Tips on how to build a community radio
Radio Civic Sfântu Gheorghe (Tulcea County) and Radio Civic Vârvoru de Jos (Dolj County) received licenses to operate as community radios, in the localities with the same names, in June 2018. The two radio stations began to broadcast a year after receiving the licenses and are successfully broadcasting even today.
The existence of these two radio stations was made possible by an experimental project implemented by the partners of the “Grassroot Wavelengths” project, funded by the European Commission through the Horizon 2020 program.
In the following, MedAlert and ActiveWatch, the Romanian partners of the project, present you some information that can be useful to those who want to start similar radio stations in their communities.
What is community radio?
Community radio differs from commercial and public radio in three fundamental ways. First, by the way the stations offer the local population the possibility that their voices can be heard; secondly, through the organizational culture of such stations, that emphasize volunteering and promote community participation; and third, by rejecting financially profit-oriented approaches and supporting a service that is non-profit and community-owned.
The main purpose of community radio is to give the various marginalized local groups a voice through the radio so that they can express their concerns, interests and needs, promote and protect their culture, traditions and heritage and determine their own development. In order for a community radio station to serve its purpose, community members must contribute to the day-to-day activities of the station, providing them with relevant and useful information.
The community radio station is in the community to provide easy access to its infrastructure and to encourage community members to participate in management, production and broadcasting, to have direct contact with the radio station. It creates a sense of ownership and belonging among community members. Participation is the main defining feature of community media; it is what places media communities outside of traditional media models, in which audiences are passive recipients of messages. Community participation refers to the continuous interaction between the radio station and the community and results in the station becoming the voice of the community, responding to its needs, concerns and interests.
Community radio is defined in Romanian legislation only in the Audiovisual Law, art. 1, point 6: “community television or broadcasting service – service that broadcasts audiovisual programs dedicated to an audience belonging to a specific community”. When applying for a community radio license, however, you can fill in “community” in the tick related to the thematic field, in Annex 1 (of the Regulatory Code).
How do you get a license?
In order to obtain a license to operate a community radio, you must, first of all, be patient.
First of all, you should consult the audiovisual legislation: the Audiovisual Law, the Audiovisual Content Regulatory Code (with updates) which can be found on the National Council of Audiovisual website here. Attention: the legal entity with which you want to apply for a license must have as object of activity “Radio broadcasting activities” provided in the classification of CAEN codes. This information does not appear in the legislation mentioned above and the lack of this object of activity in the CAEN of the applicant legal entity will lead to its automatic disqualification (the documents will be rejected from the tender, so you will not even participate in the competition).
Secondly, you must ask the National Audiovisual Council (NAC) to include in the list of frequencies it puts out for competition a frequency for the area you are interested in. Please note that this request must be made whenever you decide to apply for a license. However, keep in mind that NAC rarely organizes radio frequency contests, so in this regard you will have to be patient. In September 2020, the NAC published a list of available broadcasting frequencies. The list can be consulted here. No frequency competitions have been organized until the date of publication of this Guide (1 July 2021).
What technical infrastructure is needed?
Content creation. Broadcast infrastructure (software):
Most of our volunteers use mobile phones to record interviews, announcements or any such content, using a recording app.
For editing this content we generally use the Audacity program, which is free, easy to use and has guides in Romanian. To convert files where necessary, we also use free software such as Switch. Playlists – radio shows are made with Playlist Creator 3.6.2 – free software.
The recorded or processed content is sent to whatsapp groups created by teams, depending on needs, and stored in google drive, in dedicated folders.
Practically, for content creation, the whole infrastructure can be free. Of course, there is also the option to purchase microphones, recorders or sound processing software.
To stream live, the phone uses a linux-open source streaming icecast application on raspberry pi and receives it on a dedicated server. craiova .ro maintained by volunteers. Auxiliary microphones can be used.
For the broadcast, either the rootio software with the phone that connects to the transmitter is used, or, for backup, Radio DJ, along with Voicemeeter banana free software (switches between phone and computer), installed on a miniPC. Also, to make the stream on the computer we use the free Butt software.
We also use TTS software for weather and other announcements and even radio shows.
Tutorials created by us can be found here.
Broadcast infrastructure (hardware):
|No.||Equipment type||quantity||Technical specifications||Function|
|1||FM transmitter||1||Mozart 50 – 50W||FM signal transmission|
|2||Android SmartPhone||1||NOKIA 3.1 / Samsung with Android 8.0 and up||Audio source|
|3||Battery||2||FCD 12-15012V – 150 Ah||Energy source|
|4.||Bipolar Circuit Breaker 10A||1||Bipolar Circuit Breaker 10A||Provides overvoltage protection|
|5||inverters||2||ESolar All-in-One 3KVA – 5KVA-Multifunctional inverter/regulator with LCD panel-Integrated MPPT load regulator of maximum 60A-Functions: inverter + AC charger + 1500w solar controller||Adjust the battery charge to prevent overcharging|
|6||Antenna pillar (Monopole tower)||1||Spiderbeam Pole 18mfully extracted length (height)18m (60ft)transportation length1.70m (5ft 7 “)Weight6.8kg (15lbs)bottom diameter73mm (2 5/6 “)top diameter||The FM antenna is mounted above this pillar|
|7||RF cable||23 m||LMR-240 50 ohm coaxial cable||Transmits the RF signal to the antenna from the transmitter|
|8||Dipole FM antenna||1||LPFM CFM-95SL88-108 MHz, 1.25 db gain, vertical polarization||FM signal transmission|
|9||AC-DC converter||1||220V to 5V||Converts the power supply according to the input requirements for charging the phone|
|10||USB charging cable||1||Micro USB NOKIA||Used to charge the mobile phone, connected to the AC-DC converter|
|11||Audio cable||1||Double RCA cable||Transmits audio from the phone output to the transmitter input|
|12||Outdoor metal box with fans||1||Rack 9U – ext.600×600||It houses the mobile phone, FM transmitter, power distribution block, AC-DC converter, cooling fan, heating air heater and all interconnection cables|
|13||Heating||1||FE150Power 150W||Air heater for freezing appliances.|
|14||low voltage AC cables||3 x2||Cables||Connects the cooling fan, air heater, FM transmitter and AC-DC converter to the power distribution block.|
|15||AC power distribution block||1||PDU8p + protection 1upower distribution block with 8 AC output ports||Distribution point for AC supplied by the inverter|
|16||Cooling fan||2||120 mm 2000 RPM AC fan||Provides cooling air for the enclosure components|
|17||RF Surge Protector||1||TRANS- DATA900-2500MHz||The device protects the electronic devicesduring thunderstorms.|
|18||Noise limiter||1||PAC SNI-1 / 3.5 3.5-mm Ground Loop Noise IsolatorClose to perfect response of +/- 0.03 dB from 2-20,000 HzUtilizes proprietary audio transformers for a 1.3 dB gain||Line out converter for factory radios with 2 to 50-watts per channel|
|19||Tecsun q3 recorder||1||Tecsun Q3 (BLUE) FM Radio with MP3 player and Recorder||Used for recording broadcasts, programs broadcast by the transmitter.|
|20||Wireless internet router (GSM)||1||Provides an additional source of internet via gsm card.|
|21||Raspberry pi||1||Ensures the stream transmission of the broadcast for monitoring and control, of the programs broadcast after the transmitter.|
|22||Minicomputer||1||Hosts the backup solution for the phone / platform (DJ Radio together with Voicemeeter banana software) Streams for (with Butt software) the broadcast programs, before the transmitter. Ensures level adjustment|
What human resources infrastructure is needed?
For community radio to exist, people are important. Civic Radio collaborators are between 15 and 75 years old. There are community assistants, agricultural engineers, students, cooks, family doctors, civil servants, entrepreneurs, etc. Each of these people has diverse interests, journalistic or narrative talents, different motivations to get involved, and each of these people makes radio richer and more relevant to the people in the community. A community radio without this content proposed, thought and produced by people in the community is worthless.
We gathered community leaders, but also regular people, to talk to them about radio and invite them to join. Of these, a few stayed with us and became the core team of Radio Civic. We also spoke to local authorities and sought support from them (for example for the location of antennas and broadcasting equipment).
How to build the programming schedule?
When we created the two community radio stations Radio Civic, we thought of a scheduling grid with fixed elements, which would provide a basic structure, in which we inserted flexible sections, easily adaptable to the ability to create content, by community members.
The idea of community radio was generally viewed with enthusiasm by everyone we spoke to about it, whether they were from the community or from outside the community. But there were also people who thought we would not succeed because people would not be interested. Time has shown us that with a lot of work and patience, wonderful things can be achieved.
One problem we faced at the beginning was that the locals were either not interested in listening to radio programs, or, when listening, they were more likely to watch programs such as on the public radio, which broadcast on AM. A little research before building the programming schedule to find out what consumption habits people have, including what music they prefer, can be very helpful.
Because we wanted to create an attractive radio from the beginning, we chose to select a few programs of some larger broadcasters, which did not reach the areas where we broadcast. We obtained permission from these broadcasters to take over these programs (you can see in the Radio Civic programming schedule what the programs are about). We also received permission to use free audio or text content (which we converted into audio) from several publishers.
Although we rebroadcast these programs, the research we did in the community showed us that people are actually interested in the local content, produced by the locals. We currently produce several programs with local resources:
- a special two-hour daily music program
- interviews with people in the community
- newsletters with local, national and regional information, written and read by local people
- local ads (stores’ schedule, pharmacy, sales ads, etc.)
- stories and poems read and sometimes written by people in the community
- food recipes submitted by people in the community
- a program in the local ethnic language
- weather updated several times a day, using software created especially for us, and read by a text-to-speech robot
- health pills written and read by community nurses or local family doctors
- live recordings or broadcasts of religious services
- recordings with local music, performed by local voices
Of course, you can add countless others to these ideas when building your program radio for your community radio.
You can consult the Civic Radio Grid here and here.
What rules should we follow to create a credible and attractive community radio?
We want to share with you some tips that, in our experience, can be useful to someone who builds a community radio.
- Be inclusive – all social, ethnic or age groups must find content and voices to represent them, on the community radio.
- Be democratic – give freedom to those who create content, but establish together a system through which any material is supervised by a colleague. In this way, mistakes will be avoided.
- Respect the audiovisual legislation – the regulatory code in the audiovisual field is easy to read and understand by anyone.
- Adopt a set of radio rules of ethics and have all contributors read them. (Our set of ethical rules can be consulted here https://radiocivic.ro/radio-civic-proiectul-grassroots-radio/)
What legislative changes would be needed to make Community radio stations easier to operate?
We are very grateful for the support offered by the audiovisual regulatory authorities (NAC and ANCOM) în licensing and operating Radio Civic Sfântu Gheorghe (Tulcea County) and Radio Civic Vârvoru de Jos (Dolj County). These community radio stations have proven to be valuable contributors to the lives of the local communities in which they broadcast.
Such stations, which are managed locally and have a diversity of members from the local communities, who contribute with content, can enrich the cultural life of their communities, can provide essential information for communities, as was, in our case, for example, information on health issues during the Covid 19 pandemic, can facilitate mutual support between members of the communities in which they operate.
For such models of Community radio stations to exist and proliferate, we have a number of recommendations for audiovisual regulators:
– Develop public policies that support the implementation of community radio stations.
– Such policies should include technical assistance from audiovisual content regulators to organizations bidding for community licenses, and this process should be separated from commercial license bidding.
– Allow flexibility in the design and follow-up of the programming schedule, given the unpredictability of the content generated by community radio stations that are mainly led by volunteers.
– Take into account in these public policies that community radio stations should not be approached with the same high standards as commercial stations. They should not be seen as journalistic approaches, but as a mediated communication of community members who prioritize the public good. Technical standards should also be reduced, as these stations do not have the financial resources available to commercial radio stations.
Want to start a community radio?
If you want to start a community radio in Romania and you think that our advice could be useful, write to us at dan.manea967 at gmail.com or liana at activewatch.ro
We are happy to share what we have learned. We believe in community radio, in its role as a social link and we want such radio stations to become as numerous as possible in Romania.
Romanian version here.