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Mary Traynor is Head of Learning and Teaching at Cardiff School of Creative and Cultural Industries, University of South Wales.
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Radio in Small Nations
Production, Programmes, Audiences
By Richard J. Hand, Mary Traynor
University of Wales PressCopyright © 2012 The Contributors
All rights reserved.
1 In Search of Access, Localness and Sustainability: Radio in Post|devolutionary Wales
Steve Johnson and Philip Mitchell
INTRODUCTION: THREE MODELS OF RADIO
Wales provides an intriguing case study of radio's role, both actual and potential, in the construction of the identity of a small nation, not least because it has the highest levels of radio listening in the UK (Ofcom, 2011f: 23). Choices available along the radio dial in Wales offer not only exposure to two distinct languages but also to several different tiers of broadcasting, illustrating varying conceptions of 'nationhood': listeners here may choose between transmissions from the overarching nation state (the United Kingdom) and others which target either their immediate Welsh locality, or that locality's surrounding regional area, or Wales's entire population of 3 million, addressed as a single, discrete nation.
The connections between the smaller-scale localities and the larger entities which they collectively comprise should, ideally, be made audible on the airwaves of these various tiers, thus helping to fulfil the media's role in 'the building of collective solidarity and understanding inside Wales' (Williams, 1997: 6). This process depends partly on the extent to which Welsh citizens are able to attain genuine access: access not only to a diverse choice of broadcast content but also to participation in decisions about the media's structure and operation, as well as the potential for an active contribution to the creation of the broadcast content. In addition, it will depend on the extent to which a genuine 'localness' is achieved, with regard not only to the content but also to the ownership of the radio stations in question. Thirdly, it will depend on the sustainability of the various tiers, with regard to their funding and financial footing as well as in relation to their long-term credibility and relevance amongst their target communities.
The achievability of these goals is conditioned by a set of constraints that provide the context within which radio in Wales operates. In addition to the all-pervasive constraints of finance and funding, these relate partly to the political context. Wales is an example of a 'stateless' nation which has acquired a significant level of devolved policy-making powers, as a result of the late 1990s creation of the National Assembly for Wales (NAfW) and the 2004 advent of the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG). Broadcasting, however, is not among the set of areas for which the WAG has responsibility, so direct policymaking is retained by the central UK Government. Although the 2011 referendum on the tension of law-making powers enhanced WAG's degree of independence, broadcasting remains an area which is outside its direct remit.
Wales's physical characteristics are also significant. For a relatively small nation its geography is complex in broadcasting terms, including as it does substantial areas of intermittently high land where analogue radio and television reception is difficult. Consequently, investment in additional transmission arrangements has been required, with a resultant disproportionately high number of the UK's transmitters (Andrews, 2006: 193; Williams, 2008: 97). Access to broadband, mobile and digital radio coverage is also problematic away from urban areas, a significant issue in view of Wales's relatively high rural population. In addition, the long border with England produces a transmission overlap affecting 40 per cent of the Welsh population (Ofcom, 2008: 15) and in some areas broadcasts from London-based radio channels can be heard more easily than BBC Radio Wales or Radio Cymru, a reminder of how Wales is relatively far more 'porous', with regard to broadcasting, than either Ireland or Scotland (Talfan Davies, 1999: 17).
Further, socio-cultural constraints might also be briefly cited. Compared to the rest of the UK, for instance, Wales has relatively high levels of deprivation and financial exclusion, with income and expenditure well below the UK average (Ofcom, 2008: 14; Welsh Government, 2011). Parallel to this is what is often referred to as Wales's 'information deficit' (Wyn Jones et al., 2000; Audience Council Wales, 2011), largely a consequence of the frequently lamented lack of a fully fledged national press (in contrast to Scotland, for example). This, in turn, places a particular onus on broadcasting, including radio, to construct and disseminate national and local identity (Williams, 2008: 94). Hence the depth of the concerns expressed by the National Assembly for Wales in regard to the nation's failure to have 'kept pace' with England's development of radio and the 'suspicion that Wales has been low on the priority list of entrepreneurs and regulators in the broadcasting industry'.
Notwithstanding such constraints, Wales's high overall levels of radio listening highlight the rich potential of the medium. Radio broadcasting in Wales has eventually come to consist of three main sectors or models of radio: the public service broadcasting model (PSB), the commercial/independent model and the community/access model. The three are distinguishable in terms of ethos, funding, ownership, content, public access and diversity. The PSB model, the only one in existence in Wales for the first fifty years of its broadcasting history, is traditionally seen as an approach with certain key tenets: universal availability and equality of access; a financial reliance on public sponsorship; diversity and responsiveness to different audiences; public accountability, and a conception of news as a public good rather than a private commodity (see, for example, Iosifidis, 2010; Lewis and Booth, 1989: 51 — 70). Within a mixed broadcasting system, PSB co-exists with the privately owned radio sector. Such a sector has been in place in Wales, with several false starts, since the 1970s, in the form of a varying number of commercial radio stations. Dependent, above all, on advertising revenue for its financial viability, this model of radio is often seen as challenging the perceived paternalism or cultural elitism of PSB's approach, as well as its cost-effectiveness (see Dunaway, 1998: 92).
The third model, now usually designated as the community radio sector, is the most recently and tentatively established in Wales, and is commonly seen as one which prioritizes social gain over profit, and which focuses — for both its audience and, crucially, for its volunteer participants — on localized urban and rural communities.
In scrutinizing these issues of access, localness and sustainability, this chapter explores the extent to which radio in Wales is able to contribute to the construction of an independent cultural viability and thereby fulfil a key indicator of genuine 'small nationhood'. It argues that a mixed radio broadcasting ecology, in which each of the three models co-exist and complement each other, is essential but, moreover, that it would be beneficial to the Welsh nation for a firm commitment to be made to nurturing the community radio tier.
PUBLIC SERVICE RADIO BROADCASTING IN WALES
In the case of Wales, traditional PSB tenets have been accompanied by countervailing tensions, in that on the one hand BBC Radio has been seen as needing to protect the unity of the British nation, while also empowering a sense of small nationhood and of national regions on the other. A brief summary of the BBC's contribution to radio in Wales from the 1920s to the present day will illuminate the ways in which these countervailing objectives have competed.
Following on from its first broadcasts in 1923, the initial stage of the BBC's output in Wales succeeded in being conspicuously local in that 'everything Cardiff transmitted was unique to Cardiff ' (Davies, 1994: 6). This was soon followed, however, by a gradual incorporation of the output into a regional and UK-wide broadcasting network which left little scope for Wales-based decision-making on programming policy and development. Within just a few years technological progress had made it possible for simultaneous broadcasting across different regions, constituting an early forerunner of present-day networking. Thus, in the case of Wales, it was decided that programming originated in London would take up two whole evenings a week (Scannel and Cardiff, 1991: 306 — 7). Parallel to this, steps were taken to ensure that the broadcast output was as stylistically similar as possible to other areas of the UK, with a minimizing of any distinguishing features of accent, diction or mode of address. Such developments gave rise to Saunders Lewis's famous comment that 'the BBC administers Wales as a conquered province' (Lucas, 1981: 52). In addition, the BBC's original focus on the 'local' was replaced by a 'regional' emphasis, within which Wales's visibility was weakened by being part of 'the western region' together with the English south-west (Briggs, 1965: 321), and it was not until 1936 that a separate 'Welsh region' was recognized and established.
From that point on, further progress in establishing a sense of genuine cultural independence on the airwaves around Wales, one consonant with PSB tenets, would increasingly be the result of determined lobbying. Such campaigning for genuine Wales-based and Wales-oriented broadcasting became closely linked to parallel campaigns for Welsh-language output (which had found scant support from the BBC hierarchy during the first couple of decades of radio). Such concerns were given renewed vigour by the creation in 1947 of the Welsh Regional Advisory Committee (WRAC) and a further boost by the 1951 report of the Beveridge Committee on Broadcasting, which lambasted the BBC for its London-centric approach and called for a renewed commitment to PSB principles via a 'democratization of broadcasting' and a 'public representation service' which would foreground regional voices and concerns (Crisell, 1997: 76). The Beveridge Report triggered the conversion of the WRAC into the Broadcasting Council for Wales (BCW), which acquired a more comprehensive remit for radio partly in recognition of the growth in radio listening, with 82 per cent of Welsh households owning a radio licence by 1952 (Davies, 1994: 160 — 71).
The following decade, in the wake of the Pilkington Report, steps were taken to begin the process of converting the BBC's regional radio network into a local one. This led several Welsh localities, Swansea chief amongst them, to lobby for inclusion in the new local network. However, the 1972 Sound Broadcasting Act ruled out the situating of any local BBC stations inside Wales (or any other 'national regions'), hence BBC Wales's enduring Wales-wide remit, and hence also the opportunity which would open up for the commercial radio sector at the local level. A third report, from the Crawford Committee in 1973, addressed the lack of Welsh-language radio broadcasting which had been flagged up by the BCW, paving the way for the splitting of the single BBC service and the creation in the late 1970s of BBC Radio Wales (originally on medium wave only) and Radio Cymru (using FM on VHF). Although both then went through a transitional period in which their broadcasts were transmitted as opt-outs from the BBC's UK-wide Radio 4 and 2, respectively, they both gradually established a more autonomous identity, with the result that by the mid-1990s Radio Cymru, for example, had increased its output to eighteen hours a day.
By this time both channels were facing competition within Wales from the newly established commercial local radio stations. Moreover, both were subject to criticism from listeners, politicians and pressure groups, in the case of BBC Wales for being 'too closely identified with the south Wales valleys', and in the case of Radio Cymru for a lack of appeal to younger listeners and what was perceived by some as an 'over-Anglicization' (Ellis, 2000: 194), namely the use of songs, sound bites and place-names in English. Radio Wales reacted to such pressures by taking steps to target listeners beyond its 'valleys heartland' (Barlow, 2006: 144) by covering cultural, sporting and political activities in other areas of the country. Radio Cymru's mid-1990s relaunch aimed to increase the proportion of younger listeners, from a wider variety of backgrounds, by means of a more populist programming approach based on 'longer programmes, which are personality-led, generally live and linked by the presenters rather than continuity announcers' (Ellis, 2000: 191), although this drive for younger listeners was seen by some as at odds with any attempts to de-anglicize the station's output. Continued expressions of concern from groups such as Cylch yr Iaith (the Language Circle) led to the publication of guidelines on the use of Welsh by Radio Cymru presenters (Davies, 1999; Ellis, 2000: 192 — 4).
The present-day situation of BBC Radio Wales and Radio Cymru is in some respects a healthy one. The two stations have the highest reach of any in Wales, for example (Rajar, 2011). Moreover, BBC Radio spend per head is higher in Wales than in most of the UK (Ofcom, 2011f ), although prominent amongst the challenges currently facing the PSB radio sector in Wales is that of ensuring a sustainable financial footing in a climate of significant budgetary limitations (see Williams, 2008: 96) while also ensuring a balance in programming between music and more expensive types of speech-based output. It should also be borne in mind, of course, that although the BBC's overall radio audience in Wales is particularly high, with the 62 per cent share being above the BBC's UK average of 55 per cent (Ofcom, 2011f: 5), the most listenedto Stationsin Wales are the London-based BBC Radios 1 and 2. An additional challenge relates to access, notwithstanding the potentially central future role of DAB. Radio Wales's VHF coverage is still limited to 62 per cent of the population of Wales, as opposed to 95 per cent for Radio Cymru (Ofcom, 2008: 38), hence the commitment in the BBC's latest annual review to 'work with partners and stakeholders across the radio industry to extend the availability ... and to ensure that these vital national services are available to all' (BBC Cymru Wales, 2011: 18). Further, associated challenges relate to the harnessing of the interactive potential of new media and social media so as to reflect the evolving political reality, in the wake of the 2011 referendum, in ways which fully represent Welsh communities at both national and local level.
COMMERCIAL LOCAL RADIO IN WALES
The arrival of the first privately owned radio stations in Wales, and with it the first competition for the BBC, triggered considerable optimism, not only on the part of the policymakers but also from local authorities and community groups. This new tier of broadcasting would, it was hoped, not only be profitable but would also aspire to a genuine representativeness of the areas in which it was to be located. In Wales, an additional expectation was that Welsh-language broadcasting might be given renewed impetus (Evans, 2001). The reasons for this initial optimism, and also for its eventual frustration, provide an important insight into present-day concerns about the sector's sustainability.
The Sound Broadcasting Act of 1972 broadened the remit of the television regulator, the Independent Television Authority, so as to encompass radio as well, leading to the body's re-designation as the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA). One of the IBA's initial tasks was to establish the first wave of privately owned stations across the UK. The initial regulatory approach was firm and strongly encouraging of localness, with a prohibition on cross-ownership of stations and a requirement on each licence area to have a Listeners' Advisory Committee (see Barlow, 2007: 26). In addition, all programming schedules were required to be submitted to the IBA for pre-approval, all station owners were expected to be local and, moreover, encouragement was given to newspapers from the locality to take up a 15 per cent stake in the station (Carter, 1998: 8). Perhaps partly because of such tight regulatory constraints, initial progress was slow. Wales's first commercial radio station, Swansea Sound, began operating in 1974 but it would not be until the start of the next decade that the second, Cardiff Broadcasting Company (CBC), was established, with a very strong community orientation, followed by Gwent Broadcasting in 1983. CBC arrived as part of a new set of stations established under the fresh impetus brought by the 1980s Conservative government which 'had been attracted by the idea of widening audience choice, and by the provision of an economic incentive to potential owners and advertisers' (Crisell, 1997: 186). This would herald the start of a steadily more distanced and liberalized regulatory approach (Carter, 1998: 9 — 10). Even so, some optimism remained in that 'many different consortia, in different parts of the country, claimed to be able to convert the sort of political promise of local radio as announced in White Papers and echoed by the IBA into concrete broadcasting terms in their own areas' (Wright, 1980: 13). The financial reality proved otherwise, however, and by the mid-1980s both CBC and Gwent Broadcasting had collapsed. Nonetheless, the drive towards deregulation eventually fostered a steady and significant increase in what became known as the Independent Local Radio (ILR) sector, although it had come to be dominated by 'half a dozen or so major ownership groupings' (Carter, 1998: 16). This trend has also been closely reflected in the case of Wales, where the majority of ILR services have been owned and operated beyond its borders (thus questioning their true 'localness') and by companies with other media and corporate interests (questioning their genuine 'independence'). Moreover, present-day commercial revenues for the privately owned radio sector in Wales are amongst the lowest anywhere in the UK (Ofcom, 2011f: 25).
Excerpted from Radio in Small Nations by Richard J. Hand, Mary Traynor. Copyright © 2012 The Contributors. Excerpted by permission of University of Wales Press.
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Table of Contents
ContentsGeneral Editors' Foreword,
About the Contributors,
Radio in Small Nations: An Introduction Richard J. Hand and Mary Traynor,
1 In Search of Access, Localness and Sustainability: Radio in Post-devolutionary Wales Steve Johnson and Philip Mitchell,
2 Voice of a Nation: The Development of Radio and Ireland Rosemary Day,
3 We Don't Talk Any More: The Strange Case of Scottish Broadcasting Devolution Policy and Radio Silence Ken Garner,
4 New Zealand – A Radio Paradise? Brian Pauling,
5 Radio as an Expression of Nation and Sub-nation in Laos Mary Traynor,
6 Training for Life: The Contribution of Radio Training to Indigenous Education and Well-being in Australia Ioana Suciu and Kitty van Vuuren,
7 CHOU Arabic Radio in Montreal: Finding Unity in Diversity Martin LoMonaco,
8 Regional Radio and Community: John Lair and the Renfro Valley Barn Dance Jacob J. Podber,
9 Community Radio for the Czech Republic – Who Cares? Henry G. Loeser,
10 Radio in the Republic of Moldova: The Struggle for Public Service Broadcasting James Stewart,
11 Radio in Wales: The Practitioner Speaks Julie Kissick and Mary Traynor,