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Chalkhill Community Radio developed to showcase talents celebrates first anniversary

PUBLISHED: 13:53 03 June 2019

The Chalkhill Community Radio crew celebrate the station's first birthday. Picture: Brunel Johnson

The Chalkhill Community Radio crew celebrate the station's first birthday. Picture: Brunel Johnson

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A local radio station transmitting stories and music from the diverse Chalkhill community has celebrated its first birthday.

Performers at Chalkhill Community Radio's first birthday celebration. Picture: Brunel JohnsonPerformers at Chalkhill Community Radio's first birthday celebration. Picture: Brunel Johnson

Chalkhill Community Radio has grown from nothing to training young presenters and airing live shows reflecting key local issues.

During its first 12 months, CCR recruited and trained 30 local people as radio presenters. The station is affiliated with Chalkhill groups including the residents' association, community centre, primary school, Love Chalkhill Festival committee, Wembley Somalian Information Group, Wembley and Sudbury Royal British Legion, and 16-to-30 music collective Boys 'n' the Hillz.

They've covered the Brent Black Music Awards and the opening of the Yellow Pavillion in Wembley; they've interviewed Brent Council leader Cllr Muhammed Butt and workers at regeneration giant Quintain and the Brent Job Show.

Founder John Downie's links to the community stretch far back to his involvement with the Brent Black Music Co-op (BBMC), where he ran the sound systems.

A child having his face painted the Chalkhill Community Radio's first birthday celebration. Picture: Brunel JohnsonA child having his face painted the Chalkhill Community Radio's first birthday celebration. Picture: Brunel Johnson

In 1987, he set up the Society for the Advancement of Black Arts (SABA), which became a registered charity in 1999.

"SABA is the charity behind Chalkhill Community Radio," he said. "The ethos has always been to give unsigned talent a platform."

He started Your Digital Network, an internet network supplying radio stations to different communities including Lambeth and Tottenham, before setting up Brent Youth Radio in north Wembley.

He then moved to the Grange in Neasden, the ward in which he grew up, and met Des Powell, a community leader in Chalkhill.

Refreshments at Chalkhill Community Radio's first birthday celebration. Picture: Brunel JohnsonRefreshments at Chalkhill Community Radio's first birthday celebration. Picture: Brunel Johnson

"We got support from the Chalkhill estate," he said, "who identified a need to have a radio station for the people of Chalkhill.

"Chalkhill had a bad reputation, which is undeserving. In deprived areas, a few people might be led astray, but there are great people who live in the area and nobody knows about them.

"We tell the stories of people that otherwise would never get told."

They don't just tell people's stories: they train them, too, and use the links they've forged with Global FM, owners of Heart FM.

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"The general process of getting in the media is straightforward," said John. "We don't profess to be mainstream but the skills we hone can complement people who want to go on to bigger things.

"As an organisation we are able to enable young people to be trained and have work experience with Global, which we see as a nice opporunity that gives people a platform to develop their skills."

Before going live in June 2018, the group held a 12-week broadcast media course for presenters. "People came with no experience, just enthusiasm," said John.

Patricia Wharton, who runs the Let's Talk Show, was among the first to be given an opportunity.

She's had inspirational people on her show including juvenile gangster-turned-millionaire PJ Murray and, more recently, Brent-born prostate cancer survivor Errol McKellar.

She said: "At the beginning, when we first started broadcasting, people would say: 'We can't hear - you keep chopping in and out!' But we haven't had those problems for a long time.

"We have an international reach - we have listeners in the Caribbean, Poland, Spain, Turkey. It's gone to places I didn't even know existed."

She added: "Our energetic approach has been welcomed by all sections of the community. We are accessible and supportive of any local event and try to cover as much as we possibly can with limited resources.

"Looking forward, we'll look at how we can get funding - get sponsors for different shows."

Founders and fans came together on May 25 for a birthday fundraising festival. It also marked the 20th birthday of UK Unsigned - the music education project that was instrumental in bringing CCR to the community.

It was a day of promoting unsigned artists with live performances, family fun and auditions for young people interested in becoming presenters.

"The festival fundraiser we did with UK Unsigned was great," said Patricia.

"We'll look to join them every year."

To listen, tune in to chalkhillcommunityradio.com on Saturdays from 9am to 6pm and Sundays from 10am to 6pm. You'll hear soul, reggae and music from the 1980s, as well as quizzes, celebrity news and topical interviews. It's at yourdigitalnetwork.org too.

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