Licencing for community radio stations is quite similar to that for driving. There are 2 types provisional/temporary (or ‘one-year’ licences) and full licences.
A ‘one-year’ licence under the new Broadcasting Bill enacted in the Summer 2009, allows you to broadcast 100 days in a 12 month period. A day is defined as a 24 hour period. This has increased from the previous limit of 30 days. This 100 days is only be open to community radio stations, and will allow stations to broadcast for example every Saturday and Sunday for a year with a 2 week break at Christmas.
The regulation governing such licences is lighter than that for a 5 or 10 year ‘full’ licence as it is recognised that the community involved is often still at a developmental stage with regard to facilities, organisational structures and programming. Stations operating ‘one-year’ licences are not allowed to generate commercial revenue from advertising.
Even if a group intends to broadcast over a wide franchise area with a full licence, the power of the transmitter for a ‘one-year’ licence is generally fixed at a ‘weak’ level by the BCI/BAI. In general, this will allow a coverage of approximately 5 miles around the studio facilities. Groups intending to seek a larger franchise area than this in the long term should involve community groups and volunteers from the wider area to demonstrate potential and the level of engagement of the station with the wider community.
It is possible to apply for further ‘one-year’ licences as your current 12 months is coming to an end.
One of the reasons that the BAI issue one-year licences is to give stations which have long-term aspirations a reality check as to what is required to run a community radio station. Getting on air is often the easy part (though it mightn’t seem it at the time), sustaining an on-air presence as the initial enthusiasm fades is the challenge.