Learning culture and developing skills

7. The learning culture

Many practitioners that we spoke to felt that community radio organisations create a unique learning culture that is ‘different to school’ in a number of ways.  Buildings are often situated in the heart of local communities and operate an open door policy.  The atmosphere is informal and many practitioners told us that they try to create a ‘participatory and equal approach’.  This evidence echoes what we already know about community media.  The sector’s non-profit status, the centrality of volunteers to the practice, the emphasis on non-hierarchical relations, self-management, process over product, and the centrality of dialogue-building to the practice locates it firmly within the field of community development, rather than mainstream media[1].

Secondly, many organisations are real and regulated radio stations, and therefore have workplace rules and real deadlines.  At Frome FM, a practitioner told us that young people seemed to feel that this made the experience more fun and ‘an antidote to the classroom’ – they enjoy the ‘buzz’ of speaking to a real audience.  Many organisations said that young people also become ‘work ready’ because of this culture.

Importantly, community radio organisations are often sites of learning where people with different cultural attitudes, belief systems and views can co-exist.  Long term adult volunteers often work alongside young people in what many stations call a ‘family’ approach.  Such interdependent and intergenerational learning is commonplace across the organisations that we spoke to, and a culture of ‘pooling skills’ (where everyone has something to ‘give’) is key to the work, particularly in the climate of limited resources.  This kind of atmosphere is seen as being particularly good for those young people who are vulnerable or have found school and other formal education institutions difficult to manage.


8. The development of speaking and listening skills and capacities

8.1 Teaching speaking and listening skills

The practitioners surveyed felt that speaking and listening skills were the competency most taught by community radio (89% teaching this) after radio production and audio editing (93%).  The survey also asked respondents to comment on which aspects of speaking and listening they feel that they explicitly and implicitly teach (see Table A).  Responses show that involvement in community radio production may help young people to develop a wide range of skills and competencies related to speaking and listening.  The responses also suggest that practitioners could do more to ensure that they intentionally/explicitly teach some of these competencies.


Table A: Which aspects of speaking and listening might your training develop?


Speaking and listening skills and competencies Explicitly teach this Implicitly teach this
Improved confidence in speaking and listening 58% 42%
Talking to/ presenting to a group 57% 43%
Discussing with/ talking in a group 48% 52%
Talking to new people 43% 57%
Interview skills 96% 4%
Listening 78% 22%
Sensitivity to others 58% 42%
Speaking with individuals 57% 43%
Self expression 48% 52%
Improved negotiation 30% 70%
Finding a voice 57% 43%
Critical thinking skills 41% 59%
Adapting spoken language for different situations 55% 45%


In a recent evaluation of a previous Paul Hamlyn Foundation funded project it was reported that young people involved improved their confidence in speaking and listening.  In particular they gained confidence in speaking up about ideas, listening to others, interviewing people and expressing their ideas about things that were important to them.[2]

Through our phone survey, we collected data concerning practitioners’ views on the key learning outcomes related to engagement in community radio production and speaking and listening.  These views are summarised in Table A.


8.2 Interviewing

When we spoke in more detail to community radio organisations they said that through learning about interview techniques, youngsters can learn about how to impress at interview themselves.  In addition, in order to conduct good radio interviews, young people need to develop transferable skills such as learning to ask thoughtful questions and to listen, analyse and synthesise answers to ensure that conversation flows.

In order to organise interviews it is also essential to use the phone and to speak to people that you don’t know.  At Siren FM, the station manager believes that this is a skill that many young people find difficult but it is also a key employability skill.  Indeed, in a recent survey of schools, employers, educational groups and politicians, ASDAN reported that 94% of respondents felt that telephone skills were an essential work skill [3].


8.3 Group work, discussion and confidence

Some stations mentioned that through working in groups and making decisions together, young people increase their confidence as well as their ability to work well with a wide range of people.  Participants also work collaboratively to discuss issues and concerns, and learn to lead and contribute to discussions.

At Forest FM, young people at a Scouts jamboree made a 30 minute programme together. The practitioner involved observed that even a small amount of engagement in making radio can make a big difference to the confidence of a young person.


8.4 Speaking for different audiences

Many stations suggested that one of the key unique aspects of community radio is the connection with an audience.  Through this, young people learn to appreciate the listener when they are talking and to understand the different ways they might speak depending on who they are talking to.

When young people are producing radio for broadcast they have to follow Ofcom regulations and adapt what they say to comply with these regulations.  They have to carefully consider the consequences of their words which, practitioners suggest, improves the precision and thoughtfulness of their speech.  At SoundArt Radio, they believe that live radio demands good practice in terms of speaking and listening/ communication.  Young people they work with are asked to ‘perform themselves’, rather than following a script or adopting a ‘radio persona’.


8.5 Accent and dialect

Community radio organisations often work to represent and provide an outlet for the voice of marginalised groups.  At Bradford Community Broadcasting they work to support young people to feel confident about who they are and how they speak.  At the same time they want to work with young people to increase their life chances and feel that increasing awareness of the power of speaking in different ways in different places and for different audiences may be a part of this (and is something that radio production can help to highlight).  This links to employment opportunities and improving life chances.


8.6 Expression/ voice

‘Youth voice’ is a key theme that emerged frequently in our survey.  As one practitioner suggested, this often translates as ‘learning the confidence to say what they think’ (Volunteer Co-ordinator, ALL FM).  At Drystone Radio they provide young people with an opportunity to express their ‘beefs and anguishes’.  For example, one young person was able to air her views and explore issues around horse cruelty when she returned from Aintree (balanced with an interview with someone who is involved in hunts).  In the opinion of staff at Drystone Radio, when young people get a chance to say what they think on the radio they often feel less frustrated about their lack of agency elsewhere in their life.


8.7 Analytical skills

The process of putting together a coherent piece of radio might include interviewing, making decisions about content, and editing audio.  Through engaging in this process our practitioners suggested that young people also develop critical and analytical skills and competencies.


8.8 Planning (what to say)

Through engaging in a process of media design and production, young people are asked to think carefully about audience and plan what they are going to say before going on air.  Many practitioners told us that young people learn to plan, often through a process of making mistakes but also through feedback from audiences.

This awareness of audience also teaches them to take a step back from the content and develop empathy and objectivity in relation to it.


8.9 Negotiation and persuasion

Several practitioners told us that young people learn how to negotiate and persuade through their involvement in community radio.  At Bradford Community Broadcasting, one practitioner suggested that a key part of this learning involved young people understanding that it’s OK to disagree with others, and that this can actually lead to increased understanding.


9. The development of other skills and capacities

Our online survey respondents also told us that community radio can (implicitly and explicitly) teach young people a wide range of transferable capacities and skills related to but beyond the development of speaking and listening skills (see table B).  As one practitioner suggested:

‘Community radio for young people is much more than yacking away into a microphone.  It is an entire community package which is self-sustaining and develops skills and confidence and not to be afraid of failure, learning to work together and playing to the skills of each individual within the team.’

Station Manager, Point FM, Wales

In our phone interviews, stations told us that community radio helps young people to develop skills and capacities relevant to the world of work and social skills that they can make use of in the local community and wider world.  Key elements of this learning are summarised in the following sections.

Table B: When you deliver ‘radio training’ to young people what do you teach?


Community radio ‘teaches’


Speaking and listening skills 89%
Employability skills 61%
Literacy and numeracy 54%
Digital literacies 61%
Background to community radio 71%
Radio production 93%
Audio editing 93%
Community awareness 68%
Intergenerational capacities 32%
Music production 29%
Confidence and assertiveness 86%
Creativity 82%
Problem solving 57%



9.1 Employability Skills

Employability skills discussed by respondents included time management, effective planning, discipline, facing and overcoming challenges, and more practical issues such as learning to dress appropriately for work and not being afraid to use the telephone.  The work is ‘practical and meaningful’ for young people as they are involved in producing real radio shows that are broadcast in their local area (Station Manager, Crescent FM).  Community radio stations offer a range of work experience opportunities, not only those related to media careers.  At DBBC (Bolton) they offer some volunteers the opportunity to take a course in office administration from which, they say, 28 volunteers have found work.


9.2 Literacy and numeracy skills

Many practitioners suggested that young people learn literacy and numeracy skills without realising it as they engage in the work of producing radio programmes.  For instance, they write running orders and scripts for programmes, measure times and percentages of music to talk, and plan interview questions, links and intros.  Through editing audio together for programmes, literacy development often becomes more critical and engaged as crucial decisions about audience need to be made.


9.3 Media literacy

Recent socio-technical change has resulted in widened notions of literacy which has raised the importance of media literacy.  Ofcom’s definition of media literacy is ‘the ability to access, understand and create communications in a variety of contexts’.  In relation to access, community radio provides young people from a variety of backgrounds with access to ‘professional standard’ equipment and resources as well as an understanding of regulation in relation to radio.  Understanding is increased through interaction with a range of media sources as young people put their own shows together.

As young people engage in the process of media production, they also increase their understanding of the medium in order to create a piece of radio.  One practitioner told us that young people were encouraged to listen to a range of different radio stations, shows and genres in order to think about style and genre for their own work.  They also brought in other media sources such as newspapers to comment on the content of these in their radio shows.


9.4 New literacies

In our changing world, many have argued that we should look to rethink notions of literacy.  New literacy thinkers suggest that in the current global environment, being able to think and speak for yourself, being critical and empowered, being creative and innovative, understanding systems and ‘learning how to learn’ are all key to ‘success’.  In addition, multicultural nations and communities are now the norm throughout the world, and education may have a role here in negotiating differences and developing a critical understanding of a diversity of languages, discourses, styles and approaches [4].

Practitioners told us that community radio training can support young people to learn to live in diverse neighbourhoods.  Many mentioned that training explicitly encourages young people to develop a stronger awareness of their community, to form intergenerational relationships, and to develop empathy.  In addition, as young people work in and lead diverse teams, they practise skills such as diplomacy and careful listening.  Several practitioners made it clear that young people are asked to work in non-peer groups and are given responsibilities that they may not have in other aspects of their lives.  At the youth-led stations in particular, youth volunteers are asked to work as station managers, learning more about how the stations interact with the local community, and about sponsorship and fundraising.


9.5 Digital literacies [5]

61% of respondents said that they taught ‘digital literacies’ through radio training.  As well as learning skills in recording and editing audio, young broadcasters need to be able to conduct research using the Internet and other sources, and identify credible sources of information.  They would probably also use social media to publicise their show and link with possible interviewees.

The teaching of digital literacies by community radio is particularly important because of the type of young people that community radio organisations often work with who, because of their backgrounds, are less likely to have used digital technologies and are therefore more likely to struggle with issues related to ‘technological resourcefulness’[6]


10. The value of a ‘community’ approach

Community radio organisations are based in and broadcast to a local geographical community or to a community of interest.  Very often this community is marginalised and encounters difficulties in relation to issues of representation and recognition.  This is significant in terms of the opportunities that the sector offers to young people living in these communities.  As one practitioner suggested:

‘Community radio is a brilliant way of giving a mouthpiece to any community without a voice.   In doing that, they can build up confidence and pride in who they are and what they do and for the community itself.  Ardwick, Levenshulme, Gorton rarely have positive news stories in mainstream media. They can generate positive news through community radio, it is instrumental in building the self-worth of a community.’

Volunteer Co-ordinator, ALL FM, Manchester

Community radio organisations often fill a niche that is ‘too local’ for BBC and commercial stations.  This is even more important as local commercial radio is increasingly taken over by large conglomerates[7]. For example, young broadcasters at Drystone Radio in the Yorkshire Dales were able to organise a debate that raised awareness of ‘fracking’ in the local area, and ran a local news story about police in the area losing their cars.

Young people are also involved in intergenerational projects such as at Forest FM where multi-age groups came together to think about regeneration work in their town, or at Point FM where everyone involved in the station worked together to build a new studio.  Some stations teach accredited courses in community awareness and intergenerational work and many ask young people to adapt and use their existing skills to work with older people.

Practitioners told us that they ask young people to make sure that they reflect their community in their shows, and to think of the radio as a ‘tool’ or a ‘resource’ for the community.  Previous research conducted on community radio training has suggested that for many young people this is the first time they have thought about themselves as part of a local community and this can be fundamentally important in changing the way they feel about themselves and others[8].  Participants on an evaluated community radio course at ALL FM said that involvement in the learning opened up their social networks and enabled them to meet people who lived in their geographical community but who they might never have met otherwise.  One participant stated:

‘…it’s really fun getting to know people from the community who you wouldn’t have the chance to talk to without being involved in something like this.  All the skill learning part is just a bonus I think, the real reason is just really to meet people from the community.’

Community learning course participant, ALL FM


[1] see for instance Day, R. (2009). Community Radio in Ireland: Participation and Multi-Flow Communication ; van Vuuren, K. (2006) Community broadcasting and the enclosure of the public sphere ; Manchester, H. (2008) Learning through engagement in community media design.

[2] Lewis, P. and Mitchell, C. (2012) Speak Up! Evaluation report, November 2012

[3] ASDAN Employment and Skills Forum, Virtual think tank Survey results, Autumn 2012.  Downloaded at http://www.asdan.org.uk/media/downloads/esf%20report-web.pdf

[4] See Cope and Kalantzis  (2000) Multiliteracies: literacy learning and the design of social futures.  London: Routledge

[5] Digital literacies: are 21st century skills that involve developing an ability to engage critically with digital technologies

[6] Enyon, R. and Geniets, A. (2012) On the Periphery? Understanding Low and Discontinued Internet Use Amongst Young People in Britain.  ‘Technological resourcefulness’ is defined as the ability to access and meaningfully interact with technologies.

[7] See Rushton, K. (2012) Local radio at threat from Global’s takeover of GMG Radio.  Daily Telegraph, 17 August, 2012

[8] Manchester, H. (2008) Learning through engagement in community media design.  Unpublished PhD thesis, University of Manchester.


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