A few years ago, the comedy show Naked Video featured a fictional ultra-local TV service. The Outer Hebrides Broadcasting Corporation was the work of Gregor Fisher, who also created the sterotypical Scotsman Rab C Nesbitt. All jolly stuff.
And jolly is certainly one way to describe the Sunday morning show on Two Lochs Radio, arguably the UK’s smallest radio station. Based in Gairloch, on Scotland’s north west coast, this community run station is a joy to listen to – far removed from the big corporate stations that seem to dominate the dial elsewhere. It’s potential audience, at least locally, is just over 1,600 people. But husband and wife Ron and Lennie read our text messages and emails from North Wales, Liverpool and various parts of the Western Isles – suggesting that a good number of people are tuning in online.
“I have an announcement to make,” says Lennie, in a rather serious sounding voice. Perhaps a local event has been cancelled because of the unseasonal harsh weather – snow on the hills and mist and rain elsewhere? Maybe an emergency message about a stranded walker?
“I’ve been working on the Guardian cryptic crossword since yesterday morning, and I still can’t get one down.” Lennie then reads out the clue and the letters she has so far. And within fifteen minutes, somebody has called in with the answer.
Of course, some may view this as stereotypical community radio. A bunch of well meaning volunteers broadcasting to a tiny audience that nobody cares about. Hobbyists. Or amateurs. And everyone in the industry knows that they’re just “playing at radio” – right?
Well, wrong, actually – because there’s nothing amateurish about this very personal style of presentation. Some community stations simply try and clone the sound of their old local ILR outfit – recreating a golden era that never really existed. Every link mentions the name of the radio station, because “that’s how you’re supposed to do it.” But Two Lochs takes a very different approach. Ron and Lennie don’t go for a commercial sounding show. It’s just them, interweaving conversation with a playlist featuring traditional Scottish folk music and Kings of Leon.
There’s public service too. Instead of a detailed weather forecast, Ron runs through the general conditions on the hills – even making reference to the fact that the official website containing the mountain forecast can be “rather difficult” to navigate. “You’re probably best just cancelling things for today, looking at this. Tuesday looks quite a bit nicer.”
Two Lochs runs an ambitious schedule, pledging to produce at least 30 hours per week of its own programming – and carrying sustaining services such as Smooth or Magic at other times. There’s local news on weekday breakfast, a significant amount of Gaelic programming, and a number of shows from other parts of the area, such as Portree on the Isle of Skye. All of which is operated entirely on a not for profit basis by a team of volunteers.
Gairloch’s a magical part of the world, with a stunning sandy beach and a coastline that stays in your memory forever. And Two Lochs reflects the tranquil, close knit nature of the place. Small? Certainly. Unimportant? Not at all.