in for the franchise licences to run a legal community radio station. At the time ofgoing to press. however. it seemed clear that groups in Dumfries — one ofonly two areas awarded a franchise in Scotland. the other is the Shetlands — were struggling to come up with a viable bid. due to lack of time. Grave doubts have. in fact. been expressed about the ability ofa group managing to survive there. Yet a group in Bathgate. the Community Radio Association West Lothian (CRAWL). described as ‘the only potentially viable community radio group in Scotland‘ has not been included among the franchises. Their only hope of starting a radio station depends on Dumfries groups failing to get Home Office approval for their applications. Although not a designated area. CRAWL have submitted an application to ensure that their name is at the very top of any ‘re-allocation‘ list.
These problems highlight the initial criticism which greeted the Home Office announcement of the two year experiment. made by Leon Brittan in late July this year. It was claimed that the announcement was too sudden and caught everyone. including the main lobbying group The National Community Radio Association (NCRA) offbalance and that even the extra month‘s extension. due to NCRA pressure. was not sufficient to allow groups enough time to organise feasible plans. There were also claims that the areas were chosen to avoid competition with independant local radio stations. rather than an area‘s needs or abilities to produce viable radio action groups. In addition. it was felt the Home Office failed to
appreciate that Scotland‘s needs were inherently different from those ofthe rest of Britain.
The concept of community radio has been around for many years and the NCRA has lobbied hard for their introduction. The format is highly
, localised and speech orientated —
intended to encourage people in the area to talk to each other. Louise Robertson, a member of the NCRA‘s co-ordinating committee and part of the Scottish Community Broadcasting Group (SCBG). said. ‘Community Radio aims to get away from the pop. prattle and pap of commercial stations and go back to basics; allowing people a voice in their own areas. But the amount of time the Home Office has given is ridiculous. Community groups have not been able to get things together at all and they seem to have taken a map and said. “where are the areas where community radio won‘t have an effect on independant stations.“‘ The Home Office announcement allows for two types of licence. One is an interest group licence. to cover the needs of groups with a common
interest; this particularly suits ethnic minorities. The other is a neighbourhood licence. where communities set up a station to broadcast local programmes. giving everyone a chance to get ‘on the air‘. John Gray of SCBG. and a former employee of BBC Radio Scotland. feels Scottish needs differ from those in England. in that there are no minority groups who want a radio station all to themselves. ‘Our problem is that there is a tremendous variety of interest groups up here. plus there are far greater areas where it is very expensive for the BBC to
5 broadcast and commercially
" unviable for independant radio to
operate.‘ Dumfries is certainly one area where broadcasting costs can be expensive and the announcement that it was to be one of the franchise
areas came as a shock. One group With some chance of
success is backed by Mr Alistair Warren. editor ofthe Dumfries Standard. although the paper has no connections with any bid.
He said. ‘Our first reaction was that it really was not on. but after scouring around and reducing our original schemes. we think an approach like a small. legalised pirate station might work.‘ Their transmitter. yet to be acquired. will cover a radius ofjust SKm and they would rely entirely’ on private sector financial support. Nithsdale District Council have agreed, in principle. to back the scheme and are also receiving help from Westsound. the Ayr based commercial station. It is felt that the group would be reliant on voluntary help as not enough advertising money could be raised
from the area. This does not seem to have deterred the Home Office. According to Mr Warren. they rang him up. pleading with him to make sure that his group got their application in, adding that they stood a very good chance ofgetting the licence. All this has left the Bathgate group out in the cold.
CRAWL was founded in May this year with over forty people involved. including local MPs Robin Cook and Tam Dalyell. Plans for a lZKm radius transmitter have been drawn up and they have already raised £1700 with fund raising activities continuing. They have been allocated floorspace for two studios and an office in the District Council‘s Resources Centre. CRAWL chairman. Sean Hall said. ‘It is a great shame they did not pick those areas which were organised and ready to run. It does annoy me very much.‘ Another member. Bill Shearer added. ‘It is as if they picked them out ofa hat — they have left the whole of Scotland between Shetlands and Dumfries without any radio franchise.‘ A Home Office spokesman said that the areas were picked to get a wide. geographical spread. which would be helpful in assessing the success of the experiment. ‘This is an experiment so we want a variety of experience from it.‘ There is. however, a glimmer of hope for CRAWL. In a letter to Roy Jenkins. Home Secretary. Douglas Hurd said, ‘Ifwe do not receive any suitable applications from the locations we have specified. we shall clearly have to think again.‘
One ofthe franchises most likely to succeed is in the Shetlands. A likely contender is a group run by Mr Ian Anderson. which has been going several years and their preparations are well in hand. ‘We will be based in Lerwick with start-up costs of £320,000 and annual running costs of £200.00(). The station would run like any normal business. but we will have no difficulties in getting sufficient funds.‘
The Home Office reveal the recipients of licences sometime in the new year. with a probable start-up date of March or April. By then it will be too late for CRAWL. they will have to wait until a new set of franchises are announced. which might not be until the two year experiment is over — a long time for a show to be offthe air.
Anyone interested in finding out more about community radio should contact the Scottish Council for Voluntary Groups at 19 Claremount Crescent. Edinburgh. They are organising a conference on community radio at the Golden Lion Hotel. Stirling. on 5 November, entitled ‘Getting Your Organisation Across’ and ‘A Look at Social Action Broadcasting‘; speakers include Fiona O‘Donnel. Vice-Chairman of the NCRA and John Brown of Scottish Television. John Gray, ofthe Scottish Community Broadcasting Group. who has a lot of BBC radio experience, will also be conducting a community radio workshOp.
48 The List 1—14 November