Panel #2: Community Radio and archives

Minority communities, of whatever kind - cultural, religious, linguistic, ethnic or gender-based - have found in community radio an important platform for expression of their cultural identity. But the informal, often ephemeral, context of programming means that the archiving of a community's broadcasting is often incomplete. This panel explored community radio archiving practices –

  • the extent to which digitalization has contributed to new forms of open access, online and collaborative archives

  • how audiences and community programme makers can gain a wider understanding of an international and historicized past

  • how future generations can participate in cultural production through projects linked to such archives

Participants Panel #2

Panelists (sitting): Paul Wilson (British Library Sound Archive), Kathy Cremin (Bede ́s World Museum and Hive Radio), Helen Hahmann (CAPTCHA community archive project). Respondent: Birgitte Jallov (Empowerhouse)

Moderators: Caroline Mitchell (University of Sunderland) & Peter Lewis (London Metropolitan University)

Helen Hahmann recalled the starting position of CAPTCHA, now nearing the end of its two years as a project (creative approaches to living cultural archives) “When we create archives it has to be fun to use them; people have to love going on line to explore.” The project’s website ( listed the project partners -Radio CORAX , Halle, Germany; Radio FRO, Linz, Austria; Near Media Co-Op, Dublin, Ireland; Center for Media and Communication Studies, Central European University, Budapest, Hungary. Of Radio Corax, Helen said “We do not have an archive, we have a complex of metadata”. This has been held on a wiki (for internal use but not accessible publicly) since 2009. It holds information relating to programmes, some entries are detailed, even including scripts, some are very sparse.

People have very different ways of selecting content to put online. Radio Corax is selective about what is preserved: re-use might be as a podcast or an interview for distribution on the network of German-speaking stations. It is hard to search but not impossible. By contrast, Radio Student, Ljubljana, has automated the computerised transfer of programmes to a database as the programmes are broadcast.

An important question is ‘how to handle the digital side?’ We use the platforms currently available but access might be reduced in the future. We need to preserve and develop a decentralised and independent infrastructure, based on a Creative Commons and open access approach. What we have to think about is: according to which rules do we generate archives and pass on knowledge to the future?

Helen showed slides of the most famous German archive, 60k programmes, an archive of social movements since 2000. Radio FRO has started a Cultural Broadcasting Archive, an Austrian platform. Compared to the Corax archive it is better, more searchable.

Helen summarised her concerns in three points: (1) how can we find decentralised archives and make them visible. (2) no archives in community radio – or even in the commercial sector; where is there any record of the pirates? (3) how does an emphasis on online publishing change the practices of community media. Community radio understandably focuses on FM, but we need archival presence on the internet .

Paul Wilson: the British Library (BL) does little at present about community radio (the exception is Resonance FM) so Paul spoke more about plans for archiving community radio. But any discussion of this must be set against the background of the BL’s radio archiving in general.

The 200k hours of radio in the Library is very unrepresentative of contemporary UK radio. The BBC maintains a Sound Archive to which there is access on demand via the BL where one must listen. But there is no online access to the BBC’s catalogues as there was 10 years ago, so this has been a step backwards. The catalogue can be seen in the BL but much content is redacted because of privacy issues.

The non-BBC collection is much more selective. It includes the early years of LBC and of Capital Radio. There are two hundred additional collections donated by radio contributors, enthusiasts and academics. A glance at a slide of pie charts showed the very small proportion of programmes being collected compared to what is broadcast – some 2m hours. The proportion of community radio is very small indeed.

There may be community radio content ‘out there’, collections by stations and producers - but will it be there in 50 years’ time?

Identification (speech to text) of what is relevant to researchers in all fields will help to find material. The BBC World Service in a pilot processed all audio through speech detection software and invited users to seek and add tags.

What can the BL do to make the archival record more representative? Technically it is already perfectly possible to capture all that is being broadcast. We don’t need to keep everything, for example, published commercial music could be omitted but the cost of doing so seems unreasonable when it is simpler to capture everything. We think the question will be “if it was possible to capture that material in the early years of the 21st century, why didn’t you do it?”

What does the future hold? If you are capturing radio live as it is broadcast, the potential is there to alert worldwide listeners to what topics are being covered. Listeners to community radio would be increased.

Kathy Cremin vividly illustrated the context of her work with a light pollution map of the UK in which North East England was dark – it was, she said, a ‘black spot’ for cultural engagement when she took over as Director of Cooperation at Bede’s World in Jarrow. In the 7th century AD the region had been a hub of scholarship and cultural activity with connections across Europe and an important point in the Celtic Christian trail. Bede was the first to translate the Bible into English, although of the three Latin originals there, two were destroyed by the Vikings – for which their descendants in the workshop graciously apologised.

The museum was unloved, was going to be closed. Radio was used as a community development tool, making the museum a social space. Used in the spirit of participatory radio, it transformed local attitudes to and use of the museum. Now some 600 people, young and old, use the museum and undertake community research for themselves. Jarrow’s long history as a mining and ship-building town which has had to struggle since those industries were closed down in the 1980s, has been reclaimed and celebrated through Hive Radio and Bede’s World. And from an archival point of view, it is important that people can see – and hear – not only a curator’s interpretation of an object but what it means to those who own it or have found it.

Birgitte Jallov, as respondent praised the presentations, and as someone with four decades of experience in community radio in Europe and the developing world, was able to contextualise the importance of the arguments about the value and need for archiving. She linked Paul Wilson’s point - how do we make the past available? – to that made by Sonja de Leeuw in the previous day’s session about making a case for an EU contribution to the funding of community radio archives.