Introduction, Methods, Overview, Training

1.  Introduction

This report looks at existing practice in the community radio sector in relation to training for young people, as part of the connect:transmit project.  This is a project funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and managed by Radio Regen, a community radio development charity based in Manchester, UK.  The project partners and steering group members are SHMU FM in Aberdeen, Future Radio in Norwich, BCB in Bradford, and Preston FM.

The project aims to increase the capacity of the sector to promote the development of young people, specifically connected to training and speaking and listening skills.

The project intends to support the sector through:

  • Documenting existing practice in the sector (specifically in the UK)
  • Conducting evaluated pilot projects and disseminating an evaluation report and good practice guide at regional seminars and through a national conference/event
  • Creating national networks for youth practitioners and young people at community radio stations
  • Lobbying policy makers


2. Research Methods

The report is the result of a process of mixed method research that took place between May and September 2012.  The research involved:

Desk research: exploring the context of the community radio sector and its relationship to youth media training.

An online survey: circulated to the community radio sector and other organisations that teach radio production to young people.  The survey was carefully developed by the project steering group to collect information concerning the range of organisations represented in the sector and their various approaches to working with young people, developing and funding training courses, and working with their local communities.  47 organisations completed the survey between June and September 2012.

A follow up phone survey: organisations who responded to the online survey were asked if they would mind being contacted by telephone to discuss their practice in more detail.  Almost all respondents were happy to be contacted and as a result 30organisations were spoken to about the work that they do.  These phone interviews were particularly useful as we were able to talk in detail to the practitioners (and in some cases young people) who are involved on a day-to-day basis in youth radio training.


3. Overview of the sector

In the UK, the Community Radio Order sets out the characteristics of community radio services. It states that these services must deliver social gain, should serve the needs of a particular community, should be not-for-profit (or non-profit distributing), should give members of the community opportunities to participate, and should be accountable to the community that they serve (Community Radio Order, DCMS, 2004).

The concept of social gain is key to the legislation and to the definition of community

radio in the UK.  Social gain is defined in the Order as the achievement of certain objectives within the communities served by the station. There are four key requirements to the social gain remit:

  • the provision of sound broadcasting services to individuals who are otherwise underserved by such services;
  • the facilitation of discussion and the expression of opinion;
  • the provision (whether by means of programmes included in the service or otherwise) of education or training to individuals not employed by the person providing the service; and
  • the better understanding of the particular community and the strengthening of links within it.

The Community Radio Order, DCMS, 2004, p.2

 The description of social gain in the legislation focuses on widening access to media production, and places training, learning and development at the centre of the sector’s activities.

In our online survey, respondents were asked to describe their organisation.  45% of respondents considered themselves a ‘community media organisation who exists to serve a particular community’, 19% described themselves as an ‘educational institution with a radio station or means of broadcasting audio’ and 9% stated that they ‘use radio as a training delivery tool.’  Other organisations represented included an international NGO that supports community radio and a community radio station based in a school.

Through our phone interviews, we were able to put together a more detailed picture of the sector and the wide variety of organisations involved in youth radio training.  These organisations serve and reflect very different communities and have particular approaches to training.  They include:

–        Frome FM, a volunteer-led station which serves a small town with a population of 28,000.  They have written their own training manuals and run Saturday workshops and evening classes for young people.

–        Higher Rhythm, a Doncaster-based organisation with 8 paid staff and currently a large number of funded youth projects.  Funders include Children in Need, Big Lottery, Home Office, local authority.  They teach accredited courses in radio production, employability skills and community awareness

–        Academy FM, a community radio station operating alongside and working in partnership with a local high school.  They deliver NCFE radio production courses in the school and also offer less formal training for young people at the school and in the local community.

–        Crescent FM, a community radio station for an Asian Muslim audience that broadcasts a range of programming in Urdu as well as other programming.  They have recently had Children In Need funding to support their work training young people as presenters.

–        A range of youth/ child led stations specifically set up and run by and for young people such as:  Generate (run workshops for ‘troubled youth’): Youthcomm (they host a youth-led festival called ‘Minifest’ every year), Takeover Radio (train an ‘U18 Crew’, offer courses for disadvantaged youth).

–        Gravity FM, a small volunteer-led station in an isolated rural area.  New youth presenters receive one-to-one training.

–        Sunny Govan, a well-recognised Scottish charity serving all of Glasgow.  They offer a wide range of training projects such as working with young people in secure educational units, and running projects with refugees and asylum seekers.

–        SoundArt Radio (SAR), an informal learning organisation that works bringing ‘sound art’ and radio together.  They have just completed a sound art and radio project funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation which involved them working with schools and other youth organisations.


4. Community Radio and youth training

4.1 Training as a ‘food source’

Of the stations completing the online survey, 81% said that they worked with young people, and three quarters of these delivered radio training to young people.  In our phone survey, many described training as being a key part of their licence statements to Ofcom.  Training is seen as a necessity because many of the people that community radio stations work with have no previous broadcasting experience.  It is therefore vital in order to achieve a ‘shift of control’ in widening access to media production[1]. In fact, Frome FM described training as the ‘food source’ of community radio.


4.2 A sector in crisis

Funding is a big concern for all the stations that we spoke to.  53% of the stations that completed the online survey told us that they were working in a financially insecure situation and/or understaffed or run entirely by volunteers.  Over three quarters of survey respondents said that their organisation was not financially secure beyond the next 6 months.  According to Ofcom statistics, the average annual income of community radio stations fell 8% to £60, 250 in 2011.  Ofcom also note that the median income is considerably lower than the average because a small number of stations generate a significant proportion of the sector’s income[2].  Our phone survey suggests that this income is likely to have fallen further this year (2012).  This is significant in relation to the connect:transmit project given that the vast majority of our survey respondents told us that they work with young people.

Of the 19% of stations who didn’t work with young people, less than half said that this was because they had other priorities.  54% stated that this was because they did not have funding to work with this group at the current time, and 46% said that they didn’t work with young people because they had ‘no spare capacity’ to do so.

Many stations that we spoke to said that they were struggling.  Staff we spoke to feared for their jobs, some had already lost their jobs and were continuing to work on a voluntary basis, others had only ever worked on a voluntary level.  The picture we got was one of a sector in crisis.  One respondent felt that community radio organisations needed to change the way they think about themselves – away from ‘underfunded victims’ towards thinking of organisations as providing a service (and charging for this service).


4.3 Community radio and disadvantaged youth

Many of the practitioners interviewed thought that if community radio organisations fail to thrive, young people – especially those from disadvantaged communities – would be affected, because of the many opportunities that they offer young people.  Many organisations told us that notions of ‘youth voice’[3] are vital to community radio practice, and felt that the uniqueness of the sector rests in the responsibility that it has to air the views of people traditionally ‘locked out’ of mainstream broadcasting platforms.  Chrissy Moog from Sine FM/ Higher Rhythm highlighted this, as well as the creativity inherent in radio production, when she suggested that:

‘Community radio plays an important role as a creative platform for young people who don’t otherwise have a voice.’

Interviewees talked about their station’s practice as often helping young people from disparate communities to ‘learn to live together’, not on a superficial level but in a way that involved critical and often challenging debate.  For instance, at Sunny Govan, a community radio station situated on the outskirts of Glasgow, they ran a series of programmes called ‘Smashing Dishes’ which involved local asylum seekers and refugees telling their story on air.  One show told the personal story of a Muslim, homosexual young person.  The shows sought to challenge stereotypes and prejudices of refugee populations amongst young people and in the local area as a whole, to promote “unity in the community”.


5. Who do organisations work with?

97% of the survey respondents who worked with young people engaged with the 16-19 year old age group.  Fewer stations worked with 14-16 year olds (87%) and fewer still with 11-14 year olds (68%).  The survey data suggests that the sector has a bias for working with those who others might find difficult to reach – for instance, 55% work with those following ‘non traditional pathways’, 48% work with young people who are not in employment or training, 52% work with young people with learning and/or physical disabilities, and 23% work with young people who speak English as an additional language.

The 30 stations that we spoke to told us more about the groups of young people that they tend to work with.  They fall into two main categories:

Groups that people might call ‘hard to reach’, disadvantaged or vulnerable:

These groups included people with learning and/or physical disabilities, young people not in employment, education or training (NEETs), youth offenders, African youth excluded from school, young people with mental ill health, LGBT groups, communities that were ‘new’ in a particular area, refugees and asylum seekers, autistic young people, and other vulnerable young adultsPoint FM work in an area of North Wales where there is currently 82% youth unemploymentForest FM work with vulnerable young adults who make a regular weekly programme, and described how the radio station has ‘become like a social club’.  Another station described a project that challenged the stigma of mental health issues with young people.

‘Mix of people’ – old and young, academically able and those who struggle at school:

Community radio organisations described engaging with a wide range of young people and older people, many of whom they felt would not ordinarily be working together.  Intergenerational work (8-80 year olds) on programming, fundraising and other aspects of work was commonplace.  Other community radio stations serving a geographical community seek to engage ‘all’ local young people – this often results in learning groups that include, for example, those who find school-based learning challenging as well as those who are successful at school.


6. Approaches and values in working with young people: Recognition and representation

The majority of community radio organisations we spoke to told us that they see their volunteers as a team and don’t differentiate between people using criteria based on their age.  People who volunteer generally have autonomy to produce programmes about issues and concerns that interest them.  Sometimes young people are teamed up with adults who share an interest, regardless of age or other demographics.  Other organisations run youth radio projects where young people are encouraged to develop their own voices on air.

Respondents generally described their organisations as ‘democratic’ spaces where adults and young people are treated the same.  Some stations pointed out that it is also important to recognise that young people may need support – which does not mean that they are not capable and competent.  One station illustrated this point by discussing a group of young people who ran the breakfast show very successfully but needed some adult presence and support.

As young people have the freedom to make their own choices about content, they are able to make programmes about issues that are more youth-focussed and play the music that they like.  The station manager at Crescent Radio in Rochdale feels that:

‘Without community radio there would be no opportunity for young people to express themselves in an environment where they don’t have to follow others’ rules and can have a voice of their own.’

Young people are not only involved in programme making but are also included in planning and in working on the development of some stations.  This is particularly the case in those stations that are specifically set up as ‘youth-led’ stations.  In these organisations, young people are involved in scheduling, rotate station manager duties, do administration and event planning, and are part of steering committees and other decision making bodies.

Because young people often have a say in what happens and the programmes that get produced, community radio practitioners believe that a space is created for the articulation of a range of different views – a space where young people can, in the words of one practitioner, ‘get heard and express themselves’ (Volunteer Co-ordinator, ALL FM).

At Sunny Govan, a group called ‘The Friday Night Posse’ run a show for gang members called ‘for the troops by the troops’ which provides a vent for heavy hardcore music that hasn’t been heard since the crackdown on pirate radio stations.  The show also tackles some of the ‘difficult’ issues around gang culture.  At SoundArt Radio, they ask young people to bring ‘themselves’ into the station and their programming.  They ask young people to experiment and do things differently by encouraging young people to ‘play’ with the conventions of radio and to ‘challenge and unpick their assumptions’, opening up a space where they feel they can have creative freedom.

Young people are valued for their unique contributions in many community radio organisations.  They are described as, ‘the yeast in the bread’ and ‘full of bright ideas’.  Many organisations suggested that it was important that young people’s voices are heard because it counters the views of the ‘middle aged, white stale males’ who tend to dominate radio generally.

[1] See Lewis, P. and Jones, S. (2006) From the Margins to the Cutting Edge: Community Media and Empowerment.  London: Hampton Press.

[2] Ofcom(2012) Communications Market Report.  Retrieved from

[3] By ‘youth voice’ we mean valuing and listening to the ideas, opinions, attitudes, knowledge and actions of young people

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