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Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Afan FM

I finally got to raise OFCOM's treatment of Community Radio Stations in the Assembly yesterday and received a reasonably positive response from the First Minister:

Peter Black: Will you join me in congratulating Afan FM and its young team, whose one-month temporary licence as a community radio station is coming to an end? Will you take up on its behalf, and on behalf of other community radio stations in Wales, the problems that it has had with the Office of Communications, which is consulting on its policies towards such stations? Ofcom insists that they have a maximum output of 50 watts and one transmitter. These rules may well be adequate in the home counties, but the fact that there are mountains in South Wales means that the coverage expected of these stations requires greater output and more transmitters. Will the Assembly Government take up with Ofcom the difficulties that its policy is posing for community radio stations in Wales, and ask it to form a Wales-only policy on the issue?

The First Minister: I am not sure whether I have been interviewed by Afan FM, but I congratulate it on its success-perhaps that is the reason for its success. The information that I have suggests that the problem with Ofcom is that if a strength of frequency of more than 25 watts is required, international clearance must be obtained. International clearance is difficult to obtain. You are right about geographical coverage and the fact that you need a stronger signal to reach populations in mountainous regions of the south Wales Valleys and of mid and north Wales than you would need to reach a similar-size area in the rolling plains of south-central England, for example. On the other hand, Ofcom has told us that the 25-watt rule is not set in stone, and it intends to consider the possibility of allowing community radio stations to cover wider areas.

With a bit of luck Afan FM, who are due to finish their month long trial in a few days may well be back in the autumn on a long term basis.

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