Archive for publications, 2011

[Previous message][Next message][Back to index]

[ecrea] UK: The future of small scale radio - publication of research report for Ofcom

Wed Jul 06 15:38:08 GMT 2011

*The future of small scale radio  - A research report for Ofcom
*Prepared by Essential Research, July 2011*

Full report (72 pages, 861 kb) at:
Other Ofcom Radio Rsearch documents available at

Summary of Key Findings*:

Small-scale radio services are highly valued by their listeners. They foster a real sense of belonging and listeners have a unique affection for them. These feelings of affection and value were most pronounced in areas where larger local stations have been re-branded and some listeners perceive that they have lost their local feel. In addition, small-scale services offer benefits to their listeners that are not provided by other radio stations.

These benefits are three-fold:
. Micro local information
. Quirky entertainment
. Local identity

It is not just about what these stations broadcast, but what they represent to their communities that make them so special to their listeners. They do not necessarily listen to these stations for long periods of time, but their level of engagement is higher than with most other stations. There were three areas, however, where small-scale stations were not able to deliver to the same level as larger stations:
. National news and sport
. Experienced DJs
. Spoken word shows

Despite the many shared benefits that small-scale stations have, community and small commercial stations have a very different feel from each other, meaning they appeal and deliver these benefits in different ways. Community stations have the most personal and familiar feel, with listeners feeling a real bond between them and their station. The DJs are often from the local community and use language and accents that listeners are familiar with. However, the somewhat amateur air that can sometimes be associated with these stations can make them seem unprofessional at times and, as a result, put some younger listeners off.

The music offering on community stations is considered very alternative by listeners, due to the specialist music shows and the unsigned local bands that are featured. This alternative music selection leads to appointment to listen, but means most listeners will tend not to tune in on an ad hoc basis, as the music often will not appeal to everyone. Community stations are considered very active in their local areas, going beyond promotion and support and really getting involved in their community.

They provide training and work experience, as well as encouraging community members to volunteer and go to events locally. Listeners feel that with more self-promotion more people will experience the benefits of these stations. On small commercial stations the DJs are considered more professional. The local feel comes mainly from the high level of local information that they provide. They are the preferred destination for this type of information, especially in emergencies. Their music offering is considered much more mainstream than on community stations, but with a quirky juxtaposition of songs. This output does not encourage appointment to listen, but means listeners can tune in whenever they feel like it and usually enjoy the playlist. Small commercial stations are often well known within their local areas and go way beyond their remit when it comes to community involvement.

They are considered very good at promoting and supporting local businesses and events, but some listeners felt they could get more actively involved with their communities putting their high profiles to good use. Should financial difficulties require changes to the way stations are regulated in the future, listeners to small-scale stations are only willing to compromise on elements that don't affect the identity of the station. All small-scale stations are considered by listeners to be 'community' stations (regardless of their licence type) as this is the focal point of such stations.

As a result, listeners would prefer new services to be 'not-for-profit' (under current legislation, therefore, licensed as community radio services). These are more likely to remain local, because of the single ownership limit, which means they cannot be bought by larger radio groups. However, in order for them to remain sustainable in the future, listeners understand the importance of local advertising as part of their funding mix. Greater commercial income generation was therefore considered to be acceptable as a way of protecting the localness and sense of community that small-scale stations have, whilst making sure they remain sustainable in the future. Tied into wider economic issues, by the end of the field research period (early 2011), small-scale listeners had become much more open to the idea of compromise than they were at the start, some six months earlier.

As long as these changes don't fundamentally alter the identity of the station, listeners accept that they could help such stations remain sustainable in the future. Listeners felt that increased on-air local commercial activity and sponsorship would not threaten the identity of their small-scale stations to any great extent, and this proposal was therefore well-received as a potential policy adjustment. Potential associated benefits were also recognised - local businesses could promote themselves further and community members would be more aware of what was on offer in their local area. Increased spot advertising was more of a problem however. It was not felt to bring any benefits, and small commercial stations in particular were considered to have a great deal of advertising already. A broader music selection was not a huge problem for small commercial stations, as their music selection was considered quite mainstream already. Providing they could still provide a quirky mix within these playlists, this would be acceptable as potential policy adjustment.

For community stations however, this would change the identity of the station as their music selection is so alternative. As a result community listeners were not willing to compromise here. A reduced focus on local issues and less station participation were also potential policy adjustments that listeners were not willing to compromise on. Both of these elements were felt to be integral to the identity of small-scale stations. To obtain local information was one of the main reasons listeners tuned into their small-scale station and the participation by a station in its community was where its main value lay. If either of these potential policy adjustments were to go ahead, listeners felt that they would lose engagement with their small-scale stations and ultimately stop listening.
[Previous message][Next message][Back to index]