Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 300 - 310)



  300. You may have done.
  (Mr Blissett) I think in terms of most industries it is sometimes where you are coming from that determines where you end up and we were a group in Birmingham, we were a very intelligent application, an extremely intelligent application, more so than Choice I think, but Choice Birmingham had the backing of Choice London and we were coming up from scratch from the base of having done lots of RSLs over a period and lots of training and so forth. We assembled a very intelligent group of people to run a radio station.

  301. Unfair competition from London.
  (Mr Blissett) So we came from nothing and wanted to start something. Choice was already established in London and supported the Birmingham group.

  302. Do you consider it appropriate for the Radio Authority to begin developing "Access Radio" now before a decision has been taken by the Government in principle?
  (Mr Buckley) Our view is that not only can the Radio Authority do so now within the framework of existing legislation but they should do because the sensible time to do an experiment is before you get legislation not after, in order that we can test our models, look at the economic viability, measure the impact of the sector, and so on. There is an opportunity to do that before new legislation comes into effect. Under a very similar clause in the Broadcasting Act 1996 the Independent Television Commission is already licensing four-year television restricted service licences and we believe that the Radio Authority could at least extend a limited number of pilot licences on a longer term basis in order that community radio can demonstrate its effectiveness.

Mr Maxton

  303. I do think you do a great job but if we are moving to a situation where both with digital television and digital radio Internet access is going to be available to almost everybody, have you done any study of the comparative costs of developing a local radio station as opposed to creating web sites with livecam broadcasting both in terms of radio and television?
  (Mr Buckley) Yes we have and I think the Internet is an extraordinarily exciting medium for people working in community media in terms of its flexibility, its access, its inter-activity particularly because participation and inter-activity are really at the core of community radio work. However, the costs of broadcasting on the Internet are extortionately high at present. British Telecom currently quote £25,000 per annum for two megabits of bandwidth which is enough to carry sufficient signal for 100 listeners listening at something approaching AM quality in mono. We are not looking for 100 listeners, we are looking for thousands of listeners in our communities, and we simply cannot afford the prices of webcasting as they are at the moment or indeed in the foreseeable future. It is very interesting ground in which to experiment but it is not the most cost-effective medium for community broadcasting. FM Radio is and remains so for the foreseeable future.

  304. You can use a web site of course for straight news?
  (Mr Buckley) You can use it for text-based material, archive programmes, short programmes people might listen to online and so on, but for a live 24-hour broadcasting service it really still falls well short of the appropriateness of traditional radio broadcasting.

  305. Given the flexibility and excitement this could bring to the community—and I think it is in the longer term the way forward—should we as this Committee be pressing to try and get those costs reduced very dramatically, if we can?
  (Mr Buckley) We would be delighted to see the costs coming down and no doubt they will with increased competition in the sector. Part of the problem has been the slowness of local loop unbundling, as I am sure you are aware. Whether the costs will come down sufficiently for it to come anywhere close to competing with broadcast technology is really doubtful and whilst there are many interesting and complementary aspects and roles for the Internet we will still want to have access to FM, AM and in the future digital broadcast frequencies.
  (Ms Dowson) Also community radio is about access to participate and listen. If by its very nature it is on the Internet you are therefore making it exclusive to a smaller number of people, and people do not listen to the radio via their computers.

  306. That is true at the moment.
  (Ms Dowson) That is absolutely true.

  307. What we were hearing from the digital radio people is that they will allow some form of Internet access on radios and, of course, televisions themselves because people will be using the television set rather than the computer screen to access the Internet as well. As that rolls out that is where one would hope that communities (rather than just talking about community radio) would be able to get access and be able to get a much wider audience.
  (Ms Dowson) When you are talking about participation it has to be in all areas. I think we have to go for the FM band where people do listen to the radio.

  308. It can be interactive too.
  (Mr Korbel) Very much. In our station in Longsight last year in the library foyer people were strolling up and we would say, "What do you want to do?" It is that easy, no keyboard, no techno fear.

  309. Again that will disappear.
  (Mr Korbel) At the moment and you cannot put your computer in the shower[2]—yet.


  310. What about access through mobile phones because people really do love their mobile phones?
  (Mr Blissett) That is like having a little portable radio as well. That sort of technology cannot be that difficult.

  (Mr Buckley) With the next generation of mobile phones there clearly is going to be the opportunity to carry media on it. The big question mark is what the mobile phone companies are going to charge the broadcasters for access, and given the amount they pay to the Government in licence fees we suspect their prices are not going to be low, but at this present point in time it is a case of let us watch and see what develops.

  Chairman: Thank you for a very valuable session. We are most grateful to you.

2   Note by Witness: This is a reference to the cheapness, ubiquity and portable nature of FM radio receivers. It is our firm belief that this will not be matched by "converged" media gadgets for the foreseeable future-especially in the greatly disadvantaged areas where Radio Regen works at the moment. Back

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