Brentwood student and Phoenix FM presenter Alex Fletcher is home early from her placement at an African radio station after being marched out of the studios at gunpoint. The 19-year-old was half-way through a six-week stint on Ghana's Choice FM when the station was busted for non-payment of taxes.
Alex jetted off to the Ghanaian capital of Accra last month to help out on Choice FM's breakfast show. The opportunity followed a month on air in her home town for Alex, who presented an evening alternative music show on Phoenix FM's last broadcast.
She had the chance to get international radio experience before starting a journalism course at the London College of Communication in September.
"We had just rounded things off for the morning and were in the production office discussing plans for the next day's show when, like something out of a movie, riot police and tax collectors came busting in telling us to put our hands up and stay quiet," said Alex.
"I don't think anybody dared say a word, especially as Ghanaian police carry the biggest guns I have ever seen. We were then escorted out of the building with our hands behind our heads and told to wait in the car park. Nobody had a clue what was going on, there was more an air of confusion than fear. Once the authorities established I was from overseas and not being paid by Choice FM, they let me go. Later on that day, I got a call from my manager explaining that the station had been shut down because they hadn't paid tax since 1996 and wouldn't be back on air soon."
The Ghanaian Internal Revenue Service later said the station owed hundreds of millions of cedis ? a local fortune worth tens of thousands of pounds.
Now Alex is helping Brentwood and Billericay's community radio station gear up for full-time broadcasting ahead of Phoenix FM going on air permanently from January 2007. The Phoenix FM team of 25 presenters found out earlier this year they had been awarded one of the country's new community radio licences and are preparing the programme schedule, advertising and grants package which will sustain Brentwood and Billericay's own radio station.