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I’ve thought for a long time, of writing about my journey on this 3 year adventure of helping to set up a new radio station in a wonderful part of the North East coast (in case you don’t know Zetland FM based in Redcar And Cleveland) – but frankly, I haven’t had a minute to myself, that is until now.

Allow me to explain with a potted history…

Way back in the early 2000’s, I could see how the radio game was changing – how automation and networking was going to play its part, the number of stations kept on growing, how more rigorous music testing and narrowcasting would garner more niche audiences but with a music policy I believe was akin to battery feeding hens the same songs day in day out, with programming gurus (although I had another word for them at the time!) telling ‘talent’ to shut up and just crunch n roll or press NEXT and show nil personality.

Yes, I had all that… and after helping to take a radio station in a beautiful part of North Yorkshire to Its highest reach ever with a fantastic team of people over 5 years, in 2002, I realised that I had to branch out and not have my eggs in just the one basket.

So, over the next 10 years, I launched myself as a Consultant, became a Voiceover artist, worked for the Police for 4 years (which were happy days despite all that’s gone on in the last 5 years to the Service), I flirted lots with Travel News (sadly the relationship didn’t quite work out!)… but above all else, then and still now, my love for radio and the connect we all have the ability to do, never waned. I’ve embraced new technology, new ways to communicate and share…after all (and I have to credit James Cridland with this one…) ‘its all about content now, though not necessarily live!’

I believed then that there was a place for good LOCAL radio with personality. I still believe that now.

Back in my days back home at TFM on Teesside (oh sorry, it isn’t ‘there’ any more is it…!!) in the late 80’s and early 90’s (wow, 6 years of my life – mainly wearing bloody awful shellsuits!), meeting people like Adrian Allen, Brendan Kearney, Alex Hall, Nick Piercey, Nick Wright, Mark Dennison, Dave Roberts, John Caine…the list is endless… was an absolute pleasure. To me, they were the people that made it come alive – to be there…to make that difference to someone out there that needed the company, some help, or maybe just their favourite song playing…basically someone to listen to that was passionate about the area they lived in. But that was very much one dimensional, but it was the purpose of local radio then. It worked…very well!

Anyway, I digress slightly…

Even back in the 90’s, I thought that the area around Redcar, Guisborough and Saltburn would sustain Its own radio station – in fact I told my good friend Jeremy Gartland (the Chairman of Zetland FM) that over 20 years ago when we were both doing our bit after TFM with RSL’s (Restricted Service Licenses) on Teesside.

So it’ll come as no surprise that back in 2010, when Jeremy mooted the idea of a radio station to serve Redcar and Cleveland, we both knew that this would involve an incredible amount of work, not to mention sweat, toil and investment around our own jobs. But my involvement was far more modest really and (actually) a bit later on after the Application process through Ofcom in 2011 and the licence award in 2013.

Organising the commercial element to the station was a challenge that I loved, seeing who the movers and shakers in the patch were, who made it tick, who were the influencers… it all counted towards building up a picture of the area this new radio station would potentially serve. One thing I did know, was that there was a real hunger for local businesses to advertise locally and Zetland would offer them that!

There were lots of meeting, discussions and really positive feedback from both business and the wider community. To be honest, I knew there would be. But the one thing that many weren’t too sure of and questioned, was how the station would actually sound? It needed to be professional, have locally relevant information, great songs, engaging presenters…who were all volunteers! So no big ask there then. PLUS location was crucial…and after many sites were visited, only one really fitted the bill, because of it’s name and location – Redcar Beacon!

Redcar Beacon drone

The radio station already had a core team of people on board helping to deliver day to day stuff – like engaging and training future presenters, looking after news provision, sales admin etc… in fact, all of the things you’d expect from a local radio station.

One of the hardest things in the process, was Funding – mainly because by the time the radio station station was getting ready to launch, it was scarce and virtually non-existent with increasingly tough austerity measures – in fact, it was like that for every organisation that had a reliance on funding. So I had to think out of the box and work on a series of Foundation Partnerships that would offer the finance to get the station off the ground.

Remember in all this, Zetland FM is a not for profit company, with a big local and social delivery remit to engage the area it serves, so no Board of Directors with massive funds to bankroll this radio station. It’s frightening the stuff you need to be aware of and you also have to learn to manage people’s expectations too when you have little or no budget!

Then there was all the build up to (firstly) the Guest Launch, which was a real team effort and one that I will remember as being full of hope, expectation and last minute nerves! Well done to Sarah Hayton who did a fabulous job organising it by the way!

Then came the actual on air Launch on the 31st August, which seemed to just glide by beautifully – actually that might be better phrased as it was a blur with so much going on!!

The radio station went on air with 20 advertisers – brilliant when you consider Zetland FM was a complete unknown. But we’d established the website and social media about a year before launch, so we had a bit of a head start…but again, there was always lots more people to make aware we existed (and still is).

New radio stations with massive marketing budgets would have breezed along, but we didn’t have that kind of money to play around with, so it was essential the station kept it’s overheads as low as possible.

I have said on the air when doing programmes at Zetland FM, it’s a baby really, just starting its life and learning things as it goes along. Teething, burping, crying, laughing…you get the picture.

What’s been achieved here by a number of volunteers is nothing short of incredible…people who all have their own jobs or full time roles doing other stuff who have chipped in to help train up volunteers, get music on the system, speak to community groups, get news together, record audio, present shows and help get the word out there!

Radio peeps that I admire and am personally grateful to for their support – Gary Wilkinson, Julie Donaldson, Adrian Allen, Chris Marsden, Stuart Clarkson, Dave Roberts, Mike Long, Andrew Quince – thank you!

The Foundation Partner support has been immense from PD Ports and Redcar and Cleveland Council, without it, the radio station wouldn’t have happened.

Results from advertising clients have been very encouraging – listeners are hearing their adverts, all done by commercial producers from our business that are credible and can do great things in 30 seconds (there’s a one liner in there somewhere…!!).

So businesses are getting more local customers…that’s brilliant! But what we do isn’t rocket science, it had to work if the method of the way we did this was right.

A radio station that’s now into its 8th week – with some great social media stats and a website that is generating healthy numbers…in September, there were over 444,000 overall hits (big numbers wow, I have learnt that!). The more modest sum of 10,000 clicks onto the site and nearly 35,000 page views is a healthy number though.

What’s been created is something that the Redcar and Cleveland community can own, feel a part of and not have to constantly ‘doff its cap’ over to Middlesbrough or Stockton – why should it?

Zetland FM has a USP, a purpose and it’s doing a brilliant job 24 hours a day through some tough times for people, when you consider the demise of the Steel Industry in the last few weeks, which is heart breaking stuff. But the radio station will act as a motivator, a stimulant, to help out where it can.

I am a great believer that whilst the larger groups are making their money being ‘remotely local’ which they are more than entitled to do (and their accountants are telling them they should!), the more I believe stations like Zetland FM will be coming up the ranks to service that hunger that still exists for great ‘little but local’ radio stations.

Do I plan to do it all again? Erm…I’m happy with my contribution and don’t plan on anything too ambitious. Mind you…never say never!

 Zetland FM is available 24 hours a day on 105FM, online at www.zetlandfm.co.uk and via the TuneIn app.