Phill Thorne looks back at local radio in Ashford

Phill Pontificates – The second in a series of posts by local radio presenter Phill Thorne.
As I mentioned previously I’m quite lucky to be in the position I am to broadcast to Ashford on Radio Ashford. Not least because it gives me the opportunity to talk to local musicians, talk to local charity and community groups and to publicize their events, but also because the airwaves of Ashford are a much sought-after place to be.

Radio Ashford, formerly known as AHBS Community Radio has been on FM since May 2011. KMFM have been on air in the town now for just over thirteen years. There’s really no point going too deep into the whys and wherefores over that station, suffice to say they think they are an accurate reflection of the town, and I say that for them to say that they need to get out and about here a bit more.

Very humble beginnings – broadcasting from the ‘broom cupboard’
AHBS Community Radio sprung up from what is still to this day AHBS, Ashford Hospital Broadcasting Service. Formed on Boxing Day 1971 by Mr Ron Hanning and based out of the old Willesborough Hospital on Kennington Road, Willesborough. Legend has its humble beginnings were a corner of a changing room facility there, however it moved to the Ashford Hospital site in the mid 80’s, finally settling into its current home at the William Harvey Hospital in 1998 and has remained there since. Back in the day the hospital used to have separate media systems you could listen to, but there were more important things for the hospital to repair so thankfully with the advent of Wifi, and the fact that AHBS is on line as a huge part of Radio Ashford, patients can still listen in and you’ll still get the occasional member of the radio crew visiting patients specifically for the purpose of getting requests.

Ashford gets its first FM radio station
Anyway, as far as I can work out, apart from the old Invicta FM studios that were here in Ashford back in the 90’s, the first attempt to actually get Ashford its own FM station goes back to 1995, Christmas 1995 in fact to a chap by the name of Pete Leutner, who ran what is called an RSL (restricted service licence) from his home studio based in a stable in the countryside just outside Ashford. I was fortunate enough to be involved in that. Mr Leutner had approached AHBS for some presenters to help fill some of the slots and it was a privilege that I was asked to be on air on Christmas afternoon when we linked up live with the hospital and broadcast live from there and on FM too.
The following summer, and the advent of the first major summer festival in Ashford, saw Ashford Festival Radio. Again, I and indeed AHBS were fortunate enough to be asked by the station manager and project coordinator Ian Macgregor to take part and we broadcast for the whole month leading up to the final concert of the festival, which featured Jools Holland. I like to think that was the month when my love for radio really flourished and I think anyone who has ever done any radio anywhere knows is that when the lightning bolt strikes and you fall in love with radio, you never stop.

Remember the days of the old schoolyard…..well actually the Barrow Hill Vets’ Car Park
Following that in the eight years that followed, three different organisations did numerous trial broadcasts. Lark FM, which was based in the old KE building in North Street, Ashford FM which had a variety of different broadcast locations and featured local legend Kirstyn Read, and then Ashford Local Radio, which did its month trial from a very hot and sweaty portacabin in the car park of Barrow Hill Veterinary Surgery. Thanks to local photographer and radio fanatic Jim Ashby who came in on my radio show earlier in the year, I now have a collection of tapes of times when Jim recorded bits of the broadcasts for posterity.  They’ll be going up online in an archive for all to hear very soon.

Battle of the airwaves
When OFCOM, the authority that issues licences announced they realised the need for a station, six companies put in bids to run the station. The winners were Lark FM, to be known after as KMFM and after a legal battle challenging the decision, which is a whole other story and one I don’t know to this day all the facts on, KMFM Ashford took to the air in October 2005, and then became KMFM across its stations back in spring 2012…..which brings us to where we are now.
So anyway, back to my point about Jim Ashby and his tapes. Its been a real trip down memory lane listening to everything, all the music, all the community events and the guests that came in, many of which are still working for the same community organisations even now. Numbers of local businesses were very keen to jump on board and advertise and the whole buzz of radio in the town was prevalent.  It got to the point back then, and I think maybe even Webbo gets it now, some of the adverts became so popular in their nature people used to hum them or sing them to you in the street….

If you, like me and indeed Jim Ashby, have any recordings or tapes or memorabilia from the stations of the past, whether you were a member of the teams running them, or a listener who took great pleasure in whatever we put together, please do get in touch via Total Ashford or Radio Ashford and I’ll come and see you and we can get your material added to the archive.

In the meantime, please keep listening and keep supporting Radio Ashford. Its your community station where you can actually have a say in what goes on air…..

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