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Focal Radio begging for cash

A Staffordshire-based digital radio station has taken the unprecedented step of appealing on-air for listeners' cash to avert a closure at 6pm tonight.

Focal Radio, based in Stoke-on-Trent, was rescued from closure in March by local businessman Mo Chaudry, who reopened the failed station after several weeks off air. Now Mr Chaudry has called time on the station, withdrawing further funding.

And it has emerged that presenter Sam Plank has been paying freelance presenters from his own pocket for nearly two weeks.

Focal Radio is currently broadcasting appeals from presenters for listeners to invest £10 in the station. It is not known what figure is required to keep Focal on-air, but it is reported that Mr Chaudry ploughed around £80,000 into the company to take it out of administration.

In a statement, Focal Radio's station manager Verity Hilton said: "I told the staff about Mo's decision on May 8th. They have worked relentlessly through this difficult time to sell advertising and obtain investment.

"Although the station has 23 members of staff, the majority of them are freelance and once again they face the possibility of not being paid for the work that they have done.

"This is a fantastic station with a growing listenership and it would be a tragedy if it had to close. Focal Radio has received interest from listeners who would like to own a share in 'their' radio station – but we need to ensure that there is enough in the pot to buy the equipment off [Chaudry's company] Waterworld Holdings and re-pay Mo for his investment.”

Speaking to local newspaper The Sentinel, Mo Chaudry said the council's decision to turn its back on the station following his arrest in connection with a local authority corruption scandal was instrumental in the closure: "The public sector support has evaporated since my arrest and without that Focal is not a viable proposition.

"I have made a huge personal commitment in terms of money, time and energy to build-up the business since inception for no financial gain.

"Since the police inquiry became public, the public sector has declined to do business with Focal."

Veteran presenter Sam Plank, who has been paying staff from his own pocket since 13 May, said: "I am saddened over the way the situation has developed.

"However, there is now a golden opportunity for the listeners of this area to invest in a radio station that is truly theirs and looks positively at what happens in their patch.

"I would love to hear from anyone that feels they can help us move forward at this moment in time."

Focal Radio opened for the first time on the DAB digital radio multiplex for Stoke-on-Trent on 5 November 2008. Four months later, the station was closed and placed into administration after initial funding ran out. In March, the station reappeared on digital radio following Mr Chaudry's investment.

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