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Promotional ideas and technique. Always radio, always positive.

And now for our older listeners…

Studio console
CD by Ray Martin (no relation)

I didn’t ask Doug his age. His working life seemed far more interesting. He’d completed at least four careers including working as an immigration officer at Heathrow airport, a spell with the Salvation Army and ten years in local government as a benefits officer. “Everyone knew the council for taking their money.. I’d tell them that I was the one who gave them money” he laughed.

Doug’s still giving today as a volunteer with Angel Radio, the community station for older people in the Hampshire town of Havant. Doug explained his speciality is classical music and how he enjoys increasing the knowledge of his listeners through the choice of music he plays. I could tell from his enthusiasm, storytelling and self-assured manner that he’d be a fine radio presenter.

After dealing with the public all his working life I wondered what kind of contact Doug has with Angel Radio’s listeners. Doug stretched out the fingers of both hands. “It’s an interlocking of society” he said, pushing his fingers together, “we achieve tangible things that bring the society together”.

Behind Doug, Barbara Bristow was taking calls from listeners and finding music on the station database. She stopped to make me a cup of coffee and tell me about a wall in her house which is covered with Christmas cards. “Almost all of them are from listeners” she says, unsurprised by the personal connection with the audience.

It is Angel Radio’s relationship with its listeners that defines it. Occupying a small town centre retail unit, Angel has the air of a both a radio station and a community drop-in centre. Everyone’s welcome, although one local woman has been warned off after exploiting their hospitality. “She was leaving her liver in the fridge” explains another volunteer, Mildred, delighted with the absurdity of it.

Midred in the studio
Mildred in one of the Angel Radio studios.

Run by around 80 mostly retired volunteers, the station broadcasts on FM to the borough of Havant and runs three audio services online. It plays only pre-1960s music from a library of 120,000 titles held variously on CD, minidisc and vinyl. Older material has been dubbed from 78rpm shellac and there are some 30,000 additional items waiting to be catalogued.

This is no automated jukebox, however. Angel makes traditional built programmes presented by its friendly and knowledgeable volunteers. There’s a lot of speech, including stories and community information and what Station Manager Tony Smith calls “over the garden wall” banter.

Tony explains his vision “It’s the sound of the station that’s important” he says. “It’s not supposed to be slick. It’s human. Nobody here has worked in professional radio.” He talks of the welfare potential of radio and Reminiscence Therapy. Because sound reaches deep into the subconscious, for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia it can unlock happy memories, promoting feelings of wellbeing.

Tony set-up the station, built the studios, installed the transmitter and wrote the application for a full-time Ofcom licence. A retired electrical engineer with a lifelong passion for community radio he says he works hundred hours or more a week at Angel Radio. Others seem to have a similar commitment.

Angel Radio HQ in Havant
Angel Radio offices in Havant Town Centre

Tony says that word of mouth is the most powerful form of promotion for Angel Radio but it also organises coffee mornings with Age Concern which attract between twenty and thirty stands from organisations in support of older people. Despite the success of these events, Tony still has his sights set on more glamorous promotions. “I’d love to take some of the listeners on the ferry to France.”

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Angel Radio operates a policy of no more than six minutes of advertising an hour, all in a single spot set. It is easy to poke fun at the quality of the ads but to do so would be missing the point: the advertisers are satisfied that they work. Direct Denture Care’s ad may be longwinded and contrived but it’s incredibly well targeted and the value of relevant bus route information is obvious if you’re in the intended audience. The menswear ad in the compilation has been running for so long that the voice artist has died but the store won’t take it off air because it brings in so much business.

Validated audience figures are not available but whenever the station is approached by a potential advertiser looking for numbers Tony suggests they talk to an existing advertiser.

Angel Radio is currently turning away new advertisers though. Inventory is full and current legislation means licensed community stations must find at least 50% of their funding from non-commercial sources. Tony gets frustrated by the amount of time he spends applying for grants and donations, only to be turned down. He’d rather dedicate that time to improving the radio service for listeners. “Some of the programmes are dire. I hang my head in shame sometimes”, he admits.

Last weekend someone accidentally moved a control and the output became distorted. Tony received a call asking “why don’t you get someone to check the tapes before they are broadcast”. Tony’s reply sums up the community roots of the station beautifully “that’s a good idea, why don’t you come in and do that then?”