Issue 8 – April 2016


Journal of Community, Citizen's and Third Sector Media and Communication

ISSN 1832-6161

Issue 8 (April) 2016

Funding Community Media: Introduction

Christina Spurgeon

Community broadcasting is animated by collective and individual commitments to social action, self-representation and community formation. It is usually pursued for informational or cultural purposes as a non- or pre-commercial activity, and is distinguishable from commercial and public service media by the reliance on voluntary labour that often sustains it. As community broadcasting has matured it is also characterised as a part of a larger co-creative media system that serves to unlock the creative potential on a population-wide basis (Woodrow et. al. 2015). It has created opportunities for new social enterprises that increase media diversity and expand information and entertainment choices, and is deserving of recognition within contemporary policy discourses of and about ‘innovation’. Yet, as Ben Eltham (2009, 234) notes in the Australian context:

“While diversity does not equal innovation, there is no doubt that community broadcasting is the poor cousin of media policy in Australia, despite the fact that the sector represents a key market for the early commercialisation of cultural products like contemporary music, foreign language services and indigenous education…”   

The question of funding remains fraught for a field of activity that falls between the legacy welfarist discourses of arts and public service media, and the new wealth mines of the digital economy. Oscillating between twin endeavours of legitimacy and sustainability, community media broadcasters have been driven to develop and grow revenue streams to cover operational costs, production costs, program supplies and service development. Memberships, subscriptions, fundraisers, sponsorship, advertising, commissioned production, sale of services, and government support all figure in the community media funding mix. Once itself a disruptive influence that fanned the development of niche-targeted media, community broadcasting now grapples with the disruptive impact of rapidly evolving digital technologies and Internet-based economies. 

So what are the challenges, opportunities, risks and threats of funding for community broadcasting activity? How are these challenges understood and tackled from academic and practitioner perspectives? How does research help to understand these problems? What approaches, methods, and frames of analysis are helpful to understanding the funding requirements of community media? How does funding impact on the criticality of community media organisations, outputs, processes and publics? What can be learnt from past and present experiences? Contributors to this issue of 3CMedia consider local responses to these questions through a variety of critical media studies perspectives. The cumulative result is an international snapshot of the state of community broadcasting across three continents. 

Salvatore Scifo traces the rapid expansion of community radio in Britain associated with the 1997-2004 period of ‘New Labour’. He also locates the more recent contraction in the sector in relation to a range of influences including policy shifts away from public investment in community capacity building and the financial footings of the ‘British model’ of community radio in advertising and government funding. Steve Johnson’s article looks at the fortunes of Welsh community radio within this larger national context and finds two factors are crucial to enabling stations to meet legislated objectives of social gain and economic stability. They are the stimulation and maintenance of conversations with and about communities (including within and through the community of community stations), and a capacity to generate income from advertising. Janey Gordon rounds out British perspectives on community broadcasting with an international survey of the seven most common funding sources for community broadcasting, and makes a case for the importance of diverse revenue sources to sustainability.

Attention then turns to Brian Semujju’s report on Ugandan research into the use of Community Audio Towers to provide local radio services in rural and outer urban areas. This work contributes to a larger discussion about the importance of local dialogue, as well as pre-commercial, fee-for-service revenues, in addition to aid, to the sustainability of development for communication initiatives. Michael Yao Wodui Serwornoo then takes us to Ghana where college radio has been established for some time, but control of which has been wrested away from student and academic control as a result of a series of policy shifts. His account of developments at the University of Cape Coast is situated in a broader historical sweep of university involvement in educational and community radio.

The final article in this issue brings us to Australia. Simon Order looks at the links between funding and non-economic, community value in his review of legacy literature and research.

I hope readers find the insights and descriptions contained in this issue of 3CMedia informative and helpful to deepening their own interest in questions about the sustainability and ongoing development of community broadcasting.


Eltham, B. (2009). Australian cultural and innovation policies: Never the twain shall meet? Innovation: Management, Policy & Practice, 11: 230-239.

Woodrow, Nina, Spurgeon, Christina, Rennie, Ellie, Klaebe, Helen, Heck, Elizabeth, Haseman, Brad, et al. (2015) Community uses of co-creative media digital storytelling and co-creative Media: The role of community arts and media in propagating and coordinating population-wide creative practice. Cultural Science, 8(2), pp. 150-243. Available at: (accessed 21 April 2016).


Salvatore Scifo, 31st May 2016

Very few scholars of community radio in Britain have discussed funding in detail since the introduction of full-time community radio licences in the country (Lewis 1977, 2008, 2012; Lewis and Booth 1989). Some have pointed out the possible pitfalls in the British case of reliance on social objectives funding (Gordon 2009). Bearing in mind the historical development of community radio in the United Kingdom, this article, traces the contours of the origins and development of community radio under the New Labour government. It discusses how the change in the political landscape, with the landslide victory of the Labour Party in 1997, affected the social, cultural and media policies that followed. While, in the end, the sector got what it had campaigned for since the first lobbying efforts in 1977 (Lewis and Booth 1989), the current shape of the sector was much influenced by the political context after 1997 and the strategies adopted to get the legislation through in 2004.

Steve Johnson, 31st May 2016

This study provides a snapshot of the community radio sector in Wales, just over ten years since its inception. It does so at a time of economic instability and focuses on issues pertaining to social gain and sustainability. The McLeish (1986) definition of a radio interview as a ‘conversation with an aim’ (McLeish, 1986) is borrowed here, as an analogy with which to explore the ‘conversations’ between the community radio stations of Wales and others.

Janey Gordon, 31st May 2016

This article is intended as a resource for community broadcasters and researchers. It draws on interviews and discussion with community broadcasters and activists to identify practical examples of funding methods. The seven common methods of funding a community station are detailed. These are: support from the station's own community; patronage from a larger organisation; commercial advertising and sponsorship; competitive grants; service contracts; support by NGOs; support by governmental agencies. The article points to resources where the reader can discover more fully how each funding method is used, and concludes that a prudent station may use several methods to help ensure economic sustainability.

Brian Semujju, 31st May 2016

While community broadcasting has been documented for aiding development in the Global South, communities in Uganda engage in narrowcasting and share information using Community Audio Towers (CATs). This challenges our understanding of communication for development media since CATs employ both the one-way and the two-way approaches to ensure survival. Among the crucial areas of CATs that have not been attended to by academic scrutiny is the issue of how CATs sustain themselves financially. To cover that gap, the CAT processes of information gathering, processing and dissemination, are discussed below. The discussion comes from data collected using 10 key informant interviews to show how CATs, platforms that are economically non-viable, are able to survive in myriad economically-oriented media systems in Uganda. Implications of CATs for local community development are herein highlighted.

Michael Yao Wodui Serwornoo, 31st May 2016

There is a considerable history of campus radio that is under-developed and analysed as part of the larger community media movement. This paper situates an account of the history and recent developments at one campus radio service in Ghana within an international perspective. Inspired by the notions of participatory communication theory and the ideal public sphere, the paper recounts how a restrictive ownership policy directive issued by the National Communication Authority (NCA) of Ghana led to further commercialisation and bureaucratisation of ATL FM, a college radio at the University of Cape Coast. Through a longitudinal ethnographic research, this paper argues that these changes have weakened the prevailing power dynamics and excluded students and lecturers from participating in the core activities of campus radio broadcasting. The surrender of ATL FM to the university wide bureaucratic entanglements and vigorous commercial interests has also empowered the professional management team with distorted incentives rather than the ideals of a community public sphere rooted in active participation and deliberation.

Simon Order, 1st June 2016

The largest pressure faced by community radio stations is financial. Stations constantly face the reality of how to ensure an adequate operating income in an increasingly competitive mediascape. Van Vuuren (2006c) argues that the extent of the contribution of community media to media democracy in Australia depends largely on how the sector manages commercial pressures. There is a need to ensure more financial stability to allow stations to focus on their primary community-orientated and participatory goals.