Uckfield FM celebrates 5 years on air, full-time
Sue Edwards talks to Gary King and Mike Skinner
When did UFM first start and where?
“Gary – The idea for Uckfield FM first came about in July 2002 when Mike Skinner, myself (Gary King), Paddy and Alan covered the 2nd Uckfield Festival event on Luxford Field. During the day I commented “wouldn’t it be a good idea if we could do this as a community radio station” and it all grew from there.
To start with we needed a base and Mike had just hosted a film by Kevin Markwick, who offered to provide a home for us, called Uckfield FM Radio Group in the early days. So, the first thing Uckfield FM Radio Group did was join the Uckfield Chamber of Commerce. We did a presentation for them and for various other groups and produced a demonstration CD to show what the radio station sounded like.
We had to apply for a licence, which was far from easy due to strict rules from Ofcom, as was raising the money needed to purchase the equipment.
In July 2002 we went on air part-time for the first time and during that first year all our equipment had to be hired. It wasn’t till the following year that they we were awarded grant funding to start purchasing equipment, which we did as and when we could afford it. By the time we were granted a full-time broadcasting licence we owned all our equipment via various grant funding and through major sponsors such as Dawson Hart, Rix and Kay, Lawson Commercial and George Rose who all helped enormously. Old logo?
How has Uckfield FM changed over the years?
At the start we operated under a part-time licence, then in 2008 we had to make the big decision whether or not to apply for a full-time licence. We had to take into consideration that all our presenters were volunteers (and still are), so most of them had full-time jobs. However with around 80 members of which about 45 are volunteer presenters on a rotating 3 month basis, we were keen to make it work.
Our time at the Picture House had come to an end and we needed more space, so it was time to find somewhere else, which a week later we did. Chris Lawson found us the premises we are in now at Bird In Eye, which turned out to be the best decision we had made so far, as it was an ideal size and being first floor was ideal for our mast. So in 2007 we moved in.
Sadly, shortly after this Paddy passed away in Summer 2007, which was a very sad time for everyone, then we had the brilliant news that we had been awarded our licence. This meant however that we had to start full-time straight away. We were allocated 105 fm, so on 1st July at 1.05pm we started broadcasting live full-time.
Was it an easy transition?
Pretty much. Tony and Jon started looking after things in between doing their respective daytime programmes, then a year later grant funding was awarded from the regulator so I (Gary) became a paid member of the team for 20 hours per week. I was working in collaboration with Friday-Ad at the time, who were one of our sponsors, however this only lasted six months before we realised that we didn’t need Friday-Ad, we could go it alone!
Did you use any other radio station as a role model?
There was and still is no competition locally. We have such good experience in hospital radio between us and are very well connected, in fact we became the role models for other potential radio stations, since we already had an envious track record.
What do you think is the best thing about UFM?
We are here for the community and will talk about anything and invite anyone in to the studio.
When there is an incident locally eg: fire, flash flood, Daniel Gamble, Uckfield FM are there to let people know and keep them updated. Sometimes, depending on the incident, we have to make a decision whether to stay on air all night to follow news. Uckfield FM has become the local medium to be relied upon.
Do you have any other plans to expand in the future?
We would like to expand but we are restricted by the rules of Ofcom.
What technology or apps do you rely on?
The website is obviously extremely important and provides an extensive portal for local information. We rely heavily on both Twitter and Facebook, which are our first means of publishing stories and news, then it goes onto our website in much more detail. Twitter and Facebook act as funnels of information for the website. We generally add up to 7 new stories every day.
We are, as we speak, having a new look responsive website created and you heard it here first we have a brilliant app being produced just for Uckfield FM, especially for mobile listeners. We know from research that one 3rd of the public listen to Uckfield FM.
Would UckField FM do anything differently if you had to start again?
Luckily we made the all the right choices with not only choosing Uckfield as our town to do the radio station, but everything was thought through carefully, which meant that we did everything right from the start. We had to ‘test the water’ in the early days to see if there was a need for a radio station and we were very lucky early on to find affordable premises and the right location. The only thing we could have done differently was to have found the premises we are in now right at the start, however then we didn’t know what we know now – that we would be awarded a full-time licence and we were going to be such a success!
What advice would you give anyone considering starting a venture like this?
We would advise others to go into a new venture gently from the start, think everything through thoroughly and do your research. Don’t spend loads and see what works and what doesn’t. Pretty much similar rules for any business.
We are very proud of what we have done and when we had our studio built the contractor, who builds radio stations around the country, commented that we were
‘one of the most professional sounding community stations in the country’, some accolade!
We don’t apply for awards because we don’t think we need to. We serve Uckfield, we know we do our job very well and don’t need to make it work better. And there is also no competition! ”
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