THERE are some who may consider radio, in a multimedia digital age, to be a slowly dying art form.
Podcasts are suddenly all the rage, and people would rather watch YouTube videos or go on Spotify than turn on the radio.
But there is a growing army of listeners who tune in day-in-day-out to quirky local stations catering to very specific audiences.
Community radio is defined as non-commercial broadcasting that aims to give a voice to local people and organisations.
This can range from special interest stations to hospital radio and all associated projects, which support people living in the surrounding area.
These stations can draw in thousands of listeners every week, with presenters promoting events, artists and fundraising drives in the community.
You need platforms for both artist and presenters to grow and develop. That is what community stations provide.Simon Wilson
One of those presenters is Simon Wilson, from Fratton.
His desire to pursue a career in radio is what led him to music station Voice FM (103.9FM) back in June 2014.
He has been presenting the Wednesday afternoon drive time show ever since.
Simon says: ‘I’ve always wanted to work in radio and the older I got the more I discovered it was an extremely difficult industry to get into.
‘If I’m honest, I didn’t really know much about community radio until I was trying to get a job in the industry.
‘I do think now the quality of output from community radio matches that of some commercial stations.’
The community radio platform has also allowed Simon to meet some of the big names in the music industry and brought him out of his shell.
‘Community radio has enabled me to achieve some things I never thought possible,’ he says.
‘Not only do I get to share my passion for new music with thousands of people each week, but I have been able to interview some of my idols – Stereophonics, Feeder and Jimmy Eat World, to name a few.’
Simon’s interviewees’ combined online fanbase is around 26 million people. He says: ‘It’s crazy to think that community radio has given me that opportunity.
‘Also, on a personal level, being on radio has helped me hugely with my confidence and self esteem.’
Community radio also gives artists the opportunity to explode onto the world stage.
Simon explains: ‘Like everything, there needs to be a starting block – Ed Sheeran didn’t just record a single and end up playing stadiums around the world.
‘You need platforms for both artist and presenters to grow and develop. That is what community stations provide.’
The benefits of smaller stations go way beyond just spinning good tunes.
Graham Freer is a presenter at Radio Haslar.
While Radio Haslar’s purpose is to broadcast to patients in Gosport War Memorial Hospital, the station also takes part in a number of community projects, including the Christmas lights switch-on and Gosport Marine Festival.
Graham says: ‘The events are integral to the continued work of the radio station.
‘It is not only how we raise funds to keep on air, but a way of engaging with the local community and letting them know we are here.
‘Our work with Gosport Marine Festival was fantastic – it was a pleasure to help out at an event that was such a success.
‘The same goes for the switching on of the Christmas lights – it is a real privilege to play a role like that in the community.’
Graham believes the service provided by the station is vital to the atmosphere in Gosport War Memorial Hospital.
He says: ‘Some of these poor souls might go for days without actually seeing any family or friends – it can be a frightfully lonely place to be.
‘That is why what we do is so important – the station gives the patients someone to listen to and, more importantly, someone to engage with during the day.
‘They can request songs and phone the studio – it creates a real community feel and that makes everything we do so worthwhile.’
As well as playing much-loved music from bygone days, Angel Radio (89.3FM), in Havant, provides a lifeline to older people.
Since its launch in 1999, the station has run projects on everything from health and wellbeing to protecting vulnerable older listeners from loan sharks.
There are more than 70 volunteers – some in their 90s – and the station, in Market Parade, is always buzzing with people presenting, taking song requests on the telephone and finding records in the huge library.
Station manager Tony Smith says: ‘We probably have one of the largest music collections in the UK. We are fortunate to have more than 150,000 tracks in our library. Listeners phone in to request a song and we can have it playing within 20 seconds.
‘Our library dates back from 1900 up to the 1960s. So the big appeal of this station is that we can play music that people haven’t heard in 40 or 50 years.
‘It really brings out people’s nostalgia and hopefully some great memories along with it.’
Tony says the role of community radio stations is more important than ever before.
He adds: ‘Community stations have their own little communities.
‘There are stations that broadcast with the interests of specific groups in mind – some based on religion, others on ethnic groups and others simply on musical tastes. But despite all that, it is a community that is always welcoming and always growing – and that is why it’s so great.’
To see a video go to portsmouth.co.uk.