A tune around the South Hams waves
As a former local radio presenter and journalist, I thought it would be interesting to tune into the local radio from here. Today, the only station broadcasting FM in the South Hams is Totnes-based community station Soundart Radio, which offers an eclectic range of music and talk well suited to its home town. It is described as a place for listening, playing and experimenting and is produced by a group of volunteers. Soundart can be heard on 102.5 MHz FM. It started in 2006 as a student station founded by two Dartington College of Arts graduates and was granted a full-time broadcast license from a transmitter at Dartington Hall in 2009.
One station which is unfortunately no longer is South Hams Radio which had its studios at South Hams Business Park in Churchstow. It broadcast between 1999 and 2009 on a number of FM frequencies and presenters included big names from the area such as David Fitzgerald and Ian Calvert. It became Heart owned by the country’s largest radio group, Global, and after local programs were phased out, broadcast from Leicester Square in London and a regional broadcast from Bristol.
Palm 105.5 is another local station that has sadly disappeared and could be heard across much of the South Hams. The Torquay-based station began broadcasting full-time in 2005 and was founded by the flamboyant former DevonAir presenter, the late CJ Munroe. Celador took it over in 2014 renaming it The Breeze (South Devon) 2015 then was sold to Britain’s second largest radio group Bauer, rebranded again as Greatest Hits Radio South West in 2020. Part of the former Palm area 105.5 is now served by community station Riviera FM on 107.9 MHz which began with test broadcasts in 2009 and became full-time in 2020.
It’s hard to keep track of online radio stations that tend to come and go after a very short time, but one that has stood the test of time is South Devon Sound which you can find via southdevonsound.co. uk Most Internet stations have their server, which broadcasts the programs, in one place but with the presenters feeding their broadcasts remotely, often from bedrooms or storage rooms…
Parts of the South Hams were able to connect to larger stations in Plymouth, Exeter and Torbay. The first of the blocks was Plymouth Sound, based in a former organ factory in Earl’s Acre near Alma Road, it was one of the pioneering independent local radio stations from 1975 and run by the legendary David Bassett. At first, you could find everything from phone calls to specialized music programs. It was taken over by GWR which became GCap while Global was also rebranded as Heart in 2009, coming first from Plymouth then Exeter and now London with Bristol’s Drivetime. AM frequency 1152 now carries Smooth Devon.
Meanwhile Exeter and Torbay had the first DevonAir radio from studios in St David’s Hill Exeter and overlooking Torquay Harbor between 1980 and 1994. DevonAir lost its franchise and the frequencies were taken over by Gemini FM between 2005 and 2008 which , in a familiar pattern, was taken over by GWR which became GCap then sold to Global becoming Heart Devon then taking on national programs with a Bristol regional Drivetime Show. AM frequencies 666 and 954 carried Gold AM for a time before being deactivated in 2009.
Two other outlying stations were Radio Plymouth which was launched by shareholder and TV star Philip Schofield in 2010, followed by program manager Tim Manns (now with BBC Radio Devon). His studios were tucked away in Crescent Avenue Mews, a short walk from The Hoe. The station was sold to Bauer and became Greatest Hits Radio Plymouth in 2020. The other still operating is Exeter’s Radio Exe. It started as Exeter FM in 2008 and was taken over by Exe Broadcasting Ltd. It was renamed Radio Exe in 2012. Radio Exe is 100% locally owned and the program manager is Ashley Jeary. The station also serves around 70% of Devon on DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting) and the station owns ExeDAB, a new multiplex for the town due to launch soon.
We’ve looked at commercial, community and online digital stations, but of course we can’t omit BBC Radio Devon. One of 40 local BBC radio stations, it was launched in 1983 as a replacement for BBC Radio 4’s regional program Morning Sou’West. BBC Radio Cornwall across the Tamar started on the same day (17 January) as well as BBC Breakfast TV!
Most of the programming comes from the House in Plymouth’s Mannamead broadcast, which it shares with BBC Spotlight and online. Plymouth Marjon University has a Journalism Center on site.
There have been many changes to local radio in and around the South Hams, the most significant of which is the loss of proximity to national brands. Heart, Greatest Hits Radio and Smooth may carry regional news and local advertisements, but the programs themselves originate from London. I believe the future of truly local radio lies with community and digital stations, but while they provide the local character, you don’t always find the professionalism that was found on the local stations of yore. That said, they are sometimes home to the great voices of the past and the promising talents of the future and even in the face of streaming platforms, the video has yet to kill the radio star…
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