Radio station’s first birthday arrives with some growing pains

Happy birthday, Croydon Radio.

The borough’s digital radio station is back on air with live programmes just in time to celebrate its first anniversary.

Station founder Tim Longhurst (pink shirt) at the controls for an early Croydon Radio show

Station founder Tim Longhurst (pink shirt) at the controls for an early Croydon Radio show

Tim Longhurst and Tracey Rabbetts are the co-founders of the Croydon internet-based station, which uses more than 50 volunteer presenters and producers to broadcast a range of programmes through the week, some, it is fair to say, a good deal better than others.

Longhurst saw the setting up of the station as, “Something to showcase Croydon. It gets a bad rap really.”

Longhurst said Rabbetts sought presenters who were “people with a heart for Croydon” (whatever that’s supposed to mean).

Rabbetts says that the success of the station has been beyond her expectations. “We had no idea that it would be where it is today,” she said.

Croydon Radio reports that it has more than 36,000 unique listeners in its first year (for comparison, Inside Croydon gets more than 40,000 unique views each week).

The station’s studio is in a coffee shop off Surrey Street, the result of a chance meeting between Longhurst and Saif Bonar, the owner of Matthew’s Yard, at a Croydon “Tweet up”.

Longhurst and Rabbetts can be heard being interviewed on a Croydon Radio podcast (listener health warning: the interview goes on for almost two hours). The interview reveals that the station co-founders are looking at “tweaking in” Croydon business sponsorship of some shows and that the medium-term plan is to seek a jump to being an AM broadcast station.

The station has also recently launched two initiatives, a “We Love New Music” campaign,  and a promotion of local community and business events.

Croydon Radio’s first year has not been without its problems. It has been set-up on a shoestring, and there has been an equipment issue that has given presenters a real challenge if they dared invite more than a single guest on to their shows – there simply wasn’t enough microphones to go round.

Phone-ins, the staple of local radio for decades, don’t exist (yet) for Croydon Radio. Instead, they have something called a “Shoutbox”, effectively a real-time chat room for the programme hosts to “interact” with their audience. There are rowdier funeral services – on a bad day, you might find the presenter saying hello to the show’s sole listener.

Some programmes have been quietly dropped from the schedules: a Saturday sports show that appeared to consist entirely of the presenter reading the match reports from local clubs that had appeared in the previous day’s Sadvertiser somehow never caught on. It would be fair to say that none of Croydon Radio’s output is what you could call “over-produced”.

Croydon Radio

The embarrassing sign of Croydon Radio’s live shows being off-air last week. The internet radio station had lost its internet connection

And then there have been the outages. The first birthday comes just a week after the latest, an embarrassing and lengthy interruption to all Croydon Radio’s live programmes, as a failure with “internet cafe” Matthew’s Yard’s internet access forced the station to default to broadcasting only pre-recorded music and programmes, with the station’s website carrying a “Back Soon” notice, apologising.

An upgrading of an already troublesome internet connection at Matthew’s Yard caused the shutdown of live broadcasting. “The resilience of the internet connection will be stronger,” Longhurst promises. Or is that “hopes”?

Having existed for less than a year, Croydon Radio was named “Voluntary Group of the Year” by Croydon Council last month at something called the 2013 Croydon Community Civic Awards ceremony – a prize that surely has no reflection on the editorial independence of the channel.

Croydon Radio has made a significant breakthrough in the past year, effectively being given the broadcast rights to Croydon Council meetings – an instance of the council acquiring a service apparently without ever going out to tender.

The coup was achieved by Longhurst challenging the council publicly to allow his station into the Town Hall chamber. Longhurst said in the station’s first anniversary interview that public pressure for the broadcast of the meetings, and the fact that he offered to do so and it would “cost the council zero pounds” persuaded the council to take up his offer.

“It was pressure. The Twitterati for a start, were very much on the case,” Longhurst said. “Topics were discussed online, on Inside Croydon, which is a bit of a hotbed for political discussion and things.”

A few years earlier, the council had scrapped its previous webcast of full council meetings, cabinet meetings and planning committees for a saving of £32,000 a year. Longhurst says the council attracted fewer than 10 listeners per broadcast. Croydon Radio’s listenership has been transformed since it first started broadcasting council meetings.

“We hope to curry more favour really with the council and try to get involved in other things that are taking place,” he said.

“We try and Tweet everything that the council are doing. We don’t want to be the mouthpiece of the council but if we are aware that there are initiatives that are taking place it’s right to get the word out and raise awareness of them and so we hope to continue working with them and supporting them in that way.”

Longhurst said that he is happy to pool resources with other new media in Croydon, “Inside Croydon – they’ve been very supportive of us really. They promoted us at the very beginning”.

  • “One of the best things about Inside Croydon is its ability to make a tremendously boring story very interesting indeed”
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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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