Future for local and regional media - Culture, Media and Sport Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by Cumbria's Calling


  Cumbria's Calling intends to provide a service for which there is an appetite1 yet no current offering, namely intelligent local radio: Radio 4 for Cumbria.

  Ambitions of the current offer are, seemingly, to appeal to the lowest common denominator. This misses any target of summoning or developing a loyal following. Audience tunes in for the traffic, the weather and lamb-bank; they tune out in order to locate programming which engages their thinking.[142] Whether television or radio, figures show decline in audience share for the purely commercial stations. They want something more than advertising.

  In a county such as Cumbria, whose topology and topography have determined isolationist communities, there is a compelling case that argues by bringing together Cumberland and Westmorland communities, greater understanding is fostered, higher social engagement is attained and deeper intellectual, social, physical and emotional well-being is fostered.

  A forum for reliably informed debate of the panoply of issues which matter to Cumbrians would nourish just such a place of prosperity.

  Once we have shown how successful our intelligent local radio station is, then we will be happy to work with other counties to help them create their own intelligent local radio station.

  However, before that can occur, Cumbria's Calling must abseil down the perilously jagged cliffs which legislation has revealed. We don't believe that anyone undertakes lightly to create a serious operation as this. Therefore, making the process not merely hard but puzzlingly prohibitive seems, with rapacious vigour to quash attempts to forge informing entertainment and generate entrepreneurially creative jobs.

  The Digital Britain report pre-supposes much on behalf of the population's media requirements. However, it devotes a fraction of its attention towards radio. Given this cursory glance, it seems disproportionate that a mandatory switch from analogue to digital output has been determined as being in the interests of the entire Kingdom. Some places, and Cumbria is certainly among them, are simply not minded overnight to change the way they access media.


  1.1  The more local the information, the more pertinent to listeners. And if a broadcaster is to offer as broad a spectrum to myriad interest groups, then it must find a way of delivering output relevant to all its listeners that engages their minds and hearts. Minds in terms of reliability, hearts in terms of ease of access. Trust must be established as the infrastructure to building audience share.

  1.2  It has been seen, over the past five years and more acutely in the last two, that an audience switches off drivel. Commercial stations, be they radio or television have found a concomitant drop in advertisers' interest when drivel informs content. This is alarming to their balance sheet.

  1.3  Such fall-off strongly suggests an appetite for something else and we posit that something is intelligent local radio.

  2.1  Cumbria's Calling has ambitions to be the country's first intelligent local radio station. However, in our path stands a powerfully put yet flimsy argument of there being insufficient spectrum availability.

  2.2  We have examined the lengthy charts detailing allocation of spectrum to Aviation, Maritime, Astronomy and CB sectors and they are indeed tightly packed.

  2.3  Rather like a scrip issue in finance, where on share is divided, we would raise the question as to why more spectrum cannot be added? If an encyclopedia can now be stored on a grain of sand, technology must be at a point where condensing sound waves is a necessary and sufficient condition for both storage and emitting output.

  2.4  We find this an opportune, creative response to expansion of the network without burdening the listener with the expense of yet more hardware and burdening landfill with dejected metal.

  3.1  The regulator ought operate for the common good. Regulating broadcasting innovation to within an inch of its enterprise is suffocating attempts to fill the widening gap in the thought-provoking media market.

  3.2  By giving greater access to serious local broadcasters of spectrum availability, the gap can be narrowed. Localised features can stretch across greater breadth and be informed by a deeper well of experience and understanding. This enriches both output and listener loyalty. Bringing together communities should be part of the remit of any serious broadcaster: enabling that it happen is the remit of the regulator.

  3.3  As an aside, at the time of writing, we in Cumbria have been given ample evidence of the need for a local network which acts as a community beacon. Cumbria has found its usual Offer of bland trivia to be disaffecting in the extreme. Clearly, the events we've experienced over the last six weeks are unusual. They highlight, however, how useful Cumbria's Calling could have been to the entire county. Its schedule, informed by audience need, will make connections, issue village and town bulletins, co-ordinate localised rescue efforts and could have supported the splendid job done by emergency and rescue services.

  3.4  Additionally, we have listened to the many stories of people's Flood experiences. A meaningful proportion have agreed, when asked, that some kind of central, non-governmental, organization should synchronize a formal, normative response to the emotional trauma sustained by the far broader group of those directly affected. Again, an emotionally literate organization such as Cumbria's Calling will be sufficiently nimble to co-ordinate that kind of mechanism.

  3.5  In virtue of its local immediacy, it can provide at lower cost highly targeted, reliably relevant information.

  3.6  What larger, perhaps more cumbersome, broadcasters would be prevented from accessing by cost, we could provide with economic simplicity.


  4.1  The media climate seems as reactionary as meteorological conditions. In short, it appears old maxims, traditions and precepts no longer obtain.

  4.2  Advertising has lost its driving license. Therefore if media outlets are no longer driven by advertisements, business models must adapt.

  4.3  Cumbria's Calling sees this as a perfect moment to think creatively of how to address the dual aspect of falling audiences and advertisers.

  4.4  BBC Radio Cumbria seems uninterested in its falling figures.[143] Nor is Cfm inclined to listen alternatives solutions to the fall in advertising revenue.

  4.5  In the case of the former, this reluctance to deliver on its obligations offers us the opportunity to fill the gap with fully accessible, county-wide, quality output of consistent content funded by alternate means.

  5.1  Such an event would require Ofcom to open up spectrum.

  5.2  Conversations and meetings demonstrate Ofcom's full-blooded opposition to doing anything with regard to FM in virtue of its commitment to a fully Digitized broadcast platforms.

  5.3  Cumbrians will get there, but currently there exists no appetite for digital radio: just bewilderment of its existence. [There was no appetite for digital television and the resentment caused by its infliction has been profound.]

  5.4  For a new station to succeed, it must attract listeners, not repel them.

  5.5  This is why FM frequency is part of the future for local radio in Cumbria.

  6.1  It may not be possible to acquire a share of a larger broadcaster's spectrum which chooses not to fulfill its remit: we merely ask the question as to why shared spectrum would not function such as to provide fully rounded output for its beleaguered audience?

  6.2  This question is asked in the absence of a straightforward solution to acquiring a county-wide FM wave-length.

  7.1  We see serving the myriad communities of Cumberland and Westmorland as our primary purpose. In addition to serious programming which "bigs up"' and inspires local talent, local radio should create jobs, cohere communities, keep students in the County through training and redeploy the third sector to mentor them. We could offer a sustainable, socially enterprising solution to some of the County's real and core problems.

  7.2  It is now an accepted dogma that localised news and features are what the audience finds meaningful.

  7.3  If we can galvanize each community to work towards a common, prudent goal, then their flourishing inspires a self-sustaining dynamic.

  8.1  For us, intelligent local broadcasting is the future of radio.


  9.1  Ofcom is tasked to adapt to communities' requirements rather than sculpt communities [and their broadcasters] to its wants.

  9.2  The voice of social enterprise is heard before throttled by the heavy hand of capitalism.

  9.3  Collaboration is encouraged between agencies such that multi-tiered bureaucracy can ventilate coherent initiatives, not suffocate them.


  Between April-September 2008, 155 men and 145 women willing to talk about their regular radio listening habits were surveyed in five Cumbrian towns: Cockermouth, Keswick, Penrith, Whitehaven and Workington.

  Findings at a glance:

  Out of 155 men and 145 women aged between 20 and 80, 101 men and 114 don't listen to BBC Radio Cumbria.

  Put another way, 215 out of 300 Cumbrians—or 71.6%—don't listen to local radio because they find nothing to interest them. Over half of those respondents—61 men and 91 women—listen to Radio 4.
MenTotal 155 % age of sampleDo you listen to Radio Cumbria Yes/No Time of dayWhy/not If not, whatWhat would you need to hear to change over
20-404932% 23/26WeekendLocal/Middle aged Channel hop/
Meatier subjects
40-609461% 30/64Dip in each day Lamb bank/blandClassic FM/R4* More thought
60 & over127%   2/10Morning/Never
Lack of intelligent outputR3/R4**/RS provoking
*54; **7
20-4043%   0/4NeverLife's too short CFM/R1Not interested
40-609465% 13/81EveningsLocal/doesn't engage R4*/RSEngaging sincerity
60 & over4732% 18/29News BulletinsLocal news/life's too short Classic FM/R4**/RSNew voices, new ideas
*68; **23


RAJAR—Radio Joint Audience Research Ltd—All Individuals 15+ for period ending December 2008
StationPopl'n (000s)
Reach (000s)
Reach % /head Av Hrs/listener
Av Hrs (000s)
Total Hours Share in TSA %
All Radio50,735 45,51190 20.0022.301,013,107 100.00
All BBC50,73533,520 6611.1016.80 564,43755.70
All BBC Network Radio50,735 29,923599.30 15.70470,40546.40
BBC Local/Regional50,735 9,471191.90 9.9094,0329.30
All Commercial50,73531,210 628.4013.70 427,05042.20
All National Commercial50,735 13,640272.10 7.90107,07110.60
BBC Radio 450,7359,812 192.5012.80 125,19712.40
BBC Radio Cumbria404111 273.0010.80 1,19215.30
Cfm24485 353.9011.30 96229.90
All Individuals 15+ for period ending March 2009
All Radio50,735 45,76290 20.2022.401,024,910 100
All BBC50,73533,809 6711.4017.10 577,17256.30
All BBC Network Radio50,735 30,261609.50 15.90481,29247.00
BBC Local/Regional50,735 25,608191.90 10.0095,8809.40
All Commercial50,73531,498 628.4013.50 425,90241.60
All National Commercial50,735 13,315262.10 7.90104,82710.20
BBC Radio 450,7359,982 202.5012.80 128,06512.50
BBC Radio Cumbria404129 323.2010.10 1,30015.60
Cfm24587 353.6010.10 88119.10
All Individuals 15+ for period ending September 2009
All Radio51,280 45,72189 19.7022.101,008,480 100
All BBC51.28033,577 6510.8016.50 555,14355.00
All BBC Network Radio51.280 30,264599.20 15.60472,35746.80
BBC Local/Regional51,280 8,532171.60 9.7082,7868.20
All Commercial51,28031,225 618.3013.70 427,90542.40
All National Commercial51,280 13,516262.10 8.10109,66610.90
BBC Radio 451,28010,218 202.4012.30 125,26312.40
BBC Radio Cumbria407121 302.909.90 1,19715.40
Cfm24689 363.409.40 83217.30

142   Cumbria's Calling research findings (Appendix 1). Back

143   Rajar December 2008-September 2009 (Appendix 2). Back

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