In the early 1980’s the Radio Authority started to issue a 28 day radio licence called a Restricted Service Licence (RSL). Designed to operate over a small area, typically about two to three miles, they were initially intended as event licences, but soon became a way for groups who wanted a full-time licence to test the waters. Very soon other groups, who were simply interested in running a radio station for a short period of time, started to use the RSL as a way to fulfil their ambitions.
In 1989, an organisation known as Christmas Cracker was set up on behalf of Christian charities Tearfund and the Oasis Trust to inform and educate people about the poverty and suffering of those living in Third World countries. One of their fundraising ideas was a chain of radio stations running for the 28 days leading up to Christmas 1991.
In Hastings, a group from one of the local churches decided to try and get a local Radio Cracker going and approached local firm Sound Broadcast Services (SBS), who built FM transmission equipment. I was working for SBS, in fact it was down to me that SBS moved from London to Hastings after the company's owner came down for my wedding and liked the place so much he relocated here – I swapped a three hour (each way) commute for a ten minute walk and the concentration of radio expertise in Hastings started.
SBS agreed to help and myself and some other people working for the company did shows on Hastings' first legal short-term radio station. The studios were in the former public toilets(!), then betting shop, on the side of the Town Hall. It was certainly a cosy place from which to broadcast! The following year we did it again, this time from an empty shop in Queen's Road, with myself as Station Manager.
Also in that year, Mark Briggs (later to become MD of Arrow FM) and Matthew Wheeler ran the first of several local RSLs under the Hastings Local Radio (HLR) and Splash banners. Gathering together some of the people from the Cracker stations and finding more in what was becoming a hotbed of radio talent, HLR/Splash was a trial run for what would become Arrow FM.
Nick Apps who had been involved in pirate stations in the Eastbourne and Hawkhurst areas had done a rock show on Radio Cracker and he was determined that Hastings should have a rock radio station. Nick put some petition forms around the (then numerous) record shops in the town and was impressed with the response he got. The usual suspects were gathered together and in 1993 the first Hastings Rock was broadcast from the Cinque Ports Hotel, on Bohemia Road (now the Travelodge).
Hastings Rock has been a regular fixture on the dial over the past 21 years with a four-year break from 1995 to 1999, when they applied for the full time licence that eventually went to Arrow. The station has gone from strength to strength and has a large and very loyal following, not to mention its raising of many thousands of pounds for Macmillan Cancer Support and latterly St Michael's Hospice.
In 2012 a new station appeared locally in the form of Carnival FM. The brainchild of ex-Arrow journalist Jo Flay and myself, the station broadcast from the Jenny Lind pub in the High Street. Carnival FM has just finished its third broadcast and has become a fixture and well know for its innovative use of Social Media in support of broadcasts, with over 1300 'Likes' on Facebook.
Carnival FM is firmly rooted in Hastings Old Town and its 'drop-in' policy at the studio means that it's had some interesting and entertaining guests. This year it also had a two hour show hosted by TV and radio personality and 'Grumpy Old Men' author David Quantick, who is a Hastings resident. One of the stand-out programmes on Carnival FM is Andy Gunton's Local Music Show, which features live studio session’s every weekday. These are also filmed and available on YouTube almost immediately after the broadcast.
2014 saw the latest newcomer to the Hastings dial in the form of Respond Radio. Run from the Respond Academy in St Leonards – a youth training scheme specialising in working with excluded and difficult-to-reach young people through art and media. Respond, under the guiding hand of Pablo and Jc McFee, has been running radio training courses for several years, but decided this year to 'go-live' and broadcast for nine days. A mixture of pre-recorded music sessions and shows presented by Respond Academy students was a great success.
So radio in Hastings is very much alive. What might the future bring? You'll be sure to hear about it in The Stinger first!