Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Sunset or Sunrise?

Southall-based Sunrise Radio has today announced that it is appealing to listeners for funds to keep the station afloat.

A “news item” on the station website, and announcements on-air, say the Chairman of the Sunrise group Avtar Lit is asking listeners to financially support the radio stations:

“There has been an increasing trend among Asian broadcasters to be supported by their listeners and viewers. Many Asian TV channels are paid for by subscribers or viewers. With advertising rates failing to increase in 15 years and other costs escalating, there is no other way except a combination of advertising and listener contribution. Listeners can make a contribution by sending a cheque, or by credit card.”

It is not clear what, if anything, donors will receive in return for their contributions.

Along with many commercial radio companies the Sunrise group is thought to be cash-strapped having been badly hit by the downturn in advertising revenue. Recently, Sunrise Radio, Kismat Radio and Punjabi Radio ceased broadcasting on digital television to save costs, and Sunrise did not renew its contract on digital radio in the West Midlands. However this may be the first time an established UK commercial radio station has tried the listener subscription route.

The item does not elaborate on the scheme but Ofcom rules do permit appeals for funds for programming or services subject to certain conditions, including:
  • Broadcasters should keep accurate and detailed records of donations and how they are spent. Records should demonstrate how donations received are used to fund the service.
  • Ofcom strongly recommends that donations are kept in a separate, specific account so that information relating to donations and how they are spent is clear and easy to access. It is also recommended that audits of such accounts are conducted.
  • Broadcasters should avoid creating unrealistic expectations about what donations can achieve and appeals should not improperly exploit any susceptibilities of the audience.
  • Broadcasters should take care to ensure that the acceptance of donations does not prevent them from meeting the Code‟s requirements relating to due impartiality, no undue prominence of views and opinions, and editorial independence.

Listener appeals have been used widely elsewhere – for example the Public Service Broadcasters Telethons in the USA and by community radio operators worldwide. Many stations offer membership of some kind of “listeners club” in return for a minimum donation. However these are not run by profit-distributing commercial concerns like the Sunrise Group.

In the UK we are used to getting a wide range of radio free, at the time of listening, from the BBC and other stations so it will be interesting to see if this model can work here.



  1. Listener-supported radio has been around in the UK since the passing of the 1990 Broadcasting Act that, for the first time allowed faith-based broadcasters: before that Christian broadcasters could only broadcast to the UK using transmitters based outside this country. So Premier Christian Radio started broadcasting on MW in London and United Christian Broadcasters (UCB) started on Sky's radio channels. Today both these stations broadcast nationally on DAB, following the 2003 Communications Act which allowed faith-based stations access to DAB. Only last week Premier's most recent telethon raised over £500,000 and the 'Word For Today' devotional helps UCB to raise money from their supporters. For these two national Christian stations, and some Christian community stations, the majority of their funds come from listeners who wish the ministry of these stations to continue as they bring to the airwaves a range of music, talk and discussion that otherwise would not be heard.

  2. Hi Peter - great to hear from you again.
    Apologies, you are of course correct to point out that Premier Christian Radio is an example of a UK station which operates under a conventional commercial radio licence and has always been listener-supported. I tend to think of it as a larger community radio station - but know it pre-dates that legislation and is able to transmit to a community of interest that is scattered over an area larger than 10 kilometres across!
    However I understand Premier is owned by a charity. Sunrise is owned by a commercial company which has in the past, quite properly, sought to maximise shareholder value. That seems a different thing altogether.