Introducing Leicester Emergent Arts Radio

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It was announced on Friday 30th September that Leicester Digital Partnership CIC had won the bid to operate the new DAB multiplex for Leicester. Ofcom made the announcement as part of the latest batch of licences they have offered as part of the roll-out of SSDAB – Small-Scale Digital Audio Broadcasting. This means that Leicester will gain up to twenty new DAB stations. The plan by Leicester Digital Partnership is to support Leicester’s community radio stations, ensuring they can broadcast on this platform, while also bringing a wider range of services to the city.

I’m pleased with this for two reasons. First, I’m keen to see the community radio stations in Leicester find their feet on this platform, and as the Director of the Partnership, I’ll be doing what I can to further the not-for-profit aims of the community media, as we develop independent community services that enable access and participation in radio broadcasting. I’m looking forward to working with our commercial partners and our community partners as we add to the mix of stations and diversify the content opportunities for listeners across Leicester.

The second reason I’m pleased, is I can now get on with developing Radio Lear, which will be one of the new services carried on the multiplex that can offer an interesting alternative approach to radio as a space for creative practice and interesting discussion. When we were planning the multiplex bid with Ofcom, I realised that there is a gap in Leicester for a different kind of radio project. Something that is open to creative experimentation which can treat radio as a creative practice itself, rather than following a tight format with pre-set patterns of presentation and cookie-cutter forms of programme making.

I’ve called the station Radio Lear for a couple of reasons. I wanted a name that had a strong local connection. According to myth and legend, King Lear is buried beneath the River Soar, in the heart of Leicester, somewhere close to what is now the De Montfort University campus. Apparently, Leicester’s name is derived from ‘Lear’s Castle’, although I’m certain that archaeologists or cultural historians can correct me if I’m wrong.

The name Lear lent itself to something else as well. As it can be an acronym for Leicester Emergent Arts Radio, which is precisely what I’m hoping that the station will be a home for. Essentially, there are three strands to the station that Ofcom have approved, and which form the basis of the station’s key commitments:

  • Civic Discussion
  • Community Stories
  • Emergent Arts

Before I explain what each of these means, here’s a quick sketch of what will be different about my approach to radio that I want Radio Lear to encapsulate. Keeping in mind that this process is one of development, and that the broadcast service will evolve as we get experience at running events and curating content.

  • Radio Lear is managed by Community Sounds and Stories CIC on a not-for-private-profit basis.
  • Content and technical support, production and administration support with be offered to volunteers.
  • As the services are developed, we hope to generate funds to be self-sufficient and support the artists and musicians, the sound-designers and feature makers who are willing to co-develop Radio Lear as a platform.
  • We’ll operate on a non-commercial basis, with no on-air advertising.
  • We’ll operate based on the UNESCO principles of community media.
  • We’ll seek social funding, grants and membership contributions to develop a low-cost service with shared and collaborative resources.
  • We’ll use the internet to bring people together on different shared platforms to discuss and decide how we can build Radio Lear as an inclusive and forward-looking platform.
  • Everyone taking part will be trained in producing content that is compliant with the Ofcom Broadcast Code, and is in-line with the station’s editorial values.
  • Everyone taking part must sign up to a statement of values of mutual respect, inclusivity, shared support and collaborative contribution.
  • Content and programmes can break from the format approach of much that is broadcast as radio, and will open spaces for exploration of transgressive radio aesthetics along metamodern principles.
  • The station is licenced to serve listeners in Leicester who are twenty-five years old and above. Younger people can be involved as long as the station age-range is clear. We are not creating content specifically for children.
  • We are aiming to take advantage of automation technology as much as possible, so we can remotely produce content in different ways across Leicester and beyond.
  • We are working with St Peter’s Church in Highfields to co-develop shared studio space, so we can have a safe and accessible studio that can be used alongside other radio volunteers.
  • We know that it will take time to establish a fully formed service, and to build the confidence of our contributors and supporters.
  • We also know it will take time to build an audience that is respective to a creative and innovative approach to radio that values imaginative, creative content. At a guess, this might take ten years, through probably longer.

The first strand of content that Radio Lear will focus on is Civic Discussion. This means creating space for open-ended conversations that are of public concern, which aren’t typically given space within a traditionally format-driven radio station. People are getting used to listening to longer conversations and discussions because podcasting has become popular, so we’ll take some of the form of deliberation and do it on Radio Lear.

There are many topics of interest and social concern that would benefit from being discussed and considered in greater depth, and there are many people who are expert in these topics who should be able to discuss them without having to boil them down to sound bites and bullet points. Radio Lear’s editorial values will ensure that we are a counterbalance to misinformation and conspiracy theories, while supporting a wider range of voices – expert and non-expert – in the discussions that don’t otherwise get heard.

The second strand is community stories. Having the space and the time to capture and curate stories from our friends, colleagues, fellow citizens, and the many other people that we engage within our communities, is increasingly important. Where do we come from? What was the journey like that brought us here? What did we experience along the way? What did we learn, and what can we share that will help prepare us for the future? Sharing stories is a basic social need. If we are denied the opportunity to share our stories, as Carl Jung says, then evil will prosper. Radio is an unsurpassed media for sharing stories, what we want to do with Radio Lear is to learn to tell those stories in different ways and engage people in the storytelling process that is creative and imaginative.

Finally, the emergent arts will focus on future oriented creative practices. This can be achieved in two ways. Either through discussion and by featuring artists and creative practitioners, or by facilitating the production and sharing of creative content that fits the criteria of emergence and future focus. This approach to aesthetic curation is loosely defined within the concept of metamodernism, which is an emerging movement of creative and aesthetic expression that goes beyond the postmodern. While on occasions this will be informed by the media and arts of the past, we should be mindful that there are new aesthetic experiences to be formed and explored. We are working with radio as a broadcast platform, but this shouldn’t limit our artistic imagination.

Radio Lear will encourage a wide range of audio, sound, music and other forms of aural sonic communication, keeping an open mind and following a broad path of different interests and listening modes, while establishing a community of practice and interest based on the generation of the feelings and ideas we share.

So, this is a lot to bring together, and much of it is vague and not properly thought through yet. I’m looking forward to having plenty of conversations as we seek to bring Radio Lear together and get it up and running. By signing-up to our Patreon feed, you can join this conversation.