Harty on the BBC Sussex phone-in and Hill Barn Golf Club

I WAS very disappointed to hear earlier this week that the current presenters have been told by BBC Sussex that the phone-in will be scrapped for the coming season, after nearly 13 years on air.

Although phone-ins have been around for a number of years, the idea of our own local one was mooted at my original interview at the then, BBC Southern Counties Radio in August of 1998.

Initially, things weren’t easy, a major factor being that the phone-in was a pre-match programme, on between 1.30pm and 2.30pm. With all the best will in the world, how can people really react when the main function of a phone-in, the main event, i.e., the match, hasn’t happened?

In fact on quiet days, and there were a few, the phone-in actually was a phone-out, as we had to ring people. It wasn’t until, backed by a very supportive senior management, that we switched to post-match that things really took off.

Listening figures and caller numbers do not lie, the show was always going to have critics, one of the biggest bugbears being the number of regular callers, but that, I believe, actually added to the product.

Because of regulations, callers’ numbers and texts had to be kept along with recordings of shows. I didn’t realise how well we were doing until I went to a phone-in seminar at BBC Bristol and was told that our ratings were some of the highest for regional radio.

A fact that was reiterated to me when we played down at Bournemouth one year. I sat next to the corresponding team doing a phone-in for the Cherries,and in the hour we had 10 calls and over 35 text messages, whilst they had to play records to pad out their show.

The hard-working team both on and off air couldn’t have done it without the support of the listeners, something which became even more apparent when I made a mistake and said the wrong thing in October, 2008.

Regardless of the mitigating circumstances I shouldn’t have said what I said, but the witchhunt that followed was a lesson in life itself.

You do not find out who your real friends are until your back is truly up against the wall. I did, and to see the piles of letters of support which they showed me when I was re-instated is something that will live with me forever.

If truth be told, the phone-in was on the wane even before I left, my comment in a way reignited it, like Noel’s House Party, Space Dust and the hula hoop. It had its good times, the key is knowing when to get out.

I’m sure I echo the sentiments of the people who followed me, but thanks to everyone whoever listened, phoned in, or texted during the phone-in years, there were great times, well, almost all of them great times, and I for one will never forget them.

And finally another classic example of where serious investment pays off is Hill Barn Golf Club.

When under council ownership, it was neglected and in the eyes of the Town Hall all but became a forgotten amenity on the outskirts of the town.

But since coming under private ownership, it’s the complete opposite. I’ve only just taken up golf, but having played with some experienced players, the feedback they give on, the atmosphere at the club, the state of the course and, specifically, the condition of the greens, is a testament to investment by the owners and the hard work of all of the staff at the club.