After nine years involvement in Community Radio last night at our AGM I stood down as Chair and Director of 10Radio, the community radio station in Wiveliscombe, Somerset that I and a few others dreamed up in 2004. As a parting shot, I was asked to reflect upon my years in community radio. In planning what to say I struggled to summarise the amazing programmes we’d broadcast, but then realised that, actually, what community radio meant to me was not about radio, but it was about community.
10Radio has been broadcasting full-time since January 2008, but before that we broadcast two pilots of a month each in 2005 and 2006. It was those broadcasts, and in particular the first one, that I really remember for the huge and amazing impact we had on this small rural town.
The idea for a radio station had come from an article written about a community station in Withenshaw, Manchester. At the time I felt inspired by what they had achieved and the incredible medium radio provided for getting people involved and sharing local information. But it felt like a big city project, and not something that would work in a small isolated community. For a while the idea lay dormant until I mentioned it a local teacher, Ben Elkins, who immediately saw the potential for his pupils and simply said “lets do it”. He persuaded his Head to put in some funding and from there we grew the idea, slowly discovering the world of broadcast licences, royalties, transmitters and scheduling. We launched the concept on an unsuspecting community in early 2005 amidst rumours that there was some big company behind the idea (clearly there wasn’t) and the concerned question “who’s in charge?”. Our answer to that was “you are”, but it wasn’t the answer expected so it was only gradually that people opened their eyes to the full potential.
Over the coming months we managed to find ex BBC staff who ran training courses, got someone to provide all the equipment, negotiated with the Co-op to rent us an empty shop and gradually set everything up. The month before our first broadcast was gruelling, coinciding with summer holidays when everyone was away. But three days before the start we had the keys to the shop and in a barn-raising effort of community volunteers and trades, we built a studio from nothing, finishing off with egg trays from a local farm to provide sound damping in the studio.
We started broadcasting one Sunday morning. Standing outside with a little transistor radio, the magic of the whole enterprise came to life, as we heard our own sounds coming over the airwaves. And although the music was none of our doing, to hear the first track burst through was a thrill I still remember. With hastily written posters stuck up in the window we appealed for presenters, for carpets, even for old video cassettes to keep an archive of our broadcast. And it all came flooding in. People were amazed at what was happening, and that they could walk in and book a slot to do a show, with training on the job. It was the talk of the town. The school rehearsed their show on air. We found our hearthrob DJ who just walked in one day, sat down and did 6 hours non-stop, wooing the teenage girls with his sultry tones. Sports shows, chat shows, late night jazz, live musicians, local news, we had it all.
But it was the way we changed lives that was our great achievement. One person later wrote: “As someone who has been out of full-time work for some years as a result of health problems, 10radio made me realise how much confidence I had lost in moving out of my comfort zones. I knew that I had no desire to do presenting, but I was shocked to find how anxious I was about even working on reception, and initially I deliberately chose predictably quiet times. By the end of the 4 weeks I was keen to seek out the busy times, and after being involved in one of the programmes, was even beginning to develop a taste for trying my hand at presenting!”. Another wrote “(Our son) suffers from mild ADHD which manifests largely through his inability to concentrate or focus on tasks, particularly if they do not engage him. You can imagine how this affects him at school… However, 10Radio has been one activity that has fully engaged him, proving that he has the talent and application to do something well when he so wishes. (When we broadcast our show) he not only took a full part in actually hosting the programme, he also manned the phones and took messages. His self esteem was immeasurably boosted by the positive responses he received from friends and acquaintances who heard him”.
This was, and continues to be, our great achievement. We opened up opportunities, we introduced the wizadry of fading out the mic, and fading in the music, we helped people find the joy of hearing their first broadcast sounds on the radio. School children who came on 10Radio in 2005 are now in their mid 20s and some have gone on to do amazing things, hopefully with a little influence from 10Radio. We brought something unique to this community. We made a difference to lives. That’s what community radio is about, and that’s what I look back upon with pride and great sense of achievement.