By the time you buy the next issue of The List, the citizens of Stirling will know who is going to run Scotland’s ﬁrst ‘incremental’ local radio station. The IBA in London will decide next week whether Stirling Community Radio Association. or their rival bidders, Thistle radio. will make it over the final hurdle and be awarded the Stirling franchise.
Meanwhile, Bathgate and Easterhouse are over the first hurdle. They finally heard on 3 April that they have been admitted to the priveleged club of twenty areas chosen for the first ‘incremetal‘ or community stations. For Paisley. twinned with Easterhoue as an either or in the original IBA document. this means frustration. at least till next year.
But their resentment pales beside the anger felt among in aspirant local radio broadcasters just a year ago, when noises from the Home Office confirmed worst fears. that once again, radio legislation would be lumped in with TV. in one big bill.
Then. just days after the Home Office White Paper on Broadcasting appeared last Autumn. extraordinary ideas started floating around. Some bright spark, rumoured to be one ofthe editorial staff at Now Radio magazine, and involved with the Association for Broadcasting Development. looked up the existing legislation. (Broadcasting Act, 1981). It says that the existing ILR contractors are obliged to provide a wide range of programmes. and if the IBA has evidence that a significnat particular aspect of programming. or part of the community is not being served, it can authorise smaller additonal hence incremental stations, the only snag being that they thus have to be within an area already covered by an ILR.
To the credit of the Authority’s Radio Division. the Community Radio Association, and the parties above, and to the astonishment of despairing, cynical radio enthusiasts, the scheme got the go-ahead from the Home Office just before Christmas. and encouragingly, the support of the ILRs‘ trade body. the Association of Independent Radio Contractors.
The IBA asked for ‘letters of intent‘. Out of 540 letters it chose 25 areas where there seemed to be good ideas and committed. organised groups. Scotland. allocated 3 or 4 possibles, has not done too badly. The choice of Stirling, Bathgate. Easterhouse, and Paisley very fairly represented the areas where the idea has long been supported by enthusiasts. The only sad omission was perhaps CSV Media Action (the people behind Clyde Action on Radio Clyde), and their dream of a central-southside Glasgow public information and education service.
Stirling was advertised in the first batch of ‘incrementals‘, at the beginning ofJanuary, perhaps itself a small measure of the IBS‘s confidence of getting at least one pretty interesting application. When the deadline expired on 13th March, two bids had come in.
Radio Thistle are. curiously
On the eve of the award of the Stiling contract, Ken Gamer
reports on the advent of community radio. Illustration by Paul Gray
enough, based in Kilmarnock. They were formed from hospital radio enthusiasts and local electrical engineering interests in August last year. When their ‘letter ofintent‘ proposing a central-Ayrshire station was unsuccessful. they decided to apply for the Stirling franchise ‘on the encouragement of friends ofours there‘, says founder Robert Boyd. ‘Our plans are all really contained in our promise of performance in the application‘ says Mr Boyd. Thistle propose a ‘popular music format. from sweet or easy listening to Top-100 chart material, with the content of programming placing emphasis on news and information about the Stirling area‘. Its founders have impeccable business backgrounds (Prestwick Circuits, Mega Plastics). But one wonders if eyebrows will go up at the IBA when they reach the statement that the capital-gearing of the fledgling company will require an additional ‘bank overdraft of£100,()0()‘. ‘It‘s not really that unusual for such a major new business‘, says Mr Boyd. Thistle’s rival is the Stirling Community Radio Association. founded by popular demand at a public meeting held by the Stirling
_ q.“ \ z ,_ (if
District Council in November 1986. Over the next two years its 25-strong committee of local citizens organised fund-raising activities; training programmes at Stirling University Radio; and the setting-up of volunteer teams from various special interest groups who might wish to supply programming. When the ‘incremental‘ scheme was announced late last year, the Association became aware of another interested group in Clackmannan District, and the two combined. The bid has the support of almost 20 major public and private bodies in the area.
Their programming plan is a hybrid arrangement. The main thrust of ‘community radio‘ will occupy the hours from 5pm to midnight and all day at weekends. In an impressively-detailed schedule, hours and half-hourly blocks are already booked-in by just about every interest group you can think of.
Between midnight and 6am, and 9am and 5pm, the station will broadcast an FM relay of Radio Clyde. A locally-produced breakfast show, for which Clyde will recruit and train local broadcasters, will be run 50-50 by both stations: each will
share the costs and revenue from advertising half-and-half.
‘We realised the Community Format would not stretch to 24 hours and it was crucial to have a continuous frequency ‘presence‘. says Dan McCleod, lecturer in Media Studies at Stirling University, and first name on the SCRA bid. ‘The other factor behind the mixed programming is financial: from the beginning ofyear two, we have to be self-financing from advertising.
This is the big sticking point. To the chagrin of many community radio activists. the Government line. held firm through the Radio green paper of 1987, the consultations. and the white paper. is that public sector, or specifically local authority funding, will not be permitted. Hence the idea ofthe truly small-scale, non-commercial, community speech channel is almost impossible: how would such a station find enough advertising to pay for operations?
But it's perhaps in the Paisley or Easterhouse quandry that the questions of public authority backing versus private sector new local radio come most to the fore. To the surprise of many the IBA have decided that Easterhouse rather than Paisley will get the chance to set up an ‘incremental‘.
Easterhouse Community Broadcasting has been planning its operation for three years. It modestly plans only four hours a day of local output. The committee of eight activists, ‘includes several radio ‘hams‘ , according to their spokesman Gabriel Bell. It conveniently has a recording studio right next door. Its proposed funding comes from two ‘agencies in the private sector‘. but these are widely believed to the be the East of Glasgow development agencies, which are administering public as well as private funding. Ifthis is the case, obviously the IBA has opted for lenient interpretation ofthe rules.
‘The mesage we‘re getting is that public sector money to assist in capital-start-up is permissable, but by year two we must be self- iinancing‘, says Dan McLeod of the Stirling Community Radio Association. For Stirling, a busy market town, full ofwell-offolder people —- now a target group for advertisers — advertising should be relatively easy to come by. For Easterhouse survival ofa fledgeling station will undoubtedly be a struggle.
“There is undeniably a tension between the commercial imperative and the kinds ofcommunity broadcasting we‘d like to achieve‘, says Dan McCleod. ‘l’d like to see circumstances where successful community stations could be launched in areas like Easterhouse, where the postive notion of its fostering community identity, is a real strength‘. While no one should be in any doubt that the ‘incrementals‘ are intended first and foremost as merely additonal local radio contractors, the IBA deserve credit for the Easterhouse decison for at least for keeping the community door ajar.
8 The List 7 — 20 April 1989