License Expiry after 15 years

I am sure that you are all probably already thinking about this, but as it stands in the legislation there is no option for a renewal after 15 years. For a few stations this is only 2 years away now.

I asked Ofcom the question what happens at the end of the 15 years, would they re-advertise the license. They have said no, it will not be re-advertised as they have no mechanisms in place to do this. Therefore the license will cease to exist and so will (presumably) the station.

I personally lean towards the idea of re-advertising a station. After 15 years much has changed, and I think any renewal process should favour any prospective licensee who is in the position to be on air the day the previous license expires - this will give the incumbents a significant advantage whilst not ruling out other potential applicants. Some stations (I will name none) appear to have lost their original raison d’etre and frankly the frequency would be better serving another group who perhaps are desperate for a FM license (disclaimer - I perhaps have a vested interest here in this course of action!).

Anyway, whichever way it goes (4th term or re-advertisement), Ofcom has CLEARLY stated that they have no means to do either and we will need to lobby DCMS to direct Ofcom what to do. This will likely require legislation.

Since legislation, lobbying, etc, is needed, and there are only 2 years from some licences expiring, should we not be starting the ball rolling on this now?

I presume there is a precedent for this with the previous two extensions. As I say I think three terms is enough and a readvertisement would harm nobody. Stations such as The Eye and Harborough FM I know quite well and am very confident they would sail straight through.

Others however all around the country have lost their way and seem to be holding back other good internet-only stations who would love to be on FM.

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This is a much talked and worried about topic! And one the CMA has discussed with DCMS and Ofcom in some of our meetings over the last couple of years.
They indicated there is likely to be a change of legislation leading to licences being open ended, instead of the current system of 5 year renewals.
We have meetings coming up soon and will be asking for clarification, then will feed back on this thread.

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That’s good. However I do ask the question if it’s right that licences should be open ended or instead after 15 years care should be taken to ensure that the original raison d’etre actually exists?

Also apparently there is no mechanism whatsoever to readvertise a license if it isn’t renewed or handed back ,(Demon FM). I think possibly others may not be renewed or handed back in the coming years.

Have we reached “peak FM community station numbers?” as there licences start to get handed back?

I can think of three other stations that are in similar problems and may just fold.

If ofcom started investigating key commitments I wonder what would happen?

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The picture at this point isn’t clear or consistant, and there might be some signs that indicate when a station is struggling, that we can keep an eye on. One of the main challenges is to breakdown any culture of blame or shame that might be associated with licence non-renewal. If there is a perceived culture of admonishment from regulators, stakeholders or supporters, then this becomes a ‘hot-potato’ game, with people avoiding responsibility rather than coming forward for help and advice.

A strategy to deal with this would have to handle this in two ways, clear and regular discussions with stations and regulators, but then an improvement in the capability of stations ability to engage in the process which is based on learning and not blame. To put it bluntly we have to look at both the regulations and the culture of reporting that people understand and opperate from.

What works well is when stations get in touch with us in the early stages of problems arising. Things like lack of volunteers, cash flow, change of direction or directors - these have all happened many times and there is a lot of expertise and experience that can help before it’s too late.

My 4 top survival tips for community radio:

  • Encourage volunteers to feel ownership and share in the passion and care for the station
  • Have a mixed economy of grants and earned income, don’t rely on one thing
  • Keep running costs down by using simple cheap equipment and free software where possible, and avoid taking out loans to buy flash gear
  • Join the CMA, ask questions on CMA chat, come to our events and keep talking to each other

These are things that help make us resilient and able to weather difficult times.

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The problem is I think these stations are in trouble and don’t want to admit it. However if a specialist station is just lurching along from one crisis to another since their original reason to exist is no longer there (such as serving an audience that is now better served elsewhere, teaching “radio” to people who are no longer interested in radio, etc), then is it not better that another group gets the opportunity to take over the license?

In these situations sadly the station management can often be very reluctant to hand the license over and would sometimes rather hand it back than allow someone else to take it on, or carry on from one crisis to another whilst a new group becomes very successful via DAB, online-only or other similar mechanisms.

I am not so much advocating for trying to “fix” broken stations, or even suggesting that is the problem, that is a different topic.

I am suggesting that as there is nothing in legislation for what happens at the 15-year point that perhaps it is a suitable time to just put the license up for open re-advertisement to ensure that the group holding it is still the best one locally to hold it, as they did all those years ago when they first applied.

As legislation has to be written either way which will require campaigning perhaps it should be written to re-advertise the license in an open competition rather than just renewing it over and over for years.

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Hi @SamHunt. The CMA will shortly conduct a sector-wide survey to solicit views as to what should happen after three licence terms.

There is a range of opinion to take to DCMS. Some stations might like to to see their licence renewed for a fourth term - but for how long? Another 5 years, or 7 years, or longer? And the notion of CR licences extended for an indefinite period of time was touched on in the DCMS consultation on the deregulation of commercial radio.

Or there is the view that licences should be up for re-application after three terms - and that stations with a well-established track record should ‘sail through’.

We’ll put a survey out shortly to get the sector’s views to DCMS by early December.

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Hi Bill.

A survey sounds like an excellent idea as it should carry real weight with DCMS. I am a big believer in democracy when it is done correctly.

My only concern with the survey is it only encompasses views of the CMA.

Could I please possibly request/suggest that as all the application forms are still on the Ofcom website for the last couple of rounds of licensing that all recent applicants (Areas overlapping for example) are also included in the survey to get their thoughts? This would allow all unsuccessful applicants to put their point of view across.

If they are disorganised and weren’t really serious (as I am told is often the case) then they will either not respond or whatever. However if there really is a case to answer that at 15 years many of the incumbents have lost touch then this will be a clear message coming through from many of the unsuccessful applicants.

Clearly all existing licensed stations have a vested interested in perpetual renewal. No licensed incumbent is ever going to want a full renewal process.

If these are the only people surveyed then the result could easily be challenged and the whole thing would become a farce.

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