Selling Your Services

Everything that makes community radio effective makes it valuable to service providers. Community radio’s ability to reach disadvantaged communities, its potential to change lives and places for the better, its position at the centre of a community, all these things make it a valuable material resource.

This is a relatively short section but here’s a clickable contents list all the same:


“We did a 3-day RSL in Salford and on the last day we had a session with the local community policeman. We asked him if he’d been busy and he said ‘nope, quiet weekend. Mostly because of you lot.’ We had only about six young people in the station but all their mates were at home listening in. They weren’t on the streets.”

Phil Korbel, Director, Radio Regen.

All mainstream services have a vested interest in tackling disadvantage and exclusion, whether or not this is part of their stated aims. The police may exist to prevent crime and enforce laws, but they are not blind to the truth that poverty, alienation and social exclusion can drive crime and that the lack of youth facilities can drive anti-social behaviour (see Box**). Primary (health) Care Trusts are similarly aware that economic and social conditions are inextricably linked with physical and mental health. Community radio offers a valuable platform for such agencies to improve the work they do.

Among the services which can benefit from community radio are:

Local authority departments (e.g. social care, youth services, housing, waste collection, library services, parks and leisure departments etc)

  • Law enforcement, crime prevention and judicial systems
  • Educational institutions
  • Utilities, including public transport (These may be private companies, but have a public service remit and obligation)
  • Health services e.g. Clinical Commissioning Groups, hospitals
  • Job centres and other employment services
  • Housing providers

All mainstream agencies need some kind of relationship with the community they serve: a relationship of trust, respect and mutual communication. If this relationship is working well it helps them to do their job better. Many will admit to being somewhat deficient in making this relationship work as well as it could, but scratch their heads about how to improve it.

Whereas these services previously they were reliant on leaflets that would never be read or posters that would never be seen, newspaper articles and ads that would be flicked past, community radio gives them the chance to talk to people directly in their homes, offices and cars. It allows them to talk to people who because of language, literacy or simple geography they would never otherwise reach.

Your value to these services should ultimately translate into financial support. Your station is entitled to that. It may come in three forms:

  • Grants. Money paid to you as an organisation to help you achieve desired results. The mainstay of the voluntary sector, they are time-intensive and unwieldy to both obtain and justify, involving extensive application and monitoring processes.
  • Advertising. Agencies may want to hire your airspace to pass on their message. This might be lucrative for the station but maintains a perception of distance between the agency and the listener. Money earned in this way will count towards your 50% advertising income limit.
  • Service Level Agreements (SLA’s).  Straightforward contracts awarded to perform particular activities. These offer a fantastic opportunity for community radio stations to earn money doing what they do best – working with and talking to people.

Anyone involved in community radio will understand all of this very easily. Unfortunately, getting the service providers to understand it can be a tortuous and frustrating process.

Full-time community radio is a new concept in Britain of course, and it may take time and patience before the relevant decision-makers fully realise community radio’s potential. While of course there are massive variations, public services are often intrinsically conservative in their working methods. They are staffed by vast numbers of often overworked, underpaid and undervalued employees. People get set in their ways and change is often slow and unwelcome.


Mainstream service providers:

  • Have plenty to gain from community radio.
  • Should be expected to pay a price for those benefits that reflects the fact that you are enabling them to do their job better..
  • Can be very difficult to engage and persuade.

All of this can make engaging statutory agencies hard work. If it looks to them like you are needy or a nuisance, if they think you will be putting more demands on their time and resources, they will do their best to block you out. On the other hand, if they can be persuaded that you offer them the chance to do their job more easily and even more cheaply, you will (eventually) get their attention.

At ALLFM and Wythenshawe FM we have had wildly varying experiences of working with different agencies. Some have been highly enthusiastic and helpful, others have seemed impossible to connect with at all. We hope that as time passes and the sector’s profile rises, service agencies will one day be hammering at the door of every new station.

Grants vs. contracts

At present there is something of a grey area between commercial sponsorship and advertising on one side, and grants and service level agreements to achieve particular broadcast outputs on the other. As the sector matures and OFCOM sets some precedents for what is and is not acceptable, the picture should become clearer. For now it is necessary to distinguish funded programming, funded activities and commercial sponsorship, and if, for example, you are flush with advertising revenue it may be worth pursuing funded programming or SLA contracts rather than sponsorship from agencies.

The advantages of SLA contracts over grants are clear. They involve less administration and bureaucracy, which is a practical advantage. But at a more profound level, contracts are an acknowledgement of the effectiveness and value of community radio activities. A contract is awarded because you have proved that you have a more effective approach than rival bidders to publicising health campaigns, tackling joblessness or whatever the activity may be. Grants are a recognition that you serve useful functions; contracts are an acknowledgement that your work is essential.

The downside is that they can be difficult to obtain – particularly in the first instances. Community radio has little track record of service provision and a bid for a contract may be met with disbelief. You will need to make a very persuasive pitch.


Service Level Agreements:

  • Are a highly desirable alternative to grants.
  • Are hard to obtain.
  • Are mostly uncharted territory for community radio stations.

The good news is that local authorities are currently showing increasing interest in bringing voluntary (or so-called third) sector organisations into the equation of service delivery. In the jargon, they call it ‘mainstreaming’ –bringing groups from the margins of public service onto the front page of their budget planning. As part of this process, many local authorities are now establishing ‘voluntary sector compacts,’ sets of guidelines for mainstream agencies to guide their dealings with the sector. Check with your own local authority if they have agreed any such compact, and if they have use the information there to guide your bids. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) have been at the forefront of negotiating a national Compact as a template for local versions.  Their website has further details.

The availability of service contracts to voluntary sector organisation is a new and rapidly evolving development. Community radio is emerging at just the right time to take advantage of these new opportunities.

Not selling your soul.

It is likely that every time you talk to a new potential partner agency you will have to explain to them that you are different to any other radio station. They may think you are like a commercial station but a bit smaller, or like a pirate station with a licence. You must explain that you are effective because you are independent and authentic. This is radio made of the community, by the community and for the community. As soon as you become the voice of authority talking to – or even at – the people, you are no longer a community radio station.


“When ALL FM’s police show started they might as well have been Dixon of Dock Green standing with their hands behind their backs. We used to joke that it should be called ‘Evenin’ All FM’. After a while they warmed up dropped all that, and involved more people in their show. And it got so much better and thus more effective.”

Phil Korbel, Director, Radio Regen

Some agencies, and particularly local authorities, have a reputation for control freakery, even paranoia, when it comes to their public image and PR. It must be made clear to them that you are applying for contracts and grants to achieve specified outcomes, you are not a propaganda tool for hire.

Let’s take a hypothetical example. A community radio station may agree a contract with their council to broadcast public information about waste collection services and recycling. That is a straightforward deal. There should be no small print specifying that the station must portray the service in a good light at all times. If the bins have not been collected for three weeks, presenters would retain the right to ‘fair comment’ and the station would be duty-bound as a community broadcaster to request an interview with a representative of the service, and ask tough questions.


Contracts with mainstream agencies:

  • Must not interfere with your independence
  • Must not change the nature of your station
  • Should involve volunteers from the community at every level.

It is also important that your radio doesn’t sound like ‘Spokesperson FM’. It might be desirable (or essential) to have people from the agencies involved in making and even broadcasting the show, but members of the public must be on air too as either guests or co-presenters, maintaining the inclusive atmosphere of community radio. Perhaps the best option for everyone is for the agency to provide the funding to train volunteers specifically to present their show. ALL FM and Wythenshawe FM’s weekly Job Shows are a fine example of this, funded directly by Job Centre Plus on an SLA contract, to assist unemployed people find work, and presented by volunteers who are themselves unemployed.

Dealing with different agencies

Local authorities: Your relationship with your local authority is vital in countless respects, but particularly in accessing contracts.  As already noted, getting your foot in the door of council departments is more easily said than done. Local councillors are often more responsive than council officers and they can be a useful way of opening doors, but be careful how you use this approach. It can backfire if you are not careful, officers sometimes feel resentful if their political masters begin ordering them to engage with you. It is better for the paid workers to actually want to work with you rather than feeling obliged to. Asking a friendly councillor to put in a word for you and introduce you to the relevant officers is probably about as strong an involvement from politicians as you would want.  This can get the door open for you but unless you are actually delivering the goods the relationship will soon flounder.

In all negotiations, be clear about what benefits you are offering and what you are looking for in return. The idea is to get them thinking about your station as one possible part of their service delivery mix. That means selling yourself on the strength of your activities, not on personal or political sympathy.

Authors note 2015 –The vast majority of the organisations and process that we refer to below NOW DO NOT EXIST but we believe that the examples used still are useful to the sector and can be applied to the successor sectors.  Of course we also now live in a time of austerity and the public funding that we used to access is now severely restricted.  That said, for better or for worse, more and more services are being outsourced, which can mean easier access to those commissioning them.  Overall – we also offer very good value for money and are often very competitive compared to the private sector – all the more reason to get out there and pitch!

Youth services and Connexions.

The momentum in youth services is currently towards the so-called one-stop shop, currently manifested as Connexions centres. The idea is that advice, support and diversionary activities should all be accessed from the same single approach, where a young person’s needs and wishes can be assessed and met where possible. This should in theory be helpful for community radio stations, meaning fewer negotiations and less bureaucracy.

Unfortunately, youth services in most areas appear to be among the least well-resourced and most overstretched agencies of them all. They tend to have a massive list of activities and projects they would like to be able to fund, many of which will feel just as deserving of grant funding or contracts as you are.

Funded youth work is often intensive and demanding. It is a sad truth that interventions by youth services often come very late in the day for the young people concerned. Once they have been excluded from school or received a criminal conviction, opportunities suddenly arise for activity schemes, special needs education, social support and so on. This means that many of the young people you might be funded to work with could already have deep underlying problems that may sometimes be impossible for you to address. In terms of social gain, it is often just as useful to work with young people who are not yet excluded or in trouble, but who nevertheless feel isolated, neglected or just plain bored. Finding funding to do so can be a major headache, however.

The big selling point that community radio has over many other youth services is that making radio is pretty damn cool. It is often a more attractive option than playing ping pong or many of the other choices that young people are traditionally offered. Community radio often appeals to young people who wouldn’t be seen dead in a youth centre.  That is why most community radio stations could fill their schedules ten times over with young people. (Leicester’s Takeover Radio, run entirely by and for young people, is a case in point.) In practice, the limiting factor is often your child protection policy, which will effectively determine how many young volunteers you can work with at any one time. A fully-trained youth worker is of course a valuable asset to any station and will open up many streams of funding.

Much of the best and most necessary radio made by young people is feature, magazine and discussion programming. Young people are rarely given the platform and opportunity to discuss the world as it affects and appears to them. It is important you don’t just succumb to the immediate pressure from the young people themselves to make music shows.

Health agencies.

Author’s Note – The role of the PCT’s below has now been replaced by Clinical Commissioning Groups, and public health is now under the remit of local authorities.  As above, the rationale for linking community radio to health remains, with interesting new initiatives in train that might increase the inclusion of the sector in the delivery of health projects 

The agency responsible for delivering health care to your community is the Primary Care Trust (PCT’s) allocate around 75% of the NHS’s total budget.) There will also be your Mental Health Trust, Hospitals Trusts and others. There may also be a specific  body such as a Health Action Zone (HAZ), which works rather like an LSP to bring the key players in health service delivery to the same table.

In our experience, health trusts have proved extremely difficult to engage. They are large, cumbersome democracies and everything that was said above about local authorities applies doubly to the NHS.  There is no doubt that community radio has enormous potential value to NHS trusts, but sadly many trusts have yet to be convinced of this. Trusts have a statutory duty to engage and consult with their own communities on their strategic planning and this in itself should be reason enough, regardless of community radio’s potential contribution to health education, public information and social welfare.

That said, the PCT’s are being obliged to move more towards a wider perspective on health care, one that recognises well-being, self-esteem, social exclusion and so on as health issues. Involvement in community radio can lead to significant improvements in physical and mental health for the individual, and have a genuine impact on the health of a community.  In Wythenshawe for example, the community radio station ran a series on healthy eating, at every stage from growing your own vegetables to the school canteen – long before Jamie Oliver had the idea.

PCT’s are also the bodies tasked with increasing the level of public involvement in decision making in health services – another function where the application of community radio is obvious.


Housing providers are another sector with much to gain from a community station. A better skilled, more empowered group of tenants is easier to work with. A radio station (or programme) can provide a common focus and foster a good sense of identity.

In return, housing trusts often have money available for worthwhile projects, and can also access community training and empowerment (CTE) grants from the Housing Corporation, project funding that is only available to social housing providers and their project partners. This was pioneered by Wythenshawe FM with its local social landlord, Willow Park Housing Trust. 

copPolice, legal and judicial services.

Police forces across the country have also been fast to recognise the value of community radio. Community policing has been at the heart of their service provision since the late 80s, and community radio offers such officers the opportunity to reach thousands of local residents simultaneously. In many areas (not just the inner cities) public engagement with police officers is suspicious at best and downright confrontational at worst. Rarely does anyone talk, or listen sympathetically to a police officer. When people hear police officers talking on the radio, complete with personalities, bad jokes and worse music, it helps to make the police service more human, more approachable and able to do their job better.

All law-enforcement agencies are currently immersed in the idea of ‘community justice’ and local involvement in policing. This underpins everything from Neighbourhood Watch to ASBOs. Community radio could have a great role to play in making safer streets, offering a voice to the victims of crime, but also a voice of reason. Discussions about anti-social behaviour often fall into the trap of tarring all young people (or those of a particular social or ethnic group) with the same brush. Community radio can open up communication and strengthen understanding between generations, or between different sections of the community. That may do more to reduce the fear of crime than anything else.  As we go to press the Home Office has launched a cross Departmental strategy called ‘Together We Can’ which covers a lot of these points and more (see is a real value to that. But translating that value into cash may not be easy. Police divisions do have budgetary independence, so in theory they should be able to pay for their use of community radio facilities. Be prepared to lobby hard for a financial arrangement, which may include offering free pilot arrangements. Just make sure you specify the length of the trial. It may also be possible to engage other judicial services such as probation services, youth offending teams, possibly even prisons (there would be practical difficulties of course, but many prison governors are always on the look-out for new projects to involve and inspire inmates. And they sometimes have money to spend – whether their own or accessed from grants.)  Also, most local council’s have a Crime & Disorder committee.

Employment services.

As noted above, Job Centre Plus (in partnership with the European Social Fund) was among the first public service agencies to agree a local service level agreement with a community radio station (ALL FM’s Job Show). They have much to gain from such a deal, as community radio offers both training in transferable skills, and a platform to advise on job-seeking and advertise vacancies.


The agencies you may work with:

  • Each has a different perspective on the role of community radio.
  • May all have different reactions to your approaches.
  • All bring their own business and funding opportunities.

Job Centre Plus across the country also offer a large number of contracts out to tender, for services such as outreach to ethnic minorities and non-English speakers. Some community radio stations may be well placed to apply for such contracts.  

Author’s note – this site’s Training section will have pointers on delivering training and getting it funded, when it is launched.

Business support services.

Organisations such as Chambers of Commerce and Business Link have advice services and other activities to promote. They often find that small businesses in less advantaged areas are those that need the most support but are the most difficult to engage. Community radio stations may reach such businesses. Business support services could benefit considerably from publicity on community radio, whether through public announcements or advertising, a regular ‘advice spot’ on a general interest show, or even their very own programme.  Beyond simple advice surgery spots, there are endless possibilities for such a partnership to promote enterprise, self-employment and business start-up.