New Chapter For Radio Scilly As Founder Keri Jones Leaves Station
Keri is starting the Great Destinations Radio Show. The 2-hour, weekly broadcast will be syndicated on dozens of community and commercial radio stations.
It ends his full-time involvement with the Radio Scilly project, which began back in 1998 – after Keri eavesdropped on a breakfast time conversation at the Boat House guesthouse in Thoroughfare!
Keri says, “I overheard two guests at a table talking about Alan and Gill Knight. I recognised the names as I used to live them in West Somerset, but I didn’t know that they had moved to Scilly. So I got their address and jumped on a boat to Tresco to meet them for lunch.“
Gill jokingly suggested that Keri should start a radio station on the islands and that got him thinking – but a full-time Radio Scilly service was still a long-way off.
“Back in 1998 the former regulator, the Radio Authority, only awarded radio licences to applicants who could demonstrate ongoing profits,” says Keri.
“We would not have been able to convince them that such a tiny service would be sustainable back then, even though Radio Scilly has been financially viable since launch.”
The only option was to run short-term trial licences, which Keri operated as a ‘busman’s holiday.’
The first temporary studio was set up in one of the Star Castle chalets.
“John Nicholls was very supportive and allowed us to use the hotel. There would not have been a Radio Scilly if it was not for his kindness,” Keri says.
The trial station broadcast on 106FM and featured weather updates from Mike Collier and later Steve Douglas.
Original presenters included Linda Thomas and Steve Watt, who are still on air today.
The studio site was later switched to Porthloo after the late Pete ‘the Hat’ Hobson became involved.
Radio Scilly started using Pete’s hut, across from his perfumery, which was nicknamed ‘Broadcasting Shed.’
“Pete was a creative genius,” says Keri and to this day, the station still uses the distinctive lighthouse logo he designed in 1999.
After each broadcast Keri returned to his full-time job, running a successful chain of radio stations in West Wales.
Then in 2005 the new industry regulator, Ofcom, announced that they would licence Radio Scilly as one of the first in a new tier of not-for-profit community radio services.
Radio Pembrokeshire, Keri’s flagship station, had proved an industry and business success achieving the highest UK ratings ever – 66% of locals tuned in each week. But the chance to pioneer hyperlocal radio proved irresistible, so Keri sold his share of the Welsh radio group, bought a home in Scilly and launched the islands’ first permanent station.
During his time in West Wales, Keri recruited Zoe Parry from a South Wales station for a management position.
Zoe later left the UK to travel the world, but on her return to Britain she visited Keri in Scilly. She loved the islands and joined the Radio Scilly launch team.
Zoe later decided to take on a new challenge in tourism, working at Star Castle and more recently at the Islands’ Partnership.
Keri says he’s delighted that Zoe will now become the new Managing Director of Radio Scilly.
Many Radio Scilly listeners will know that Keri’s passion is travel and for the past five years he’s interviewed islanders about their experiences during a weekly holiday show.
Last autumn Keri identified the potential to network this programme across the UK
Keri says, “I’m 46 now and I’ve spent most of my professional radio career getting up at 5am. I felt it was time for a change and to do something different that doesn’t require such an early start!”
But Keri was the only Radio Scilly paid staff member and it wasn’t quite the same as leaving a regular job.
“I was aware of the challenge in finding someone to take on Radio Scilly’s operation. I met with our volunteer presenters and offered to hand over the entire business including all the equipment and cash assets to them, at no charge. I really wanted this unique service to continue.”
They considered the offer but everyone has existing commitments and it proved too much for them to take on.
Luckily, Zoe said she wanted to get back into radio.
“I’m so pleased that an experienced, talented radio professional who loves Scilly will take the station forward to new successes,” says Keri.
Recently, local journalist Clive Mumford asked Keri to highlight some of the special memories of his time at Radio Scilly.
“Our team was given a radio ‘Oscar,’ the Sony Award, as the Best Station in the South West. The panel of industry judges heard excerpts of a range of our programmes and they were hugely impressed,” says Keri.
“Over the years, I’m most proud of our handling of difficult and breaking news stories. The World Trade Centre attacks happened at the end of one of our trial broadcasts and we were asked to stay on air to update travellers on airport arrangements.”
“We’ve had some flak when we’ve uncovered events that some people would rather keep quiet. But we’ve taken the view that, if islanders need to know, it is our duty to investigate and report it.
“Sometimes we’ve received leaked documents and tip offs to follow up. Without this process most islanders would have been unaware of the hugely controversial Chief Officers’ pay hikes, a story that Radio Scilly broke.
“We also studied hundreds of pages of Environment Agency documents obtained using Freedom of Information requests, to reveal the significant dioxin levels recorded at the incinerator.
“Its removal came about because Radio Scilly publicly exposed a health risk which islanders had been kept in the dark about.”
Keri says Ofcom has found Radio Scilly’s coverage to be fair and balanced.
“We’ve never had a complaint upheld by the regulator. I think that says a lot about our thorough approach to reporting,” says Keri.
Keri believes that Radio Scilly’s detailed reporting of the Route Partnership project and its collapse, the end of the helicopter service and the coverage of the March 2008 storm shows what can be achieved on tiny resources when you have good community contacts.
He says, “During those 100mph winds, we constantly aired islanders’ phone call reports of damage and appeals for assistance.”
Another example that Keri gives of the power of radio was when a young islander was flown home from Oxfordshire following major surgery. A pilot responded to on-air Radio Scilly appeals from the youngster’s family.
And the station has also covered major annual events on the islands, such as the World Pilot Gig Championships.
Keri says, “Our significant Gig Weekend output has provided a challenge for our small team but I think we’ve managed to produce a high standard of commentary and coverage.
But the most enjoyable part of his week has been the hour-long, Sunday morning Islander in Conversation interviews.
“Seventy-five locals have shared their stories with me and I know listeners have learned new things about friends and neighbours,” says Keri.
“It has been important to keep these unique recordings, especially as so many islanders that I have interviewed are no longer with us.”
Because of Scilly’s special location, it does attract celebrities.
Keri says, “We’ve been lucky to receive a number of special guests over the years. Who can forget the excitement of David Beckham’s visit?
“He called into the studio along with his entourage of 68 people. He was meant to record a ‘fake” interview for the Adidas ad campaign but I managed to get a real one out of him.
“I know nothing about football so when I was asked to interview Steven Gerrard, who had also come over, inside the Galley Chip Shop, I was totally reliant on Tim Garratt. Tim presented our sports show at the time and the Adidas producers wanted me to talk to the footballer for ‘continuity’ reasons.
“As I walked into the shop there were three guys wearing football kit. I’m grateful to Tim for whispering – he’s the one on the left!”
Keri also recounts the odd phone call he received just as he was about to end the show one Friday morning in March 2011.
“I answered the studio phone and was greeted by someone who said he was George Osborne. He said he wanted to talk to Keri Jones.
“I suspected it was a sales call so asked him what company he was with. He said he was the Chancellor of the Exchequer.”
Keri used to work with top TV impressionist Jon Culshaw and thought it could have been a wind up.
“I asked for his number and called back. It was the Treasury that answered. Arguably, the second-most powerful man in Britain had just called our station to announce his fuel duty reduction for islanders.”
Something funny happened on most days, says Keri, and one incident that still makes him chuckle is the stray dog that arrived at a hotel seeking food.
“We aired a description of the animal and a taxi driver recognised the dog, collected it and delivered it to the owner’s home,” recalls Keri.
“As this is Scilly, the house wasn’t locked and the taxi driver just put the pet inside.
“But later we received a panicked call from a local who had been entrusted with dog sitting the pooch. The owner was actually on holiday!”
And there have been further memorable animal moments.
Keri says, “I will never forget the moment when I was reading the news on air. The studio door slowly opened and an albino skunk was thrown into the room. At the time I had no idea what the animal that I could see out of the corner of my eye was. I later knew him as Dennis!”
Radio Scilly and ScillyToday.com will become separate entities today but website editor Andy Hargreaves will continue to update island news stories.
And Keri says his Scilly ties will remain.
“I’m keeping Bodilly Cottage, my house in Hugh Town, and I’ll be back when I can. At other times Tim and Nicky Guthrie of Come2Scilly will look after the house as a holiday rental.”
Keri will be back on air on 107.9FM soon with his new two-hour weekly travel show, which starts at the end of May.
“Over the next month I’m going to record interviews with businesses on all of the islands so we can get some promotion for Scilly on the new show too,” Keri says.