Skylark will be a new, FM radio station for Dartmoor, launching in 2020. This is the first UK radio station to be awarded a licence to broadcast no programmes at all, but an algorithmically generated composition, co-created with its community. An enormous, invisible, site-specific artwork.
Writing the licence application to Ofcom, the UK broadcast legislatory body, brought up many important questions about what radio in general, and community radio in particular, is.
They asked, how much of your programming is live and new?
We said, all of it, 24 hours a day, as it will be programmed never to play the same combination of sounds more than once.
They asked, where is your studio, as it must be within the broadcast area.
We said, the studio is the whole of Dartmoor.
They asked, what languages do you plan to broadcast in?
We said, animal languages.
Beside these twists of media legislation language, this is a vision of radio that will ‘organise its listeners as creators’, connecting us more profoundly to one another and the place where we live, and sound beautiful and meaningful to all types of radio listeners, not just to those who seek out new music. By combining live streams of environmental sounds, with many short clips of archive and new content produced in community settings the nature and culture of its area will sing back to itself a continuous and meaningful song. A song formed from interviews with residents, farmers, researchers and conservationists. Poems and stories by young children, recordings of cattle grids and village shops. Traditional songs still sung in the pubs, and ancient texts brought back to life. Live streams of church bells ringing and rivers flowing.
Rather than studio discussion pitching people with opposing viewpoints against one another, stories and ideas will juxtapose, allowing new connections and meanings to arise. Contributors will speak of their own experiences of life, rather than comment on issues, events, or those beyond their direct experience. All sounds will be layered, more harmonic than cacophonous, drawing the listener in to consider new voices, sounds and perspectives. Data - such as that from weather sensors - will also inform which recordings and live streams to choose. The system stretches beyond an algorithmic one, the wider infrastructure design, of how communities tell their stories, become broadcasters, and engage in creating media outside of social media is essential, for example through sound recording clubs, submission portals and community workshops.