The aim of our research was to find out how community radio stations in the UK responded to the changing circumstances caused by the lockdown. Station and operations directors, programme controllers, studio and volunteer managers were consulted by way of a survey entitled “Digital Technologies in Community Radio Production Practices: responding to COVID-19 social distancing measures” on what steps they took to sustain their broadcast output. Each was asked how well-equipped their station was, whether they had received any additional funding, to what extent their programme schedule and presenter line-up changed, and how their normal balance of speech to music was impacted by the enforced changes on production routines. They explained which skills, resources and other circumstances enabled practitioners to remain active: making radio content at home.
The need to examine the community radio sector’s capabilities has never been more crucial as the commercial independent local radio (ILR) sector is becoming increasingly more networked and less localized, and even the future of BBC local stations seems uncertain. Therefore, this research project was deliberately focussed on non-mainstream local radio to assess, from a micro-level perspective, how digital technologies and innovations enable or hinder practitioners in their production activities.
Our findings illustrate, through the information gathered and insights shared by the respondents, the wealth of technical know-how across the sector, and the passion and sense of commitment felt towards the stations and their local communities. They also reveal some inequalities and aspects of community broadcasting where teams are struggling and indeed may not make it through the fall-out of COVID-19.
Our research highlights that this sector is perfectly placed to provide locally specific health and welfare updates and indeed has proved itself to be very effective at responding to a crisis and incorporating new content alongside their usual entertainment and information outputs. Existing members and fans of the sector know this only too well, but there is clearly a need to amplify community radio’s contribution to society and its collective potential for delivering media for and with local audiences. This ability and preparedness to do so should not be taken for granted. Community radio operators deserve more government and local authority help and funding to sustain studio infrastructures, incorporate technological innovations and to boost volunteer workforce morale, helping stations to share best sustainable and crisis-response practice models.