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Monday, March 29, 2004

Community radio

I spent a fascinating hour this evening in the studios of Wales' newest radio station. Afan FM is a community radio station serving the Neath and Port Talbot area. It is due to go live on Thursday 1 April on a month's temporary licence. It will be bidding for a full licence in the autumn. The station's website says that "AfanFM is a proposed Community Radio Station for young people in the Neath-Port Talbot area setup BY young people FOR young people!" The Station Manager, Craig Williams, is just 18 and demonstrated tremendous drive and determination in raising the funds for this project and getting it off the ground. I wish him and his team luck and good wishes in their launch and in getting a more permanent licence. Tune in on 87.7fm during the month of April if you are in the Swansea or Neath Port Talbot area.

While I was there I discussed the many problems the station has faced in getting on air. One of these is the regulations imposed by OFCOM that do not seem to take account of the Welsh topography at all. Afan FM will be the only radio station exclusively covering the Neath Port Talbot area. Because of the mountains they need about 200 watts of output on two transmitters to cover their potential audience of 209,000 people but OFCOM are only allowing them 50 watts on one transmitter. That might be OK in the Home Counties but in the Welsh valleys it is insufficient.

OFCOM are also sending Community Radio stations into the big wide world with one hand tied behind their back. They say that they can only raise 50% of their income from advertising. They are launching a consultation on community radio that I will be responding to. I will also be asking the Assembly Minister for Culture to take up these issues on behalf of Afan FM and the community radio stations in Torfaen and Cardiff. Log on to the OFCOM site and let them have your views.

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