PIPPA SAWYER – DIRECTOR, WYCOMBE SOUND

Pippa is an unpaid director of Wycombe Community Radio CIC and just loves it.

What is your role? I am one of the founders of station and so have done a bit of everything particularly in the early days: getting the team together, getting the on-air schedule organised, sorting out what programmes were needed with which presenters and at what time of day. Everything revolved around the audience – “the listener is king”.

Now it is more about the day to day running of the station and moving the station forwards. Later this year it will change again and will be more about the content, the programme and sales to some extent, getting partners on board, developing commercial revenue streams. Less about recruitment of volunteers, which I’ll pass on to colleagues.

How much time do you devote to the role? I spend about 40 hours per week (I get paid for maybe a couple of hours per week as a result of grants here and there). I present the breakfast show each weekday so get in at 6.30 am and stay until 2 pm then get home and to start on emails and administration. The Radio Station is my absolute passion – I love it and cannot switch off from it.

Sometimes I also spend time at the weekend with the outside broadcast team at an event such as the Amersham Festival. Outside broadcasts are not very frequent as they are a very big undertaking. However, they are worthwhile as they bring the event in question to those people who can’t be there, through the airwaves. This is what makes Wycombe Sound different to the “big boys” like the BBC. The focus is very local.

What got you into it? I was made redundant from my previous job in the property sector. I took time to think about what I’d done over my career and what I’d enjoyed/not enjoyed. I kept coming back to my first proper job which was with Sony which took me into lots of TV studios and thought I’d like to retrain to do something in TV. While I was looking for training to help me do that, I stumbled upon a radio production course which was free as it was organised by a “women in radio” charity. I did that course and quickly found that I had a knack for it. I went on to get a role at the Asian Star radio station in Slough. After another time-out for non-work reasons, I went from there to Radio Christmas at Amersham, where I met someone from Wycombe Hospital Radio who invited me to meet the team there (including Chris and Keith).

It was the three of us who got together to form Wycombe Sound following the withdrawal of the bedside units from patients in Wycombe Hospital, meaning that they could not tune into the hospital radio any longer. We set up a not-for-profit company to form Wycombe Sound.  We ran several “pop-ups” before getting full licence in 2016 – finally fully launching in October of that year. Each licence lasts for five years but we hope it will be renewed automatically provided we keep broadcasting successfully.

What difference does this role make to you? Money can’t buy happiness at work. I’ve had jobs where I’ve been quite well paid. Here I get expenses and the odd bit of commission – the bulk of what I do here at Wycombe Sound is voluntary, but doing what I do here I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. You get rewards in such unusual ways. For example, the station has recently had a lady playing medieval music on a medieval instrument – where else could you experience that? All sorts of fascinating people come in and out but the thing that’s surprised me most is working with the young people with learning disabilities and seeing how they blossom and how their confidence grows even developing to the extent that they have their own radio shows. These are the sorts of thing that come as a complete bonus – a surprise and a delight that I’d not imagined when I first set out to help start a radio station.

How do you gauge success of any given programme? We can track numbers of people listening through the internet/ through their phones. It is impossible to tell how many people are listening through FM but the online numbers show trends. We can also see social media hits and the public interactions within the different programmes. We also put out a survey via Facebook. The indication is that we reach about 80,000 people per week and are very happy with those indicative numbers.

What has been your biggest challenge? Keeping the money coming in. It took longer than planned to build audience numbers as we had no money to promote the station. We don’t go in for “shake the tin” type of fundraising. It is getting better as advertising revenue grows.

Would you have a message for to other potential volunteers/trustees: The short answer: just do it! My longer answer is that if you have any transferable skill (and we all do) look at all the little organisations that are around and find the charity that you have a connection with and go to them. Everybody has a skill that is useful to a charity or a not-for-profit and giving that skill in a voluntary capacity will give you a warm fuzzy feeling. You make new friends and you may discover a passion, you’re doing good, you’re giving back to society – I could go on and on……

One special volunteer story: We have a real mix of volunteers from experienced broadcasters and radio engineers to people with no previous radio experience at all. One of the these was a driving instructor who got in touch saying that as he knew all the local roads due to his job, he’d like to help put together the traffic and travel bulletin in Drive time for commuters. He said he did not want to go on air, just help with the preparation. He came into the studio and within 48 hours he was live on air presenting the bulletins. He went on to develop a whole new persona on Facebook and Twitter too, with followers including the Police, Fire Brigade and Transport for Bucks. Aside from talking about the  traffic jams, if it was tipping down with rain or very icy, as a driving instructor, he would be able to give extra advice to drivers on how to be safe. The traffic bulletins were jam-packed full of information. He progressed from presenting the traffic news to do live interviews and now has his own Tuesday afternoon programme and has a range of special areas of interest for features. He has become as key part of the team – particularly with outside broadcasts. It just goes to show – you never where that one initial phone call from a potential volunteer might lead!

For more information about Wycombe Sound please see its website, which includes contact details if you’d like to volunteer.

 

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