Leeds community radio station makes urgent plea to broadcast on FM during coronavirus crisis
A community radio station in east Leeds has issued an urgent plea to media watchdog Ofcom to allow it to broadcast to its neighbourhood and help keep local elderly residents connected.
East Leeds FM (ELFM) believes it has a vital role to play to reach those in the community without access to the internet and has set up a series of remote studios in volunteers' bedrooms and attics so it can take to the airwaves while sticking to the rules on social distancing.
But in order to broadcast, the community station needs a licence from Ofcom and despite repeated requests from itself and supporters, the regulator has yet to provide an answer.
In his most recent letter to Ofcom, Adrian Sinclair, co-director of Heads Together Productions which first set up the radio station in 2003, asked for "an urgent resolution" at this "time of crisis", adding: "My team meet online at 7.30am every morning and are ready to broadcast. All we need to do is switch on our transmitter. Urgent action is needed today. Please give us permission to do that now."
Until it was closed due the coronavirus outbreak, ELFM had been broadcasting through the internet from its base in the Methodist Chapel in Seacroft, known as Chapel FM.
But now, thanks to local volunteers, it is all poised to broadcast to east Leeds on 94.6FM - a frequency previously offered to the radio station by Ofcom in 2018 when they were considering a full-time licence.
Local volunteer Phil Driscoll, a retired BBC sound engineer, came up with the idea before the lockdown and the team managed to strip the ELFM studios for mixers and microphones to set up the remote studio network in people's homes.
Phil said: "My wife is in the vulnerable category so we are locked down at home and going nowhere. Early on I realised that the ELFM radio studios would have to close but that we could play a vital role in keeping the community connected, particularly those older people who don't have access to the internet, so we set to work."
The equipment has already been tested out, creating three-hour programmes aimed at older people with information bulletins, interviews, poetry and even live living room concerts from local musicians.
While they await the licence, listeners can tune in live online at chapelfm.co.uk on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10am to 1pm or listen anytime on demand.
As well as the local Leeds City Councillors backing the station's bid, East Leeds Labour MP Richard Burgon has written to Ofcom stating the station's FM broadcasts would "help not only with getting vital information to people in my constituency but would help with the mental health of people in my constituency too at this very stressful and worrying time".
Acknowledging the temporary licences would normally take six months to be process, he urged Ofcom to grant the "emergency" move in light of the "unprecedented changes for many in the community throughout this period".
A petition has now also been launched to support the radio station's bid.
A spokeswoman for Ofcom told the Yorkshire Evening Post they had received ELFM's request and have "worked rapidly" to develop an entirely new licence product for services like these who want to broadcast during the Covid-19 pandemic.
It added: "We expect to be in a position to invite applications for a new licence product this week."