Penistone Local Radio - 'The Heart of the Community'

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This section takes a look at Penistone FM, a local radio station which operates under the special Ofcom Community Radio 'CR' licence. Originally called 'Access Radio' this licence was introduced by Tony Blair's 'New Labour' Party in 2004 to allow local radio to operate as a community asset, granting easy access of people to interact with each other, to discuss community matters and (within the law) air opinions.

'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.'
Penistone Community Radio is the company name and Penistone FM is the station name. The station's Key Commitments give us some insight into what PFM is required to output, as part of its licencing arrangement. The community-generated content of most Community Radio stations would be unlikely to fill their daytime schedules so a catalogue of music would be used for the remaining air time. Penistone FM has a particularly good catalogue of music compared to similar stations.

Getting Going
A little-known fact is that many of Penistone FM's founding presenters had started in Barnsley Hospital Radio (now ended) they and often alternated between the two outlets. In the process, they brought a good deal of radio expertise with them and were fluent in the use of the studio equipment. A very successful trial run by Penistone FM in 2005 (Restricted Service Licence - RSL) led by Station Manager Darren Holmes, led to a huge amount of local interest and support for the project. After many twists and turns, Penistone FM started broadcasting full-time under the special 'Community Radio' Licence in June 2009.

Full-time broadcasting from Penistone began at 9.57am (reflecting its 95.7MHz frequency allocation) on Saturday 6th June, 2009. Initially, the CR Licence would last only five years but could be renewed only once at the time. However, in 2019 and ten years after launch, Penistone FM succeeded in extending its CR licence up to Saturday, 22nd June, 2024. Had it not been extended, PFM would have closed down in June 2019. The tenth anniversary and its new licence were celebrated with an Open Day and a birthday cake.

Music and Speech Output
PFM's music archive is much larger than most CR stations and covers genres such as: Brass, Soul, Jazz, Rock, Ambient, Electronica, Organ, Motown, Blues, show music and mainstream music. Some shows are themed on jazz, brass bands, 'Music from the Shows', 'Country' music and even 'Avant Garde' music. Live bands and musicians have also been aired occasionally.

As well as the unusually large collection of music for a small radio station, the station's speech output includes comedy radio-plays, occasional children's stories, community news, Barnsley area jobs, weather reports, interviews, recipes, and random 'What's On' snippets (sometimes for competing events outside our area). New DJs arrive from time to time and bring in some useful variety.

Speech output

Penistone FM has also run Outside Broadcasts (OBs) from time to time at principal events, such as Penistone Gala and Penistone Show. Presenters would interview people at the events either live or for later broadcast. Special OBs have ranged from Penistone Library to Pot House Hamlet in Silkstone and a tour of the various village halls. Some interviews have taken place in the Royal British Legion. In its 2005 trial run, the station visited its principal advertisers, businesses and local hairdressers.


PFM and DAB Radio
A new development in 2021 has been an affiliation between Penistone FM (named as 'PenFM 95.7' in this context) and a consortium of small broadcasters interested in launching a new small-scale DAB Radio station named as 'Sheffield and Rotherham DAB.' Penistone would lie outside its cachment area but we might presume that some broadcast material could to be shared in both directions or perhaps to pad out PFM's exisitng output (which needs some fresh material). One of the consortium's prominent members, Niocast, claims a successful track record in an existing Manchester multiplex.

The technology of DAB radio is now fitted to new cars (along with FM) and it is heavily promoted by the BBC and others. Technically, we can reasonably say (in a strong reception area) FM can be superior to DAB. The bandwidth specifications for FM are fixed and every station complies in the same way, except for different locations, aerial heights and transmitted powers. On the other hand, the specification for DAB stations is on a per-station basis, ranging from burbly speech-quality, mono-only at low bitrate up to the best bitrates and highest fidelity for such as Radio 3 and Classic FM. A lot of the pop stations opt for somewhat less than vanilla flavour, as it takes up less bandwidth (you can cram in more stations) and presumably cheaper to run. The digital stations don't use individual frequencies as they do with FM but are bundled together as 'multiplexes.'

Links


Volunteers Welcome Top
The station employs two people to run advertising and training and has up to 30 volunteers involved in the station and its output. There is always room for more volunteers.

A training programme is in place for presenters of all ages ("From 16 to 99") to learn all about studio equipment, editing, studio techniques and making street or event recordings. The station usually has funding specifically to train younger presenters, who could then climb the career ladder with their newly-polished CV to the wider world of broadcasting.

PFM has a range of portable recording equipment, microphones and headphones for field recording assignments and has well-equipped studios for large or small groups, such as musicians, singers or even group discussions(!). There is much more potential to radio than automated music. An enthusiastic presenter could explore a rich vein of journalistic skills, dealing with community issues, news-gathering, group discussions, features, phone-ins, live reporting and much more. Then on to television work. Everything begins small as an acorn becomes an oak tree.

Some former PFM presenters have already gone on to other stations, such as Radio Sheffield, where there is much greater freedom to explore new styles, go down different avenues and stretch abilities. It is unlikely that any future Kate Adie or John Simpson would begin in Penistone but a household name like Dale Winton might well do, as he began on Radio Sheffield.

Listener's Feedback History
Another kind of volunteer was involved with the station early on, to provide ideas and feedback on output. The 'Listeners' Panel' started soon after launch with quarterly meetings in the Fire Station or the High Street Studios. Its numbers dwindled over time and was replaced by a Community Engagement Panel (CEP) which was stated to be for invited groups rather than individual listeners, to be 'Accountable to the community it serves' or something similar.

The CEP represented groups such as the scouts, church, PTC, businesses, etc. Its declared purpose did not involve the station's Key Commitments but had moved to to 'Cross-promoting local events and campaigns' (as stated in Jan 2013 Minutes). It did at first not look for listener feedback, although its later meetings included two individuals selected for that purpose. The CEP declined over time with ever-increasing 'Apologies for Absence' until it too vanished. The last published CEP Minutes were dated March 2017 and included a proposal to hold their first-ever debate, 'on the nature of volunteering' but this did not happen. The current model for listener feedback is through their website, Facebook or by a phone call.


Beginnings Top
Let's rewind to the beginning. The first signs of a radio station appeared in May 2005, under a billowing Penistone Gala gazebo with a shivering Darren Holmes watching over. The public easily took to the radio idea and, following a positive community survey, the idea started to take shape. This led to an application for a temporary Restricted Service Licence (RSL) to test the waters. Darren was the driving force behind the station's early stages. His experience with Barnsley Hospital Radio would come in handy on a real radio station and, just possibly, their collection of records might have boosted the station's library. That is just conjecture but entirely possible.

A 'proper' radio station was a big thing to take on, with much to get right in Ofcom's application form. It required (in no particular order here): funding, studio premises (and volunteers to build it up), expensive equipment, furniture, transmitter site with power (line-of-site for the radio link), a mast site with planning permission or access to an existing mast, technical know-how and support, programme material (not just music), news feeds, suitable presenters, yet more money, people's spare time and much more. A heck of an undertaking.

Also, a knowledge of Ofcom's 97-page Broadcast Code to avoid landing in hot and expensive water. Three incidents of bad language or a misadventure could lose that hard-fought licence. Plus they would have to invent ways of interacting with the community. The application form for a licence was a huge challenge and very particular about facilities, funding, technical points and the proposed broadcast material. Darren ought to have had a medal for completing it.

Then - Success! The RSL licence was approved. The early broadcasting and publicity would be critical to future success, as the full licence application would need feedback and support from the community in order to succeed. Operating from Cubley studios, a very successful 'RSL' trial run came along in 2005 and the public loved it. Darren had by now gained the title of 'Station Manager'. In September 2006, their RSL broadcasts went live on-air on 87.7MHz FM for the first time. It was restricted to three weeks only but was timed to include Penistone Show and that would lead to some good publicity for the future mission.

Teletext - Not clickablePFM DeskDarren at the Desk

These pictures show the RSL studio in Cubley with Darren Holmes in the driving seat. The 'Teletext' screen-grab (not clickable) on the left showed part of the station's publicity effort. Teletext was the plain text analogue forerunner to the BBC's Red Button on digital TV, which itself is under threat. The 2006 Penistone Show could have gone a bit better for the station. Unfortunately, Dearne FM was already established and had a much better location and stand while PFM's gazebo was pushed into a windy back-water plot. In fact, Dearne FM has continued to grab the limelight at Penistone Show for unknown reasons.

The RSL proved to be a popular and enthusiastic affair, with visits to local businesses and many in-studio interviews of notable people including myself, at least twice. I was very pleased to be invited to the Cubley studio by Darren. Penistone FM could be heard all over the place - hairdressers shops, High Street shops, businesses, you name it. Everybody was listening in and everybody was talking about our new radio station. Even though most of the presenters (then, as now) were nervous of direct contact with the listening public the beginning was a real buzz for our town.

The next step would be to go for a full Community Radio (CR) Licence, a more permanent studio and a frequency to transmit on. More forms for Darren to fill in! Meanwhile, the station continued streaming programmes on the internet. Ofcom came along with a new CR possibility but using Amplitude Modulation (AM) on a frequency of 1475kHz in the obsolescent Medium Wave Band. This could have been a project-ending problem for several reasons:

Despite all of that, for a time it looked as though AM might be the only option. And even that would have been better than nothing. You can see their 'Penistone AM' logo on the Penistone Community Radio car in the May 2008 Penistone Mayor's Parade and Gala. The gazebo picture below was from the 2007 Gala and shows the late Richard Ward on the left, I forget the name of the lady presenter, next is HR Manager Martin Sugden with presenter Colin Geldhard on the right.

Penistone Gala 2008Penistone FM at the Gala

How the Penistone FM Licence Happened Top
'SJ' of Barnsley Radio submitted a  Freedom of Information (FoI) application to Ofcom to discover how PFM's frequency allocation had changed from AM to FM, and discover why Barnsley Radio's own RSL application had been turned down. This was interesting and I researched into it.

If I understand it right, the Barnsley Radio application had been rejected because their financial projections had not looked realistic and would have demanded a disproportionate amount of on-air advertising at the expense of content. Time has passed and I forget the details but I suspect that Barnsley Radio had been connected with such as Barnsley YMCA. If you compare the applications at Ofcom (now archived), PFM's effort had much more detail than Barnsley's and was by far a more professional and consistent effort. Ours was plausible, their's was optimistic and largely uncosted. One of my colleagues was in the Barnsley Radio camp and was quite peevish about PFM's success.

The original Penistone application had been for an FM frequency with AM as a second choice, and contingency funding for either case (this was important). An FM frequency had not been available at the time but there was a rare AM frequency available and the CR licence was duly granted. However, an FM slot did come along by default very soon after and did not go un-noticed.

The former hospital radio station 'Trust FM' of Chesterfield had gained a Community Radio licence in April 2006 but was unable to fulfil its commitment to broadcast. Its CR licence was then revoked in November 2008, as per the rules. Trust FM (Registered Co. 05854590) had been incorporated in June 2006 then had to be dissolved in January 2009 after failing to launch. It shared its address with Chesterfield Broadcasting Network Ltd. (Registered Co. 03452774). Chesterfield's problem was that they had over-estimated their fund-raising and, in the end, could not afford it. The figures had to be realistic.

Our astute Darren Holmes spotted the opportunity and applied for the now-available 95.7 MHz frequency. Ofcom replied in December 2008 to give a qualified 'Yes' to the new licence, but subject to further approval. I had been kept informed at the time. The allocation of a broadcast frequency has to take into account such as the terrain and propagation from the station site and assess interference to, or from, other stations on nearby frequencies. It is never a snap decision but requires some technical research.

Darren and associates continued to press Ofcom to release Trust FM's unused VHF-FM frequency for Penistone FM to use. The full approval came along early 2009 and 'Penistone Community Radio' could now go FM, as originally planned. Darren was certainly pleased with that. 'Cock-a-hoop' comes to mind. Trust FM's loss would be to Penistone's gain. FM was the way to go, as DAB was in its infancy at the time. This website promoted the station at the time with a prominent PFM logo on the front page but it was not one of my brightest ideas. Some people thought that this website was an offshoot of the station.

Not clickable - Some from 2009

The station name changed back from Penistone AM to Penistone FM for operational purposes and all was back on course. Penistone Community Radio (that's the company name) was on to a winner. Backing from the Penistone and District Community Partnership (PDCP) probably made a difference in supporting the application but all of the letters of support from the Penistone community helped. And there was plenty community support to pass on to Ofcom. PCDC was a sort of precursor to BMBC Penistone Ward Alliance.

We can be sure that PDCP (and later Ward Alliance) member Andrew Millner was an excellent PFM fund-raiser and knew about applying for grants and other one-off payments. Andrew had been a PFM presenter and Board member from the beginning and, besides the funding, had also facilitated the PFM studios being (for the first years) located on Penistone High Street. The local Conservative Association had some little-used floors above their High Street shop that could be used for the PFM studios in a central location and at a peppercorn rent.

Next job was building the studios and installing equipment; not an easy or quick job. The studios involved a fair amount of wood-butchery, fixtures and fittings and pots of paint. They also needed to be reasonably sound-proof and low in acoustic reflections. Darren was very good about sharing his studio-making photos and some of them appeared on this website at the time (with permission). This was before Facebook. The FM transmitter and transmitting aerial were set up on the Hoylandswaine site and a UHF link established from the High Street studios. All was ready to go, get the kettle on.

From the Wayback Machine:
'On Monday 27th April 2009, Ofcom visited our transmission site in order to check our technical compliance. A lot of time and effort went into preparing for our test transmissions and the visit was very nerve-wracking. However, thanks to the professionalism of our contracted engineer Paul Godley, we passed with flying colours!'

Come midnight Saturday 9th May 2009, test transmissions started with continuous music interspersed with launch announcements. There was still a long way to go and a few technical set-backs - and time was running out.

PFM officially launched at 9.57am on Saturday 6th June 2009 starting with a countdown by Station Director, Darren Holmes. We can only guess at the cheering and popping of champagne corks. There was certainly a party atmosphere at the countdown and it was a 'lump in the throat' evident. The first record played was 'The Greatest Day' by Take That.

The arrival of Penistone's own radio station was definitely 'one up' on other places and a great boost to the esteem of our community. Unlike our old rival Stocksbridge, we didn't have a local newspaper but now a radio station was better and, potentially, a more immediate and useful way for community information and cohesion. Well, that had been the hope. There was a real buzz in the air. Penistone was on the map.

The new and enthusiastic presenters were willing and able to connect directly with the community, even though many of them were from outside the area and not familiar with the district. There were a few gaffs and mispronounced place-names (it's not Ing - birchworth or Holme -firth) or by getting local details wrong.

Some presenters were very Barnsley-centric, causing confusion from time to time. You might hear, for example, that "Sheffield Road is closed" (meaning Barnsley), when our own Sheffield Road (Penistone) was perfectly alright, or other confusing references to outside the local area.

As we are a 'dormitory town' supplying the larger towns and cities, not everyone in Penistone is close to the world of Barnsley. When the cost of local policing was brought up at a local meeting, the PCC, Dr Alan Billings, said "Some funding is used in Barnsley town centre - and you all use Barnsley town centre don't you?" to which many residents replied that they never went to Barnsley but preferred Sheffield or Huddersfield for shopping. So not everyone cares about, knows about or is interested in the world of Barnsley. Its a different culture in Barnsley.

This was an inspiring time and my head was full of suggestions on features and how to move forward. I pestered Darren many times with ideas but never had an ambition to be a presenter. I have a face that is well-suited to radio, but not the voice.

Not clickable - A chirrup of presenters

Long-time Presenters Top
The group photo below and the (non-clickable) thumbnail pictures below it were all taken in the happy days of 2009, the year of PFM's full licence. And what a team it was! Around that time, the presenters and Board members met socially each month at Cubley Hall, making friends, exchanging stories, having fun, consuming drinks and offering hints and tips to each other. It was said to be a useful activity for team-building and cohesion.

The meetings were organised by presenter Charlotte Sissons (as-was), seen here crouching on the left of the picture. I gate-crashed one of their gatherings and it was great fun to be in the company of a lovely bunch of friendly and talented people. I recorded Darren't pep-talk and made it available on the internet for a time.

Cubley Hall 2009PFM 2009 Penistone Show

Some very popular PFM presenters have unfortunately passed away over the years. Notable names are Richard Ward, Richard Tolson, Peter Johnson and Jill Craven. Richard ('Rich-T') Tolson was a well-liked music lecturer at Barnsley College, credited as teaching half of the Arctic Monkeys and able to mentor many PFM presenters, including Eddie Loughrey. A building at Barnsley College is named after him.

The picture above-right is from the 2009 Penistone Show, showing the very popular Richard Ward on the mike (also the first thumbnail picture below). Richard's weekend show was compulsive listening. He was really good, with a touch of Terry Wogan about him; laid back, funny and entertaining. He was also reputed to be a good cook. A great guy who loved being involved with the public and who raised the profile of the station well beyond sonic wallpaper. Much missed.

Not clickable - Another chirrup of presenters

Back now to the old hands. Ah, the good old days. Peter Johnson had been a journalist for Yorkshire Post and was a somewhat serious character. He presided over PFM's only-ever programme dedicated to the Community, with a roundup of Penistone news, local sports, announcements, interviews and more. It was a scheduled programme instead of random snippets. Although the programme was rather fast-paced, Peter and others packed a lot of local interest into it. Peter was in his early eighties when he passed away but was with the radio station right to the end. As a direct connection between Penistone FM and our community, Peter's work is yet to be surpassed.

Jill Craven had been a fixture of Penistone Library until she retired through ill-health. She was supremely literate and knowledgeable as an alumnus of Leeds Metropolitan University. As a founder member of PFM's original Listener's Panel, Jill soon progressed to become a regular PFM presenter. A little bit like Joyce Grenfell in demeanour, Jill was very well-liked and attracted glowing eulogies upon her passing in 2017.

Some of the early presenters are still on air, such as Andrew Millner (third thumbnail above), Keith Barna, Eddie Loughrey and Ian France. Martin Sugden was in at the beginning and now works mostly behind the scenes, dealing with new recruits and personnel matters. You might catch Martin doing interviews at events. Many other presenters (still alive) have passed through the station, such as in these pictures. Other presenters who have gone include Jimbo (last picture above), who had to finish because of family commitments, Colin Geldard, who moved to the East coast and, in 2021, the man himself, Darren Holmes. Jimbo was last seen on BBC tv news in a story about delayed Sheffield trains.


Location Top
The early RSL transmissions of 2005 originated in studios just above Cubley Hall which had been used by Kate Rusby. After going off-air, and until a full CR Licence was obtained, the station continued to be heard on the internet but only to a very small audience.

Then, PFM's 'proper' studios were established in 2009, above what is now Café Crème, 9a High Street, in a building belonging to Penistone Conservative Association. It was also cheap. It stayed on the High Street for until the new Penistone 1 office and shop development was completed in 2014, overlooking St Mary's Street.

The arrival of the 'Penistone 1' complex opened the possibility of expanding into new studios and again at a peppercorn rent. Penistone FM had to relocate lock, stock and barrel into Suite 7 of the new-build 'Penistone 1' development and it re-opened on 6th June 2015 (its sixth anniversary), directly opposite the Royal British Legion Lounge Room, allowing us to observe the main studio from across the road (and see who were bringing beverages into the studio). The new PFM Studios would be accessed via Back lane and Marsden's Square behind the Spread Eagle. (See Dransfield)

Ken DavidPFM coverage mapMyriad

Technical Top
Most of the technical maintenance of the studios has been ably provided by Brian Robinson, who has been with the station from the start (no, not the History Group's Brian Robinson) and has now moved into supporting PFM's video output.

Some of these technical details will have become out of date, as there will have been improvements. There are also some hopes about raising the transmitter power or adding an extra FM frequency to cover weak reception areas, such as Stocksbridge or Deepcar (but the PFM Minutes have dried up for more information). The following notes are mostly from the early days, although still largely relevant.

Everything works from Windows PCs but the studio does have some analogue sources, such as a record player. Listener input from Facebook, text messages and emails is displayed on a computer monitor for the presenter to read out but the 'Community News' items were on bits of paper (this might have been modernised with the passing of time).

The P2 Myriad play-out system is central to station operation and its system holds around 15,000 music tracks on computer, which is about double that of most Community Radio stations. Myriad can fit the music and other material to the time allotted for each period of the show and it can adapt to changes on the fly. It can also select music from particular genres to fit the time slot. There is some flexibility for listener requests but they are limited in number for each show. Adverts and announcements are scheduled in to play at pre-determined intervals.

If a sequence lasts longer than expected perhaps by someone talking too long, the system will pad out the time by inserting something which fits the remaining time available. It also switches over to an external news feed on the hour and plays a station jingle and announcement before and after each insert. In some cases, the presenter might actually compile a show elsewhere and then arrange for it to be played as one or more segments.

The studios used the old-faithful SoundCraft Series10 mixing desks in the beginning but there have been some upgrades in the ten years of operation. Good-quality dynamic microphones are fitted to each studio on anglepoise-like arms for flexibility and the reduction of unwanted vibrations. There were no condenser mikes visible on my last visit, as they generally have a wide frequency response which is more suitable for live music than speech.

The studios have back-up 'Uninterrupted Power Supplies' (UPS) which kick into operation if the mains power supply has a problem, which it did several times when power outages were closing Penistone shops. Also, if there is a glitch and the audio feed from the mixer goes silent for more than 20 seconds, a back-up CD player keeps the station output going by playing a set-piece CD of music and announcements. This maintains continuity when things go pear-shaped or the computers throw a wobbly. It also allows time for the computers to re-boot and carry on as though nothing had happened.

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' in the broadcasting world, including the BBC. Another unit injects a Radio Data System (RDS) data stream at 57kHz into the audio feed, to identify the station and other information on suitably-equipped receivers. The transmitter mast at Hoylandswaine is (or was) 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. The power and/or aerial height could be raised, by negotiation with Ofcom, to include other areas such as Stocksbridge.

PFM transmits on a frequency of 95.7MHz on the VHF - FM band. The wavelength can be calculated by dividing 'c' (the speed of light = 3 x 108 Metres per Second) by the frequency, which works out at 300/95.7 = 3.135 Metres. Half of this is 1.57 Metres and nearly right for a half-wave dipole aerial (disregarding a few other factors). That would be too big for a rooftop. Most radio and tv aerials use a 'Folded Dipole' technique to reduce the size, while retaining the correct 75Ω impedance match to the coaxial cable and receiver for maximum signal power transfer. An impedance mismatch causes signals to be reflected back to the aerial which results in 'standing waves' and peaks and troughs in the frequency range. I bet not many people know that! Or care.

As of 2019, there is a possibility of increasing the transmitter power from 25 to 100 watts, with a view to filling in various blind spots in such as Oxspring, Stocksbridge and Cawthorne, and expanding the programme output to suit. Ofcom is open to CR stations extending their reception zones. According to Andrew Millner at his history talk to Penistone History Group (Wed 6th February, 2019), Stocksbridge has a similar relationship to Sheffield as Penistone does to Barnsley and might be a natural area for the reception area to expand into. With the Fox Valley shopping centre, Penistone people are visiting Stocksbridge much more than they used to. Andrew's suggestion of a possible name change of Penistone FM was not well-received by his elderly audience.

Coverage Top
The lie of the land favours reception to the north and east of Penistone. PFM officially broadcasts to a target audience within a radius of 5km (just over 3miles) from Penistone with the transmitter at HoylandSwaine. In theory, this excludes Barnsley 7½ miles (12km) away and Stocksbridge but reception outside the official area is generally good. The following observations have been made from listening to car radios, which might be the most common form of radio listening in modern times.

Local villages such as Millhouse Green, Thurlstone and Upper Denby have good signals but weaker in parts of Oxspring, Stocksbridge and Barnsley. Bower Hill is a deadspot. There is practically no signal towards Holmfirth after passing the Fox House Inn, which is rather unfortunate as Holmfirth is a popular destination for local people. The new Parliamentary Boundary from 2018 would lump Penistone in with Holmfirth and the Colne Valley for electoral purposes, which might influence future station content.

Reception on high ground at our side of Huddersfield is excellent. Lepton receives PFM as though it was in Penistone. Shelley and Skelmanthorpe are also on high ground and have excellent reception. Denby Dale is culturally closer to Penistone and only ten minutes away by train but its PFM coverage is patchy yet not impossible in the lower parts. It is borderline usable but can be received outside Springfield Mill in Denby Dale. PFM is not difficult to receive on the M1 motorway to our East.

Stocksbridge has become increasingly important to our district with its superior Fox Valley shopping area and the many visitors from Penistone and you can hear PFM without any breaks into most parts of it, including Fox Valley, but PFM is looking into adding an extra fill-in transmitter on a new frequency to expand its coverage. It is likely that some improvements have been made as reception appears to reach further than in the early days.

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

The Community Radio Licence Top
Originally called 'Access Radio' in 2002, the 'Community Radio' (CR) licence was introduced in 2004 by Act of Parliament ('Community Radio Order 2004') by New Labour as a new class of UK broadcast licence intended for small, non-profit radio stations run 'By the community for the community.' CR Stations are required to be operated, owned by and accountable to their target communities rather than big businesses, national broadcasters or other vested interests.

Typically, CR stations were set up to serve the particular needs of ethnic, religious or other minorities but are also well-suited to the needs of small towns like ours which have a sense of identity and are physically separate from the urban sprawl of larger towns and cities. With its sense of community and wide range of public activities, Penistone is perfect for a Community Radio station to interact with in a meaningful way.

Promises, promises ...

The licences were originally intended to last only five years but with only one possible renewal, limiting the lifetime of CR stations like Penistone FM to ten years maximum. However, in 2019 PFM was successful in extending its licence for a further five years. That was quite an achievement. CR stations tailor their negotiated 'Key Commitments' to suit their intended audiences. These sit on top of mandatory 'Social Gain' requirements, which are supposed to ensure that individuals, groups and communities are facilitated a platform to: 'Tell their own stories, share experiences and become creators and contributors of media' (Ofcom).

The company name of Penistone FM is 'Penistone Community Radio' and classified as 'Private, limited by guarantee, no share capital' at Companies House, No. 06257320. Details of the original CR application, coverage, etc., have now been moved by Ofcom to archives (Ofcom reference CR153).

Station Funding
The station has high running costs which require funding from such as advertisements and grants. PFM has attracted funds from the Lottery (2014), BMBC Ward Alliance, PTC and various other sources 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 attracted more Lottery funding. Presenters also make financial contributions. The station is not allowed to make a profit, as any surplus must be put back in.

PFM has also been very successful in attracting grants from the BMBC Penistone Ward Alliance (funded by Barnsley Council, BMBC), and there is nothing wrong with that as it is regarded as a service to the community (Eg. Q4 Performance Report 2019 Pdf).

Penistone Area Council is made up of the six borough Councillors representing the two Penistone Wards. It commissions services with a strong social value to address the strategic priorities of the area and delivers some of this through Penistone Ward Alliance, a body of local people (50% councillors) who represent various community groups. The Ward Alliance supports local community projects of value to the community (see Financial Assessment Pdf Dec 2018, as an example). Although the public may observe at Ward Alliance meetings (and most other meetings which spend public money), meetings are no longer advertised.

Given that WA funding originates from BMBC, it can be argued that it comes with strings attached or at least implies a degree of self-censorship. This could be what limits the great possibilities of community radio. Discussions and the airing of opinions are part of the station's stated commitments to the public but Barnsley Council is very often at the core of Penistone's woes. We might see a conflict of interest here. And "There lies the rub," as Willy Wobbledagger once said.


The Culture Top
I am a regular listener to Penistone FM but mostly as a backdrop to other activities. Local radio has a great potential for innovation and interest but only if it is given the will, motivation, space and freedom to develop and expand. Something about the station culture appears to stifle enthusiasm and innovation and that is very sad. It could do so much better and, now in its eleventh year, could be made to be much more relevant to people's everyday lives and earn the slogan that it uses every day.

It is still a matter of amazment that, as a Community Radio station, it has no scheduled 'Community' show, not even a roundup of local news, events and sports results. Just random bits and pieces. There's nothing scheduled to specifically tune in for if you are looking for local news.

Also, if Penistone FM interviews anyone, no-one can say when (or if) it might be aired, not even the interviewer, who might well have travelled at some personal expense, spent time doing the interview and further time editing. How does that encourage anyone? Somebody needs to think that one through. Seriously!

You can't predict when a useful piece of information might be aired and not everyone can listen continuously with a pen and paper handy waiting for the knowledge. A commuter wishing for travel details in adverse weather will go straight to Radio Sheffield. Although there are sometimes road and train reports on PFM, they are only aired if someone happens to be available in the studio and to have done the research at the time.

Also, politics has been known to intrude into editorial control, such as when the £multi-million Market Barn was officially opened in 2011 - with a disreputable radio blackout on PFM. It had followed some bad press about the Market Barn's lack of weatherproofing which BMBC councillors had been very sensitive about. Looking at the Board Minutes (8th August 2011, since removed), the station received advance notice of the event but chose to comply with Barnsley Council to down-play it, rather than the station doing its duty to the local community. That could be easily be categorised as suppression of news. Several PFM volunteers attended or were involved with the event but the listeners were kept in the dark, even after it had happened. From Minutes (slightly abridged):

PFM Fudge 1

But it was not the duty of Penistone FM (nor the councillors involved, had they the moral fibre or backbones) to comply with the whims of BMBC. Neither was it a responsible or honest action by BMBC to attempt to control any of the news media. That is not their job and that way lies tyranny.

Those who imposed their veto in this matter acted irresponsibly and probably beyond their authority. The other presenters ought not to have been so compliant. There is a line in the Ofcom guidelines which reads: 'By the community for the community.' It also compromised the autonomy of the station and its compliance with broadcasting rules, risking the licence. Ofcom was informed and was not impressed with any Community Radio station suppressing an important piece of community news for political objectives. Heads ought to have rolled.

Social Gain or Loss?
You might have seen Ofcom's mandatory Social Gain requirements: 'The Facilitation of Discussion and the Expression of Opinion' where individuals 'Tell their own stories, share experiences and become creators and contributors of media.' Well, I am sorry to say that it never does happen in a significant way, due to local politics having the upper hand. The same PFM Minutes as above offer some insight into PFM's actual 'commitments' to Ofcom and the community. Mushrooms come to mind, or was it an episode of 'Yes Minister'?

More nonsense

Contact Penistone FM Top
Penistone FM is always on the lookout for new presenters and there are frequent training opportunities for new ones. Listener feedback to the station is via the website (comments page) and Facebook.

T-ShirtMerchandise
Some PFM merchandise might still be available from Hallmark Cards on Penistone High Street, which is always worth a visit anyway. Penistone FM umbrellas are king-size. Both Hallmark and Clark's Chemist have Penistone-branded goods and postcards. You can usually grab a free key-ring, PFM sticker or pen from one of the OBs.

Penistone FM and Allied Websites


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