In an effort to cut down on pirate radio stations, the 1990 Broadcasting Act allowed short-term “Restricted Service Licences” (RSLs) for the first time. Such licences enabled community groups to broadcast for around one month within a local radius of around three to five kilometres. This new opportunity prompted pioneering broadcasters working on local Asian radio shows during the 1970s and 1980s to partner with local Muslim businessmen. Together they applied successfully for a license to establish ‘Fast FM’ in Bradford. This was to be Britain’s first radio station dedicated to broadcasting during Ramadhan, the Islamic holy month of fasting.
Indeed, when Fast FM went on air on 6 March 1992 it immediately attracted regional, national and international attention. No doubt this was partly because Bradford’s Muslims were often ‘in the news’ during the 1980s, following events such as the Rushdie Affair. However, Fast FM was an attempt to give voice to the everyday interests and concerns of Bradford’s largest minority ethnic community in ways not possible before.
As well as broadcasting devotional songs and music in the spirit of Ramadhan, Fast FM was an early example of participatory ‘talk radio’. Callers ‘phoned in’ to learn from – but also ask questions of – Islamic religious and community leaders, with topics relating to women, youth, education and relations with wider society.
Listen here to Fast FM pioneers speaking about the station in early 2019. Interviews by Seán McLoughlin. Edited by Masood Sadiq.
An emerging Muslim public sphere was also in evidence in later years, as Fast FM mobilised its listeners in donating generously in response to disasters and for good causes at home and abroad.
During the last 3 decades several different collectives of broadcasters have won Bradford’s RSL for Ramadhan from the broadcasting regulator, Ofcom. Indeed, applications for this RSL in Bradford are higher than in any other UK city. RSLs for radio stations broadcasting during the other months in the Islamic calendar are also extremely common in Bradford and can be lucrative in terms of advertising revenues. The pioneers of Muslim community radio in Bradford supported the establishment of Radio Ramadan RSLs in Keighley, Sheffield, Middlesbrough, Newcastle, and beyond.
The story exploring Fast Fm in the Above the Noise: 15 Stories from Bradford exhibition was created by: Masood Sadiq, Yaqoob Ali, Nazir Hussain, Qasim Khan, Seán McLoughlin, Mohammed Shabbir Mughal, Irna Qureshi and Andy Sugden