What is community radio?

Community radio caters to a specific area or region and its broadcasting is generally reflective and tailored to the community, population or audience. In the United States, community radio is typically non-profit and non-commercial and licensed under the same class D FM band transmitters many college radio stations also operate from. Many community stations are licensed as full-power FM stations, while others – especially newer community stations – are licensed under low-power broadcasting rules (Wikipedia). In Europe, community radio is essentially considered “pirate radio,” or unlicensed illegal broadcasting.

What is the difference between commercial and community radio?

For one, community radio is non-profit. Second, community radio programming (music and news selected) is uniquely tailored to the community and not generalized for the entire country like larger corporate radio stations. “The aim of…community radio program is to address crucial social issues at a community level, such as poverty and social exclusion, empower marginalized rural groups and catalyze democratic processes and development efforts” (Virtanen). News featured on community radio stations are about local news, local issues, and, in some cases, can be especially geared toward immigrant and minority groups that are underrepresented in media elsewhere.

Without the pressures of fulfilling sponsor agreements, satisfying corporate demands, or generalizing programming to apply to a large or national audience, community radio stations can dedicate significant portions of their programming to community issue talk shows, diversifying their music selections, and giving airtime to populations otherwise ignored by the mass media.

Who runs community radio and where does it get its funding?

Many community radio stations rely heavily, if not exclusively, on volunteers from the community. “Community radio stations are distinct from public radio in that most of their programming is locally produced by non-professional DJs and producers, where public radio tends to rely on more syndicated programming” (Wikipedia).

To reduce any reliance on financial support from corporations, community radio stations rely on donations from the community, underwriting from local businesses, membership drives, and station fundraising projects.  Public broadcasting is also funded through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), created from the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 (Public Matters).   The act stipulates a portion of funding for public broadcasting would come from the federal government, as well as its subscribers, private, state and local funders.  Additional funding also comes from private donors from local businesses, foundations, colleges and groups.

“Federal law dictates that 89 percent of the federal funding appropriations go directly to local radio and television stations by way of Community Service Grants (CSGs). CPB receives 5% for its operational costs. The system support account receives another small portion (6%), which pays for music licensing fees, discretionary spending, and research and technology investments on behalf of the public broadcasting system” (Public Matters).

For years proponents of public broadcasting have been trying to introduce legislation for the federal government to financially sponsor public broadcasting and community radio stations, as to give them a chance to survive next to Clear Channel and other radio and media megapowers:

“Public broadcasting is a trusted and valued media gateway to authentic engagement with our world, a treasured national resource that has been in place for 40 years. For a federal investment of approximately $1.53 per American per year, public broadcasting creates and distributes quality, commercial-free programming and provides local community services that cannot be found elsewhere. Many of us grew up watching public television, listening to public radio. Perhaps your children are now doing likewise. Please continue to support public broadcasting – for what it has meant to your life and what it will mean to the lives of generations to come.”


Tell Them The Public Matters Campaign
Virtanen, Tarja. UNESCO. “How to Do Community Radio: A Primer”