The other morning I was doing a bandscan on one of my radios – I do this surprisingly often, even when I don’t expect to find anything new, but it sometimes produces results. It did this week: at the bottom of the FM band I found a signal on 87.7fm playing music, and of a genre that I don’t expect to find at the end of the dial more usually associated with BBC Radios 2, 3 and 4.
I listened for a little longer and as the currently playing track ended, the song faded to silence. A few seconds later another track started playing. Different artist, similar genre. The gap felt like music playing from a CD or some other music library, and I immediately assumed I’d found someone’s micro FM transmitter they were using in their car. Sure enough, that track finished, followed by a short gap of silence, and then yet another song in the same genre began playing, just as though someone was listening on shuffle.
It was just before 9am and our road regularly fills with cars belonging to parents dropping their kids off at a nearby primary school. I left my radio tuned in, as much to see what songs they played next as to test my theory and see if the signal suddenly disappeared as a car drove away.
Well, that never happened.
At about 9am, suddenly there was a voice, and it was actually a radio station I’d found. They’d been having issues with their playout software and had resorted to CDs, and their internet stream was down but their FM signal was okay. I briefly considered that it might be a pirate, but it turned out not to be.
It was, they announced, Hastings Rock, which had got itself a restricted service licence (RSL) to broadcast locally on 87.7MHz for the month of May.
(The station still has the vibes of a pirate – but with a licence to broadcast. Just the mix of enthusiastic spirit and government regulation I seem to find comfort in!)
They’ve been on the air since 30 April. Since then, they’ve sorted out the gremlins: the web stream is apparently working, and the FM broadcast has been rock solid – if you’ll pardon the pun.
In the meantime I’ve seen plenty of advertising around town as well, so hopefully a fair few people have tuned in.
The shows I’ve listened to so far have been slick, with charming and enthusiastic DJs playing songs they seem to love, all based in the genre of rock music. It’s been a mix of eras and sub-divisions of that vast genre – stalwarts like Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, Status Quo and Metallica, but also Blur and Wolf Alice and Papa Roach and Frank Zappa.
It is enjoyable, unpretentious stuff, and the mix is varied but reliable enough to leave the station on in the background occasionally hearing old favourites, while at other times something prick up your ears enough to warrant looking up what’s playing. (I’d initially been doing this using the usually-reliable Google search widget, but the station’s website seems to be consistently displaying the Now Playing track).
From my brief reading of it, Hastings Rock seems to have a long pedigree going back thirty years or so. I’m not sure if they’ve held an RSL every year in recent times or if this year’s is a return to the airwaves after a period away. I’m not even sure yet if the internet-only stream runs outside of the month of May.
Either way, the hosts sound delighted to be playing the music they love, and the jingles and ads are charmingly local, quaint, yet well-produced: “Witcombe Building Surveyors – we’ll tell you if the building you want to buy is as solid as a rawwwwk!!“. And those ads for a local seaside ice cream and snack food shop – they sell Hastings Rock t-shirts, as well as sticks of Hastings rock, of course! – are getting through to me already. I must pay them a visit this weekend.
The opportunity to bathe in the output of a genre-based station is something I love to do from time to time. And the joy of hyper-local radio is a rare thrill in these days of more centralised ‘local’ stations and synchronised output. It’s great to hear local voices talking about local events. And the music has been almost universally my cup of tea.
I’ll be listening as often as I can for the rest of this month.