Stay tuned: Meet the weird and wonderful volunteers keeping community radio alive in lockdown
Local DJs - the unsung Covid heroes - haven’t stopped providing music, news, comedy and most importantly, companionship to people across Scotland as many have been forced into unavoidable loneliness.
While the pandemic may have emptied studios across the country attics, bedrooms, cupboards and even a caravan are just a few of many ad hoc locations loyal community DJs have been using to stay on the beat for their listeners.
“There is nothing quite like live radio,” said Tom Morton who runs music show Beatcroft for 60 North Radio in Shetland from his “attic of obscurity” - aka his loft.
The station’s studio on the island has been temporarily closed since last year.
“Live radio is intimate, and with lockdown making everyone feel disconnected, it’s such a comfort when you hear that someone else out there.”
According to Radio Joint Audience Research (RAJAR) the average listening time for adults aged 15 or older during lockdown saw an increase of 39 per cent with over four million tuning into a radio station they had not listened to before.
“For a certain period during the last year we doubled our shows because of the interest,” Tom added, “Covid has really reminded us of the value of community radio.”
Local broadcasts haven’t all been about music and radio gaga.
About 370 miles west of Shetland in Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, Isles FM has been hosting bible readings for listeners who are missing their weekly service.
“Without the churches open at the moment, which are so important to the community, we host services on the radio,” said station director David Morrison who runs a Christian show every Thursday.
"It’s a wonderful way to keep connected.”
Hymns and prayers are only part of the show at the island community radio, which has been running for almost three decades.
Star drummer from Peat and Diesel Uilly Macleod broadcasts live “craic and choons” several times a week from the studio in Stornoway.
He said providing upbeat music and real-time conversation has been important for relieving an accelerating mental health crisis brought on by lockdown.
“I aim to be as positive as possible on the shows,” said the musician, who broadcasts a rock and ceilidh show on Fridays.
“I believe the positive energy transmits to others through the airwaves. I know we’re listened to in care homes and by many who are finding this pandemic tough.”
It’s not just listeners who have been finding solace in the airwaves. Uilly said his own mental health has benefited from his voluntary position as a presenter.
“I long to be back on stage, playing live gigs, but what’s great about presenting in lockdown is my listeners have become my new fangirls,” he laughed.
East Lothian radio presenter Stu Gibb at Radio Saltire also noticed personal benefits hosting shows in lockdown.
Since an early retirement after being diagnosed with cancer, the 56-year-old said focusing on community radio has been “the best time” of his life. During lockdown he’s been broadcasting local news bulletins and his music show “eclectic essentials” from an outdoor cupboard measuring 80cm wide by 175cm in his garden.
“The station’s studio in Tranent is temporarily closed,” he said, “but that hasn’t stopped me.”
Ofcom announced last week that it will give 53 UK community radio stations emergency funding, but many still battle with Covid’s impact on advertising and fundraising events – their key sources of income.
At Speysound in Aviemore, Cath Wright loves staying connected to her listeners, so much that she stayed on air for 30 hours straight in October last year to raise money for the volunteer-run station.
“There have been points where the station has really struggled, but we're determined to keep this essential service for our community.”
The 40-year-old has been running Shuffle Sessions from her kitchen with her husband Pete from 10pm on Saturday broadcasting “friendly waffle” and “whatever song comes on next.”
A few squeaky toys and the odd dog bark are thrown in the mix thanks to their greyhounds - Newt, Edie and Clover.
The husband and wife team have a static caravan outside their kitchen window which is used for guests while the studio is out of bounds.
"Lockdown got us thinking...creatively,” Cath added.
From dogs to Doric - Far Hiv Ye Bin?
Aabody listening to Mearns FM in Scotland’s North East has been guaranteed some comedy during lockdown with Patrick Wright who presents what he claims to be “the world’s only Doric show” on a Saturday.
With his Scots tongue prompting laughs - the very least a wry smile - the stand up comedian has been broadcasting “It’s Nae Real” from his bedroom in Forfar to brighten the dreich lockdown days.
For some presenters though, simply listening isn’t enough, and they’ve gone as far as hosting virtual social events.
Coffee mornings in Fort William are still going ahead on Fridays thanks to Nevis Radio, located at the foot of Ben Nevis.
Presenter John Weller said: “We have call-ins with elderly people weekly asking them what they’ve been up to.
“What’s great about the station is a lot of the people speaking on air are known in the community which helps make listeners feel that bit more connected.”
Seth and Daniel Rowley, a father and son team presenting for Dumfries Community Radio ask their listeners to join them for virtual tea and cake breaks on their show.
The pair run music show “My Generation” where 18-year-old Seth chooses mainly songs from the 60s while Daniel, 45, picks current bands to air.
"We ramble on, but when you get feedback and song requests from listeners it reminds you that people are still connected,” said Daniel.
Schools’ out - but where’s the party?
Deveron FM, Banff, has been hosting discos for primary school pupils as well as providing community news.
Lynn Rae, who presents the daily breakfast show, said summer, Halloween and Christmas parties have all gone ahead for local schools within the station’s reach.
“We have had up to 400 song requests each time from the kids who’ve been disco dancing through Zoom. They’ve been a huge success.”
Robert MacInnes, at Radio Skye, presents a Scottish traditional music show on Fridays at 8pm.
The 22-year-old offers the chance for his listeners to request songs for special occasions, many of which have been cancelled in the last year.
"Community radios are unique, they offer something different to the national stations which are a bit more predictable with their song choices – we offer a complete mix,” he said.
"I would encourage anyone to get involved with their local station to feel connected.”
The Buggles 1980s hit ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ has certainly not rung true in the last year with these volunteers keeping listeners busy and engaged.
As Marylin Monroe once famously said: “It's not true I had nothing on, I had the radio on.”
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