And now, a note from your friend

After I had loaded the van I had an ordinary meal in a bad pub in Topsham (the specials on the board were no such thing) and Dave picked me up from my Travelodge (15 quid a night room -great deal- the stains on the bath came free) at 04:50 as we headed to Penzance.

We’re in. The studio furniture is being put together. Being Ikea stuff it is more like a puzzle, like something off the Krypton Factor. I believe the desk I am now writing this on is a Oregl. Or maybe that’s a light fitting. Who nicked all their vowels?

This isn’t a letter from your mate, but it might as well be. These are excerpts from the Radio Scilly launch blog - a community radio station for the Isles of Scilly, just before you start sniggering at the name. Mind, I’m looking forward to hearing the jingles, since they’ll sound just like ‘Radio Silly’ and cause much schoolboyish humour.

You don’t HAVE to have jingles for a radio station but, after much discussion, we decided that we would have some. I don’t want Radio Scilly to sound cheap or small-time. We’re representing the islands on the global stage with our web service. We should sound as big and polished as the BBC networks. Our difference will be that we will be really local.

…and I suspect they’ll succeed. Radio Scilly is being set up by Keri Jones, who, apart from being a jolly nice man who bought me a beer in Rome once, used to work at the ultra-local Radio Pembrokeshire, delivering an incredible reach - 51% of all the population. Not content with that, he was talking to me then about his dream of running a community radio station in the Isles of Scilly. And he’s still talking about it.

You know, when I was running the commercial stations in Wales, I used to have a “motivational picture” on the wall of the Radio Pembrokeshire board room. An aerial picture of St Mary’s. When I had to deal with “energy vampires” and complete idiots there I used to look at it because it reminded me of my end goal, Radio Scilly. It reaffirmed how much fun and satisfaction I would get from it. Maybe I need to put it up in this office here!

Keri, as ever, has totally understood what he’s doing. He’s naming his friends on the island by name (everyone knows everyone else); he’s making himself warm and cuddly to those he doesn’t yet know; he’s personally visiting all the businesses on the islands, he’s making himself a friend to everyone. Which, of course, is what any good radio station should do.

In the 1990s, local commercial radio stopped being local. We shied away from local school closures, and what’s on information. We concentrated on ’sounding as big as Radio 1′, and interviewed large national bands, dropping any local music programming. We shunted inconvenient religious community programming to our un-loved AM stations. We stopped covering local ‘minority’ sports, like rugby, and many stopped even covering football. We cut down on speech, removing the late night phone-in and the interviews in the mid-morning show. We continuously snipped away at our news bulletin lengths: shrinking from 5 minute hourly bulletins (10 minutes at 1pm and 5pm) to 60-second round-ups. We stopped sending presenters to local fetes and jumble-sales, believing it “not good for our brand”. We stopped roadshows and removed our local outside-broadcasts, instead recording make-believe as-live commercials, guaranteed to disappoint those listeners who had travelled to their local dealership to see their favourite presenter. We stopped local music charts, took a larger amount of syndicated programming, and got jingles voiced by big butch american voices.

Ofcom local figures
Source: Ofcom - total hours, 2001/2 to 2005/6

The results speak for themselves. While national commercial is up because of the extra choice on DAB and satellite, local commercial is down. Why? Because we didn’t understand why people were listening.

Meanwhile, over at Radio Scilly…

We’re on air on 107.9 FM! We’re not doing anything award-winning yet, but at least it works. John and Pat scaled the coastguard tower at Telegraph to put our aerial up today and we’re broadcasting a loop of back-to-back test announcements from a CD player on repeat in the corner of our Porthmellon studio. It may be liable to interuption, and it is the next best thing to Chinese water torture as it is so repetitive, but it is only really there to make sure everything works. We’ll get music and announcements on for the week before we start on Sept 3rd. Thanks to John, Pat and also Clive Vean, Neil Didlick and James Banfield for their help in getting us to this stage.

I wish both staff members of Radio Scilly the best of luck on launch: 2pm on the 3rd of September 2007. Because, at last, someone understands what makes local radio tick.