We are coming to the end of a year we may want to forget but will remember forever. 2020: the game changer. The year when the global pandemic hit, disrupting everything causing pain, loss, hardship, and uncertainty. Yet in all the grimness we find that this is our time to shine. In enforced isolation and the need to be distant, there has never been a greater need for connection and community support. That is what community broadcasting is all about and this year has seen local radio across the UK stepping up in the national crisis. Trusted local voices delivering important information and diverting us with great entertainment and cracking good music.
In responding to the pandemic all local radio has needed a community heart. Rather timely, then, that in the middle of all the turmoil traditional commercial local radio disappeared. The airwaves fill with happy, homogenized greatest hits. Market forces have weaved their magic, but those same forces reveal the gap. Water floods the sinking stone and community replaces commercial. As the year ends local radio is now firmly in the hands of non-profit media for community gain. Local radio is truly woven into the fabric of community life.
With over 300 community radio stations broadcasting across the UK, with more on the way via Small Scale DAB, our sector is now central to an industry previously dominated by the BBC and commercial networks. We are proud of this and we are right to shout about it. The CMA holds the megaphone to direct our voice. The power of that voice grows.
The success of community radio is now way beyond the dreams of the original legislators and there are opportunities for us with decision-makers and influencers. There are those vocalising about the inequality of paid-for public information messages with some getting paid and others airing the content for free. Pointing out inequalities is easy for we are never far from what is unfair. The simple truth is it is the government that is missing the opportunity. We attract audiences beyond the reach of mainstream media. They should be biting our hand off to access those audiences with safety and health information. Pointing this out is a key role for the CMA in 2021 and a top priority for me as Chair.
When I travel around the country visiting community stations I am heartened by the good reputation of the CMA. People like the advice, the guidance, the networking opportunities and the leadership we offer in representing sector interests with stakeholders and decision-makers.
The warmest reflections about the CMA are from those managers who have found themselves in a bind. Something has gone wrong. They have called the CMA and Bill has dropped everything to help them out. His knowledge and experience is invaluable. As far as I am aware Bill is the only person who is employed to help community radio in the UK. He does a great job. His dedication has been recognised by the Radio Academy who awarded him the Fellowship of the Academy in November. To those who ask “What the CMA does for me?” then I say if you do not know what the CMA does then good for you because that means you’ve never been in trouble or needed advice. Knowing that Bill is at the end of a phone is a reassurance that, in itself, makes membership worthwhile.
Bill fronts a great team, and I would like to take the opportunity to thank my fellow council members Janey, Richard, Gloria, Javed, Danny and Lol for the many hours they have given voluntarily to the work of the CMA and in service of others. Cathy too is key to the team and we all appreciate her level-headed professionalism.
The leadership of Danny, our retiring Chair, and Bill working with the CMA Council has driven the CMA forward as an outward-facing organisation. Going into the New Year, we have an opportunity to build on that by engaging, a dynamic, multi-skilled and diverse Council that will help develop partnerships and collaborative working.
Our AGM will be held remotely on Saturday 20th February. Under our new constitution, we will have 6 seats available for the election, or re-election, of Council members. I am pleased to say that interest in joining the CMA Council is high. If any member would like to know more about joining the Board and what it entails, then do get in touch with me.
Now is the time of opportunity for community broadcasting. We need to carry grass-roots media forward with a national strategic vision. The CMA is best placed to lead this. Join me in making sure this happens. In the meantime, let us hope for a happy, peaceful and productive New Year.
Chair of the CMA