"We are Community Builders, Part of The Fabric": A Review of Community Radio

This Scottish Government report provides an overview of community radio in the UK and abroad. It also outlines findings from research into community radio provision in Scotland specifically.



1.1 Scotland has an active community radio infrastructure which primarily uses volunteers to deliver hours of specialist programming to local people across the country. The Broadcasting and Creative Industries Policy Team at the Scottish Government commissioned this research to provide an overview of community radio generally but also to focus on the Scottish sector specifically. As such the review is intended to inform future actions in support of community radio provision in Scotland.

What the research consisted of

1.2 Phase one of the study involved a review of literature on community radio in general and phase two consisted of two surveys and two focus groups with station managers and community radio volunteers in Scotland.[1] The review examined:

  • Legislation, funding, programming, volunteering and training structures
  • Listener numbers and profiles
  • Standards, benefits and working with others
  • Common support needs
  • International perspectives


Phase one: Literature review

1.3 Unless otherwise stated findings from the literature review are UK wide.

  • Income for the UK stations varies widely and mean income has dropped by 19% since 2009/10[2]
  • Independent audited listening figures and profiles are not available to assess the market share, advertising effectiveness or social impact of the UK sector
  • Community radio creates broadcasting space which is free from commercial interests, and which also actively uses and promotes the arts
  • In research on public attitudes towards broadcasting in Scotland 49% of respondents indicated that it was either fairly or very important to have a community radio station in their area
  • Ofcom indicate that over 12.5 million people in the UK may be able to receive a signal, however, this does not account for actual numbers taking up the service
  • Commentators maintain that maximising listenership is not a primary objective and that quality of engagement for participants and the delivery of social gain objectives off-air are of principal importance
  • Community radio provides over 12,500 volunteering opportunities and 15,000 hours of original radio per week across the UK
  • Although the evidence on benefits is largely anecdotal, positive impact is suggested in relation to education and training, well being, creativity, community cohesion, information exchange and active participation
  • According to Ofcom, all stations in the UK offer some form of training for volunteers and the majority also provide training for their target communities
  • Concern was identified in relation to poor marketing, the lack of strategic thinking in the sector, relationships with professional broadcasters, decreasing advertising revenues, deficient audience data, training, lack of funding, inflexible funding criteria, and supporting and maintaining volunteers

Phase two: Scottish community radio research

1.4 The following findings relate to the primary research conducted in Scotland.

  • Lack of finance is a consistent challenge for Scottish stations
  • Suggestions for improving financial circumstances include gaining increased recognition from Creative Scotland and seeking wider assistance with identifying funding sources
  • Most station managers would consider sharing premises with other arts, community, education and voluntary organisations
  • All surveyed managers would be willing to share equipment and resources
  • The number of volunteers at individual stations varied from 31 to 85
  • Volunteer benefits included: increased confidence and self worth; companionship; a greater sense of belonging; satisfaction from helping others; technical and social skills: knowledge and experience; enjoyment and improved mental and physical health, and; career development
  • None of the station managers surveyed offer accredited training, although just over half of volunteers indicated they would like to receive this
  • There is clear interest in receiving additional training, particularly in relation to marketing, volunteer management, fundraising, journalism and administration (station managers), broadcast delivery and engineering, interviewing, producing, presenting and engineering (volunteers)
  • Although the sector has collaborated with training providers and education establishments more could be done to improve these links and embed training provision within the wider qualifications framework
  • Community radio stations do collaborate with each other but it was felt that such links could be consolidated and improved
  • The desire to work more closely with the arts sector was repeatedly expressed
  • Areas of success were identified as: volunteer input and team working; working with disenfranchised and young people; community engagement activities; local news and public service output; supporting diverse music styles and artists; specialist programmes; local presentation teams and successful partnerships
  • Challenges were highlighted in relation to volunteer management and communication, listener data, marketing and public profile, equipment costs and failure, and working with others
  • Support was given to the Scottish Community Broadcast Network (SCBN) functioning as a common body which assists the sector to coordinate and collaborate more effectively
  • Concerns about licence fees, signal coverage, FM, DAB, and access to emerging platforms such as Freeview were raised
  • It was felt that the sector would benefit from improving links with professional broadcasters in order to assist with training, equipment and programme sharing, and career development
  • Interest was expressed in improving lobbying and awareness of the value of community radio
  • Improving training provision was a leading priority particularly in relation to course content, delivery, links with colleges and universities, certification, monitoring, and progression into paid employment

Implications - improving support

1.5 This review has highlighted a number of issues of relevance to the wider discussion around how best to guide and support community radio provision in Scotland. It is suggested that there is a need for further consideration of the following areas:

  • For the community radio sector to develop a clear understanding of what community radio should consist of, what it should achieve, for whom, and how it can fulfil these aims
  • A possible role for the Scottish Government and relevant public bodies in improving training provision and potentially seeking accreditation
  • Following this, the community radio sector to identify and secure clear training and career pathways between community radio and professional broadcasters and other education providers
  • The community radio sector to consider how to further support volunteers and improve management/governance skills
  • The potential for various public bodies (i.e. local and national Government, the Scottish Community Broadcast Network and Creative Scotland) to work together to support and promote community radio


Email: Anja-Maaike Green

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