As a singer-songwriter, I first heard about Radio Reverb’s Pete Jones Show when a friend suggested I send my latest album to him. Reverb is a Brighton-based, not-for-profit community station run by volunteers that holds its own in a crowded field: Sussex has around 30 radio stations ranging from the BBC’s Radio Sussex, through to local commercial and community stations.
Radio Reverb, trialled as part of the Brighton Festival in 2004 before gaining a full broadcasting licence in 2007, delivers programmes on topics as diverse as the Arts, Health, Business, Food & Drink, the Environment, as well as Music, from studios at Brighton’s Open Market.
Pete’s weekly show (on Mondays from 5-7pm) features an eclectic mix of bands and performers from the Brighton area. The music he chooses is accomplished, well-recorded and interesting. You’d be hard put to distinguish it from the output of professional stations. Intrigued, I invited him for coffee in my favourite Hove restaurant, Fourth & Church.
Pete turns out to be a smiley bloke who arrives on his bike. He looks like he sounds – enthusiastic and friendly. A photographer by profession, he says when he was younger he’d bore his friends by going on about wanting to work in radio. To the point where they told him to get on with it…
He began his radio career at Brighton’s Coastway Hospital Radio, a volunteer-run community station which broadcasts to the Royal Sussex County and Sussex Eye Hospitals. A five-minute piece he put together from a Christmas show won Best Newcomer of the Year in the National Hospital Radio Awards. He says: “I thought, Yes! Come on! I’ve made it!”
When, a month or so before its launch, Radio Reverb put out a call for ideas, Pete used that award and the winning clip to back up his suggestion for a two-hour show supporting local artists, “because what’s the point in playing Bat Out of Hell and a bit of Dire Straits, everyone’s doing that.”
He continues: “I thought, how difficult could it be? Just showcase local musicians, not big bands like The Levellers, who had already made it, but bands without a record deal. And treat them as if it was Radio 1 or 2. Give the music the same respect.”
They liked his pitch, and when someone dropped out on the station’s opening day – April 1 2007 – Pete was asked to step in. His debut was, he admits, “a bit scrambled together. I only had a few tracks of local bands. But a couple of mates who were in a band came in and it worked.”
Fourteen years on, Pete doesn’t have to persuade anyone to appear on his show – bands contact him. “They often say, ‘I’ve got a friend who thinks I should be on your show and you might like my music.’ Many of them aren’t local to Brighton or even Sussex. If they’re not from our area then I don’t use them. The idea is that we support the local community.”
Before Covid, the Pete Jones Show featured acts playing several songs live and staying for a chat. Listeners got to know the performers as well as their music. Plans are to return to the live music format as soon as it is safe.
“I usually go for the smaller, lesser known bands,” says Pete. “I’ve always been more interested in the support act than the headliner. And I love the idea of seeing the birth of something great.”
He tells new acts: “If you believe you’re good enough, keep doing it, keep sending your work to record companies, to venues, to radio stations – take nothing as a personal rejection.”
Pete has been instrumental in helping to launch a few successes. Singer-songwriter and acclaimed blues vocalist Jo Harman had never been on the radio or interviewed live before he invited her on to his show. She appeared four or five times at the very beginning of her career, while a student at the Brighton Modern Music Institute.
Award-winning folk singer-songwriter Martha Tilston was also a live guest. So was now-famous blues guitarist Ben Poole: “He came on when he was still a kid. He went on to fill the Albert Hall,” says Pete.
“I played Passenger’s first CD to death after buying it from him when he was busking on a Brighton street. We had Charlie from The Levellers on for a chat and David Courtney came on to talk about working with Leo Sayer in the early days.”
A wide and eclectic mix
When he’s choosing what to play, Pete needs to keep to certain broadcast standards, but his philosophy is not to be judge and jury, but to give listeners a wide range of music. “If I really like an artist I might play them again on the next show. Or if they’ve sent in an album, I might work my way through that,” he says.
He explains why his selections have also grown increasingly varied of late. “Since Covid, I have had to find 24 tracks to play every week. I kick off with three or four loud tracks, then go into something more electronica, maybe a bit quirky, then meander down to something acoustic, more folky, and recently even a bit of jazz.”
Pete is passionate about music, community and working for a radio station that brings local people together. Radio Reverb does not carry advertising – it is funded by its listeners with donations and sponsorship. Anyone who fancies sponsoring the show can let Pete know via the website.
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