Without independent radio, homogeny thrives
Independent radio is vital for developing music culture and it needs to be protected, writes Worldwide FM presenter Tina Edwards
Alongside millions of listeners, I was devastated when I learnt that Worldwide FM is pausing programming from 28 October, after the station announced that it was “re-organising and re-evaluating the next phase and financing for the station” in a post on Instagram.
Having been a proud resident for almost the entirety of the station’s six years, I’ve witnessed Worldwide FM become an essential adhesive for a global community of underground music fans. Gilles Peterson’s award-winning station - alongside other community radio platforms like it - cements familial bonds between committed music fans, indie labels and DIY music press alike.
Worldwide FM is a hive of budding broadcasters and prolific DJs, where a grassroots ethos is key. It’s an alternative to the overwhelming amount of FM radio stations to choose from, where music diversity is limited. On traditional radio, we often tune into a cycle of pre-approved tracks: A-list and B-list releases that are doing the rounds on the hour, every hour. I’m not slating big radio stations; the levels of production and talent are some of the highest in the world, and I’m an avid listener of BBC 6 Music, Jazz FM, and plenty others. But the flexibility of community radio - whether that be through its programming, uncensored presenters or vinyl heavy shows - gifts listeners with originality, moments that can never be repeated.
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Community radio broadcasters have the freedom to choose their own track listing and to punctuate their links with rewarding personal stories - without the confinement of a looming news bulletin. Fascinating guests without profiles are as welcome as guests that have them. With that, unplanned conversational twists have the space to be explored. The freedom of online radio’s programming is what makes it so culturally valuable. It’s a paramount tool in supporting the independent music economy and in sustaining the careers of alternative broadcasters. The BBC has thick walls, and the social media game isn’t for everyone; for rising broadcast talent, community radio is a vocational place of learning and thriving. Independent stations often run workshops to fuel creativity outside their own walls, too, taking their role in the community seriously. That’s why, amongst the cost of living crisis, I fear for their viability.
Worldwide FM isn’t the first community radio station to demonstrate its fragility and it won’t be the last. Bristol’s SWU FM ceased broadcasting in September due to rising costs. The month before, London’s Threads Radio was evicted from their London HQ. South of the Thames, Balamii’s founder James Browning started 2022 by making the call to reduce the station’s output. As these stations and the likes of NTS, Clyde Built Radio, Reprezent FM, Sable, Dublin Digital Radio, Netil and Noods, and many more across the UK and Ireland, have shown, independent radio is crucial for cultivating local scenes. While the arts are still struggling to fully recover from the effects of the pandemic, the cost of living crisis is sweeping away its progress.
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Voices Radio, located in London’s Coal Drops Yard, is 15 months old. “There’s been more than a few times we've come close to running out of cash”, says station Director Tobias Oxnam. “This has been an entirely bootstrapped operation. Fortunately we've always managed to ride out the tough months and are now in relatively good shape and own most of our own equipment. It's very important to us that we do things right from the off, rather than trying to retro-engineer the station years down the line”.
Despite the wave of community radio closures of late, Tobias is optimistic about Voices’ future. “It's been difficult looking more than a month, even a week, ahead, while we built out the station, but we've finally been able to start thinking ahead recently”.
In this social media driven landscape, where likes and follows are king, I fear for the diminishing opportunities that there are for the next generation to develop their unique contributions to radio.
Without community radio - its characters, its chat rooms, its loveable unpredictability - we risk a homogenous landscape. Spread the word about your favourite radio platforms, donate or pay into their membership packages, wear their merch with pride or volunteer - if that’s right for you. Let’s celebrate and protect the stations we love, however we can.
Tina Edwards is a DJ, broadcaster and music journalist, follow her on Twitter