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Terry's Thoughts

About the blog

All opinions expressed in this blog are my own.

Those opinions are based on professional radio experiences and knowledge gained over 35 years in the local radio industry in Ireland and UK.

Community Radio – A Working Title Only.

Radio Posted on Fri, August 28, 2020 20:59:51

When a listeners tune into your radio station there is nothing that says to those listeners that they have chosen a so called community radio station. The word ‘community’ is a word that should not appear in your station name or any positioning statements you use on air. Why? The term community radio is simply a working title used by Ofcom to identify a business sector they regulate.

In the past I have written about how station branding, station positioning and marketing should determine how listeners perceive your station and I will say it again, the word community in your station name or positioning makes you sound small, unprofessional and amateur. Some stations I listen to have finally got the message but many have not.

Mishmash of Content

Not only is your name and positioning statements important tools to tell the listener what you do, your programme content does too. Recently, I looked in detail at the social media content of a particular station in Northamptonshire and discovered a very confused message. I saw posts promoting a new country music show, a sixties show, a motown show and so on. Each post looked vastly different, provided no station positioning or branding to connect them to the station or tell me more abut why I should listen in the first place. In a word, confusing.

Combining the word ‘community’ with a ‘mishmash’ of confusing content all leads to listeners forming the opinion that you are a small, amateur radio station. Is that what you want your listeners to think?

A Suggestion

How do you clear up this confusion? Positioning your station in your listeners mind is how and you can about how you do that here;

Community Radio – A Business With Social Values

Radio Posted on Fri, August 28, 2020 20:16:37

In this blog I outline a scenario that may happen in the future. Imagine a world where you are the licensee of a community radio station and you have just heard the news that any financial restrictions placed on your station no longer exist. You can earn as much as you like, even make a profit if you wish. Feel free to run your station as a private business and do what you need to do commercially to make your station viable at least or successful at best. The down side of this is you cannot seek or claim any funds from the government and you must conform to all requirements placed on you in relation to tax and so on. In this scenario you are on your own and the success or failure of your radio station is down to you and nobody else.

Some may say this is an unlikely scenario. I disagree. It is almost certain to happen, if not immediately then it is reasonable to suggest that this scenario may become a reality within the next ten years or so.

If you look at the authorities controlling the medium of radio over the last twenty years, the nature and form of that authority has changed beyond recognition. There was the IBA, The Radio Authority and now OFCOM. Even though the name changed, the functions of the authority seemed to change dramatically too. Not only that, the move to relax the rules of radio broadcasting was driven by those who worked and managed the industry. The pace of change gathered so much momentum that local commercial radio has become an entirely different beast to the animal it was twenty years ago. I am not saying it is a bad thing, but you have to admit that the dropping of localness in commercial radio has created a product that has no local value anymore. If the process and the pace of change continues over the next ten years at the rate it has done in the past it is reasonable to suggest that a change of rules governing community radio will happen too.

Change is inevitable

I have come to realise that community radio licensees are people who have a social conscience, believe in the moral reasons why community radio should exist and believe in social gain. The fact is that money or making money it is not what they are about. It is not part of their brief and with the exception of the very few they don’t actually make money from a radio station… why? They don’t know how to. How many times do you hear described the person who runs or owns the community radio station you work at or listen to is ‘a very nice person’? So much so that it is sometimes used as an excuse to cover the limitations of that persons’ ability to actually run a business. I hear it all the time. The fact is community radio licensees are good at promoting the social function their community station is trying to achieve. But, some simply have no idea how to make a station sound good or how to make money from the product they have. The social ideals of community radio and a small business that makes money are not mutually exclusive. Yes, you can be both. If you look at commercial radio you will find experts in every facet of the business who know how to manipulate the population the broadcast to. You may not agree with their strategies or policies but at least they’ve got strategies and policies. They have years of experience in scheduling music people like to listen to, designing advertising campaigns that work, constructing news bulletins, building promotions that listeners will love and so on. They put their knowledge to good use and focus on what they want to be, what they want to achieve and disregard any pressure to undertake anything that will get in their way of achieving their goals. They run their stations as a businesses and the product they create has got to be the best. It is extremely hard work and they are not successful all the time, but that does not stop them. They continue to develop and evolve their product over time by adapting, changing and building on what they have done before.

Mr nice guy

Community radio on the other hand, does not. ‘The nice guy’ who manages the station has it very easy really. He can get just enough advertising to fund his own position and can raise money through the community radio fund too. Most of his team, if not all work for free and he can use his station to promote other money raising activities to pay the day-to-day bills…nice work if you can get it. That being the case it may come as a rather frightening, or simply scary fact that one day he might have to run his station as a business with no financial support other than his ability to sell advertising space. I do not believe the majority of community radio stations would be able to survive in a purely commercial market place. I do believe they could survive only if they get their act together. It is simply not good enough to rest on their laurels now and carry on in a haphazard and messy way which will leave them totally unprepared for any potential changes in regulation. Community radio licensees need to manage their stations.

Being a ‘figurehead’ or ‘Mr nice guy’ is not going to make any station work. That person needs to be a multi-skilled person with some knowledge of branding/product management, finance, sales, marketing and human resources management at the very least. It would be interesting to carry out a review of the current status of an individual community radio station. Looking objectively at output, resources and finance to see how well the station is performing across the board. This is a process that is regularly carried out in successful businesses both big and small and has two benefits. It provides a snapshot of how the station stands at the time and provides managers with the ability to see things that need to deal with or they might damage the business in future.

Know where you are

The most important thing to do in this regard is to get an independent view from someone who has no vested interest in the station, someone who will be honest and forthright with you. This could be a local successful businessman or an experienced radio manager (…there are lots of those about). Instruct them to tell you how they see it without holding anything back and get them to structure their findings by reporting on strengths, weaknesses opportunities and threats. They will immediately know what you mean as that is what running a business means.

Build on your strengths, minimize your weaknesses, act on opportunities available and be aware of and act to fight threats that will damage your business. You will be very surprised at the results and I promise you that the findings will be a real ‘eye opener’. Here is an opportunity. I am aware of many radio people who are ready willing and able to help you develop your station and help you develop as a business. All you need to do is take the opportunity… well?

Don’t wait for the rules to change, run your station as if it is a private business with the aim of making a profit. Keep your community/local values, they fit well and will help you succeed. Do not wait for the rules to change. If you do you will not be prepared nor will you be in a position to survive or succeed in a purely commercial marketplace and your competitors will do everything they can to see that you don’t.