Written evidence from Cumbria's Calling (FLM 61)

 

Executive Summary

 

Cumbria's Calling intends to provide a service for which there is an appetite[1] 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.1 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.

 

Introduction

 

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. Localized 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 & town bulletins, co-ordinate localized 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.

 

Background

 

4.1 The media climate seems as reactionary as meteorological conditions. In short, it appears old maxims, traditions & 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.[2] 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 localized 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.

 

Recommendations

 

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.


Appendix 1

 

Between April - September 2008, 155 men & 145 women willing to talk about their regular radio listening habits were surveyed in 5 Cumbrian towns: Cockermouth, Keswick, Penrith, Whitehaven & Workington.

 

Findings at a glance:

 

Out of 155 men and 145 women aged between Twenty & Eighty, 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.

 

Do you listen to Time What would you need

Total %age Radio Cumbria of day Why/not If not, what to hear to change over

Men 155 of sample Yes/No

20 - 40 49 32% 23/26 Weekend Local/Middle aged Channel hop/CFM Meatier subjects

40 - 60 94 61% 30/64 Dip in each day Lamb bank/bland Classic FM/R4* More thought

60 & over 12 7% 2/10 Morning/Never Lack of intelligent output R3/R4**/RS provoking

* 54; ** 7

Women 145

20 - 40 4 3% 0/4 Never Life's too short CFM/R1 Not interested

40 - 60 94 65% 13/81 Evenings Local/doesn't engage R4*/RS Engaging sincerity

60 & over 47 32% 18/29 News Bulletins Local news/life's too short Classic FM/R4**/RS New voices, new ideas

* 68; ** 23

 


Appendix 2

RAJAR - Radio Joint Audience Research Ltd - All Individuals 15+ for period ending December 2008

 

Station Popl'n Reach Reach % Av Hrs Av Hrs Total Hours Share in

(000s) (000s) / head / listener (000s) TSA %

ALL RADIO 50,735 45,511 90 20.00 22.30 1,013,107 100.00

ALL BBC 50,735 33,520 66 11.10 16.80 564,437 55.70

All BBC Network Radio 50,735 29,923 59 9.30 15.70 470,405 46.40

BBC Local/Regional 50,735 9,471 19 1.90 9.90 94,032 9.30

ALL COMMERCIAL 50,735 31,210 62 8.40 13.70 427,050 42.20

All National Commercial 50,735 13,640 27 2.10 7.90 107,071 10.60

BBC Radio 4 50,735 9,812 19 2.50 12.80 125,197 12.40

BBC Radio Cumbria 404 111 27 3.00 10.80 1,192 15.30

Cfm 244 85 35 3.90 11.30 962 29.90

All Individuals 15+ for period ending March 2009

ALL RADIO 50,735 45,762 90 20.20 22.40 1,024,910 100

ALL BBC 50,735 33,809 67 11.40 17.10 577,172 56.30

All BBC Network Radio 50,735 30,261 60 9.50 15.90 481,292 47.00

BBC Local/Regional 50,735 25,608 19 1.90 10.00 95,880 9.40

ALL COMMERCIAL 50,735 31,498 62 8.40 13.50 425,902 41.60

All National Commercial 50,735 13,315 26 2.10 7.90 104,827 10.20

BBC Radio 4 50,735 9,982 20 2.50 12.80 128,065 12.50

BBC Radio Cumbria 404 129 32 3.20 10.10 1,300 15.60

Cfm 245 87 35 3.60 10.10 881 19.10

All Individuals 15+ for period ending September 2009

ALL RADIO 51,280 45,721 89 19.70 22.10 1,008,480 100

ALL BBC 51.280 33,577 65 10.80 16.50 555,143 55.00

All BBC Network Radio 51.280 30,264 59 9.20 15.60 472,357 46.80

BBC Local/Regional 51,280 8,532 17 1.60 9.70 82,786 8.20

ALL COMMERCIAL 51,280 31,225 61 8.30 13.70 427,905 42.40

All National Commercial 51,280 13,516 26 2.10 8.10 109,666 10.90

BBC Radio 4 51,280 10,218 20 2.40 12.30 125,263 12.40

BBC Radio Cumbria 407 121 30 2.90 9.90 1,197 15.40

Cfm 246 89 36 3.40 9.40 832 17.30



[1] Cumbria's Calling research findings (Appendix 1)

2 Rajar December 08 - September 09 (Appendix 2)