What do Skye, Leith, Dunoon, Galashiels, Ullapool, Pitlochry, Oban, Fort William, East Lothian, Midlothian and West Lothian all have in common?
Well, the answer is that they all benefit from their very own community radio stations.
No, hang on a moment. West Lothian doesn’t.
In the past weeks I’ve been interviewed on community radio stations around Scotland, including Leith FM, L107 FM in Hamilton, and Haddington-based East Coast FM where a couple of my mates from The Red Hot Chilli Pipers have a Tuesday night slot.
It was great. Listeners were phoning and texting; emails were coming in from those listening online around the globe – and in Fife. There was local news and comment, while small-business advertisers and sponsors gleefully supported the shows. Local current affairs were discussed and listeners made aware of issues that would affect them.
Leith FM pulls in dozens of interviews with major celebrities and personalities. Politicians, authors, rock stars, actors are all desperate to get on air. And community radio meets their needs.
Next week I’m on Heartland FM – which is run from Pitlochry – and I get to plug my forthcoming show at the local theatre there.
Despite being run on a shoestring without managers, directors, company cars, OB vans, inflated salaries or shareholders these little stations work hard at putting heart into their communities. Local schools, colleges, organisations and businesses all have input; they have made the stations their own. They are in the studios giving interviews, offering advice, promoting their services and attracting increasing numbers of listeners.
But in thriving, business-savvy, up-and-coming West Lothian… nothing. I think that’s a disgrace.
We have the technology. We have the will. We have the talent. What we do not have is the radio station. With a population and towns the size we do, along with get-up-and-go businesses to sponsor it, we can’t even muster the enthusiasm to start a community radio station; something that areas a fraction of our size have managed.
Now, get this: local authority population projections demonstrate that the number of residents in West Lothian will rise by 22% in the period to 2031. This compares to 5% in the rest of Scotland. The projected growth in the county over the next five years will require an additional 16,000 houses. Put another way, we are outgrowing and outperforming those around us.
Compare this with Ullapool or Pitlochry. Yet they have their own great little community radio stations.
When it comes to something as personal and beneficial as local community radio, West Lothian is a black hole of silence on the airwaves.
Shame on us.