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Meeting of the Parliament [Draft]

Meeting date: Thursday, March 28, 2024


Crystal FM Radio

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Annabelle Ewing)

I ask those who are leaving the chamber to please do so quickly and quietly. The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-12187, in the name of Christine Grahame, on congratulating Crystal FM Penicuik on being declared the best community radio broadcaster at the SME News Scottish enterprise awards. The debate will be concluded without any question being put. I ask members who wish to speak in the debate to press their request-to-speak button.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises the achievements of the community radio station, Crystal FM (107.4 FM), which is based in Penicuik and has won the Best Community Radio Broadcaster award at the SME News Scottish Enterprise Awards for the second year running; notes that the radio station, which has been operating for 11 years, is run by volunteers, and broadcasts over south Midlothian, into Edinburgh and the Lothians, as well as to listeners all over the world via its internet broadcast; further notes that the radio station has over 50 presenters and information providers who are involved in its non-stop 24/7 output; believes that such radio stations are an important part of local communities, and thanks all involved for their continuing efforts.


Christine Grahame (Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale) (SNP)

It is a pleasure to speak—and not for the first time—on the importance of community radio. The debate focuses on Crystal FM, which is located in Penicuik, in my constituency, and particularly on the success of the station in winning the best community broadcaster award for the second time.

I visited the studio recently, and very professional it is, too. I met Colin McCall, the anchorman, who has devoted his time to the good of Penicuik over decades. He first campaigned with the station to save its Jackson Street facilities years ago. Unfortunately, that was a battle lost, but you cannot keep a good man down. We had a good, long chat about all that the station does and some of its issues, which I will come to, as well as coming to more about Colin.

The station was launched on 1 December 2013. It is run by volunteers and broadcasts over south Midlothian, Edinburgh and the Lothians, as well as to listeners all over the world via the internet. With more than 50 presenters and information providers involved, it has non-stop, 24/7 output and is an important part of the community, but it depends on donations and subscriptions. Simply to survive, it has to raise £12,000 annually.

The station has overcome setbacks over the years—flooded studios, a move to temporary accommodation for a period of six months and, when Covid appeared, a requirement to move to other premises to ensure that the studios were Covid compliant. As a result, it went from its temporary accommodation to a permanent home in the Eastfield business centre in Penicuik.

The radio service has been maintained, which means that youngsters from Peni high, Beeslack community high school, and Peebles and Lasswade high schools can continue to participate in the service, gaining hands-on experience in all aspects of broadcasting, thereby developing skills, confidence and self-esteem.

Those committed volunteers ensure the smooth running and scheduling of programmes. They do outreach work with individuals who are housebound and encourage others to visit the studios to participate in discussion, learn new skills and allow spells away from their home isolation. Older members of the community enjoy the autonomy in the creation of their own shows and the community engagement that is involved, thus benefiting from the feel-good factor and having their mental health enhanced. Individuals with special needs are catered for, including two with physical handicaps, an individual who is autistic and one who suffers from Asperger’s syndrome.

Funding is a constant worry, but the station is supported by 12 businesses that are classified as “proud supporters” of Crystal FM and numerous individuals who pledge support with regular and frequent financial pledges. Many other donations are received from others from time to time, and the Crystal FM radio club provides financial support via membership fees.

However, outlays are substantial. Over a 10-year period, Ofcom receives £6,000 and wireless telegraphy licensing costs £2,500. Music licensing fees to PPL, PRS for Music and the Mechanical-Copyright Protection Society—MCPS—are £30,000. VAT payments in excess of £25,000 are made over 10 years. That is a particularly cruel levy on the local service, which is not a business and therefore cannot apply to be VAT registered, because it does not have the income level. Powers over VAT are reserved to Westminster, but I hope that, at some point, something can be done for such organisations that have VAT burdens to carry.

Crystal FM has a really good website, which has had

“well over 110,000 hits”.

The station

“now has over 50 presenters and information providers involved in the 24-hour-a-day, seven days a week, output”.

Colin McCall, is the station’s co-ordinator and a former primary school teacher. He is now in his 80th year, but, like me, he is flourishing. He founded the station,

“which was shortlisted for a Community Award in last year’s Midlothian and East Lothian Chamber of Commerce Awards, with a handful of other enthusiasts who donated £100 each”.

Colin has said:

“Crystal FM came to fruition because Black Diamond”—

in Newtongrange—

“was not receivable over here in Penicuik. I forwarded an application of Ofcom to extend the area to Penicuik and they refused.

They did, however, say they would look favourably on a Penicuik application. Six or seven of us put £100 on the table and 18 months later Crystal FM came about. This is the start of our 11th year and we have a great team of volunteers who have made that possible.”

The station’s reach is supposed to be six miles from the studio in Eastfield business centre, on Eastfield Farm Road in Penicuik. However, as Colin says,

“How do you stop a radio signal? It is variable because you can go a very short distance and the signal is lost or you can go a long distance and pick up the signal. For example, I’ve picked up the signal from the golf course car park in Kirkcaldy”—

I do not know what he was doing there—

“and it is excellent quality in the car, but our signal also reaches Ratho near Edinburgh as it must go through a gap in the Pentland Hills.”

Is that not intriguing? He continues:

“We now stream out online and it is interesting to note that since we moved to our new studio more than two years ago we have now had over 100,000 hits on our website. Looking further afield, on the internet our broadcasts are worldwide and our regular top four online are the UK, USA, Europe and India. We also have listeners in Australia. I don’t really know why we have listeners in India but it may possibly be a link to the people who live here and it allows their relatives to listen, but India has always figured in the top three or four.”

That is a wee exercise for somebody: find out why India listens to Crystal FM. Good stuff, Colin.

I commend all those who work at Crystal FM, the volunteers, the donors and the listeners, who make it all worth while. I wish them many more decades ahead.


Clare Haughey (Rutherglen) (SNP)

I congratulate Christine Grahame on securing today’s debate. I, too, pay tribute to Crystal FM, which is based in her constituency, for winning the best community radio broadcaster award.

Community radio stations provide a voice for our local communities. In my speech, I want to highlight and celebrate one of the UK’s 300 licensed community radio stations, CamGlen Radio, which is based in my constituency. As the name suggests, CamGlen Radio primarily serves the areas of Cambuslang and Rutherglen, in my constituency, as well as surrounding localities. It broadcasts on 107.9 FM locally and worldwide online.

As part of the brilliant local third sector organisation Healthy n Happy community development trust, CamGlen Radio has broadcast since 2007 and became a full-time service in 2015. As it says on its website, the station’s purpose is to

“address inequality and improve wellbeing.”

It does that through supporting local people to be active and involved by providing media training and skill building as a pathway to employment and by using radio to connect people and communities.

On the latter point, community radio plays a crucial role in fostering a sense of belonging and connection among its listeners. At a time when radio is dominated by large media conglomerates, which are more focused on regional, national or global news, community radio stations very often tell stories of local significance that would not be picked up elsewhere.

CamGlen Radio offers a variety of programming, including music spanning different genres; talk shows covering local news, history and events; and speciality programmes catering for specific interests in the community.

Not only that, but the radio station provides local people with vital opportunities and experiences. CamGlen Radio helps its volunteers to develop their radio skills, covering all aspects of radio operations from planning and presenting shows through to editing, production and broadcast support. Whether it is in teaching people how to host a radio show, produce compelling stories or operate technical equipment, community radio stations play a vital role in nurturing the next generation of broadcasters and journalists in our communities, and they provide local people with transferable skills to take into whatever career path they choose.

Since starting, CamGlen Radio has given the opportunity to local primary and secondary schools to take over the airways and produce their own shows. Some of the schools in my constituency that have made content on CamGlen Radio over the years include Newton Farm, James Aiton, St Bride’s, Hallside, Burgh, Bankhead, Calderwood, Cairns, St Mark’s and St Anthony’s primary schools, as well as Rutherglen, Cathkin and Trinity high schools. Two of my sons took great pride and pleasure in presenting shows with their classmates from St Columbkille’s primary school some years ago.

Community radio stations, like local newspapers, connect people to stories in a way that national media cannot. If the issues at hand are not local to them, people might feel that articles and stories are abstract and they might feel disconnected from them. Community radio stations such as CamGlen Radio ground stories in the heart of the communities that they serve.

One of my constituents, Dr Janice Ross, wrote her doctoral thesis on community radio and was the first person in the country to do so. Janice is currently interviewing local refugee women she has met and befriended through her local volunteering work, to learn more about their experiences, their journeys to these shores and how they have adapted to life in Scotland.

That series of programmes, which will provide a unique personal, social and political history archive, will be broadcast on the radio station in the coming months. Such highlighting and amplification of diverse local voices is what makes CamGlen Radio what it is, and it explains why community radio is much loved across Scotland.

I have had the pleasure of being on CamGlen Radio a couple of times over the years, the first of which was when I was interviewed by the late Bob Rowatt just before the 2016 election. As someone who had hosted many local political hustings that CamGlen broadcast, Bob was Rutherglen and Cambuslang’s answer to Jeremy Paxman. He was a very astute interviewer, who kept many local candidates on their toes.

Like so many other community radio stations, in promoting informed decision making among voters and holding us politicians to account, CamGlen Radio plays a vital role in our democratic process.

I again thank Christine Grahame for securing today’s debate. I am sure that CamGlen Radio will give Crystal FM a run for its money at next year’s awards ceremony.


Craig Hoy (South Scotland) (Con)

I echo Clare Haughey’s thanks to Christine Grahame for securing this important debate. As Ms Grahame did, I offer my whole-hearted congratulations to all the volunteers at Crystal FM on winning—for the second year running—the best community radio broadcaster award at the SME News Scottish enterprise awards. I congratulate them on the energy that they bring to their work and Christine Grahame on the energy that she has brought to today’s debate.

The award recognises the innovation, excellence and dedication that the station’s volunteers bring to providing the best and most outstanding services to clients and customers. It is crystal clear that Crystal FM truly represents the very best of community radio.

As Christine Grahame said, for the past 11 years, the station has provided a service for the people of Penicuik, the surrounding area and—thanks to Alexa—the world. Given that I have friends and family in India, I will try to find out why so many people are tuning in from there.

As the licensee of Crystal FM, Penicuik Community Education Association ensures that that important community broadcaster continues to provide a service that is principally for the local area. I am alert to the funding concerns that Christine Grahame raised, and I hope that the cabinet secretary—regardless of how tight the creative budget in Scotland is—will see what he can do to support the directors and volunteers who deliver community radio services across Scotland.

Christine Grahame

I do not know whether there is a solution to this problem, but does Craig Hoy agree that it is rather tough that Crystal FM has to pay substantial amounts in VAT and that, because it is not an income-generating business, it cannot even apply to be VAT registered? Given Mr Hoy’s strong communications with his Westminster colleagues, might he be able to pursue that issue?

Craig Hoy

I absolutely will. I have already suggested to the Treasury that it should cut VAT for our hard-pressed hospitality businesses in Scotland, and I will be happy to add community radio services to that request.

Obviously, the Crystal FM service benefits hugely from the support of local businesses, patrons, listeners, friends and volunteers. It is their unwavering assistance and commitment that ensures that the station can continue to serve members of the local community with a broadcasting service that, as Christine Grahame said, provides hands-on training, inclusion, lifelong learning and information. As someone who went to Lasswade high, it was good to hear that those who have followed in my footsteps at that venerable institution are also getting access to radio services.

As well as covering local issues, Crystal FM raises awareness of national and global events. For people who are held up at Sheriffhall roundabout on their way to work, as many of us are, it is good to hear that Colin McCall will keep them updated on how long they might be held up there. As Christine Grahame said, Colin, who is now in his 80th year, is the former primary school teacher who founded the station. I express our gratitude to him, because we know that there needs to be someone at the centre of such community initiatives to drive them forward.

For those who like rock and metal, “Snoddy”—Mark Snodgrass—broadcasts a show at 10 pm on Wednesday nights that will keep them rocking long after my bedtime. For those who prefer to listen to folk music, Johnny Ward presents “Pentland Folk” on Thursday and Saturday afternoons.

I am a huge fan of community and local radio, not least because it was in community and local radio that I cut my teeth journalistically. I took to the microphone for the first time on the University of Edinburgh’s Student FM, on which I presented a late-night cooking programme without any supporting materials, narrating how to make a luxury omelette on a student budget. I did not have even a spoon or stove in the studio, but my mother still believed that I had managed to rustle up a late-night lobster omelette. I doubt that any listeners tried to make it—in fact, I doubt that there were many listeners at all—but that was a good place to make early journalistic mistakes.

I had more luck at Radio Forth, where I learned at the knee of the great David Johnston, the then news editor, or “Dial David” as he was known. When I was working on his Sunday call-in show, I used to marvel when “Tam from Linlithgow” would religiously dial in and the unmistakable voice of Tam Dalyell would then boom out to our listeners. David is no longer on our radios, but it is nice to see him frequently in East Lothian as a trustee and honorary flag master of the saltire flag heritage centre in Athelstaneford.

Local and community radio stations have been an important part of our communities and will continue to be so even in the digital age. For example, in East Lothian, Radio Saltire and East Coast FM broadcast to residents. A quick glance at the Crystal FM website and Facebook page confirms the important role that the radio station has in Penicuik and further afield in promoting local events and upcoming shows and reporting the wins, draws and occasional losses of local football, rugby and cricket teams.

I again congratulate all at Crystal FM for the important work that they do in sharing news and entertaining listeners. The award is well deserved, and long may their success continue.


Foysol Choudhury (Lothian) (Lab)

I congratulate Christine Grahame on bringing this motion to the chamber and Crystal FM on winning the award for best community radio broadcaster at the SME News Scottish enterprise awards for the second year running.

The station came into being when Ofcom refused to extend the signal of another station. It is a true do-it-yourself story to be proud of. With more than 50 presenters and 24/7 programming, it is impressive how Crystal FM has been able to mobilise the community to make the project a success. It is a great achievement, reflecting the dedication of everyone who gives their time to the station.

Community radio stations such as Crystal FM help people of all ages—including my colleague Craig Hoy—to develop new skills, meet new people and increase their confidence. That belief is shared by many Scots, with a Scottish Government review of community radio in 2012 finding that 49 per cent of people said that it was important to have a community radio station in their area.

As members will know, Crystal FM was formed when a handful of volunteers donated £100 each. As most community stations run on the good will and donations of volunteers, they are free from commercial influences. That freedom allows communities to create programming that truly represents them. It also allows for a wide variety of programming, with Crystal FM broadcasting shows containing both reggae and Runrig. In the internet age, the barriers to entry for new stations have never been lower. Independent stations such as Crystal FM should be welcomed, because they give communities the opportunity for self-expression and foster the arts and culture across Scotland.

Community radio is also active in Lothian, which has stations such as EHFM and Black Diamond FM. The Black Diamond FM work experience scheme for high school pupils is an example of how community stations can do great work for their local area. EHFM, which celebrated its fifth anniversary last year, allows local artists to submit music to be played on the station, further developing Edinburgh’s music scene and its stature as a cultural hub.

It is clear that community stations do great work in helping people to develop new skills and in fostering culture across Scotland. I reiterate my congratulations to all who have worked to bring the award to Crystal FM. They have created something very special. I wish them all the best for their future broadcasting, and I look forward to tuning in.


Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

I ask members to forgive me—I was not scheduled to speak in the debate, so I am going to subject them to one of my “I wrote it during First Minister’s questions” speeches. However, I feel that this is a really important debate to participate in, not least because I have a huge personal interest in local and community radio.

I thank Christine Grahame for bringing her motion to the chamber for debate, and I commend Crystal FM for its achievement.

We have heard a little about some of the other community radio stations that are thriving in our communities, despite and in the face of many challenges, so it would be remiss of me not to use the opportunity to plug some of the community radio stations in my region. I know that the cabinet secretary is fully expecting me to do so and I am sure that he will refer to them in his closing comments. I know that he loves Clyde Coast Radio, which operates out of Port Glasgow, because the local MP, Ronnie Cowan, has a resident slot on the station. Alas, the station is yet to ring me, but I am open to doing a show if it wants me to.

It is interesting that, although the technology means that Clyde Coast Radio broadcasts on FM, the fact that it also broadcasts online means that it can reach people across the world. It has listeners in New Zealand, Canada, Spain and France, among other countries. Some of them are members of the diaspora—former Greenock or Inverclyde residents and their relatives who want to know what is going on in the local communities. That emphasises the station’s importance. The local newspaper, the Greenock Telegraph, is read by people all over the world and has subscribers around the globe, and the same applies to local radio.

I was surprised to hear that we harbour our own Julia Child in the Parliament, who took to the radio waves to teach people how to cook. Thank goodness people could not see the results—or, indeed, taste the taste—of that effort because of the nature of radio. [Laughter.]

I remind all members of the need to treat each other with courtesy and respect.

Jamie Greene

I apologise to Julia Child for the reference.

I want to make some important points about community radio. There are more than 300 community radio stations operating across the UK. Many have tried and failed over the years, for reasons such as have been eloquently illustrated.

My experience takes me right back to being a teenager, when I got involved in local radio. I was heavily involved in hospital radio, which also still thrives, to an extent. Inverclyde Royal hospital radio was my starting point for a career in media and broadcast. I then did work experience at a number of local radio stations. I remember our first local community radio station, which was Tall Ships FM, in 1999. It was a short-term licence station that operated on the back of a very big and successful local event that attracted tens of thousands of visitors to Greenock. That experience, which involved chasing people with a microphone and sitting in front of a red light and knowing that I had to speak because otherwise there would be silence—which is death in radio—inspired and motivated me to seek more formal education and experience as my career moved on in radio, then into television.

Local radio is a starting point that can inspire young people and show them that it is something that they can do. Anyone, from any background, can sit in front of a microphone and, with the right experience, make a success and a career out of it, and many people do that.

However, the challenges that local radio faces are plenty. A consultation is under way in which Ofcom is looking at new ways of licensing it. There have been various models over the years, some of which have been quite successful. Various grants have been available over the years, but there is never enough money. Local radio often relies on being able to commercialise in any way it can, such as through small-scale local advertising, philanthropy or funding sources including from the National Lottery Community Fund and Postcode Lottery Ltd, which have helpfully funded many stations. I hope that Ofcom will look carefully at how it can make licensing appropriate, easy and accessible, and at how we can make better use of new technologies to reach wider audiences.

It is a very difficult landscape. All local radio has gone through a very difficult time over the past 20 years. The consolidation of networks and the creation of bigger units of private ownership have taken out a lot of local news production; the same is true of local television and local news gathering, which face many common issues.

I hope that both Governments will look at that however they can, whether that is through VAT, grant funding, Ofcom licensing regimes or investing in skills and technology in communities. I want the community station network to thrive and survive, and not to have to face the fierce competition of the well-funded large networks or the public service broadcasters, which seem to have bottomless pits of money with which to produce output and pay their presenters.

All community stations are run by volunteers. We should never forget that. People give up their time to educate their local communities, which rely on local news and on the charitable organisations that are often on them. Of course, they also listen to good music, chat and banter, as we have heard. Anyone who has ever listened to Sunny Govan Radio in Glasgow will know that the banter is fantastic.

I thank Christine Grahame for this short debate, and I hope that, if we have another such debate in the future, we will have far more community radio stations to praise and talk about.


The Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, External Affairs and Culture (Angus Robertson)

I thank Christine Grahame for bringing the motion to the Parliament, and members from across the chamber—Clare Haughey, Craig Hoy, Foysol Choudhury and Jamie Greene—who have contributed on a subject that is close to my heart, as a former radio broadcaster by profession. I am sure that I speak on behalf of every member in the chamber when I say that I would be grateful if Craig Hoy would share a link to his Edinburgh university radio cookery programme. We would all enjoy listening to that.

I agree with all members that community radio stations play an important part in the social fabric of Scotland. Community radio has an important role in the lives of its listeners. It creates a sense of connection to others in the community, promotes local activity and encourages engagement. Its enduring importance in Scotland can be seen in the growing number of stations. In March 2023, 32 community radio stations were broadcasting in Scotland—that is almost double the number that existed a decade ago. Rightly, many of them have been name-checked in the course of proceedings today.

According to a recent study that was published by the University of Northampton,

“there are high levels of trust amongst listeners ... they ... act upon information”


“Significant numbers of listeners have been directly helped in ... employment and health”

and other areas

“thanks to information heard and trusted on local community radio.”

Those small, and usually volunteer-led, organisations provide a vital resource not only for the communities that they serve but for the Scottish music industry by providing a platform for emerging artists. That is why I am delighted to congratulate Crystal FM on its second year running as the best community radio broadcaster at the SME News Scottish enterprise awards.

That accolade is hard-earned. The station runs for 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and includes original and locally produced output, with important objectives including facilitating discussion, providing training and strengthening links within the community and—as we have heard—even as far away as Kirkcaldy.

The Scottish Government recognises that culture; stations should respond to the ambition, need and challenges of our communities, and Crystal FM Penicuik has demonstrated that it does just that. Our culture strategy makes it clear that our ambition is for everyone in Scotland to experience culture and the empowering potential that it holds for communities across the country. We can all acknowledge culture’s unique power to inspire, enrich and transform not only the lives of individuals but the collective wellbeing of our communities.

The Scottish Government strongly supports broadcasting and the important role of the distinct and essential services that are provided by broadcasters in relation to audiences and the creative sector in Scotland. We engage closely with the media regulator, Ofcom, to ensure that Scottish interests are fully considered. This week, I met Melanie Dawes, who is the chief executive of Ofcom, to discuss its future plans in Scotland. I value Ofcom’s initiatives to improve and support community radio, and on ensuring that stations can focus on delivering social gain for their target communities.

I also take the opportunity to encourage people who have an interest to respond to Ofcom’s consultation on the key commitments for community radio, which was mentioned by Jamie Greene. As is set out in the “Building a New Scotland” series paper, “Culture in an Independent Scotland”,

“nearly nine in ten of us listen to the radio weekly, for an average of almost 19 hours ... yet broadcasting remains reserved and decision-making on key issues sits with the UK Government.”

With independence, the Scottish Government could build on the strengths of the current broadcasting model and use new powers to develop a broadcasting strategy that better reflects and prioritises the specific needs and interests of Scottish audiences and our creative economy.

Today we are celebrating Crystal FM, station co-ordinator Colin McCall and his great team of more than 50 volunteers. The Scottish Government values the skills, kindness and commitment of our volunteers. We recognise the difference that they make to people’s lives, and we appreciate all those who give their time to volunteer and make things better for others. Volunteering has the power to make an impact on society and on our wellbeing, and it is one of the most rewarding things that we can do. It makes vital contributions to health and wellbeing, both for those who volunteer and for those who gain from that support.

Volunteering brings communities together, and it helps people to feel valued and to be part of something good. It also brings generations together and creates a greater sense of belonging. We recognise the value of volunteering and the role of community-based organisations in delivering positive social impact.

I am delighted that Crystal FM presenters are reaching not only their community in Midlothian but listeners across Europe, North America, Australia and India, which demonstrates that Scotland’s culture and creative sector is respected the world over for its creative output.

In recognition of that, the Scottish Government has published “Inspiring Connections: Scotland’s International Culture Strategy 2024-30”. This is the first time that the Scottish Government has set out a strategic approach to international cultural activity. We have supported the sector’s international work and the new strategy aims to maximise its potential and to provide coherence to our approach.

I look forward to hearing what countries will be added to Crystal FM’s future list of listeners, and I wish the team all the best for the future. The Scottish Government truly values the importance of its work, agrees with Christine Grahame that radio stations are an important part of local communities and thanks all those involved for their continuing efforts.

I thank Christine Grahame again for securing the debate, which has provided me with the opportunity not only to celebrate the success of Crystal FM in Penicuik but to note the importance of community radio right across Scotland.

13:21 Meeting suspended.  

14:30 On resuming—