An End of Year Message from CMA Chair, Dom Chambers

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Steaming through December, the lights are on and the tinsel is up but as we head into the festivities, it does seem that the bleak mid-winter has returned. The pandemic has taken another cruel twist and restrictions are returning as we heighten concerns for ourselves and loved ones. Maybe this is the reality of life now that we can expect relative freedom in the warmer months and winters marked by unfettered pandemics.

Hello, bye-the-way. I’m Dom and welcome to the last CMA newsletter for 2021.

Stepping through the mists of gloom we can see that there is much to celebrate at the end of this year. Community-orientated audio and radio are thriving in the UK. I know because I spent two months over the summer and autumn traveling around the country and engaging with a wide spectrum of impressive social enterprises and community-driven media activity. With community radio now taking the central place in the local radio landscape vacated by the old ILR’s, the public appetite for, and support of, local radio has never been stronger. This year in October we had over 250 stations celebrating Local Radio Day. That is up 100 on last year.

As we continue to witness a skills migration from the professional media sectors into the non-profit it is fascinating to see different models of local radio emerge. These are often characterised by a commercial savvy that indicates greater levels of resilience even in the face of the tough economic climate. I firmly believe we live in times of opportunity as well as challenge. Over the course of this year, it is encouraging to see community radio stations building monetised relationships with their local authorities for the benefit of disseminating public health messages. I am aware that these relationships are uneven across the country. We still need a cohesive strategy, and I am shocked at how people in decision-making circles are still failing to realise the opportunity to reach untapped audiences through the UK’s community radio offer. At the CMA we believe it is not our role to bleat with loud voices about the injustices of the current distribution of public-funded messaging. We are solution-focused. The CMA is leading on an imaginative initiative that straddles community with commercial and we hope to have more to say about this in the New Year.

The CMA continuously reviews how we can serve members and the wider community media sectors on limited resources. Earlier in the year, we launched our monthly Zooms bringing people together in themed calls to share experience, knowledge, and best practice. Themes explored so far include the opportunities for us through the rollout of small-scale DAB, funding, and generating sales through advertising and sponsorship. These are proving impactful and popular, and it is our intention for the Zooms to become a permanent fixture irrespective of the state of public health. We welcome ideas for future events.

This year we launched our support service for applications to the Community Radio Fund which is the only dedicated fund for community radio in the UK. Following his retirement from the funding panel, our Treasurer Richard Hilton is now using his considerable knowledge and experience of this fund to support applications. With a new round currently open, he is a busy fellow. I would like to thank him for his tireless dedication to helping stations build more business stability. The year closes with the news that an additional £200K is being made available in the next round. This follows positive discussions with DCMS. The CMA now has fortnightly meetings with DCMS. These warm and cordial encounters, led by myself mean that we can properly build long-term strategies. I have to say these are helped by a good level of stability at the CMA which has happily said goodbye to those divisions that hampered the organisation occasionally in the past. We are served well by a Council that is collaborative in its ethos and dynamic in its thinking. I cannot wait for our Festival that we are planning for May when we can gather and see just how far the CMA is moving in building strong and impactful leadership for media with a social purpose.

None of this would happen without Bill who continues to work tirelessly, even when he is tired! In support of us all. With 22 years of dedicated service, Bill is a tower of strength we should all value and I know from my conversations around the country just how much you appreciate him. As Chair, I am very happy to pass that appreciation on to him with, as they famously say on a certain national broadcaster, “this round of applause.” My thanks also to Cathy, our finance officer, for all that she does as well.

Finally thank you all for the amazing levels of dedication and hard work you do that enriches community life across the land. Our light shines bright piercing the gloom and showing the way. Don’t worry they will all catch up eventually and realise community media is a powerful phenomenon in the UK. Enjoy the holiday, hang up our splendid wall planner, and we will reconvene for an energised start to 2022.

Festive best wishes,

Dom
CMA Chair