From family births to DIY successes, greasy spoons to local DJs, a collaborative project has been celebrating local radio on high streets across the country. Jenny Hunt and Holly Darton explain why the time is right for hyper-local theatre.
Radio Local is a brand-new pop-up radio station built for and with the people in its immediate vicinity. Working with community radio stations, it is broadcast for the duration of a day by the live art collaboration Hunt and Darton (H&D) from an outdoor studio in wherever its current home is. Prior to the live event, H&D and invited artists – which in the past have included Scottee, Split Britches, High Tide, Harold Offeh and Figs in Wigs – spend time collecting voices and stories. We round up folk who love radio to join us in our workshops, delegate the DJing to unsung heroes, and seek out the weird and wonderful to make guest appearances.
The number of unsung heroes and local legends we are ﬁnding is remarkable
H&D are the unﬂinching hosts for the 12 to 24 hours, retiring briefly to allow guest presenters to steal the show. Working serendipitously or going straight into the heart of established local institutions and businesses, we seek out public opinion on subjects such as mental health, dating apps and ageing.
In the lead up to the broadcast, we and artists we commission stay in the location to really get to know it. Activities have included writing lyrics with local young people, trying out a different B&B every night, or joining in with all the classes the community centre has to offer. This is hyper-local radio. The food review is from nearby cafes, jingles are generated live in our shed, the issues we discuss are collected from a public chalk board. The news is someone’s news, not the mainstream news, and we re-enact a soap opera written over the day on a typewriter set up for all to use.
Celebrating the local
We love radio: there’s time and space here like no other medium. It has people at its heart and it elevates both the quiet and the bold. It takes you across a spectrum of emotions, jumping from hard stories to co-hosting antics, from humble gardening shows to war torn countries, or from opera to grime. It breaks through our oversaturated lives, offering a space of contemplation and rigour. TV has not killed the radio star, it’s just its annoyingly loud older brother.
This show celebrates everything about what it means to be local. We love the local chippy that asks how your week’s been, pubs and cafés that are surrogate families and extensions of the home, people taking pride in where they live, doing things for the community and noticing when someone is ill.
This seemed like a timely subject to make art about as arguments over global and local concerns dominate our politics. Brexit has split the country and nationalist views are re-entering the political main stage. We witnessed a lot of the factors contributing to our current state of affairs ﬁrst hand when touring our pop-up ‘Hunt & Darton Café’, which we took to empty shops in struggling towns across the UK. And with catastrophic decisions being taken to replace local programming with national broadcasts, it seemed that the time was ripe to make Radio Local.
We have set ourselves the challenge of how many different places we can take Radio Local to – although we’ve yet to realise our ambition of performing to one goat in a remote farming village in Mongolia. In every place we visit we want to create a party that truly reﬂects the culture, humour and identity of the people living there. Ultimately, our aim is for people to have fun: why else do we wear aerials on our heads? But we also want people to have had a new experience, perhaps a meaningful one, and to have been themselves while doing it. And we want to encourage a renewed love for radio and community radio stations.
The audience response has been more than enthusiastic. People are up for it: they really do stay all day. The games and music, combined with the glamour of radio, make for strong and varied interactions. A brew and Hobnob from our listening station often does the trick too.
Due to the long duration, we often get people returning to see how things have progressed or for a speciﬁc activity, tuning back in or coming down to see us after listening in. On two occasions, participants in our dating show have returned home to spruce themselves up before returning for their potential date. Our most successful couple went on three dates, and only ended things at the threat of an overnight stay together!
Our favourite news so far was from a woman called Joan, delivered with gusto: she told us how she had got up, got dressed and successfully been to Iceland to buy a chicken. A firm audience favourite is the Jingle Shed – one of two garden sheds that form part of our set. It’s a temporary recording studio in which live audiences play and, in some cases, get very competitive: think ‘Good Morning Vietnam’ versus ‘hen do ballads’. Anyone and everyone has been in the shed, from 5 to 95-year-olds, and some real talent has been captured. Audiences listening at home are also very keen to phone in. A highlight was a PhD physics student reading from his work at 3am during a 24-hr version of the show.
We have learnt how important friends, family and community are and how these can be a united force, especially in light of Brexit. Building art together is a fulﬁlling and powerful thing to do. The number of unsung heroes and local legends we are ﬁnding is remarkable, and their stories are a constant learning experience for us all.