An open channel is a non-commercial, advertisement-free, local or regional radio or TV channel that guarantees all citizens free and equal access to these electronic media.
For the purposes of programme production, the open channels provide studios and recording equipment, as well as technical and editorial advice. They form the platform for programmes produced by citizens themselves, but do not make any programmes of their own. In each case, the producers are also the programme organisers who are responsible for their content.
Open channels are generally operated by the state media authority, a charity association or a local support organisation. There are different models of institutional support.
The open channels disseminate their programmes via local and regional VHF frequencies (radio) and via local/regional cable networks (TV).
Non-commercial local radio and open channel are two models that are frequently confused. Both types are considered commercial broadcasting, operate on a local scale and are generally open-access. Neither of them features any advertising. Depending on the concept of the open channel, the programmes produced by citizens are transmitted either in succession (queue) or in accordance with a fixed transmission schedule upon the producer’s request. The employees of the open channel provide technical and editorial assistance, but there is no editorial supervision that entails vetting of the content.
For non-commercial local radio, responsibility lies with an editorial office. This office’s structure forms part of the channel concept and therefore differs from one initiative to the next. There is a fixed transmission schedule as with conventional radio.
The difference in comparison to the commercial or public service broadcasting channels is that non-commercial radio is more accessible and that volunteers produce the output in collaboration with a small team of editorial staff. The music selection is not determined by record labels.
"Bürgerrundfunk" (community radio)
In the German model of "Bürgerrundfunk", open channel elements (participation, openness) and non-commercial radio elements (information remit) merge within one organisation. Such community radio channels are intended to both complement local and regional coverage and provide open, non-discriminatory access to broadcasting for all citizens in the catchment area, thereby offering opportunities for imparting media literacy. The remits described above can be found in different federal States without them being explicitly enshrined either in media legislation or an organisational structure. In Lower Saxony, this model has been legally enshrined since 2001.
University students can capitalise on their involvement in university radio to gain journalistic skills in the production of programme content or in handling live broadcasting. However, the learning opportunities offered by a campus radio station extend far beyond acquiring purely technical skills. Alongside the work relating directly to producing radio programmes, students gain competences in many other areas such as office organisation, editorial management, PR activities, managing website content, compiling playlists and maintaining contact with the music industry.
German vocational channels ("Aus- und Fortbildungskanäle")
These channels pursue two goals: providing opportunities to acquire skills and qualifications to aspiring journalists and imparting media literacy. Depending on their focus, these channels resemble open channels or university radio in their activities.
School radio enables forms or groups of pupils to publish content or manage regular programme blocks. Generally, school radio channels broadcast during break time. There are also some audio platforms dedicated to school radio projects.