AFTER celebrating a decade on the airwaves, Bolton FM is promising a ‘game changing’ year ahead. HELENA VESTY found out what the radio team has planned.

Bolton’s voice is getting louder as the borough’s community radio station moves into its second decade of broadcasting.

Back in June 2009, Bolton FM launched on 96.5FM. Since then, it has gone from strength to strength.

But the station was always limited to reaching people within a 4.5mile radius of their town centre base, and requests to broadcast into the rest of the borough were rejected by media regulator Ofcom.

Residents in Horwich and Westhoughton felt left out — so much that their local MP was forced to raise the issue in parliament.

Now, after six years of campaigning for a licence to expand, the radio team’s efforts have been approved, meaning more people than ever will be able to tune in.

The radio station has splashed out on a new aerial, worth £12,000, and will now be able to reach towns across the borough.

Bolton FM chairman Dr Andrew Dickson MBE looked back on the years of hard work to make it happen.

He said: “Community radio is a key element in bringing people together.

"Slowly we’ve been growing the business with limited resources because some of the money available at the beginning disappeared because of austerity cuts to local councils.

"Bolton Council were very generous when the station first started to help us buy equipment, that was curbed by austerity cuts.

“It’s been more challenging than I thought it would be. I thought if there was a radio station broadcasting in Bolton then everyone would tune into it, but that didn’t happen.

“We have been really frustrated by our limited coverage and have applied several times in the last six years for that extension.”

Now, listeners as far as Adlington and Blackrod can listen to much-loved presenters like Big ‘H’ and Neil Wilkinson talking about everything happening across the borough, 24 hours a day.

Mr Dickson said: “It’s about Bolton, for Bolton, from people in Bolton.

“We want people to make us button number five on the radio in their car. We want to be the biggest and best community radio station in the UK.”

Keith Harris, who has been with Bolton FM for seven years, says it is high-time for the expansion. He said: “It’s a challenge but it’s a fantastic challenge and it’s a great opportunity.”

The station bosses are now making it their mission to do the new areas proud and are calling on people to get involved.

Mr Dickson said: “We’re asking would you like a Horwich show, a Westhoughton show, a Blackrod show?

"If there are community groups that need some help, get in touch. If you’re in a church group that is raising money for a new roof, get in touch.

“Let us help you, we’re here, available and accessible. But we don’t know what is happening in those area, so we need those areas to be proactive.

“We will be getting out into Horwich and Westhoughton and other places. The Horwich Races we always cover, we could get up to Westhoughton for the scarecrow weekend. Tell us what is going on and we will get involved.”

The station is classed as a not for profit community interest company, with funding to keep them going coming from sponsorship and advertising.

More than 100 volunteers work behind the scenes to sell sponsorships and manage the books. They are hoping that the expansion will bring other exciting developments.

Mr Dickson said: “The new aerial and getting into Horwich, Westhoughton, Blackrod and Middlebrook is the missing piece of the jigsaw. We have now got the jigsaw complete we just need to make it bigger.

“We are hoping that the extra reach we get will bring us in more sponsorship and advertising so we can employ more staff, improve the equipment.

“It’s cost us a fortune to put the aerial up, we have got to make it worth it now.”