The Joy of…  community radio!

The Joy of… community radio!

by Stuart Crawford
article from Tuesday 17, March, 2020

I HAVE DISCOVERED community radio. Not community radio as a whole, but my local station East Coast FM (ECFM)*, based near where I live in Haddington. I have known about its existence for ages, but had never engaged with it until recently. The catalyst was my son’s ambition to break into broadcast journalism – not an easy thing to do at any time without family connections or the helping hand of nepotism – so I suggested the direct route and that he get in touch with them.  Which he did, and now he has a couple of shows every week. (What price fatherly advice, eh? Ed.)

Through his engagement I have become involved, gradually, and what a pleasure it has proved to be. I have even managed to progress from sitting in and occasionally chatting on my son’s show to selecting the music for, presenting and producing (after a fashion) the 2.00-4.00 pm slot on a Friday afternoon. And sometimes I’m left to get on with it on my own for up to 20 minutes!

The station is a great boon to the folk of East Lothian. Its first broadcast was on 30th November 2009 – St Andrews Day - and subsequently it has broadcast via the internet as well. It operates from premises in the centre of Haddington, East Lothian’s market town, round the clock every day, and programming is varied and includes daytime entertainment, specialist music programmes in the evenings, and other themed broadcasts.

My limited experience so far of self-producing and presenting, as you do on ECFM, has kept me fully on my toes. There are clocks to be watched, faders and sliders to be operated, announcements to be made, and remotely sourced news programmes to be coordinated, all whilst thinking about what you’re going to say in between songs and other items. In my time I have commanded a squadron of 14 tanks – three radio nets and internal intercom all via my headset at the same time while both directing the crew of my own tank and the actions of the other 13 – and also qualified for my PPL at one point – and they are entirely appropriate comparisons in terms of the multi-tasking required.

And mistakes happen. I managed to broadcast four separate items all at the same time the other day in a jumble of conflicting tunes and messages (I still don’t know how I did it) and was only rescued by a more experienced colleague after some frantic knocking on the studio window by me. My son won’t mind me telling you of when he managed to spill his coffee all over the studio desk keyboard, with predictable results, or when he set up his show for the wrong date and was met with an ominous silence after announcing the first song. That’s how you learn.

The really important bit, though, in my opinion, is how community radio stations can give those who would otherwise have no means of savouring the fun and delights of broadcasting. Charitable bodies like ECFM specifically target the disadvantaged, disables, and disenfranchised, allowing them to present their own programmes. Local school pupils also have regular slots, and outside broadcasts at local events help take the station and its message literally out into the community.

All of this is clearly stated in ECFM’s stated objectives, which I would summarise as; promoting community spirit in the area, encouraging the advancement of the arts, culture or science in the immediate area, engaging volunteers across the generations both in running the station and in fundraising social events, and advancing the education especially of the young people of the area by providing training and so enabling them to take part in the making and presenting of programmes.

Of course there are many local community stations across Scotland, many having broadly similar aims while not necessarily mirroring each other’s output. In fact there are now three stations in East Lothian as the initiative gains popularity, and I can think of at least one other discreet part of Scotland which is crying out for one – watch this space. 

Volunteering at a community radio station is thoroughly worthwhile, good for communication, entertainment, and also advertising within the local population, but above all great fun. If you have a few hours to spare and are looking for a new challenge, why not look up your local station and lend a hand? I very much doubt you will regret it and, who knows, you might be a natural!

© Stuart Crawford 2020

* East Coast FM, 107.6 FM if in East Lothian, otherwise download the free app and listen online.

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