Inspired to start up and give your local community a voice? The world of licensing can sometimes seem a little daunting. Here’s a quick guide on how to get yourself started.

Starting out

One of the best ways to prove the case for your station, and get an organisation up and running with volunteers, shows and listeners is to get yourself set-up online. Internet radio is no longer the minority platform it once was–with more and more of us brandishing smartphones and wi-fi radio devices becoming commonplace, listeners are increasingly making the switch to the choice and diversity available online. The CMA are experts in internet radio; we have years of experience in getting community radio online through Canstream. Please get in touch with our team if you’re interested in starting out on the internet.

It’s also common, although by no means compulsory, for stations to run Restricted Service Licences (RSLs) as a ‘pilot’ for any future full-time community radio service. These are local FM or AM broadcasts of up to 28 days in duration, covering an area roughly similar to an average full-time service; approximately 5 miles radius. More information on RSLs, along with an application form, can be found on the Ofcom website.

Going full-time

There are now almost 250 full-time community radio stations broadcasting in the UK today–with more becoming licensed and going on-air every month. Ofcom are currently in the process of their third round of community radio licensing, which is taking place on a region-by-region basis. You can click here to find out when your region’s up for licensing.

When the time comes for groups in your area to start applying for licences, you might find the process a daunting one. Our advice is, regardless of the date for your region, start collecting information and evidence for your application now. Successful applicants in previous rounds of licensing have been able to prove a track record in delivering sustainable social gain in their communities. CMA members can get help and advice on effective applications by contacting us.

Because of the popularity of community radio licences, you’ll find that in some areas, especially large cities and surrounding areas, no FM licences are available. Of particular note are London, where no FM or AM licences are available; and Greater Manchester, where only AM licences are up for grabs. A full list of areas with frequency availability issues can be found in the Notes of Guidance.

Also of relevance is this excellent presentation by Laurie Hallett, formerly of Ofcom, on the licensing process, frequency availability and the work done by Ofcom on this.

Ofcom has some invaluable resources here including their useful guide “10 years of community radio licensing: Advice for licence applicants“.

London: A special note

The CMA is currently receiving a large number of enquiries from prospective operators of community radio stations in the London area. Ofcom will be inviting applications for stations in this area, along with the rest of the South East, in the second half of 2015.

One FM frequency is expected to be available in London, a channel vacated by a community radio station in Hammersmith which closed previously. The bidding process for this frequency is very likely to be highly competitive with a large number of applicants. Groups are advised to strongly consider their licence application before deciding whether to submit it. Additionally, the frequency is allocated in the West London area and may not be available to applicant groups in other parts of the capital. We expect Ofcom to clarify the exact areas in which FM licences will be available when it invites applications.

A number of AM frequencies are also being made available in London and surrounding areas. However, groups are strongly advised to take advice from a professional transmission services provider before embarking on an AM application. You can find more information about AM licensing on our Frequency Availability advice page.

Updated by Bill Best on 3 March 2015.