“Good morning on this beautiful sunny day! You’re listening to Handbags and Gladrags with Heather Dawn on WCR 105.5FM”
In front of a bank of switches, CD players, hard drives to her left, screens to her upper front, left and right, Heather Dawn sits like an air traffic controller, deftly orchestrating her programs at the Warminster Community Radio station studios in the heart of England.
WCR is one of over 200 radio stations that exists today in the United Kingdom, since OFCOM, the British regulatory body, started issuing community radio licenses in 2004. WCR has existed since 1996 when it was originally set up as a local hospital radio station with a Restricted Service License, which only allowed the station to broadcast a few hours a week. Changes in licensing laws, for which the radio station fought hard, finally came into effect in 2012. Today they broadcast to the local community of about 20,000 listeners in a 5-10 mile radius, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They also have an ever-growing international audience listening via the internet, reaching as far as the United States and Australia.
In an era when radio may be considered passé by some, especially with the advent of podcasts, streaming services, as well as regular TV, the Covid-19 pandemic impressed on everyone the value of the local radio service which was able to provide very targeted and vital information. For many people, especially those who went through lock-down alone, it was often one of their few connections with their own town.
Heather Dawn is one of over fifty volunteer broadcasters who provide the station’s programming, that covers everything from pop, country, jazz, rock and roll music, local news and weather. It even includes a 3-hour program every Saturday evening called “Teen Scene,” with music, chat and information provided by teen broadcasters Jamie, Izzy and Oliver.
Retiring from a long and satisfying career in banking, Heather Dawn was invited one day to the studios by a friend who was a broadcaster. A casual visit, led to helping in the studio and then to enrolling in a broadcasting course provided by the radio station for free. Free however does not mean easy. It is a 15-week course encompassing regulatory requirements and restrictions, studio use, recording, editing, programing, presentation and broadcasting skills. Once certified, Heather Dawn started her first one-hour weekly show, with mentorship by a colleague, the Assistant Station Manager Lindsey Smith.
Today, nearly two years after her debut, Heather Dawn is now a regular presenter with two weekly two-hour shows. On Fridays she does Handbags and Gladrags where she plays upbeat music to usher in the weekend and her latest show on Wednesdays, “Diamonds and Pearls,” which features a wide variety of popular music with fascinating art facts and news in between.
WCR is based in what used to be public toilets, however today they are spruced up, smell pleasant and offer three well equipped studios, where in addition to the community radio service, they can also provide recording facilities, voice-overs and commercials to the public as well as broadcasting services at special events such as the Warminster Garrison, Health, Sports and Wellbeing Summer Fair, where they will play music and make announcements for the military families and local civilians who will be attending the fun day.
All the volunteers who help make WCR thrive every day of the year are an important part of creating the spirit of community in these difficult times. We raise our glasses and salute you. G&S