Wheres the Balloon?
(an unreliable history of Rocket FM in Lewes)

‘Where’s the balloon?’ said Derek, plaintively. ‘Has anybody seen the balloon?’ It was May of 1999 and Derek was in the attic at Thebes, off the High Street, manfully suffering an interruption to his afternoon show on ‘Festival Radio’, in the form of a large blue hot-air balloon which had left the golf course earlier and was floating low over the town. Watts started, suddenly and uncomfortably aware of a looming presence over his shoulder. Glancing up through the skylight, he found his field of vision filled with blue, and it wasn’t the sky. The balloon was so low he could almost touch it. ‘Ah, there it is’ he announced.
Hmm… a hot air balloon - perhaps a fitting symbol for community radio - powered by hot air and difficult to get off the ground, unstable and liable to crash.
Six months earlier, the first local broadcast in the history of Lewes had taken place, but it very nearly didn’t. I remember attending a crisis meeting of a self-selecting group in October, about a month before the intended start date. The problems, which have recurred each time, were no money, no equipment and no studio premises. A whip-round partially addressed the first, a decision was taken to hire in all the kit as a package and, shortly after, a friendly local business offered a rather bijou upper room for the studio. The time remaining was used as best we could. Adverts were hastily sold to help with funding and they were all made on the evening of the first day’s broadcasting!
Then we encountered another by-now familiar problem…where to mount the antenna, which must be up high. The town hall roof provided the solution that time.


Rocket ‘n’ roll: Andy Thomas on the rise and rise of
Lewes’ radio station