I listen to the radio a lot. Back in the day, the BBC controlled the airwaves, with only conservative, middle-of-the-road offerings and hardly any pop music. Unthinkable now, but this was only really questioned when ordinary people began to get their hands on broadcasting kit and pirate radio hit the air in the late 1960s.

The role models were US stations, which had a more diverse selection from DJs with outrageous personalities. Music industry people brought this excitement across the Atlantic, and the new poptastic career of the radio DJ took off. Fame brought adoring teenage fans to a pretty much an all-male line-up, with DJs like Tony Blackburn, John Peel and – God help us – Jimmy Saville.

Radio Hallam sprang up as Sheffield’s first commercial station in 1974, fully-formed and gleeful in its pursuit of the mainstream pop market. Wikipedia claims that in 1985 its broadcast area increased to all of South Yorkshire, but its coverage always went from Doncaster to North Derbyshire, if patchy in places.

The first Sheffield DJs had nicknames like Keith Skues, ‘Cardboard Shoes’. I remember a rambling documentary made for radio around 1980, which I’d love to hear again. It was all about the early DJs, veterans in the business by then, having seen UK local radio begin. It was a retrospective of their broadcasting careers. A vanity project really, made by colleagues celebrating various careers, catchphrases and infamous incidents, with a breathless ‘little did he know he’d be famous’ excitement.

Some Sheffield DJs had a catchphrase dropped into their conversations: “It doesn’t make you a bad person.” At the time this seemed a trivial jest about ‘naughty’ pleasures. With hindsight, it raises questions over what ethical limits some of them were dealing with, or in some cases transgressing.

The descendants of these DJs still provide pop music and celebrity gossip across the dial, but since the 2003 Communications Act deregulated independent local radio, most stations have become neither independent nor locally-run. Even so, the format remains the same: DJs playing chart toppers, factoid-sized news bulletins and tediously cheesy adverts.

But it’s not the same everywhere. LBC (London Broadcasting Company), the UK’s oldest commercial radio station, offers quality phone-ins and interviews with public figures. It’s good, but the claim to be ‘leading Britain’s conversation’ is a bit London-centric and overblown, because back here in the Shires few people listen to it.

Instead we’ve got BBC Radio Sheffield, originally run from tranquil Broomhill, now in its current home near the train station. It has always seemed to be most popular with older people. And there’s Sheffield Live. This is a newer community station run with the involvement of people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities. It offers a mixture of music and talk in various community languages.

Based on occasional listening over the years, it broadcasts according to schedule for about three-quarters of the time. When they fail, it’s because the programmes are made entirely by volunteers. Illness, religious festivals and other life events can get in the way, but they commit to a long-term volunteer project, including a lot of preparation time, as well as time on air.

Certain slots, especially overnight, are filled with an automated system. This plays music selections which seem random at first, but they’re actually quite well chosen miscellany if you like surprises. Some of them are really good tracks.

A deal in recent years enabled access to BBC help and funding with its news and current affairs coverage, in return for Aunty Beeb having first dibs on all recordings. Then last year the Local News Partnership integrated the BBC further into the ‘local news industry’, with an £8m long-term project providing 150 journalists to report on councils and local news. The aim is co-creating material for use online in a caring, sharing way. Sheffield Live’s developing TV channel is one of those being helped. So is Johnston Press, publisher of our local papers. Whether this feels like media control and centralisation, or a boost to democracy and local independent journalism, is a discussion for another time.

It’s worth tuning in to Sheffield Live if you like radio. Alongside a true diversity of music, its speech output in English includes live science discussion, the most lively and honest film review programmes you’ll ever hear, Jade Knox’s personal take on conspiracy theories and the unexplained, and, of course, local community news.

I really recommend Sheffield Live as an authentic antidote to the scripted and polished performances of the professionals. The real beauty is that it is created every day by the people of our city – and you could be one of them, if you like.

sheffieldlive.org
alt-sheff.org

Art: Geo Law


EVENTS

Land Justice Network National Gathering
Sat 18 Aug | 12pm | Heeley City Farm
Meet a network of individuals and groups pressing to change the way land is owned, used, distributed and controlled. This gathering will hear how the campaign’s going and plan more actions. Followed by an optional Sunday Peak District walk to meet people affected by recent moorland fires, connected to mismanagement of the moors for grouse shooting. Link

UK Society for Co-operative Studies 51st Annual Research Conference
31 Aug – 2 Sep | Sheffield Business School
The AGM for the UK co-op studies movement comes to Sheffield this year, with an event entitled ‘Diversity in Co-operation: People, Place, and Organisations’. Themes include co-operative politics, history, education, co-operation in public service, sustainable development, and new approaches in co-operation. Link

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