Online broadcaster East Coast FM in bid for FM slot after successful trial

AN online radio station that has grown a worldwide audience of more than 1.8 million listeners may finally win a permanent home on the wireless – following a two-year wrangle with regulatorsEast Coast FM is currently airing on 87.7FM as part of a month-long trial courtesy of broadcast watchdog OFCOM, having found a huge internet audience locally and overseas.

The volunteer-run station in East Lothian will be available to county listeners on a Restricted Service Licence until January 5, 2012, whereafter it will revert to online broadcasting as it waits to learn its fate.

Station chiefs believe it may be May before the outcome of their application is decided.

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They are confident, having secured council support and backing from Fiona O’Donnell, East Lothian MSP.

Chairman Ian Robertson said: “Having built up an audience already and with two years behind us, the impact of that audience transferring to FM is the phones are now going non-stop from listeners.

“If anything, the brief time we have been on FM has shown an even greater need for a community radio in East Lothian.

“This has underlined in a big way that local and community radio is essential anywhere because, as a lot of people have said to us, you can’t always get the commercial radio stations.

“We are providing local community news and information.”

Mr Robertson said he had not seen the listening figures since the provisional move to FM, but believes the popularity of phone-ins and bulging mailbags tells its own story. “I know for a fact that we’ve seen a huge increase in listeners but we can’t tell by how many at the moment,” he said.

“The station runs from 6am until 2am and has 60 volunteers working as hard as they can.

“I’m trying not to be overconfident in case we get a kick in the teeth.

“Everything’s in place. We have the infrastructure, we have the audience and the business behind us to make the station sustainable.”

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Sheena Richardson, East Lothian Provost, issued a message of support.

She said: “East Coast FM has become in a short time a useful source of local information. I hope they are successful in their bid for the full licence.”

Council leader Paul McLennan previously called on the council to recognise the “positive and valuable contribution made” by the station.

Mr Robertson said he hoped the council would consider underwriting utility bills for one year to strengthen the application to OFCOM.