Anyone else becoming increasingly frustrated with OFCOM

At East Leeds FM we are not a full time station, although we have done lots of RSLs over the years and were offered a full time licence in 2018. We had decided to stick with internet-based broadcasting but, with the current crisis, we decided we could do an important job, working in partnership with our local COVID support network, of broadcasting in our local community, particularly targeting the large number of isolated, vulnerable older people who have been told to stay at home and don’t have access to the internet. So we asked OFCOM for an ‘emergency’ licence back on 18 March. Since then we have set up remote studios from our base using Cleanfeed and tested the system by broadcasting very successfully on the internet (tech training details of our set up here

Our latest press release giving details of the story is available here, but we also received an email last night from OFCOM copied below (the third week in a row that they say that…oh what a lovely idea we will sort something out next week)

I have a question from my trustees. Is anyone in a similar situation? They are considering options this weekend. You can either reply on here or email me directly at adrian@headstogether.org

I’m writing following our email earlier this week about your request for an emergency broadcast licence for East Leeds FM.

As you know, Ofcom has been considering how we meet requests like yours to broadcast radio services in order to support communities during the Covid-19 pandemic. We recognise that the licence products that we already offer don’t fit the type of service that you want to provide - for example, short-term restricted service licences (SRSLs) are usually for broadcasts of up to 28 days.

So over the past two weeks we’ve been developing a new, temporary licence for services wanting to broadcast during the pandemic. I know that you have wanted to get on air as quickly as possible, and recognise your frustration with the time this has taken. However, introducing a new licence product does take time for us to develop fairly. For example, when deciding what fees should apply, we’ve had to carefully consider what the impact of our decision would be on our existing licensees, to ensure that we’re acting fairly towards all of our stakeholders and in reaction to the rapidly changing circumstances in the sectors that we regulate.

We must also act fairly to all those who have enquired about services to broadcast during the pandemic - so we could not make an exception for East Leeds and offer a licence to you whilst we were still developing the policies that would apply to the licence.

We will be sharing details of the new temporary licence next week. We will email you an application form to complete, which you will see contains some additional questions to the SRSL form you have already sent us.

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Yes. We applied 3 weeks ago and have heard nothing. The chief constable for the county is investigating if we actually need Ofcom permission or not as it’s an emergency situation and they clearly aren’t functioning as a government department.

Apparently in this situation the chief constable has the power to make a decision on behalf of a non functioning government department, but only after they have had 28 days to process the request normally. I think we are at around 20 days now.

At least for us we have a loyal online listenership and an incredibly useless low power AM service. Better than nothing but FM would really serve the community far more effectively.

The other problem is we need about 65m antenna height and 100w ERP which is unusual to do the job properly. We have the site and equipment ready to go so could be on air within hours of getting clearance.

Meanwhile we have obtained a temporary location for a studio for our presenters who can’t operate from home and built a studio in just 4 hours yesterday. Exciting stuff.

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Good to hear from you @SamHunt. My trustees are meeting this afternoon and, as we are all set up and ready to go, they will again have to decide whether to go ahead and switch on the transmitter anyway. All our local partners really want it to happen now. Interesting about the non-functioning government department. I think they are functioning as a government department that is acting as though nothing has changed, or maybe following the current trend towards centralised control rather than trusting the people to act themselves… “we’re all in this together”.

Good to keep in touch on this. To know that it is not just us makes me more determined to try further with political pressure. Our MP Richard Burgon has written and even representations from Shadow Secretary of Culture Tracey Brabin…

Who are you dealing with at OFCOM?

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@billbest thanks for your and CMA support on this to-date. Are you aware of any other stations in similar situation?

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I cannot possibly in any way endorse any form of unlicensed activity. “Just turning it on” would be unlicensed, you need to have someone at least give you authority, even if it’s legally delegated authority under emergency legislation.

We have a number of local MP’s, elected Mayor of Unitary Authority, Lords, elected Police and Crime Commissioner and suchlike supporting us and keen to see us with a full-time FM license. We know there’s a spare frequency in that Demon FM closed down and nothing has been allocated around here since.

The only license issued has been for Cross-Counties Radio, but Ofcom found an alternate frequency for Harborough FM when they applied recently for a Lutterworth relay so we know they don’t need to use the Demon FM frequency for Cross-Counties and modelling suggests interference with Banbury Sound/Capital FM anyway (another station I look after and I know there would likely be mutual interference from Lutterworth).

We therefore are playing this as clean as anything as we don’t want to do anything questionable and our partners could not be associated with anything dodgy either - we are carrying official messages on their behalf already.

Be patient and I am sure good things will come.

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I only know of @SamHunt, @AdrianSinclair.

As Sam says, it would be a very bad idea to just switch on the transmitter. Ofcom has already shown that it will take a strong line with community radio stations should there be any breach of the regulations.

Ofcom has advised that they are developing a new, temporary licence for services wanting to broadcast during the pandemic - but this does take a little time to ensure that it is delivered correctly.

The CMA will contact Ofcom to remind them there are at least two strong projects that are ready to play their part for their communities. However, a great deal of contact with the Broadcast Licensing Team is only going to impact on their capacity to get on with the job of creating the necessary regulations.

Any new licence has to be developed within the parameters of the existing legislation - and, of course, this must be forensically verified.

Hopefully, we’ll hear some good news before too long :+1:

Thinking of a few things they need to consider:-

How will they cope with multiple applications in one area? I presume they will need a letter of authority from someone important in an area. What happens if say the Mayor backed one scheme and the Police backed another?

In many areas, such as ours, the “normal” permitted ERP and antenna height isn’t really enough. How do they handle this situation to ensure this license delivers what it should?

How do they ensure the content actually is meaningful and not just inexperienced “have a go heroes” that will cause more damage than good? Look at the mess some long term licensed community stations are making of it then imagine giving inexperienced people a license.

Can stations actually get hold of the equipment and get on air in this difficult time? I’m in a somewhat unique position having 2x 1kW transmitters, 8x 400W transmitters and numerous lower powered ones and other bits and bobs just sitting on the shelf. That isn’t the normal RSL situation.

Who’s going to commission these things? If they’re for more than 28 days or more than 25W then they need to be commissioned by Ofcom in theory.

What even is the point of these RSLs if there are existing community/commercial stations doing the job already? How do you prove this is a need that isn’t being satisfied by other stations?

Just a few of the problems that Ofcom will be having to sort out to get this license sorted. As I said, in the meantime we are lucky that we have a good listenership through existing channels whilst Ofcom sort out this quagmire. For once I sympathise with them.

Luckily for us, as I’ve pointed out, we are very unique in that we have excellent responses to all these questions and have been building this up for years now. But we are unique I believe in that respect.

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Indeed @SamHunt, Ofcom will have to consider may of these issues and probably quite a few more we haven’t considered :+1:

Small-scale DAB has probably been holding things up, @AdrianSinclair, as well as ‘you-know-what’:

It’s all about priorities eh @billbest. Well we are still waiting impatiently.

Doing the press https://www.yorkshireeveningpost.co.uk/news/people/leeds-community-radio-station-makes-urgent-plea-broadcast-fm-during-coronavirus-crisis-2530929

and petitions https://www.change.org/eastleedsfm_onair

and we wait…

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Updated our website here on this: