Community Radio in the Mearns began in 1993 following a visit to North East Community Radio (NECR FM) by some members of the Stonehaven Community Centre Management Committee. A steering group was formed and Stonehaven Community Radio was born. It transmitted for the first time during July 1994 from the old primary school toilet block in the community centre playground. At that time community stations could only operate for 28 days at a time and the licence was costly at £1000. The station proved to be a very popular activity for the young and a majority of the participants were in their teens.
In 1996 and 1998 the operation was repeated and by this time some of the presenters were becoming polished performers and they had quite a following in the town. Probably the greatest highlight was when a young 17-year-old presenter Ross Gilligan interviewed Billy Connolly in the community centre studio for half an hour. The recording still exists.
After the 1998 transmissions, the radio group broke up. Some key people had left, staff changed at the community centre and also the high costs of the operation had become a deterrent.
In 2004 things began to change. Five-year community radio licences were introduced and a few enthusiasts decided to call a meeting at the home of the first station Stonehaven Community Centre. Around 30 people turned and up and a small group was formed to take the project forward.
A draft constitution was adopted at the first AGM which was held in the late Summer of 2005. The next step was the licence application. Unfortunately, the project was delayed because a round of applications had just closed and Ofcom the regulating authority did not invite new applications until late autumn of 2006. It was necessary for the organisation to become a Company Limited by Guarantee and it was also decided to apply to be a Registered Charity. The broadcast licence application form was 76 pages long so many tedious evenings followed completing it.
The committee were originally planning to be Stonehaven Community Radio but after considerable debate, it was decided to become Mearns wide and be called Mearns FM. Up to this time, most of the feedback from Ofcom was that they were very unlikely to allow more that one transmitter so it was very much with tongue in cheek that the committee applied for three. Much to the surprise of some of them, Ofcom granted the wishes of Mearns Community Radio and a licence was issued in early July 2007. The cheer had hardly left the lips of the enthusiasts before the realisation hit that now they had to install three transmitters and link them to a studio. They also had to find studio space and elevated sites with power available for the transmitters as well as having to raise around £20000. It seemed a daunting task and it had to be completed within two years…
The first part of 2008 was a low point. Tragedy struck when two of the most loyal committee members who had been key volunteers with Stonehaven Community Radio died. Numerous charities were approached for funding but South Aberdeenshire is not seen as an area of need and for a while, finance was hard to raise. But at the end of 2008 things began to take shape. The committee was joined by some very able technical people and with the help of some of the committee member’s friends and the generosity of three Mearns’ farmer’s transmitter sites were secured. At last, the funding came close to the target and studio space was found in Stonehaven Town Hall. Although the committee seemed to ebb and flow in attendees the members using their knowledge, skills and some borrowed equipment, installed three transmitters at challenging sites. The studio was soon configured and the IT members of the group engineered the studio transmission link for two of the transmitters. The third was linked via a re-broadcast signal.
Ofcom arrived to test the transmission equipment in the second week of May 2009 and all three sites passed with flying colours , the Ofcom engineers congratulated the volunteers on the standard of the installations and three weeks of test transmissions followed.
June 6th 2009 was chosen for the station’s launch as it coincided with the annual Stonehaven Feein’ Market. At 11 am, amongst the festivities, the station was officially opened by the local MP, Sir Robert Smith. Mearns FM was on the air!
Since then OFCOM have renewed our license to broadcast twice and we are able to keep broadcasting until at least 2024 – In June 2019 we celebrated 10 years on air as Mearns FM!
At the end of 2019 Mearns FM moved into new temporary premises in Arbuthnott Street, Stonehaven thanks to Bridgfield Services – the town hall is currently under electrical refurbishment and we hope to return there at the end of 2020.
In April 2020 Mearns FM was successful in a bid to increase power at all 3 transmitters and install a new transmitter at Portlethen church hall. This will improve coverage across South Aberdeenshire, half the funding needed to replace 4 transmitters was granted from Aberdeenshire Council and we are very grateful for that help. We will also open a new studio in Portlethen church hall financed by the National Lottery awards for all program. Mearns FM also plans to launch on DAB digital radio across North-East Scotland in the summer of 2020. Exciting times ahead!