Recommendations for future research and practice

During a research interview conducted in 2018, a station chairman told me: "The sector’s incredibly challenged. 1 mean, you really wouldn’t invent it, would you? Somebody did, but it’s surprising it works!”

He was referring to the precarious nature of community radio, two years before the pandemic struck. He was right. If you were to prepare a business model working out how you could set up a station and staff it with the requisite technical experts, committed administrators and skilled practitioners, operating in a local marketplace, you would most likely give up. What fuels this sector is raw passion for the medium and the deep-seated desire to contribute to the greater good. Without teamwork, collaboration and cooperation, participation and engagement, none of it would be possible. Delivering a community radio service involves producing consistent volumes of local content, whether for broadcast or for posting online. It means building a community of practitioners with an enthusiasm for radio, music and entertainment as well as a shared connection to a geographical area comprising a range of places and people who reside and work there. Even social media requires a team effort if it is to be done efficiently to optimize visibility and engagement. Maintaining online presence effectively is a lot for one person to coordinate. Contributing to web pages, blogs, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram is ideally a collective endeavour, albeit one that needs overseeing to maintain standards and good behaviour.

Stations are autonomous and many are run democratically but there is a need for some sort of hierarchy so that members take responsibility for issues like health and safety, risk assessment, broadcasting standards, production and technical issues, and for working out solutions that are feasible and affordable, but also that reinforce and establish sustainable working environments and routines going forwards. Efficiency, timekeeping, comfort and security are no less a concern when work is being done on a voluntary basis and you are relying on the goodwill and availability of unrecompensed contributors. As the C0V1D-19 crisis unfolded, managers and governing boards across the sector were faced with unprecedented challenges, but in the vast majority of cases they were able to keep broadcasting because teamwork helped invigorate the symbiotic relationships with their listeners, target communities and other stakeholders. The situation brought into sharp relief the affordances of digital technologies and the capacity of practitioners across the sector to adapt and innovate.

As part of stations’ community-oriented responses to the crisis, programmers provided additional content such as locally specific health and welfare updates alongside their usual information outputs. The lines of communication and personal connections that made such sourcing of content possible were already present, but the crisis prompted an escalation of interactional activity which could be sustained through online platforms. In a technologically connected world where everything seems to inteweave, overlap and have a ripple effect, society has come to depend on certain devices and platforms for its socializing and for now, we are glad of it. As radio has evolved over time from sound broadcasting to multimedia communication, so community radio has earned its place alongside mainstream media in the sphere of cultural production: as a means of achieving media plurality reflecting under-represented groups in all their sociocultural, ethnic and geographically specific diversity.

Each station is different; there are similarities but there are divergences in each social site of practice-arrangements. This means that from a regulatory point of view, one size does not fit all. A flexible approach is required to regulate and support frameworks that can create a healthy environment for these individual organizations to grow and thrive. As the era of small-scale digital audio broadcasting (SSDAB) multiplexes dawns, it remains to be seen how the sector will evolve.

1 urge community radio operators, in their enthusiasm to embrace new media’s digital methods and platforms in pursuit of their programming and outreach goals, to not leave anyone behind. Harness technology without it dictating who can or cannot participate. The need to recruit volunteers and contributors from as wide a variety of social circles in the community as possible is tantamount. If community radio is true to its roots, it is about enabling everyone to freely, but respectfully, share their views, interests and perspectives on life. The internet and social media are not the panacea to all the practical, personal or physical limitations that may face those who would like, or indeed ought, to be included in the production activities of community radio broadcasting. There remain people in our neighbourhoods who do not yet possess the devices or the technical and media literacy skills that many of us take for granted: extra care should be taken to reach out to them, for that is the mantle bestowed upon the sector by the regulator. To achieve social gain objectives, we need to create favourable environments for community to flourish both online and in the real world. Especially, in the real world. Whilst radio listening provides the companionship many of us yearn for, and social media and online platforms can enable interactivity and even simulate face-to-face encounters, 1 argue that it remains essential for a community radio station to have a physical hub: a place where tangible objects form part of the infrastructure of the operation, where the station is identifiably present, active and accessible in the locality.

Finally, I encourage researchers to conduct more rigorous studies into funding and staffing models in licensed community radio and

Keeping radio local in the digital age 115 independent online set-ups outside the mainstream, with a view to assessing and improving their chances for developing a sustainable way ahead. Findings may yield important insights into how financial viability can be attained whilst continuing to contribute to social gain: staying true to the underlying ideology, the raison d’être of the sector. The ethics of digital media are important to consider in this respect, but academics interested in mapping how technologies impact cultural production and media consumption, ought not overlook how their usage affects content producers. Innovations have changed how practitioners source, shape, share and store the content they produce, but not why they do it: the meaning the practice has in their lives. In the context of community radio, technologies have not altered what radio broadcasting means for communities of volunteers working as teams, striving in their spare time, or carving out the time in their busy lives, to put something back into the wider community which they call home. Radio is a technology, but it is used for communication and social interaction; it is about bringing people together in, and in relation to, the places where they co-exist.

Note

1 https://www.gov.uk/govemment/organisations/ministry-of-housmg-cornmunities-and-local-govemment (accessed 28.08.20.).

References

Bird, E.S., 2011. Are we all produsers now?. Cult. Stud. 25 (4-5), pp. 502-516. 10.1080/09502386.2011.600532.

Bonini, T., el al., 2014. Radio formats and social media use in Europe - 28 case studies of public service practice. Radio. J. hit. Stud. Broadcast. Audio Media 12(1-2), pp. 89-107. 10.1386/rjao.l2.1-2.89_l.

Correia, R., Vieira, J., Aparicio, M., 2019. Community radio stations sustainability model: an open-source solution. Radio. J. hit. Stud. Broadcast. Audio Media /7 (1), 29 45. 10.1386/rjao. 17.1,29_1,

Speck. D., 2020. Trust in Media. European Broadcasting Union. Available from: https://www.ebu.ch/publications/research/login_only/report/trust-in-media (accessed 26.09.20.).

Zoellner, A., Lax, S., 2017. On-air and online: social media and local radio production in the UK. Medien J. 39 (2), 5-18. 10.24989/medienjournal. v39i2.65.

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