The smartphone generation of community radio listeners: Is FM sustainable?

Janey Gordon


This article examines the current environment of audio transmission services in the UK with particular regard to the community radio sector. Community radio stations in the UK are having to consider the extent to which their audiences choose to listen on an FM analogue signal and whether this is sustainable for them. The number of new platforms that a listener is using to access audio programming now includes DAB, SSDAB, TV carriers and online services. There are also developments to the actual receivers that may be used, in particular the use of smartphones to listen via online Wi-Fi or 4G. Currently there are no plans for an FM turn off in the UK and a hybrid system of transmission and reception is the most likely outcome for the foreseeable future. The consequences of this environment for the broadcasters, the listeners and the audio content are discussed in turn. A sample group of twelve community radio stations have been studied to assess current practices. This group are the remaining stations from the original Access Pilot community radio stations that went on air in 2002 and so are the oldest and most established of the UK stations. This article provides baseline definitions where relevant and uses recent data from national audience research, regulatory and other bodies to assess what people are listening to and how, along with examples from public service and commercial radio, as well as community radio.


United Kingdom, community radio, FM, DAB, SSDAB, social media, smartphones

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