Correspondence to/from DCMS about license renewal at end of 15 years

I think the correspondence explains it all. I was asked to send the letter as a result of a board meeting of Leicester Community Radio and felt it most appropriate at this stage to write it as a personal letter.

I have had to remove some of it for commercial reasons:-

TO DCMS
Dear Rt Hon Cllr Wright,

I know you will be very busy so I will keep my message as short as possible. I am writing to you about a matter which is close to my heart, community radio.

My “day-job” is broadcast radio transmitter engineering, and we look after transmitters for REMOVED (REMOVED FM locally to yourself) as well as many others locally and around the UK. Through my day job I come into contact with a wide variety of different radio stations, both community and commercial. Most are of an excellent quality whilst a very small minority appear to be rather lacklustre.

Whilst I would not describe myself as a “radio buff”, I see how Radio can be used for social gain, such as improving community cohesion, breaking down barriers and actively reducing issues such as racial hate crime.

Locally in Leicester I am involved with a community radio project that has been trying unsucessfully for the past 25 years to get a FM license. The reason we have been unsuccessful is because originally we were deemed to overlap with the local commercial radio station (originally “Leicester Sound” and now called “Capital East Midlands”). This station no longer has any vestiges of being a local radio station. The local BBC station (BBC Leicestershire) does not represent the diverse communities within Leicester City, which has a diametrically opposed demographic to Leicestershire/Rutland county.

In the last Ofcom community licensing round Ofcom decided there was only one remaining FM frequency in Leicester (which we dispute) and awarded a license to REMOVED. This is a complete contrast to ourselves who intend to use the FM license to broadcast a 20 hour per day, 7 day per week live service for social good, including preventing the homeless dying on the street through regular daily broadcasts advising of hostels that are open and have spaces. Ofcom says they are not planning to advertise any further FM licences in our area.

However whilst we are fighting hard to get a FM license, one local community station, Demon FM, is handing back their license in May next year and another (REMOVED) has lost touch with the youth of today and frankly I feel their raison d’etre has vanished in the 14 years since they were first awarded their license. We have attempted to take over the Demon FM license and work with REMOVED and neither are interested due to their own parochial internal politics. This is despite intervention from local councillors who strongly support our cause. REMOVED was off air on FM for 6 weeks last year due to a transmitter failure and the station manager himself admitted nobody cared as all the youngsters (as the station is for) listen online now, not via FM. RAJAR and other similar industry surveys strongly support this fact.

Ofcom states that DCMS are the only people with the power to change the status quo and have urged me to get in contact. They say they have no mechanism to re-award the Demon FM license once it is handed back so instead it will sit empty for the “foreseeable future” (Ofcom’s words). Furthermore as you may be aware at this stage there is no process for renewing a community license at the 15-year point, so REMOVED may also soon cease to exist. Several community stations that were in the first “batch” and are approaching their 15-year limit are doing excellent things, and I could name several. They will undoubtedly welcome a renewal process as it may be a good opportunity to remove some obsolete commitments from their license. However sadly others have lost their way in the intervening period.

I know people with vested interests are campaigning for community radio licences to be given perpetual renewals after 15 years. However I feel that at the 15 year point the licences should be fully re-advertised so that the question can be asked “Is this group the best one to hold a license to use the precious FM spectrum?”. This is the question that was asked when they first applied 15 years ago, and I think 15 years is more than long enough to assume the original answer to this question is still valid and perhaps it is time to go through a full re-advertisement period.

Commercial radio licences are advertised upon expiry, a process that has been very successful recently in locations such as Ipswich and Bristol to bring a far superior service to the airwaves to replace a tired and ageing incumbent.

With around 18 months before some community radio licences expire I therefore ask you to look into this for us. Legislation will be required either way as currently these stations will have to go off air in 18 months or so.

To clarify, we are asking for:-

1: Automatic re-advertisement of any broadcast radio licences that are handed back, revoked or otherwise cancelled
2: Full competitive re-advertisement of community radio licences at the 15 year point rather than automatic renewal as is being advocated at the moment

Yours Sincerely,


Samuel Hunt
Station Manager (Daytime)

Leicester Community Radio CIC not-for-profit
Supported with funds from voluntary donations
Working in partnership with Leicester City Council

www.leicester.fm

RESPONSE
Dear Mr Hunt,
Thank you for your correspondence of 29 October to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture,
Media and Sport, the Rt Hon Jeremy Wright QC MP, regarding grants for community radio
licensing. I am replying as a member of the Ministerial Support Team.

The government recognises the important role that local radio stations play, especially their
ability to communicate specifically with their region both in covering local issues, and
supporting and advertising local community groups and businesses. We are aware that existing
community radio licences will be due for renewal. Ministers have not yet made a decision on
the possibility of extending these licences, although discussions are ongoing.

Regarding the automatic re-advertisement of any broadcast radio licences that are handed
back, revoked or otherwise cancelled, this is a matter for Ofcom. Ofcom consulted on
community radio licensing in October 2016. Their consultation included a question about readvertising
frequencies when a licence was surrendered or handed back. In a statement
published in April 2017, Ofcom noted that “none of the consultation respondents favoured this
option over the others” and as a result they decided not to adopt it.

As a result of the consultation, Ofcom decided to conduct a fourth round of community radio
licensing, and invited applications for new community radio services in all the areas for which
they had received expressions of interest. They invited further expressions of interest at the
end of 2017 and have used those received by the deadline to draw up a list of a further 43
areas where they will invite applications for community radio licences at the end of this year.

I hope this information is helpful.

Yours sincerely,
Calum Macbeth
Ministerial Support Team

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Thanks for this @SamHunt it’s very useful to read the responce.

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Yep, interesting.
What does the phrase ‘Ofcom noted that “none of the consultation respondents favoured this option over the others” and as a result they decided not to adopt it’ really mean?
Who were these respondents?
Representatives from this sector…or a host of vested interests weighing in with their opinions?
Oh, the intricacies of lobbying - no wonder people make careers out of it!

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I have had this thrown at me several times by Ofcom in the past few months whilst dealing with this Demon saga. Basically in their consultation a couple of years ago they vaguely mentioned about re-advertising licences if they were handed back. Nobody replied saying this was a good idea. I need to really check the wording of the consultation but haven’t had time. Ofcom keeps throwing this back at us in respect of Demon FM.

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