“They said they wanted to start a pirate radio station. I told them they could do it the legal way”.
Eleven years ago Ashuk Ahmed convinced a group of youths he worked with to set up a community radio station. He’s been the founding executive of the highly successful Diverse FM ever since, and the last decade has seen the station grow to be far more than anybody could have expected.
“Luton enjoys a very vibrant and multicultural community. The first concept was to use the radio as a tool to bring all the different communities together through music. From day one it was Diverse FM, we wanted to make sure everybody could be included in this project”, Ash explains.
It’s no exaggeration. Its’ presenters are between eleven and seventy-five years old. Programming includes shows in Urdu, Hindi, Gujarati, Polish, and Gaelic. Music ranges from covers Dance, Hip-Hop, World Jazz, Reggae, Bollywood, Bhangra, Dayro, Folk and Soul.
Diverse is somehow ahead of the game, it reflects the increasingly varied nature of a modern British town, something commercial radio largely fails to do. Ash puts it down to the recent changes in the industry.
“They’ve become regional stations, they don’t cover this area any more. We are truly local. It’s about reaching these communities… giving advice. If they’ve just moved to the UK, we can tell them what is available if things aren’t going right in their own language. Some of them really don’t know what to do”.
Sticking to its routes, Diverse is also focussed on aiding disadvantaged young people. They offer year-long broadcast training schemes to improve confidence and work prospects. The station continues to assist these students once the course is over, and often fund further training. Hundreds of local people have benefited, and the extensive waiting list speaks volumes.
Ash told me the story of one young boy who came to the station:
“He left school with nothing, no qualifications… he couldn’t get a job. He was just hanging out on the streets. After he finished the course, he wanted to become a youth worker, so we helped him apply. We got him the experience he needed… he was accepted [to the University of Bedfordshire and he is now in his third year”.
“We are helping the local community, that’s a key principle for Diverse. Don’t just stop at broadcasting”.
Volunteers here believe 8 out of 10 under-25’s in Luton are casual listeners of the station. There is a real feeling that it is has wide-spread appeal and influence across the town. Some of the original volunteers have recently donated a new much-needed premises for the station, which have seen improvements such as more training space and a recording studio for up-and-coming local artists.
“The community recognise that we’ve done something for them. I become speechless, very emotional when I think about it. We are very proud of what we’ve achieved, especially with volunteers. It’s been sheer hard work and dedication”.