Monday, October 24, 2005

More radio days...

I went to a conference all about Community Radio this weekend. It was held at Urbis, the landmark glass wedge shaped Manchester Museum that looks a cross between a futuristic ship and the lid for a cheese board. I’ve been to Urbis a couple of times now and have mixed feelings about it as a space. For all the dramatic styling, it is also rather bland internally with its plain white finishes & shopping centre ironmongery once you grow accustomed to the scale and layout. I much prefer the Lowry Centre with vibrant use of colour and the fact that it is performance space, which I always find more exciting than display space. Not that I am decrying the Urbis museum aspects- the City displays are fascinating on the various levels through the building and it is currently free as well so definitely worth at least one visit. They do encourage you to visit the first floor gallery (that isn’t free) and the motivation for that has to be the contents. It is currently photos and artefacts of the rock scene by a photographer called Nick Rock and only time prevented me on this occasion as the teasers looked very interesting.

Urbis has a conference suite on the ground floor and this was the main venue for CommunityFM 2005. However, the event was targeted at a number of different streams of community radio activists, from complete beginners all the way up to fully fledged existing stations looking to increase their sustainability, so there were a number of parallel sessions billed as workshops. To accommodate this, the nearby Cathedral visitors centre was pressed into use which had four meeting rooms of various sizes. It was a short stroll away from Urbis, close enough to be convenient but far enough to become tedious traipsing back and forth for coffee breaks and the like.

What were my overall impressions of the event? A curious mixture of both elation and despair. Elation, because I met a number of people who I found highly motivating. Despair, because the mindset from the attendees mainly seemed to revolve around collectivism rather than individualism. A session on funding talked at length about various sources but most of them were government agencies or quangos who redistributed taxation according to perceived merit (generally driven by flavour of the month). A strong element of getting a community radio license is demonstrating something called “social gain” but the more you scrape away at the surface of this the more it looks to me like “social engineering.” One session on programming put up a list of people that should be included in Community Radio, which looked like a local authority political correctness sensitivity training course. My flippant comment that we therefore exclude everyone else not listed got a big laugh but some thoughtful looks as well. There was an unchallenged assumption that the private sector were big bad bogeymen out to derail anything the community sector did. Something else I gradually became aware of was that many of the attendees got their take-home pay from the community sector rather than being unpaid enthusiasts and that the volunteers weren’t really in the driving seat.

All is not lost, however. A toolkit was launched with some very sensible advice in it about not getting sucked into the requirements of the various social agencies and turning output into some horrible manifestation of Town hall FM. I met at least one individual who recognised that the cap in hand model to the government wasn’t sustainable and that they would concentrate on fund raising across a range of different approaches. I found out buckets of information about things I hadn’t appreciated or investigated, not all of it what I wanted to hear…

I'll be taking a blogging break for a few days, more of the conference and other matters in due course.

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