Radio is vital in local communities now more than ever

Opinion: Alistair Clarke, awarded an MBE for services to Social Enterprise in Lancashire this week, writes about the importance of radio in the community.

“US Marine Toby Studabaker flew from America to Manchester and absconded with a young girl from Wigan. Media outlets from around the globe were onto the story. It was 2003 and little old me was the head of news at 102.4 Wish FM in Wigan with the biggest story in the world on my patch.

I rang the headteacher of the girl’s school to ask if she’d do an interview. She’d spent the morning dodging requests from a barrage of reporters. “I’ve been waiting for you to ring,” she said, “I only want to talk to Wish FM, after all it’s the radio station all the pupils’ parents listen to.”

It was another sharp reminder in my radio career that when something happens in the community, people turn to their local radio station.

Nearly 17 years on and I believe now, more than ever, radio stations have to accurately reflect what’s happening on their doorstep. That could include featuring more charities and social enterprises on air that will give a no-frills, apolitical view of what’s going on.

It’s very easy to read out a story that says the use of foodbanks in your town has gone up by a certain percent. What does that mean? It means nothing if you don’t understand why people are so desperate they are having handouts. Go and stand in a foodbank, listen to the silence – you can hear the shame – sometimes beneficiaries start to cry. Ask people how they feel about using a foodbank, then the story has a relevance and you have a better understanding of your local area in 2020.

I consider myself fortunate as I always worked at stations that got under the skin of the local people.

In the late 80s, a man called John Barnett (now MBE for services to radio) was in Florida and heard lots of very area-specific radio stations, literally talking about what was happened down the street. He came home and pestered the radio authorities that this country should have small-scale licences as the radio landscape only had big metropolitan and countywide broadcasters. They advertised a licence for the Fylde Coast, he put a consortium together and won it, so Radio Wave in Blackpool was born.

I’m still in touch with the team at Wave and 27 years later it’s as down to earth as it was when I read a bulletin on day one. They still invite me to the Local Heroes Awards where a dozen examples of triumph over personal tragedy are rewarded on stage for their bravery. It reaffirms what listeners believe anyway, that Wave cares about local people.

And last month I was delighted to be asked to present an hour of the Radio Wave Charity Auction. Businesses offered gifts, listeners rang in to pledge bids and nearly £15,000 was raised in one day for the town’s Carers Centre.

Times change, radio changes and careers change. I now work with charities and social enterprises (they are like charities but they sell goods and services: think Coop and Big Issue) that benefit very disadvantaged people. It’s hard work but I love it.

I’m delighted and humbled to receive an MBE in the New Year’s Honours List for my work but my knowledge and understanding of community stretches back to when I was on the radio.

In my opinion, no other media has the power to shape a local area like a radio station. You have the power, please continue to understand, reflect and represent listeners.”

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  1. Alan Blair says

    Well said ,I hope it happens.

  2. Radio Producer says

    What a load of twaddle….
    Radio in the UK is less local now than it has ever been… Decimated by money grabbing Corporates, and operators who haven’t the least bit of interest in their listeners….
    A certain amount of Community stations attempt to try the local angle, but Ofcom, with its arms squarely twisted up its back by the major companies, continues to make the playing field so uneven, there’s no wonder some of these are going to the wall….
    But as long as folks keep getting their Gongs…. They think everything is swimmingly wonderful!

    1. Martin Heywood says

      I think the point he trying to make is that local radio under local ownership and management is important.

      Not that it is important for local radio to be gobbled up in swathes by large corporate to be networked and streamlined.

      The fact ofcom have let this happen is the biggest scandal – not the fact that ‘gongs’ are given out to some pretty deserving people.

    2. Wal says

      While that’s true, they get away with this because most of the public do not care as long as they hear their preferred selection of tunes!

  3. John James says

    Why does everyone blame Ofcom for the destruction of local radio. They are civil servants carrying out the clear instructions of their political masters. When Bauer loses its Hold Separate restrictions Wave and Wish will be destroyed – and there will be nothing Ofcom can do about it.

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