Radio Free Purbeck… and not a pirate in sight!

The team at Purbeck Coast FM line up on Swanage Pier

‘What I envisage for Purbeck Coast FM is that someone can get into a taxi in Swanage or drop in to a café for a cup of tea and we’ll be on the radio.’

Radio Station Manager Michelle Langthorne has only been in the job since June, but she arrived with a clear idea of what success will look like now that Purbeck Coast FM is on-air and broadcasting all day every day.

‘Everything I do is geared towards that vision, but for now I’ll be happy if we get to six months in and we’re still on the air and everything feels like home.’

The origins of Purbeck’s first community radio station go back at least twenty years to an earlier station broadcasting under a temporary Restricted Service Licence over the course of the summer months. Like many such not-for-profit RSL stations it was unable to convert its temporary set up into a more permanent licence, but it did establish a base to work from that included enthusiastic contributors and, crucially, a listenership.

By 2014 with the regeneration of the pier underway, Swanage Pier Trust identified a community radio project as a means of further involving the public to secure a sustainable future for the redevelopment. Run by Swanage Pier Trust with its own management committee, but funded independently and with a National Lottery grant that equipped its two broadcast studios above the café on Swanage Pier, the largely volunteer-run Purbeck Coast FM is now a reality.

Although it streams online at and can be heard wherever there’s an internet connection, its focus is on its FM broadcast area – Swanage, Langton and Worth, Studland, Kingston, Harman’s Cross and Corfe Castle. On a good day Sandbanks and parts of Poole are in reach. 

But not Wareham…

‘It’s topography I’m afraid,’ says Michelle. ‘Those beautiful Purbeck hills get in the way. I now live in Purbeck and have known it most of my life, but I’m not from Purbeck. However, I’ve heard all the arguments about Wareham not really being in Purbeck and I’m determined we won’t get into that because I would love to be broadcasting to Wareham on FM, but for now we’re not able to. It’s because of rock, but not that rock…’

The station’s 70/30 ratio of music to speech is broadly designed to cover the sounds of the 1970s to the 2000s, but with enough flexibility to cover more contemporary music as well as a broad spectrum of specialist music shows. Essentially, if there’s an audience it’ll get a chance.

All the presenters are volunteers and many have been involved in since the first community radio projects. Some, like Swanage accountant David Hollister, who presents the Drivetime show from 5.00, are familiar figures; others such as Karen Grant and Steve Zodiac, the double act who have a weekly show on Mondays from 11.00, less so.

‘But I think that will change, they are so funny on air,’ says Michelle. ‘They just click when the get in the studio. Karen is a professional singer who is very involved in the Swanage Bandstand project and Steve loves broadcasting and has quite a lot of experience of community radio.’

Elsewhere, listeners will find three days a week breakfast show presenter Frankie Rae, a part-time taxi driver and veteran DJ at large in Swanage. He fell in love with radio during the heyday of Caroline and the pirate ships, but this is his first time on air. He’s also presenting the station’s Soul music show.

‘I’d love to get some more younger volunteers,’ says Michelle. ‘Everyone is welcome here – when we say ‘community’ radio, we mean it. I believe Dorset generally is pretty poorly served by radio. The BBC does a breakfast show from Dorchester on Solent but not a great deal else; and the increasing homogenisation of the commercial stations means there’s precious little local content.

‘To truly reflect our community we need to involve people from as much of it as possible – so there’ll be room for farming, fishing, sailing, diving, village fetes, festivals and events of all kinds as well as strong local news content. We have a volunteer who is ex-BBC and happy to go out with a recorder and make short documentaries and items of local interest. If it’s going on we want it on air.’

Steve Zodiac and Karen Grant at the mic

As with any such endeavour nothing happens without funding, as Michelle is acutely aware. She trained in media production and worked in radio journalism, including a stint on BBC Radio 4’s consumer show You and Yours, before working in the financial sector. For the last thirteen years she has run her own business.

“Obviously we have to be run along commercial lines, but rather than produce radio adverts that I believe listeners find irritating and get in the way of the broadcast, we have sought sponsorship for shows from local businesses and organisations. I think it makes for better radio and is more comfortable to listen to.

‘When we surveyed local residents we found about 70 per cent said they would listen to a Swanage radio station. Some of those surveys were a while ago so we’ve been working hard to remind people we’re here, especially now that we’re up and running. I want us to be very visible in the community – if people know about us they’ll find us and hopefully stick with us.’

Perhaps inevitably there are more ideas than there is time to realise them; and more plans than can reasonably enacted. Podcasts, online catch up shows, participation and learning opportunities, even a recognised qualification in radio production, are all viewed as achievable ambitions for the station. 

‘There’s such a lot of energy and enthusiasm coming from the volunteers and the management of the station and I want to harness that because if we get it right it will translate to our broadcast output and that’s what engages listeners and keeps them coming back.

‘This station is a way for people to connect with the area and each other. It can be lots of things to lots of different people. On one level it can help counter isolation, which is a very real problem, but on another it should become an information hub for the community, something people can just enjoy listening to, food for thought perhaps.’

• First published by Dorset Life – The Dorset Magazine

2 thoughts on “Radio Free Purbeck… and not a pirate in sight!

  1. Bill Caselton says:

    I was a presenter on Purbeck Summertime Radio and later Purbeck FM.

    Great memories I sill have tapes of my programme which was essentially jazz and swing and chat

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