Swindon 105.5 will be two years old in March. Station manager Shirley Ludford talks to Juliet Platt about what has been achieved and the bigger and brighter things to come.
When an Ofcom community radio licence came available for Swindon in March 2007, well known local personality Shirley had a year to pull a viable organisation together.
“I swore never to go back into radio broadcasting,” said Shirley, who’s had an exciting and varied career in Swindon media, including BBC Wiltshire Sound, Wiltshire Radio (now Heart), and starting as a community TV broadcaster on cable with Swindon Viewpoint.
“But the opportunity to pursue my passion of taking radio out into the community was too great to miss.
“It’s a much more personal medium than TV or the internet, and it’s becoming increasingly mobile as people now listen to the radio over their phones.
“We are very keen to promote arts and cultural activity in the town and we want to be known as the station that likes to say ‘yes.’ If there is a creative idea, we try to figure out how it can be put on air rather than blocking it because it doesn’t fit our broadcasting profile.”
The community focus of the station has attracted a team of very willing volunteers keen to learn about broadcasting, pursue a creative interest, or provide valuable experience between jobs.
“One of our volunteers had been out of work for 18 months, but since he came to us he has featured on Sky TV, and has now moved onto a new job,” said Shirley.
New College media student Jack Young has been working at 105.5 since September which he said ‘has been absolutely brilliant.’
“There aren’t many opportunities to learn about radio production. I even manned the desk a few weeks ago when we had our ‘New College takes over’ slot. It was quite scary to start with but I think I did quite well by the end.”
Finding out who listens is practically impossible said Shirley. “We prefer to measure our success by the value we give to our users, our volunteers and our community partners. For example the police are very keen to work with us to raise their presence in the community and help people understand their role better.”
Seeing how people develop their communications skills by volunteering with the station is something that Shirley is very proud of. “Our service has gained great respect with all levels of Swindon society.
“We have people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds on our team, and we’ve made a huge achievement in broadcasting with people rather than for them.”
Many secondary schools have also asked Shirley to provide media training opportunities for pupils.
Shirley is particularly pleased that communities such as Broad Green and Penhill have begun to produce their own programmes. “It’s important that these areas find their voice, and radio is a powerful and positive medium for bringing people together to do that.”
The station is funded by a combination of grants, donations and support in kind. “Covering core costs is really difficult, so we do rely on regular donations from people who are enthusiastic about what we do,” said Shirley.
And what does the future hold for 105.5?
“We’ve made our mark on the town and because of demand we’ve secured larger premises for our studios and where we can offer more structured training for volunteers and students.
“But to sustain our success all the people of Swindon have to support us by listening, donating money or volunteering.”
Tune in to Swindon 105.5fm on your dial or visit www.swindon1055.com
Swindon 105.5, presently broadcasting from the County Ground, will be moving to much larger premises in Eldene later in the year. However there will be major costs involved and fundraising was kicked off at a Bombay Lounge charity evening in November. Shirley is pictured receiving a cheque for £400 from Hanif Robani