Video didn't kill the community radio star – but a serious lack of funding could


By Dom Burch, managing director

January 24, 2016 | 6 min read

On my 36th birthday I decided to set myself 37 resolutions in my 37th year on the planet.

Talking a break from Asda was one of them. Six months, unpaid leave.

It gave me time to ponder life, get to know my own children a bit better, do some travelling, and have a lot of fun. I've never looked back.

My resolutions were deliberately varied from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Resolution 25 however was to follow my childhood dream to become a local radio DJ, to see whether I would've actually enjoyed it as a career.

When you're a kid it's obviously acceptable to want to be an astronaut or to drive a train. To become a ballet dancer or a fashion photographer. Most of us don't fulfill those ambitions.

Mine was to be a local radio DJ on ‘Radio two, one, oh’.

Me and my mate Olly used to record ourselves on his tape cassette player reading out news snippets which almost always featured a man hitting his own thumb with a hammer.

I think our inspiration was the Beano, which Olly used to get each week in a goody bag from his Gran in Tilehurst. He seldom shared the sweets.

So what happened? Where did it all go wrong?

I remember having a couple of days' work experience at BBC Radio Berkshire when I was doing my A levels and loving it.

I think my dad had somehow wangled it through a PR contact at his work.

But I had already grown out of the idea of presenting the local breakfast show.

My spare time had always been dedicated to playing football, not hanging around hospital radio stations.

So like many childhood dreams it got forgotten, or at least put firmly to one side.

A few years later when I was at uni in Leeds I did go and check out LSR (Leeds Student Radio).

Each year the student run station was awarded an FM licence for one month.

They were based out of offices in the Student Union at Leeds University (the real one, not Leeds Met that I was at – the former polytechnic).

I presented my great idea to them, which involved me and my mate Rich Blacker commentating over live Premier League games giving a true fan’s perspective. Probably illegal, and nothing came of it anyway, but it turned out my idea was a good one as Sky Sports went on to introduce just that – Fan Zone.

I fell into PR, and following four years at uni, and 13 years doing PR jobs I found myself at a crossroads in life.

I'd reached my midlife point but felt unfulfilled. Crisis? What crisis?

I took the very conscious decision to do some of the things I'd secretly always wanted to do.

For years and years I'd allowed my bright ideas to be sidetracked, forgotten or hijacked by others through a combination of laziness, lack of ambition, or simply because I wasn't entrepreneurial enough to do something about them.

Then whilst volunteering in Bradford with Age UK (another of my 37 resolutions) I was introduced to Mary Dowson who runs Bradford Community Broadcasting.

Mary is an amazing member of the community, sitting on various boards, committees, and forums.

She's been involved in BCB from the start, helping steer it through ups and downs, and in recent years helping it gain recognition for the quality of its broadcast output in addition to the opportunities it gives people from all walks of life.

Mary quickly roped me into doing the paper review roundtable that Friday, which was a good laugh, even though I managed to arrive late following an episode with the delivery of a coffin-like shed (another story).

Before I knew it I’d signed up for BCB’s presenter training course, and on Friday 23 December 2011 I made my debut co-hosting the Drive programme with Lorna Kook.

Lorna is a fellow volunteer, and like me, a director of BCB and member of the management committee.

We care passionately about BCB. It has become part of our lives, and we are intent on ensuring its long-term survival.

Community radio stations are amazing organisations.

They somehow survive on a shoestring budget, yet manage to create award winning programming.

But the radio output is only a very small part of the real story.

Community radio brings together people in a way that very few other organisations could.

Young and old, all faiths, creeds and nationalities. People from NGOs, academics, business people and local politicians. Budding artists, DJs, bands and wannabe presenters. All thrown together in the melting pot of a radio station, rubbing shoulders, united by a common thread of caring about the place they live in.

But funding for amazing organisations like BCB is running dry.

Grants from government are shrinking, and pots dished out by others like the Big Lottery Fund are hotly contested.

So rather than video and technology signalling the demise of community radio, it's something much more mundane. A lack of money.

If you Google 'community radio' you'll find a list on Ofcom's site.

I'd encourage you to get to know your local station before it's too late.

Why not become a patron, or volunteer your services free of charge? Help them market themselves, or merely listen in once in a while and spread the word.

Like me, then maybe you too can get to play at being a radio star.

Don’t forget to tune in to Drive on alternative Fridays between 4-6pm 106.6 FM or via

Follow Dom on Twitter @domburch


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