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GTFM - a community radio success story

A new survey shows that Pontypridd's community radio station is the most popular: and they've got here by being old-fashioned

We rarely hear community radio success stories: because they don't appear in the RAJAR figures, by and large. We hear about some community radio stations that have shut down for financial reasons; and discussion areas are full of disappointment about others, where the output appears self-indulgent and sub-par. So much negative - and very little positive.

So it's nice to hear about GTFM 107.9, the community radio station in Pontypridd (and the first community radio licensee in Wales, no less): who have, it seems, a good story to tell.

Media students from Coleg Morgannwg and The University of South Wales, under the instruction of Jon Matthews at "Funding Eye", a Welsh research and funding advice company based in Llandrindod Wells, undertook an audience survey for the station - interviewing 374 adults face-to-face, and weighted for the entire population.

The results of this research? In Pontypridd itself, GTFM has an equivalent weekly reach of 41% - the closest competitor, BBC Radio 1, having a reach of around 25%. Across GTFM's whole broadcast area, the station enjoys around 26% weekly reach - sharing the top spot with BBC Radio 1, and significantly doing better than BBC Radio 2 and Real Radio Wales.

This isn't RAJAR - but the figures appear relatively robust. Whether the level is correct, the fact that the station achieved figures on a par with the BBC and Real is a considerable testament to the station.

Terry Mann, GTFM's Station Manager, was kind enough to respond to an email asking him for a little more information. He says:
If you are still shocked that a (mere?) 'community station' can somehow manage to 'beat' all the big stations (the audiences for which are pretty respectable and generally what you'd expect in our survey) you'll need to understand that our 'community of interest' has always been the local Valleys community at large and the disadvantaged people within it in particular, of which there are many. We are not 'niche' because that is not what's needed here.
More to the point, GTFM's founding Station Manager, Andrew Jones, set it up to sound like the original mid-1970's version of Swansea Sound, which at that time had 63% weekly reach (in its first full JICRAR survey in August 1975) so clearly wasn't getting a lot wrong!  And, as the guy who picked the first song ever broadcast on Swansea Sound on 30th September 1974 while a founding staff member, it wasn't especially difficult for me to carry on the tradition when I inherited the management of this excellent station in 2007.
So that's the 'secret' - it's live (for around 18 hours on the average weekday), it's local - with in-house local news bulletins on the hour all day, traffic and travel, whats ons, community messages (charity free ads) plus short interviews mostly about local issues/groups routinely included in weekday morning programmes, Oh - and it plays a mix of hits from the 60's to the current chart (like Radio 2) all day, with excellent specialist programmes at night. Sound familiar? It should, its a formula many listeners have never grown tired of, even though radio mostly has. But I'm not complaining, being the only 'local' station in the old fashioned sense of the word suits us just fine!
It's great to see radio doing well - and interesting to see that, by broadcasting a relatively old-fashioned format (and certainly one that radio consultants would baulk at) it's achieved so much. Worthwhile taking a listen?

James Cridland is the Managing Director of Media UK, and a radio futurologist: a consultant, writer and public speaker who concentrates on the effect that new platforms and technology are having on the radio business.
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Recommendations: 0
Andrew Jones

I set up GTFM in 1999 as a one off community radio project. Yes it was based on the original principles established by ILR in the early days especially the original Swansea Sound as set up by Colin Mason who was a pure genius in terms of creating radio as the theatre of the mind. Equally though the original RSL owed as much to the brilliant Tiger Bay Fm RSL in Butetown Cardiff in the late 90s which was set up by Linda Mitchell. Sadly it was only ever a one off but the best example of community radio I ever heard. I never set out to copy Swansea Sound in some anoraky type of way. I just intuitively knew the best principles to keep and bring up to date. The early years of GTFM were amazing peaking in the mid 00s. With my colleague Lesley Payne we established a local newsroom which at that time could rival any local station for coverage and editoriial quality. The care and attention to detail in the imaging and a playlist at the time that radio 2 would be proud of. Following the principles of Colin mason the station at that time sounded infinitely bigger than it was and am very proud of that achievement. These were the halcyon days of commercial radio in S E Wales with the mighty real radio in its prime and a new resurgence at red dragon. It was a hard slog back then but we punched well above our weight in an era of intense competition and achieved a reach in the order of 29%. Those really were great days before the rot set in at local commercial radio. Looking back its hard to believe that once upon a time the journey down the radio dial was an exciting experience

Recommendations: 0
Jock Leonard

How right you are! The final couple of lines could have been written by me – and have been many times in the past! Although I have no knowledge of your station, I have knocked up my health on similar projects and fully understand your point of view. Good luck!

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Credits: Photo GTFM