Julia Bright tells the story of popular community Riverside Radio, which has become a vital part of life in south west London.

Riverside Radio is an award-winning digital community radio station covering the boroughs of Lambeth, Wandsworth, Richmond and Merton. Launched in 2015, it has broadcast continually – first as Wandsworth Radio – even in Covid-times. Its most recent award was winning the country’s best digital community station in 2020.

The latest news is the surprise move from a tight bunker-like business unit to sparkling, spacious premises, also in Battersea, courtesy of Wandsworth Council.

Available now on DAB radio and Smartphone, as well as the internet, Riverside Radio boasts more than 40,000 listeners per month, evidence of its high standards and attractive programmes, has 15,000 social media followers and clocks up 17,000 website views a month

A Voluntary Project

Riverside Radio is volunteer-led and run. But that hasn’t stopped its popularity as the go-to place to gain experience and credibility and to have fun.

The enthusiasm is infectious. There are now 200 volunteers – all ages, creeds and cultures, all shapes and sizes (if you want to go that far), testament to its inclusive ethos, management style and friendly folk.

Riverside Radio
Riverside Radio volunteer presenter Caroline Head

Some recruits have more to deal with in life than others such as Richard who is blind but unstoppable in his enthusiasm, hosting and producing his own light-hearted weekly show. Tech-savvy Micky was forced to shield at home throughout lockdown yet carried on with his weekly Eclectica music hour as well as painstakingly compiling seamless shows from the audio-clips sent to him to enable programmes to go out for, naturally, the studio was closed.

Riverside Radio Post-Covid

Running 24/7, with Covid-19 restrictions now eased, early-morning news readers are again at the studio at 5am. From 7am there is constant activity with drive-time, live news reports every hour, specialist shows, sports and arts slots, music from oldies to grime and the latest hits.

The standout show is probably Riverside Reports with an excellent news team, featuring live guests, on Friday, but there is something for everyone on Riverside Radio – shows for children, health addicts, music aficionados (all tastes), film buffs, events followers, some featuring local political or celebrity interviews and of course those who are part and parcel of their communities. I remember a local milkman interviewed at crack of dawn, Mick, the legendary fruit’n’veg stall holder in Balham, the 100-year old Poppy seller in Tooting, and any number of local charities.

Volunteers are trained in their chosen sphere of activity: news reading, presenting, reporting or behind-the-scenes in producing, editing or tech support roles. Younger recruits have their eye on a media career and a number have been taken on by broadcasters such as the BBC, and commercial radio. DIY skills are extremely useful as well, especially for the outside broadcasts when Riverside Radio is asked to organise live gigs at various local events. It’s a valuable way of earning much-needed revenue, supplementing the £5 monthly subscription by volunteers and advertising revenue.

Beginnings of Riverside Radio

Riverside Radio
Jason Rosam and Keith Flynn

So…..when and how did this unusual community station start? Step forward, founder and director, Jason Rosam who lives in Wandsworth. Jason, in his early 40s, hosts his own cheery early morning weekdays show on BBC London. He exudes warmth and humour – an engaging personality, in tune with his listeners. What possessed him to launch such a station?

The reason, he says, is an abiding passion for local radio – ever since he started out aged 14 on his own community radio station in Dorset where he grew up.

“There was a gap here in this corner of London” he says. “I wanted to give back to my own local community and help others interested in radio to get involved, learn skills and get broadcast experience, as well as celebrating the area.”

Jason’s energy and optimism is boundless. Helped by partner Keith Flynn, a city accountant who keeps the finances sorted, he is also supported by volunteers chosen for their ability to serve on the management committee. And two much-loved King Charles spaniels also help to keep him sane – and fit.

Having initially established interest in a local internet-based station, it was an 18-month haul to the launch in January 2015 in the battered but welcoming top floor of the charity Oasis, enabled by a £5,000 start-up grant from Wandsworth Council and £4,000 raised through crowd-funding. The next move was to a business unit in Battersea, and now, in stark comparison, a gleaming palace with windows galore.

The light and airy premises – two recording studios, large working studio, private room, meeting room seating 12, kitchen, storage room and umpteen toilets – was earmarked originally as a drugs rehab centre, but residents on the Doddington and Rollo estate – with its drugs history including two murders – vehemently opposed Wandsworth Council’s plan.

Jason with Wandsworth Mayor Councillor Jane Cooper, Keith Flynn and the spaniels

“We are a real community,” he says. “A family of local people who love living in this part of London and want to shout about how amazing the area is.”

What started with Jason placing a small announcement in Wandsworth Council’s Brightside newsletter inviting interested volunteers to join him in his broadcasting adventure is now an established station of repute, exceeding all his expectations, and a permanent fixture of the south west London scene.

You can listen to Riverside Radio live via www.riversideradio.com, DAB Digital Radio, Smart-speaker, Riverside Radio app. All photos courtesy of Riverside Radio. Main image of the new studio.