Radio LEAR – Purpose and Objectives

If all goes to plan, Radio LEAR will be launching as a new community radio station in Leicester soon. Radio LEAR – which stands for Leicester Emergent Arts Radio – will have a focus on sound arts and contemporary music for emerging and contemporary culture. The purpose of Radio LEAR is to support sound artists and creative composers, producers and musicians, helping them to create, develop and perform new content for broadcast. I’ve been completing some funding applications, and rather than keep the statements I’ve written to myself, I thought it might be useful to share them. I’m definitely looking for ideas, insight and support to help develop this project, so if you are intrigued, you can sign up at Patreon and become a supporter and help get this project off the ground – or should that be on the air!

Expanding the Radio Landscape

The new SS-DAB radio platform in Leicester makes it possible to broadcast a wider range of services than has been previously available. Leicester is well served by media which provides information, news and companionship, but there are few opportunities for emerging creative sound and music artists to nurture creative content that connects with dispersed audiences. Radio LEAR, therefore, will foster the development of a creative aural sensibility, while exploring radio as a creative medium itself. Radio LEAR, we hope, will provide support for sound artists and creative composers, producers and musicians, helping them to develop composition and performance skills, experience in generating and recording, undertaking performances and installations, and composing and facilitating aural experiences that can be broadcast.

The station will potentially run for up to twelve years. The assumption is that Radio LEAR will be supported by volunteers, based on both direct and indirect participation. We want to run workshops, talks, discussions, performance events, as well as broadcasts. To achieve this, we are drawing on our experience developing and operating community media projects. We expect to work collaboratively by exchanging services in-kind, which, we hope, will reduce the need for capital and revenue spending. For example, we are planning to use shared studio spaces with partners. We are also planning to utilise dispersed online production platforms and volunteer and contributor engagement platforms. These significantly reduce costs by removing the need to maintain a dedicated operating facility. Thankfully, we can call on engineering and network development expertise to offer innovative dispersed forms of operation.

Radio LEAR will be free of on-air advertising, though we may offer sponsorship opportunities for partners who provide mutually supportive services, subject to Ofcom’s sponsorship rules. Our priority is to cover our basic operational online costs, such as licencing and network platforms, from members contributions. We have assessed these costs in relation to other operational community radio services that we have worked with previously, and as a result, we intend to diversify our income streams as much as possible, such as providing training and development support for community discussion, storytelling and civic reporting.

Progressive Development Over Time

We know, however, that Radio LEAR will take time to become established. Our risk management approach is suitably cautious, and aims to build support progressively over time, rather than try to rush into things and making a big splash. Given the experimental nature of the sound-art content, and the relative lack of general awareness of sound-arts in Leicester (please do check out the Music, Technology and Innovation team at DMU), the initial stages of development will be about awareness and possibility raising. We have two business models. The first anticipates success with grant funding from multiple sources, in addition to voluntary contributions. The second anticipates only voluntary contributions. We are confident that an initial framework for the broadcast service can be established cost effectively, and we are confident we can get Radio LEAR on air, and then develop subsidiary activities, such as training, performance, workshops and partnerships, as funding is later confirmed.

Our experience during the Covid-19 pandemic is useful. Many community radio stations shifted to virtual operations, with contributors presenting from home and other places. Taking this approach, we hope to keep core costs to a minimum, by sharing resources and spaces. We do not want to be encumbered with fixed costs, and aim to operate flexibly and dynamically. The major challenge is communication, whereby we attract sufficiently experienced and qualified early contributors. We are not offering any access-based training at this point because we need to get off the ground first, though we may develop this later. Our ambition is for Radio LEAR to offers a new mode of creative engagement for Leicester, establishing an aesthetic approach that will be innovative and challenging. Radio LEAR’s purpose will be to introduce a set of creative possibilities and aesthetic practices that are recognised elsewhere in the sound arts community. Our approach, moreover, is based on metamodern principles of aesthetic experimentation. These are both participative and developmental, and we intend to combine them with community radio broadcasting.

Inclusion and Integration

The super-diversity of Leicester is a challenge to all wishing to manifest a culturally integrated and forward-looking aesthetic practices. Cultural activities are often determined (rightly) by legacy and inherited experiences. However, Radio LEAR will foster future-oriented opportunities for expression, in which experimentation in emergent arts are given space, so they can be developed and discussed inclusively. The role of civic discussion of the arts, creativity, literature, and so on, is defined in Radio LEAR’s Ofcom licence, so in addition to exploring how sound, music and storytelling can be innovative creative practices, discussion of the arts is also a priority. Radio LEAR is not aiming for a mass audience, instead we are seeking to become a trusted home for practitioners and advocates of the arts who can use Radio LEAR as a viable platform for creative development. We are committed to fostering and finding opportunities for more people to access and participate in the arts. We believe radio can play a vital role in this.

Our expertise is in participative engagement in media and arts, so as a community radio station we are advocates of inclusive forms of community engagement. These are typically DIY and non-professional. Radio LEAR will encourage participation in the arts by supporting communities of place, identity and interest, both as listeners and as creative practitioners. This means Radio LEAR will offer opportunities for volunteers to be involved in the creative content development process, both for sound arts content and for broadcast radio content.

Our Ofcom licence specifies that Radio LEAR should be a point of engagement for listeners who are interested in the creative arts. Our challenge is to grow acceptance of these discussions, and our programming, in a way that is inclusive and developmental. We want to break with mass-media and marketing approaches to communication, recognising, instead, the importance of voice-empowerment, self-expression and lived-experience. Radio LEAR is aligned with the objectives of UNESCO and the ArtWorks Alliance, viewing participation in arts and culture as a vital developmental approach for sustainable social renewal, particularly given the disruptive challenges of climate crisis, economic inequality and increasingly AI oriented social systems. Without adequate cultural provision for people from different parts of our communities, then the civic and social benefits we aim to realise will not be manifested. We think that radio has a vital role to play in this.

Innovation and Creativity

In addition, Radio LEAR is committed to innovation based on creative practice. We won’t be operating as a typical information and entertainment style radio station, but instead as an imaginative space for creative practice. We will not simply share content, but instead we want to create and manifest artistic ideas and experiences that bring people together as co-creators and as an active community. The advantage of using sound is that we can create imaginative spaces for listeners that are not typically available in functional mass-media. Radio LEAR, we hope, will make room for musicians, composers, sound designers, and radio makers to work collaboratively to redefine the aural aesthetic experience of radio.

Put simply, Radio LEAR will be a creative practice in and of itself.

We believe that insight and innovation has to be supported at the grassroots, not just the elite levels in society. The community radio ethos of democratic empowerment for people who are often overlooked is central to what we do. Radio serves the purpose of bridging the ‘last mile’, whereby communication experiences enter peoples homes, cars and personal spaces. Radio LEAR will demonstrate the possibility of new forms of creative practice with sound, by combining these aesthetic experiences with discussion, music and storytelling. We are aiming for Radio LEAR to be a leader and champion of creative innovation by relaying stories, discussions and aural experiences from home-grown creative practitioners, and also UK and international creative leaders.

We are informed by ambitious principles, whereby we are striving to achieve that which is beyond our present capabilities. To do this, we are committed to using an asset-based capability approach that recognises the variability of social experience and cultural understanding across our communities. Our ambition is to foster innovation in creative expression using sound and audio, which is comparable with a peer-group of participative creative institutions and organisations, and which can support the dynamic emergence of practice. We are committed to innovation of the creative process through community engagement that is inclusive and determined by equity of social status and experience. We are also committed to the provision of works co-created with rather than for our communities.

Metamodernism and Environmental Responsibility

Furthermore, we understand that this has to be based on a dynamic process, and that the pathways for development we put in place must be inclusive, varied and relevant. We aim to present people with creative work that is challenging and unfamiliar. Quality will not be accounted for by the volume of responses, but by the impact that it has for those producing it and those engaging with it. We view environmental responsibility as an integral part of the process of development, with our commitment to the seven Ps: People, Place, Purpose, Planet, Participation, Practical, and Self-Policing. There can be no successful creative endeavour if we are causing harm to others and denying life-chances for future generations.

Radio LEAR can best be understood as a metamodern project in which emergent creative practice is fused with aesthetic priorities and community development. Metamodernism is a response to the meaning crisis of post-modern society. It seeks to redefine our relationship with the symbolic and meaningful world. Whether this is expressed in personal contemplation, mutual interaction, or a respect for the natural world, the metamodern aesthetic subsumes irony and cynicism, and instead reconnects individuals within a framework of meaningful shared experience.

We aim to develop a mode of creative practice that integrates and embeds aural, sonic, spoken, sung, performed and found forms of creative sound arts practice. This is a fascinating to radio, which links music and sound as an emergent and indeterminate presence. Contemporary classical crossover, headspace, ambient, soundtracks and generative forms of music, are some of the types of music that will be explored. In addition, we will produce and share creative sound work, and facilitate discussion and storytelling. Radio LEAR represents the outline of a liminal stage, from which different forms of creative expression are emerging, many of which are offering renewed depth and symbolic resonance. We do not know what Radio LEAR will become, but we do understand that the new cultural model will be embodied in the places that seem least established and equipped, such as Leicester because they represent the new cultural frontier.

Civic Discussion and Community Storytelling

Radio LEAR will provide a platform for the discussion of issues and topics related to the Great Disruption: climate crisis, the increased use of AI, inequality, globalisation, and so on. We are committed to facilitating both cultural and civic discussion. As such, we are mindful of our responsibilities, and our Ofcom licence obligation to carry matters of public concern impartially. We believe, however, that there are significant opportunities to discuss matters concerning the environment in ways that enable people to relate to them through their lived experience and their cultural identities. We intend, then, to broadcast regular discussions and representations of the impact of climate crisis, bringing together activists, advocates and policymakers with members of the public, creative practitioners and community media makers.

We aim to be a counterbalance to the dominance of consumer-driven consumption, and share the message that we have responsibilities for the natural world, and that we can enjoy our world if we put aside our destructive collective practices.

We believe art and creative work can inspire change at many levels.

Contributions and Volunteering

Our initial measure of progress will be measured, we hope, from the vibrancy and commitment demonstrated by our volunteers and contributors, in terms of their interaction online, their attendance at workshops and events, and their willingness to share and promote the content of other contributors. Because we are attempting to develop an imaginative relationship between contributors and participants, we are mindful that the indicators will often be indeterminate and momentary. We have experience capturing reflections in the context of community engagement projects, with expertise in quantitative data collection methods, which we will use to share our ongoing narrative of development. As participation in our events, workshops and training sessions increases, we will relate these stories, so they form our evaluation and reflection dataset.

This is one of the challenges of the developmental mode of working, where participants have to learn how and when to reflect on their actions and experiences. By operating in this reflexive mode, and sharing the insights that are reported, we want others to see how the process of engagement and development works. Our regular project management discussions will track our ongoing reflections, and ensure they are shared through all communication platforms that we utilise. The model of reflection we aim to explore opens space to go beyond personalised marketing and self-promotion.

We have extensive experience and expertise developing media and communication projects that are oriented towards innovation in technology and cultural engagement, which we want to use for the development and deployment of media systems, both for creative work and for collaboration between artists and media makers. We are keen to foster innovation in the way we utilise technology as a tool for creative collaboration, and to support meaningful community engagement. We are aware, however, that many legacy forms of engagement and communication remain valid, so we see this as a process of meaningful incorporation rather than rejection of what we have inherited.

At each stage of our development, we will track the effectiveness of the systems that we use, and encourage the communication of our contributors experience of utilising these systems. The reflexive mode of evaluation will enable contributors to learn from one another, to make links with other partners, and explore innovative and inspiring practice elsewhere. A theme of our regular workshops will be how technical innovation is supporting the creative processes that contributors are exploring. We are adopting a decentralised and network model of development and engagement, which offers, wherever possible, a decentralised management and governance experience. Our aim is this to be agile and flexible, so if problems arise, we can understand and respond to them effectively. We aim to foster democratic accountability and empowerment, which, we believe, will make us more resilient.

Community Development

Our core approach to organisation development is based on principles of community development and empowerment. This means that we seek values-based approaches before systems approaches. If our values, and the values of our contributors are aligned, then there is greater potential for creative expression. While we accept that a certain degree of monitoring has to take place, we do not accept that this should define the experience of our contributors, supporters, partners or community of people who engage with us. We will seek at each stage to prioritise meaningful engagement that contributors and collaborators a comfortable with, and which inspires them to further engage and contribute.

This requires an awareness and expertise of social engagement and collaborative learning using many different modes of interaction – online, in-person, broadcast, and so on. We are anticipating a post-institutional future in which creative practitioners and media makers operate with a high degree of independence, based on social trust and community recognition. This decentralised world needs to be explored both systematically and creatively, as the sensemaking and knowledge institutions of the future will look very different than they do today. We are aiming to be recognised and trusted as a new form of sensemaking institution, in which individuals are accorded agency based on their mutual interdependence and embeddedness in multiple, intersecting communities.

Given the shift in expectation realised during the Covid-19 pandemic, that more can be done through collaborative networks and  distributed systems, we are keen to explore how technology can be maximised for creative and social purposes. We are aiming to demonstrate how online systems, such as cloud computing, AI and machine learning, can enhance the collaborative experience for contributors, and support the creative experience for artists and media makers. By combining analytical data with user experience testimony, we will seek to understand the cultural and social circumstances that inspire people to take part in our activities, and what value they ascribe to them.

To Sum Up

We see Radio LEAR as a test bed for both creative practices, driven and supported by emergent forms of IT, and also as a platform for community engagement, whereby those IT systems are made meaningful. We recognise, however, that in many instances, switching off technology is vital to the creative process, giving people an opportunity to engage with others and the natural world separately from the information and data-driven culture that generates anxiety as much as it creates opportunities for innovation. As we are aiming to develop this project on a small-scale to begin with, much of the way we utilise technology will be accounted for through testimony, experience and creative reflection. We aim to be reflexive about our use of technology and IT systems and use this insight in the production of creative work.

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