Community Radio Websites – The Good, The Bad and The Dysfunctional

Earlier this week I was browsing around the internet and have found myself on several different UK community radio websites. They vary massively in their design but also functionality.

Here I’m going to take a quick look at some of the sites I’ve came across and briefly give you my thoughts on them.

The Bad

Hayes FM – www.hayesfm.org

Hayes FMHayes FM is “a community focused local radio station based in Hayes in Greater West London, England.”

What I like about their website is that it’s not overloaded with many different colours and clearly has a four column layout.

My gripes with this site is that it doesn’t feel too easy for me to read. There are many different font sizes; from the headers in the right sidebar to the large listen again in the centre.

There’s also too much white space that could be utilised better as well and an awkward local news page.

I can see that they’ve used CMS Made Simple to create the site. I don’t know enough about the software to comment on whether they’ve used it to it’s best ability.

Takeover Radio – www.takeoverradio.com

Takeover Radio is a charity operated community radio station broadcasting to the city of Leicester.

The first thing that strikes me is the bright background. I think it’s important to have a page background that compliments the main content. However the bright purple is too much for my eyes to handle.

The whole site navigation was a pain for me to use. Many sites these days keep the navigation at the top or on the left. Here they use both. But the main problem I have is that the left menu items are all flash buttons. I remember using them in year 7 when I didn’t know any better. This has a couple of usability issues; if a user is using an Apple device, they won’t see it as well as someone who uses a screen reader.

Many of the pages have too much going on, with small headers and inconsistent spacings in the text. Overall it’s pretty hard to read.

The whole site looks to be a custom built job and it’s clear by the source code that their techniques are a bit dated, using tables and “styleXX”.

The Dysfunctional

Moorlands Radio – www.moorlandsradio.co.uk

Moorlands Radio broadcasts to the Staffordshire Moorlands and has been in development since 2003.

What I like about the Moorlands Radio website is that it works. The navigation is very clear and the content is easy to read. The brand is also very consistent between pages.

My problem is the way that it hasn’t been adapted at all to suit their specific needs or brand. The WordPress theme (Structure) is straight out the box and they haven’t made the most of the awesome things that WordPress can do. They could add a dash of their orange colour across the site and I don’t think it would hinder the design at all.

Gravity FM – www.gravityfm.net

Gravity FM is broadcast from Grantham, Lincolnshire and has done so since December 2008.

I wouldn’t say Gravity’s website was ugly, it just needs a guiding hand.

What I like is that the content layout is consistent throughout and it’s easy to read.

The issue here is finding the content you want. I got lost trying to find out more about the station and ended up learning about the CIC instead of the actual station! The navigation need a second look at, with better grouping and arranging. I eventually learnt that the top navigation takes you to parent pages and the left one takes you to child pages.

With a lick of paint as well this website would be great! The content is all there, it just need rearranging into a sensible and logical order.

Gravity use Joomla, which I’ve worked with a little and know that it can be a great CMS (see Hope FM). Gravity just need someone to sit down with them and run through how they can utilise it best with their content.

The Good

Unity Radio – www.unityradio.fm

Unity Radio is a Greater Manchester station whose primary audience is 15-25 year old.

What I like about Unity’s website is that everything is clearly labelled. You know exactly what to expect under each heading and page designs are all similar; it’s mainly just the blogs which have style deviations but sometimes that can’t be helped.

Some of the actual content could do with some work. For example, what many would consider to be the schedule is actually called the ‘timetable’. A bit unconventional, but it seems to work for them.

What seems to be a featured content slider, is in fact something completely different! If you click one of the genres underneath the image, it takes you to a page which displays shows of that genre which they broadcast. That confused me a little but that’s about it.

Overall I feel that this site is solidly built on WordPress and it suits the target audience.

Hope FM – www.hopefm.com

Hope FM is a community Christian radio station serving Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch.

Hope FM’s site is another example of a website which is clearly solidly built. The headers and modules are and concise.

There aren’t any nasty surprises on the homepage, except the exceptionally slow featured slider transitions! On some of the other pages tables are used to display information and use very bright colours which don’t compliment the rest of the site at all. This is just a simple issue of deciding how to best present some information.

The site is built using Joomla and is a great example of what how a website can utilise it.

My Conclusion

All the sites, bar one, have used an open source or free content management system. This is the way forward! There are many great platforms out there which offer free, flexible solutions for radio station. My favourite being WordPress.

Once WordPress is set up the stations can create whatever kind of website they want and the back-end is easy to use as many people are already used to it. I wish more community radio stations would spend a bit of time getting a student or someone who knows what they’re doing to set them up their own hosting, install WordPress and help them customise an out-of-the-box theme. If everyone did this then the stations would have much nicer websites.

So who am I to comment on radio stations’ websites? I’ve worked with about 4/5 community radio stations in some way since the age of 12, with varying website capabilities. More recently I helped a student media group at Staffordshire University redesign their website and to drive their online content more. I’ve also worked with a Christian community radio station in Stoke-on-Trent where I’ve helped develop parts of their website. I’ve even teamed up with a good childhood friend of mine to develop the Radio ‘On Air’ Script, which is now used at three radio stations in the UK.

I don’t claim to be an expert at web design (I know I can still learn massively and improve!) but I hope that my opinions can help shape other’s future projects.

If you have any comments, please feel free to leave them on this article or email me at oliver@thewebguyuk.co.uk.

Note: I work for a couple of community radio stations at the moment, and have also influenced the website of another. I’ve not included these at all in this as it would be unfair. I’ve also not included any student radio stations as I would be very biased towards them as I work for one!

Sources: Ofcom list of Community Radio Stations and relevant radio stations’ websites.

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