Community Radio .. how to pay for it?

by Angela Gillian Rose on October 13, 2013

UgandaradioThe greatest challenge facing community radio today is lack of funding. Local stations attract the most devoted of volunteers but that’s not enough to keep broadcasting, particularly in remote areas. Raising enough money to pay staff, purchase equipment and produce good programming is often the biggest hurdle a station has to face. Not far behind the issue of having enough money is maintaining independence and integrity and staying true to the mission of being relevant to the community it serves. In other words, being careful about what money you accept. The media is a powerful tool.

Community radio in rural and remote areas often provides a voice to local inhabitants who are ignored by the larger media. In the September 2013 issue of Rhodes Journalism Review, Franz Kruger writes about the challenges facing local radio in poor communities. As he says, “top of the list of concerns for most stations is the simple battle for survival, particularly for stations in the global south.” (RJR Alive1 p.5) Despite plenty of research projects to find the best funding model and attendance at conferences and seminars by senior radio executives to share knowledge, the ideal model is still elusive. This means that many stations, crucial to the life blood of a community, are unable to keep going and if they do, their independence can sometimes be compromised.

Community radio stations face many of the same funding dilemmas that stations in urban communities do. The main funding comes from advertising (if they can accept it) and sponsorship. In some areas there is revenue from grants (although someone has to write the grant applications) and donors although there again, donor cultivation can be a long and arduous process. There could be funding from local businesses and local government departments but maintaining the firewall between money and editorial independence is under constant threat. For some stations, there are government tax breaks and subsidies.

In the West, the main competition to radio is television and the internet. But in the south radio is still the leading disseminator of news. In Hemer & Tufte’s anthology, Media and Glocal Change, Madanmohan Rao writes “According to ITU findings, 80% of the 500 million internet users worldwide are in the developed world, and two out of every five people in developed countries are online while only one in 50 has access to the net in developing countries.” (Hemer & Tufte 2005 p.272) In remote areas in the south, one could probably increase that number of one in 50 ten times which confirms the reliance on local radio.

In the Incommunicado Reader, the writers go one step further and say that in the United States, “ Digital divide arguments have led to providing local community Internet access in schools and libraries (Menour 2001) .. to little or no effect .. Social inequality in the USA has grown significantly precisely since the 1980s along with the ICT wave. (Nederveen Pieterse 2004) In the USA ICT has either been indifferent to or has contributed to increasing social inequality.” (Livink, Geert & Zehle, Soenke (2005) p. 20)

While Franz Kruger, who is an Adjunct Professor and Director of the Wits Radio Academy in South Africa, argues that for a station to succeed it is more than just being financially secure, many stations operate without a safety net and when they start to falter there is no cushion. Volunteerism is vital in that local volunteers from the community help the station establish deep roots among its listeners and to keep relevant. As with any business, a radio station needs to hire staff, pay wages, buy and often repair equipment, apply for licenses, have a building and sometimes pay for good programming to attract a healthy number of viewers. The radio needs to be in sync with the community it serves and there should be a good range of voices heard, material introduced and useful information. The station itself will probably have applied for some kind of broadcast license from the government and “in some countries, government has defined a special space for community radio and even formulated policy to support stations.” (Kruger, RJR Alive 1P.6 )

Keeping the radio on air and paying the bills is an ongoing feat in poor rural communities. According to Kruger, back in 2007 the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (Amarc) stated that the “struggle for money often distracts practitioners from the tasks of improving community involvement, programme quality and relevance.” Like with any project, once quality decreases then the end user, in this case the listener, is dissatisfied, and it becomes a vicious circle.

The other challenge is maintaining independence and, as discussed in Reclaiming the Media (p.152) being able to “resist different forms (internal and external) pressures. “ Kruger wrote a book called Black, White and Grey: Journalism Ethics in South Africa and is also the ombudsman for the Mail&Guardian so he understands the issues surrounding journalistic freedom and integrity. We see this today with public service broadcasters around the world who try to keep the influence of big business and Government at bay. Whether it is the BBC in the UK, funded through a license fee, or National Public Radio (NPR) in America, that receives money from the federal government as well as from program sponsorship, viewer contributions and grants and donations, they need to remain independent. If not, how can they cover elections or issues of government at the national or local level? That is what the viewers and tax payers expect. The large public broadcasters are no different from the small radio station in a rural area – they need their viewers and listeners to trust them.

According to Nico Carpentier in Reclaiming the Media, journalists and the organizations they serve are “not situated outside ideology and will influence and be influenced by the ideologies, which circulate in society at a given time and space.” (Cammaerts,B and Carpentier, N (eds) (2007) p.152)

Kruger states that in Southern Africa 25% of the potential adult audience are now listening to community radio weekly but only 1 to 2% of the money spent on advertising goes to these stations. (Kruger p. 7). However this can still be a large amount of money. There is also money that the Government can provide in terms of tax incentives. Here is Kruger quoting Gamucio-Dagron 2003:18 “Radio stations and community telecentres should receive the same support as public schools, the library or national cultural projects. This does not mean that the State should intervene in the political and communicative project of community media, but should support their development as autonomous and decentralized entities.” However, we are all aware, “should not intervene” is a grey area when it comes to Government and the media. Also, in many countries the government does not support libraries or cultural projects and the support of public school is minimal at best.


Cammaerts,B and Carpentier, N (eds) (2007) Reclaiming the media: communication rights and democratic media roles.

Hemer, Oscar & Tufte, Thomas (2005) Media and Glocal Change. Rethinking Communication for Development. Chapter 16. Online at

Lievrouw, Leah (2011) Alternative and Activist New Media. Oxford: Polity Press

(Livink, Geert & Zehle, Soenke (2005) the Incomunicado Rader. Amsterda: Institute of Network Cultures.

Kruger, Frank. Viva Radio, Rhodes Journalism Review (RJR) Alive 1

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Tove Silveira Wennergren October 16, 2013 at 7:36 pm

Hi fellow students. Just want to share interesting comments from Allfonso Gumucio on the present situation for miners´ radios in Bolivia. Might be of interest!


David Ersson October 21, 2013 at 7:03 pm

Realy interesting reading. For myself I saw a lot of the problem with funding and the independence of media during the 2011 presidential election in Nicaragua. Most of the stations where loyal to (and pobably often funded by) either of the main parties and thus leaving no room for an independent voice. Here in Sweden I guess the problem with radio may be that the community radio only has 2-3 percent of the population listening. Exept for public service who still is the biggest provider of radio in Sweden the broadcasts is dominated by two companies, MTG and SBS. Their channels are very similar and are focusing mainly on entertainment.


Martin Portin October 22, 2013 at 4:02 pm

I think it is really good that you address the problem with funding since, in many ways, money is the fundamental question when it comes to community media. To begin with, and this might sound a bit paradoxical, if there was not the problem with funding, there would probably not be any, or there would at least be much less, community media actors. Because, I think that it is fair to say that in many cases, community media is something that you turn to when you have no other means to get you message out available. If there was the money, there would probably be other, and more effective, ways to get you message out.
One could of course argue that the need for community media also springs from the fact that certain communities needs and interest are overlooked by the mainstream media. However, this is also, to a far extent, a question of money. In general, traditional mass media, especially commercial ones, try to reach as many as possible and in that process it is natural that small communities are ignored.
In Community Media: A Global Introduction Rennie quotes Couldry who claims that alternative media, wherein community media at least on some occasions can be included, is the “weapons of the weak”. And, as is well known, when it comes to power, the role of money important.


Nina Eneroth October 28, 2013 at 8:00 pm

I think community media could have a relevant role in our society. Karppinen argues that it is not realistic that even Public Service can solve the issue of everyone being represented in the public sphere in a equal way. (Karppinen, 2007, p 17-20). Community media could in my view be a good complement to Public Service and commercial media. The problem however is that community media unlike Public Service often have no stabile funding sources. Hintz pointed to in his analysis of the World Summit on the Information Society, WSIS, that there is a great resistance in global media policy circles to create funds for community media. (Hintz, 2007, p253) One way of constructing a more democratic public sphere could be increased and more stabile funding for civil society media, the so-called third sector. Community Media Forum Europe is an organization in Europe that is working to strengthen the participation of the “Third Media Sector” in Europe. They define community media as non profit-making media serving a local community. I think the non-profit definition is an important part of defining community media. The question is, for media policy, do we need to add another dimension regarding for example that the aim of community media in order to receive funds, should human rights based. Or should we just accept that everyone has the right to recieve funds as long as they are non-profit?
For more on this subject see

Community Media Forum Europe


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