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Community radio in Wales is banging the drum for local people – it’s time for its value to be recognised

25 Apr 2023 9 minute read
Image by Andy Leung from Pixabay

Tony Wyn Jones, Chair of Wales Community Radio Network (WCRN)

As the nation transitions out of the pandemic in search of some semblance of stability amid economic uncertainty, the family of volunteers running community radio stations across Wales continue to provide an important public service and voice for local people.

With so much untapped potential, it’s time for government and media advertisers to step up and draw on the service’s strong embedded community connections.

Welsh community radio is going through a precarious time. What should be the bedrock of a thriving local broadcasting landscape in Wales is being abandoned by those who control the purse strings, despite the enduring loyalty of hundreds of communities across the country who understand the value that community radio delivers on a daily basis.

The hundreds of volunteers who dedicate thousands of hours each month to help run community radio stations, do it because they simply want to make a difference.

They want to put something back into society and to help others to help themselves. It’s the most rewarding job in the world.

But goodwill can only take you so far. Bills need to be paid, be they OFCOM licences or transmitter and equipment maintenance or station running costs.

The cost-of-living crisis has meant increased costs of around 10% due to inflation and in some cases, rents and utilities going through the roof. As a result, significant cutbacks on what could have been achieved have had to be made.

Reduced funding

There’s been a noticeable shift in national and local government funding priorities since 2010 and the ensuing austerity years, which has meant reduced funding for local radio. Right now, public funds are having to be used to heat and feed people – and rightly so – with initiatives such as ‘warm hubs’, as communities struggle to pay for their soaring energy and food bills.

The current explosion of warm hubs is an issue right across Wales and community radio volunteers know only too well the hardship some people suffer.

Wales’ Community Radio Network (WCRN) looks after the interests of volunteers within the Welsh Community Radio Network, including stations such as GTFM, Calon FM, Bro Radio and MônFM, and together, they help to publicise numerous Public Service initiatives and campaigns plus a myriad of other important issues destined for ‘hard-to-reach’ communities.

The number one priority is to serve the community for improved social gain, and to give those often forgotten, a voice and a different perspective which promotes diversity and strengthens community cohesion.

Since the listener target age demographic is so broad, and unlike commercial radio which maximised revenue income, community radio is best positioned to dedicate time to deliver vital information on anything, from energy-saving tips and local support groups appeals to council updates and public health announcements and other emergency information.

Key connector

Community Radio is the mainstay of our communities and act as the key ‘connector’ in every region in Wales, providing up to date local information pertinent to their broadcast area.

Competitors in commercial radio normally cover a much broader geographical area, resulting in local communities mostly hearing about national news matters or developments outside Wales. Many of our communities do not want to hear about stories relating to other parts of the UK or international news stories, and this is where community radio thrives, being able to engage their population on local issues – and providing a useful hyper local news and information service.

The pandemic was an interesting time for community radio. Stations were able to continue to fill the gaps left by local media outlets that completely disappeared for a while, such as local and community newspapers.

For a brief moment in time, community radio was able to open up a much-needed funding opportunity through additional advertising revenue relating to the pandemic, but they also helped to cascade a wealth of critical wellbeing and safety information, and the availability of local COVID grants or benefits to help support businesses and the population, on a free of charge basis.


Right now, it’s very difficult to generate advertising income because high street shops are suffering from the cost-of-living crisis, meaning that they are pulling back on radio advertising spending.

And unlike commercial and BBC radio, Community Radio stations don’t have access to regular audience figures provided by RAJAR (Radio Joint Audience Research) to measure listener numbers, which means many businesses are not confident enough to place ads with the sector. Without that limited line of revenue, its proving to be a very tough challenge to continue to deliver such an important community broadcasting service.

The worry for the industry is that as priorities shift depending on the social and economic landscape for people in the community, where will this leave local community radio and the valuable services it offers?

Every WCRN radio community station is a microcosm of a regional family. From the presenters and backroom volunteers who empty the bins or clean the studio, or provide equipment maintenance in our studio buildings across Wales, they all play a vital role in helping to deliver local news and information and entertainment to so many different regions.

They’re the ones who are embedded in our communities, and who shouldn’t have to rely on charity donations just to carry out the job they love, and a valuable service that communities need.

WCRN stations are suffering directly from the fallout of the pandemic and the economic uncertainty we’re all living through. GTFM for instance, which broadcasts to Rhondda Cynon Taf in South Wales, are having to do regular bucket collections outside supermarkets to help with annual operating costs. This is due to many local businesses going through a downturn, who don’t see the value in paying for adverts in such hard times.

Tudno FM, a popular community radio station that had been serving Llandudno in North Wales since 2008, sadly had to close in 2022 due to the lack of advertising revenue and an increase operating costs during the pandemic lockdowns.

How do we stop more community radio stations from going under?

Well, the truth is, there isn’t a ‘best model’ for community radio to safeguard its future, but there are measures that government could support in tandem with advertisers, and this will help the community radio industry to adapt quickly to the uncertain times we all find ourselves in.


This fragile sector has already needed to diversify its revenue streams. Some community radio stations now look to alternative income, by providing educational and training support for young people, enabling them to access grants and additional funding, however this also urgently needs to be supplemented with more Government Sponsored Adverts and Campaigns but also large corporates who tend to regularly use commercial radio.

Bilingual community stations like MônFM, who serve North-West Wales, play a crucial role in helping to sustain the Welsh Language on a daily basis, have not received funding like other bodies for promoting the Welsh Language, despite the good work they do on a daily basis.

That should and needs to change – the opportunity is being missed to reach a whole new raft of people who are local faithful community radio listeners up and down Wales.

Welsh Government ministers are regularly invited to speak on community stations to try to make them aware of the value of community radio and how it can reach certain parts of the community other traditional media cannot, especially reaching those with additional needs, and having the time to go into more detail on complex matters.

Money from Ofcom’s Community Radio Fund (CRF) does not provide community radio stations with long-term certainty or sustainability. It’s a relatively small pot of money that funds a staff or a developmental role for 12 months. If you’re bringing in someone new, 12 months isn’t enough time to bed them in – it takes that person at least six months to understand the organisation.

We therefore require longer-term grants to give us more certainty and enable us to implement plans in a more sustainable way – this is something that, for example, the previous Audio Content Fund could be re-structured to do, and to promote a new partnership between content developers and local community broadcasters.

Safety blanket

There used to be a separate Community Radio Fund presided over by the Welsh Government that acted as a safety blanket in Wales, however that was removed during the initial austerity years meaning the sector essentially had to be self-funding. The re-introduction of such a fund would be hugely beneficial and would create a baseline for survivability of community broadcasting.

The ambition would be to be able to employ a full-time community radio manager or co-ordinator for each station. For this to happen, government departments like the Home Office and Welsh Government needs to either be maintaining but mostly increasing advertising on community radio stations so that competition is on a level playing field with the commercial radio sector.

We are continuously thinking about innovative ideas to provide new solutions to local broadcasting; one possible idea to consider, would be to extend part of the BBC licence fee to cover the basic operating costs of community radio stations (on a similar basis to S4C).

We feel that we provide a necessary local public service and are already part of the larger broadcast landscape, which deserves to be recognised. Widening the provision to cover community radio from the license fee would be a step in the right direction and possibly a wider agreement to share news, content and useful Public information with and from the BBC.

Community radio stations have proven our value to the Welsh communities that we serve, especially during the pandemic. We can see the demand for increased ‘localism’ – and more need for local news, information and events coverage – we just need our key decision-makers to seize the moment and to provide the stable footing for community radio, WCRN Cymru, and the citizens, charities and local organisations we serve, to truly flourish.

Tony Wyn Jones is Chair of Wales Community Radio Network (WCRN)and Acting Chair of MônFM Community Radio.

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