Penistone Local Radio - 'The Heart of the Community'

Penistone Pictorial banner

Penistone FM went live at 9.57am, 6th June, 2009, on a frequency of 95.7MHz (Ofcom reference: CR153). The 'Community Radio' (CR) broadcast licence had been introduced in 2004 by Act of Parliament ('Community Radio Order 2004'), as a new class of UK licence for small, non-profit stations to be run 'By the community for the community' and to provide a distinctive style of output. The CR Licence is once-renewable and lasts for five years. 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. The company was classified as 'Private, limited by guarantee, no share capital' at Companies House, No. 06257320.

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 first record played was 'The Greatest Day' by Take That. 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 presenters were open, enthusiastic and willing to connect with the community, even though most of them were from outside the local area.

'Key Commitments' - The Station's Promises to the Public
Some idea of the intended output of Penistone FM can be gleaned from their Key Commitments, agreed with Ofcom to adjust for the particular audience on top of the basic legal requirements of the Community Radio licence. Follow the link from Ofcom's PFM page for the published Key Commitments:

'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.'

The Art of the Community
Although it was at first well-received as a new asset to our town, the station soon showed a reluctance to become involved in the issues of the day (the CR Licence requires the possibility of discussion and the airing of opinions) and a demonstrable lack of political independence.

Although the station has proved to be an asset, this page explores the many missed opportunities and weak aspirations of an organisation which could always have been central to, rather than peripheral to, community life in our district. A 'Community Engagement Panel' in 2016 finally agreed to hold a debate on 'The nature of volunteering', to be aired after Studio 2 had been fully commissioned (See June 2016 CEP - docx) but, as of late 2018, it never happened.

Concerning the nature of volunteering, in 2017 (and for a time before) volunteers were asked to contribute £10 a month = £120 a year towards the running of the station. This changed 'volunteers' into 'paying contributors', hopefully with more influence on the Board. Given that the CR station is supposed to be 'Accountable to the community it serves', it ought also to be accountable to its paying contributors, which could mean influence in adjusting PFM's policies to become compliant with Ofcom's regulations. On top of that, perhaps two or three PFM Directors actually receive payment from the station (details on the PFM website).

Thy have no dedicated 'Community Show' to disseminate local news, talks, road conditions, discussions or sports results, although there are random snippets to attempt to fill the gaps. Interviews are played only randomly, so most listeners don't hear them or won't know when to listen for them. Information is random, road reports are too Barnsley-centric for a Penistone whose residents might work in Leeds, Huddersfield, Sheffield and, yes, some in Barnsley. In short, their commitment to the local community is rather weak, random and undisciplined. PFM is not the immediate 'go-to' source of local knowledge.

On the other hand, while it never aspires to or attempts 'greatness', the station is often a good source of entertainment and music with some very active presenters performing well, if not usually in an informative 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:

A Suggestion
A weekly scheduled Community Show would be highly desirable, with a mix of community news and 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 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. That's if they had a true, community commitment.

The phone-in show on Radio Leeds is a good example of how to do 'Community' properly, in a way which makes radio relevant to normal lives. The technical side of a phone-in is not a problem. Les Young has talked on-air by phone during his show, so it can be done. In fact, Penistone FM's main 'Soundcraft' mixing desk has always had a dedicated phone-in slider from day one, and in the premises before. One useful aspect of a phone-in is that it is self-generating of 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 events or its own schedule; just random snippets at random times. You might discover a car boot sale but not the big event down the road with 5,000 visitors. Even if an interesting subject was known to be on the radio, you would have to listen all day to try to catch catch it but that is not how people listen to radio.

People listen to radio at random times or they fit radio in with other activities such as travel or work, but not the other way around. This random 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. A public campaign against the Tesco being built made it to the Huddersfield Examiner, Barnsley Chronicle and regional tv news but was missing from local radio as a topic. Another example was when news of the official opening of the Market Cruck Barn in 2011 (part of the £multi-million Town Centre Regeneration) was suppressed by PFM, to comply BMBC Markets Team's request to play down the event (PFM Minutes, 8th August 2011 - now deleted).

Four PFM presenters were at the Market Barn opening, so they knew about it even if the public had been kept in the dark. 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. The market traders had no knowledge about it until it had happened.

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 that policy and anyone else who failed to oppose it. Not only was it against the interests of the community, it had been against the interests of the station itself and undermined its reputation. A sacking offence in any company. I made a complaint which was misrepresented (in their minutes) as a different complaint.

Now, moving on to 2014, we have another incident with a whiff of political interference. The arrival of a new Town Hall (Paramount) in 1914 had been an important time in our town's history (See Town Hall History), but its centenary celebrations in 2014 were ignored on local radio. Until afterwards, it was also missing from their website, event though they were aware of the event and its obvious significance to the community.

I have often 'reminded' the station about the local council's Annual Town Assembly, which is a good opportunity for residents to raise issues with the council and receive the Mayor's report and a report our town's finances but never with much success. It is clear that the inner circle of local councillors does not want the public to attend. On one occasion, someone at PFM played a little trick on me. Anticipating my usual complaint that local radio does not advertise the event, it turned out that they had advertised it, but rather late in the day after I had checked it earlier on the same day.

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 always on the lookout for new DJ talent and there are opportunities for presenters to be trained. Listener feedback to the station is via the website (comments page) and through a sporadic 'Community Engagement Panel', which partly replaced the earlier Listeners' Panel.

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