Penistone Local Radio - 'The Heart of the Community'

Following a very successful 'RSL' trial run in May 2005 (well-organised by Darren Holmes), the local 'community radio', Penistone FM, officially launched at 9.57am on Saturday 6th June 2009, starting with a countdown by Darren. The arrival of Penistone's own radio station was 'one up' on having a newspaper and a huge, if fleeting, boost to the esteem of our community. The initial presenters were open, enthusiastic and willing to connect with the community, even though most of them were from outside the local area.

PFM went live on a frequency of 95.7MHz, FM band ('Band II') under the special Community Radio (CR) licence, which requires the broadcaster to provide easy public access to the airwaves and to have a style distinctive from other stations. See Ofcom's details, which includes their stated Key Commitments (updated May2017): Penistone FM.

'Key Commitments' - The Station's Promises to the Listening Public
These are agreed with Ofcom to allow for tweaking to suit the audience, on top of the basic legal requirements of the Community Radio licance. Follow the link from Ofcom's PFM page for the published Key Commitments (pdf - Updated September 2016), which make some rather e l a s t i c claims. Only the first line is fully compliant:

Ofcom says:
'A community radio station's programmes will reflect the needs and interests of its audience. But rather than ‘talk at' its community, the station should become a central part of it. This means creating direct links with its listeners, offering training opportunities and making sure that members of the community can take part in how the station is run.'

In reality, PFM's meetings and published Minutes are sporadic. Volunteers have a very limited influence, if at all, on Board policies and decisions. Some unwritten policies appear to suit local politics more than providing a service to the community (see the section about the CR Licence below). Previous monthly meetings for all volunteers came to an end and volunteers might only meet as a group at Christmas time. Board Meeting inputs are increasingly obscured by 'Taken as Read' in Minutes, without publishing what they are. This reduces accountability. Read PFM Minutes to confirm this.

The Art of the Community
This page explores the many missed opportunities and weak aspirations of an organisation which could have been central to, rather than peripheral to, community life in the Penistone district. Yet, even with a claimed 40+ number of volunteers, PFM does not discuss local issues or air opinions on local issues. It has never fully complied, in eight years, with the basic Ofcom CR licence requirement to allow discussions of matters of concern to a local community. However, a 'Community Engagement Panel' in 2016 finally agreed to holding a debate on 'The nature of volunteering', to be aired after Studio 2 had been fully commissioned (See June 2016 CEP - docx). As of late 2017, it did not happen. Risk averse or politically-imposed restrictions - you can ponder that.

Concerning the nature of volunteering, in 2017 (and for a time before that) volunteers are asked to contribute £10 a month = £120 a year for the privilege. This changes the nature of the game from being 'volunteers' to 'paying contributors', hopefully with more influence on Board decisions. Given that the CR station is supposed to be 'accountable to the community it serves', it ought to be more accountable to paying contributors, which means they should have greater influence in altering PFM's restrictive policies. On top of that, perhaps two or three PFM Directors are actually receiving payment from the station (and now from the paying 'volunteers').

There is no dedicated 'Community Show' to disseminate local news, talks, road conditions, discussions or sports results. Live bands are no longer aired. The few interviews made are played randomly, so most listeners would not hear them or know when to listen for them. Contributors cannot tell us when (or if) their efforts might be aired. Information is random, road reports are too Barnsley-centric for a Penistone whose residents work in Leeds, Huddersfield, Sheffield and, yes, some in Barnsley. In short, their commitment to the local community is weak, random and undiciplined. Certainly not justified by 'The Heart of the Community' slogan. PFM is not the immediate 'go-to' source of local knowledge.

On the other hand, while it never aspires to greatness, the station is a source of entertainment, with some very active presenters performing well, if not usually in an imformative way. In the final analysis Penistone FM has minimal relevance to the community and is not a convenient source of local information.

area mapA Local Music Station for the World
PFM is quite good at its music shows and training its presenters. Its music archive is larger than most similar CR stations. It covers genres such as: Brass, Soul, Jazz, Rock, Ambient, Electronica, Organ, Motown, Blues, show music and mainstream music. There are some good shows with jazz, brass bands, 'Music from the Shows', 'Country' music and even some 'Avant Garde' music. Live bands and musicians did have some air time before the 2014 move to Penistone 1 Studios but that appears to ended.

Music and Speech Output
Penistone FM has some entertaining features but its 'Community' credentials are weak to the point of extinction. As the special CR broadcasting licence is intended to encourage the public to be heard on the air (and not just as presenters), you might reasonably expect to hear some chat shows, phone-ins, discussions, straw polls, interviews and more. Or at least a scheduled Community programme. It does not happen.

What you do get is music and a few random interviews of the 'cat stuck up a tree' variety; that is, completely innocuous, slightly interesting but mostly irrelevant. Despite the "Heart of the Community" slogan, you will not discover anything on Penistone FM about those local community concerns which occupy Social Media, not radio. One popular Facebook account for our area has more than 1,200 members. It covers every local issue from housing developments, through policing and bad driving to dog poo on the streets.

Penistone FM has missed the 'community' boat by a long chalk but it never really tried to catch it. It has been subject to political interference. PFM has on several occasions ignored (or even suppressed news of) milestone events, after having all the details. Neither does it cover local sport in any meaningful way. Its quarterly 'Community Engagement Panel' no longer meets and it disbanded its Listeners' Panel several years ago.

On the plus side, the station usually has a stall at local events (perhaps in the context of recruitment), such as Penistone Mayor's Parade, Penistone Gala, Village Fétes and Penistone Show. Sometimes there is some live input to the studio programme from someone at the event and perhaps some safe public interviews.

There is actually one scheduled talk-based show but it is a bought-in business programme, and quite good too. The station's 'community' output includes short plays, children's stories, Barnsley job vacancies and some 'What's On' snippets. All on a random basis and mostly in the daytime when people are at work. The style is: 'Music First, Community Last' (see the Community Radio Licence section, below).

Not clickable - Another chirrup of presentersNot clickable - Some from 2009

These (non-clickable) thumbnail pictures were taken in 2009, the first year that PFM started its full broadcasting service.

(Most) Volunteers Welcome
PFM is always looking for volunteers from '16 to 100 who have an interest in local affairs and would like to develop their radio skills' and is said to have at least forty volunteers already. Volunteers may be invited to accept a wide range of roles, including: technical support, marketing, news-gathering, sound editing, organisation, website maintenance, house-keeping, fund-raising, training, tea-brewing and other important activities.

Most volunteers aspire to presenting their own radio shows but the station does not encourage specialisation for new volunteers, while it does broadcast specialist shows from established presenters. In 2016, three volunteers offered to present a sports show: 'However, as they were not interested in any other aspect of volunteering with the station the offer had been declined' (See July 2016 PFM Minutes, pdf). The baby went out with the bath water. A sports show would have been a good idea but the volunteers were turned down.

This suggests double standards and a lost opportunity to pull in more listeners. PFM does not do much sport but there are several local sports clubs (Penistone Footpath Runners, Penistone Cricket Club, PGS Martial Arts, Penistone Church FC, Youth Football, three Bowling Clubs) which might benefit from extended sports coverage.

On the plus side, the station has a good training programme resulting in accredited qualifications which might look good on anyone's CV. Also a range of portable recording equipment, microphones and headphones for field recording assignments.

2006 Cubley2006 CubleyPFM 2009 Penistone ShowCubley Hall 2009

Penistone Mug from Hallmark Card ShopThe early trial transmissions originated in studios near Cubley Hall in 2005. Then PFM's 'proper' studios were established in 2009, above what is now Café Cremè, High Street, in a building belonging to Penistone Conservative Party. On the station's sixth birthday in June 2015, the studios opened in 'Penistone 1' office block, overlooking St Mary's Street. The new PFM Studios are now accessed via Back lane and the market area, from Marsden's Square behind the Spread Eagle. The Royal British Legion's lounge is directly opposite Studio One.

Although the broadcasts are aimed at a target audience within 5km of the transmitter, which is near Hoylandswaine, they can be received over a much wider area and even elsewhere in the world via live streaming. Local villages having a good signal but there is some reception outside our immediate area, in parts of Barnsley and higher ground towards Huddersfield. The lie of the land favours reception to the north and east of Penistone.

On 6th June 2015 (its sixth anniversary), Penistone FM relocated to Suite 7 of the new-build 'Penistone 1' Development, overlooking St Mary's Street (see Dransfield). The first five-year licence, starting from 2009, was renewed in 2014. At this time, the 'Community Radio' Licence can be renewed only once. Unless Parliament amends the CR Licence conditions, the last broadcast from PFM will occur in June 2019. This might be something for the Board of Directors to take up with the local MP.

The P2 Myriad play-out system holds around 15,000 music tracks on computer, which is about double that of most Community Radio stations. The studios use the faithful SoundCraft Series10 mixing desks and a variety of dynamic microphones on anglepoise arms. There were no condenser mikes visible on my last visit. The studios have back-up UPS power supplies to tide over any power hiccups and a back-up CD player which continues the output to the transmitter if the audio feed goes silent for more than 20 seconds.

Signal Path: A small stack of equipment processes the main stereo signal from the studios and sends it to the transmitter via a UHF link at just over 1.5GHz. Stereo encoding, equalisation and gentle compression is added by an Optimod unit from Orban, which is an 'Industry Standard' and ubiquitous in the broadcasting world, including the BBC. Another unit injects the Radio Data System (RDS) data stream at 57kHz into the audio feed, to identify the station. The transmitter mast at HoylandSwaine is nine metres high, about 270 metres a.s.l. and the transmitter power is 25 Watts ERP into an omnidirectional aerial, about double the power of a conventional fridge light bulb.

PFM transmits at 95.7MHz on the VHF-FM band and streamed via the internet for a wider audience. It broadcasts 24-7 to a 5km radius from Penistone (transmitter at HoylandSwaine). This includes local villages but it can be received outside our immediate area, in such as Barnsley, Stocksbridge, Denby Dale and the M1 motorway. It is easy to find in Skelmanthorpe, Lepton and parts of Huddersfield. See the 'Coverage Document' from Ofcom (2.8 MB pdf).

Ken DavidPFM coverage mapMyriad

The Community Radio Licence
Ofcom's 'Community Radio' (CR) licence requires stations to be operated, owned by and accountable to their target communities rather than big businesses, national broadcasters or other vested interests. Community Radio is also required to have a style which is distinct from other types of broadcasting, such as the usual music stations. 'Community stations typically provide 93 hours of original and distinctive output a week, mostly locally-produced.'

A mandatory licence condition is: 'The Facilitation of Discussion and the Expression of Opinion.' In other words, individuals, groups, and communities are supposed to be able to: 'Tell their own stories, share experiences and become creators and contributors of media'. CR stations also negotiate 'Key Commitments' from time to time which sit on top of the mandatory Social Gain requirements. Community Radio has these four essential objectives:

Ofcom Requirements

Social Media has now taken over from what Penistone FM was supposed to do. In nearly eight years, Penistone FM has consistently failed to support 'The Facilitation of Discussion and the Expression of Opinion' (unless you count DJ prattle). These are some of the topics being discussed every day on Social Media, but not heard on local radio:

PFM ought to have a scheduled Community Show each week with a mix of community news and current topics. Such a programme could have guests, sports reports, interviews, local news, What's On, the local music scene, live bands, reports from clubs, societies, the police and the local council. Snippets taken from popular shows could encourage more listeners to tune in next time. That's an easy hour to fill, perhaps Wednesday teatime and repeated Sunday morning.

The phone-in show on Radio Leeds is a good example of how to do 'Community' properly and in a way which makes radio relevant. The technical side of a phone-in is not a problem. Les Young has talked on-air to someone on a phone during his show, so it can be done. Penistone FM's main 'Soundcraft' mixing desk has had a dedicated phone-in slider from day one. One useful aspect of a phone-in is that it generates further material for another show.

PFM people have been heard to say that 'Parish Pump' matters would drive away listeners who only want music, but I say "Let them go; others will replace them" if you make radio relevant to the community. There are hundreds of music stations out there playing the same stuff but Penistone FM is in an unparalleled position to keep its finger on the pulse, gather ideas on local topics and thrash them out with public participation. It looks as though local politics has blocked the way and set a rigid 'Music first, Community second' policy in stone.

As well as its failure to recognise matters of community concern, PFM does not even have a dedicated 'What's On' spot, listing all events; just a few random snippets at random times. You might discover a car boot sale but not a big event down the road with 5,000 visitors (Eg. SY Festival). Even if an interesting subject was known to be on the radio, you would have to listen all day to catch it. People listen to radio at random times or they fit the radio around their other activities, not the other way around. And, under adverse weather conditions, you won't discover from Penistone FM which roads are open or which schools are closed but you will hear some nice music. This random and slack approach demonstrates a lack of commitment to the community and lets down the audience.

Not clickable - A chirrup of presenters

More pictures from the original 2009 line-up (not clickable).

Political Independence (Lack of)
PFM has been subject to political interference on several occasions to the detriment of the local community. One glaring example is when PFM suppressed news of the official launch of the new Penistone Market Barn in 2011. You can be sure that the inhabitants of any market town would be interested in a new £multi-million Market building, but the launch was not publicised in any way. At least four PFM presenters attended or were involved with the event. There had been no celebration at all; no Brass Band, no balloons, no party, just a group of dark-suited councillors indulging in mutual back-slapping, making fine speeches and cutting the ribbon. Then they melted away and nothing more was heard. Even the market traders had no knowlege about it until it happened.

Was I making a mountain out of a molehill? No. Believe it or not, suppressing this news had been a deliberate policy. It was also in the public domain for anyone to read. PFM Board Minutes of 8th August 2011 explained that Barnsley MB Council's 'Markets Team' wished councillors to 'downplay' the event, and they complied. The document (now deleted but I have a copy) had exposed Barnsley MB Council's unreasonable influence over Editorial Policy.

No council has the right to control what a radio station might or might not broadcast. We are not Russia. I would have sacked any Board Member who supported the policy and anyone who failed to oppose it, as it had been clearly against the interests of the local community and against the interests of the station itself. It destroyed its reputation for independence. I made a complaint which was misrepresented in their minutes as a different kind of complaint. They could not even admit what they had done.

Now, moving on to 2014, we have another incident which had the whiff of political interference. The arrival of Penistone Town Hall (Paramount Theatre) in 1914 had been an important time in Penistone history (See Town Hall History), but its centenary was not talked about on the radio. It was also missing from their website until after the event, event though they had been well aware of the event and its obvious significance to the community.

There is another niggle with PFM that occurs around the same time every year. The local council is generally shy about advertising its public-facing events, such as the Annual Town Assembly where it presents the financial accounts and allows residents to raise matters of concern. I have often 'reminded' the station about this event but never with any success (and now I don't bother). This radio station will not publicise one of the main community events of the year. Consequently, few residents hear about it and few turn up. That's mostly the fault of the council but PFM could do more to support the community.

Turn on, tune in to 95.7Turn on, tune in to 95.7Turn on, tune in to 95.7Not Clickable picture - Tune in to 95.7

PFM Bits
T-ShirtBranded T-shirts, umbrellas, keyrings, mugs, pens and car stickers are available from Hallmark Cards on Penistone High Street, which is always worth a visit anyway. Penistone FM umbrellas are king-size. Hallmark also has a range of Penistone-branded goods and postcards.

Penistone FM and Allied Websites
Here are external links to Penistone FM and its affiliates:

The 'Community Radio' Licence
The 'Community Radio' (CR) licence was introduced in 2004 by Act of Parliament ('Community Radio Order 2004') as a new class of UK broadcast licence intended for small, non-profit radio stations to be run 'By the community for the community'.

'Penistone Community Radio aims to provide an interactive community radio facility which will enhance and enrich the community for the benefit of the people who live, work or are educated in the Penistone area.'

Regulatory Sources:

PFM has attracted Lottery money (2014) and other funding from such as the Co-op fund. After a very successful public support campaign in 2016, PFM was awarded £48,683 from ITV's People's Projects. In 2017, PFM has attracted more Lottery funding.

Contact Penistone FM
Penistone FM is on the lookout for new talent and new presenters are being trained all of the time. Listener feedback to the station is via the website (comments page) and through a quarterly (!) 'Community Engagement Panel', which partly replaced the earlier Listeners' Panel.

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