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New Ofcom licences

Music fans tuning in to community radio stations

Community music radio is growing

Opportunities for more small-scale music digital radio stations are being set out by the media regulator.

Ofcom says technology now allows for more low-cost local commercial stations to use the latest technology and it is looking at a licensing round.

Small-scale digital audio broadcasting (DAB) uses freely available software and computer technology to transmit digital radio services and broadcast to a relatively small geographic area.

It allows stations to use inexpensive equipment to get on air for far less money than was previously possible.

Ofcom says it will expand local digital radio coverage and ensure that listeners will be able to tune into a diverse range of radio services across the UK on the DAB platform which now accounts for 40% of the UK’s radio listening.

Kevin Bakhurst, Ofcom’s content group director, said: “Small-scale DAB is making it cheaper and easier for local stations to get on the digital airwaves, which will give more choice to listeners up and down the country.”

Ofcom will advertise licences for small-scale DAB in batches, starting with 25 local areas across the UK,  including five where trials are already underway. The second round will be for north west England and northeast Wales.

Community radio applications, in the form of the new Community Digital Sound Programme (‘C-DSP’) licences, will open for each local area at the same time as the publication of multiplex licence advertisements.

In light of the ongoing coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, and its impact on broadcasters, Ofcom has yet to finalise a date for publishing the first licence advertisements and application forms.

In the meantime, it has been running trials of small-scale DAB to test the technology and prove its ability to allow existing small stations – as well as new services – to broadcast cost-effectively on digital radio. The following stations are among those which have taken part:

Cosoro Radio

Cosoro Radio is an Afrobeat station based in Manchester and can be accessed via small-scale DAB in Glasgow, Norwich & Portsmouth.

Founder Femi Bankole believes that being on small-scale DAB has grown listener numbers and brought more people to the Afrobeat genre.

Femi Bankole said: “Small-scale DAB has provided a richer and scalable platform for Cosoro Radio to extend its reach and introduce the genre to its new listeners, especially the young generation.”

Skylab Radio

Skylab Radio is a music-driven radio station playing chillout, lounge, ambient, downtempo and soft house music.

Station owner Paul Teague credits small-scale DAB with an overall growth in listeners. Being part of the trial has also supported the introduction of specialist late night programming on Skylab.

Mr Teague said: “We are a small operation, and our music is specialist and largely away from the mainstream. Inclusion on the Portsmouth multiplex was a good decision as far as we were concerned, we noticed that listenership and overall interest in Skylab increased.”

Strawberry Radio

Strawberry Radio is named after 1970s rock band 10cc’s recording studio in Stockport. It plays hits from the last five decades, as well as new music and showcasing local talent.

The owner, Paul Taylor believes that a permanent home on small-scale DAB will allow him to take the station further and continue to offer a local radio service for Stockport.

Mr Taylor said: “Small-scale DAB has enabled Strawberry Radio to take the business to the next level, from online to an ‘actual’ radio station. We can reach a wider audience to promote not only our on-air offering, but also our theatre shows and outdoor events schedule, including the Strawberry Music Festival.”

Solar Radio

Solar Radio is a specialist soul music station broadcasting soul, jazz and blues. It has been part of small-scale DAB trials since the outset.

Managing director Clive Richardson highlights the importance of small-scale DAB’s easy availability, which means allows Solar’s listeners can listen to the station in cars, workplaces and homes.

Mr Richardson said: “Our listeners have expressed on social media their pleasure at the ease of access and portability that small-scale DAB brings to their of their enjoyment of Solar Radio. We look forward to being part of the on-going development of this platform.”

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