Play it again, Hamish

Loch Broom FM may be Britain's smallest radio station, but it inspires huge affection among its growing audience around Ullapool. It must be something to do with the Mac Archers and the midges. By Ken Stephinson

The Argyle Hotel is situated just over a hundred yards from Loch Broom FM. This information may not seem important but if you are a local DJ and have been on the air for three hours it is vital. You see the Argyle Hotel has toilets - Loch Broom FM has not; yes, Britain's smallest radio station is that small. Having said that, this tiny tin shed perched on the banks of Loch Broom (local wags call it the Broom Cupboard) is making waves in the radio world. On the air for only four months and with a transmission radius of just 20 miles, it has already established an 80 per cent share of the potential 4,500 audience in the area. Broadcasting from Ullapool, 60 miles north of Inverness, it sends out an eclectic range of programmes that are pitched to the heart of local radio and are very much by the people, for the people.

All the staff are volunteers with day jobs. They get no wages from Loch Broom FM. There are those who believe that to work here you have to be dedicated - and slightly mad. Most of the presenters I spoke to agreed to being both.

The day kicks off with "The Morning Show" hosted by Morag Anna McCloud (a press officer for the Gaelic Association) and Andy Mitchell (a radio mast engineer) and is a mix of music and chat with guests sometimes dragged in off the street to explain what they are doing in Ullapool. It is a kind of "Richard and Judy" with one very different ingredient - the midge. This small winged insect is taken seriously on this programme and with good reason. At the height of the summer there are thousands of them - all hungry for blood. Any aspiring young Hitchcock could film a re-make of The Birds' here with these little characters taking over the title role. To this effect "The Morning Show" transmits a regular midge report based on the exact science of looking out of the window and saying, "Aye, I think it will be a six today, maybe even rising to a seven." The top of the scale being a 10 when everyone is advised to stay indoors. The other reason they do this might just have something to do with the fact that they transmit adverts for an insect repellent throughout the programme.

After this comes Raymond Ross (the owner of a local ferry company), who hosts "Mission: Impossible", whose signature tune is - yes, you've guessed; he calls his show this because he says it is a mission impossible to please everyone in his audience. You begin to understand how difficult this is when he tells you that part of his mission is to find interesting, humorous guests passing through Ullapool. But Raymond is a very enterprising lad, quite good with accents and sometimes he, should we say, improvises, so you might hear him talking to a very interesting French man who is fond of the local ladies, yet walk past the studio window and you would swear he was in there by himself.

Another show is "Classic Rock" from Alan Downey (a local fisherman and old rocker) playing all the legendary greats. While we were there a particular Elvis track was requested that was not in the Loch Broom library but within half an hour a fan had brought it round on his bike. It is that kind of station.

At the other end of the musical scale is Kenneth McDonald (an accountant), with long hair and piercing blue eyes, known to all as Dulcie. He plays music for the young and laid-back - "where you're coming from". He doubles as a disco DJ and daily drags his own gear into the tiny Loch Broom studio to create what he calls the Techno sound.

And then there is Hamish doing the fiddles and accordion show - having to explain to a young lady who has requested "Play Misty for Me" how difficult this would be on a fiddles and accordion programme. The authenticity of this show, however, has to be considered alongside the knowledge that Raymond Ross of "Mission: Impossible" is a frequent guest on Hamish's show.

One of the most popular programmes is the daily soap. An everyday story of Highland folk, known affectionately as the Mac Archers. All the cast come from the local drama group and do a remarkably good job. The story lines are written by the station's manager, Steve Boyle (radio engineer), who with Andy Mitchell decided to set up Loch Broom FM back in 1993 with the idea that apart from the locals there was a potential audience from the fishing fleets that operate in the area. In 1995 they were granted a three-month temporary commercial radio licence, followed by another two-month licence in 1996, and then a full eight-year licence came into operation at the end of May this year. Ironically, the fishing fleets that used to be operational for eight months of the year in 1993 have since dwindled to a two-month operation, while the land-based audience has shot up to its 80 per cent share, taking on all five BBC radio channels in the transmission area.

The original funding of pounds 45,000 came from the Scottish Arts Council Lottery fund, pounds 65,000 from European Regional Development and pounds 32,000 from local enterprise. This was followed by pounds 9,500 from Virgin Radio for the purchase of additional equipment, which came about when the chief executive of Virgin Radio, David Campbell, was on honeymoon in the area, heard of their needs and offered help.

Loch Broom broadcasts daily from 7am to 9am and from 5pm to 11pm, with Virgin Radio filling in in between. It has established itself at the heart of this community and is an idea that might well work in other rural areas - but where would you find another Hamish, Morag, Dulcie, Andy, Raymond ... and the Mac Archers?n

The writer is the producer of `Here and Now'.

Loch Broom FM will be part of the new series of `Here and Now' which begins today, 7.30pm, BBC1.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Recruitment Genius: 3D CAD Designer - Exhibition Stands

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Rapid growth has seen a number ...

Guru Careers: Graduate Software Developer / Junior Developer

£20 - 28k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Graduate Software Develop...

Recruitment Genius: Delegate Telesales Executive - OTE £21,000 uncapped

£16000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: High quality, dedicated Delegat...

Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

£35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor