Award given to British prison radio station

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Audio Transcript:

LISA MULLINS: If you must be behind bars in London, you could do worse than to be in Brixton Prison in South London. They've got good radio there.

ELECTRIC RADIO BRIXTON: You're listening to Electric Radio Brixton.

MULLINS: Electric Radio Brixton has a range of programs designed to appeal to its captive audience.

BRIXTON: It's Sunday night and that means it's time for "Behind Bars," Brixton Prison's very own look at life both inside and outside Brixton.

STEVE: Hi, this is Steve from G-Wing. Let me just take you back and paint the picture. The year's 2001. I've just been through rehab and I've made the decision to get serious about my life and recovery from drug addiction.

MULLINS: Electric Radio is not merely good, it's a award-winning good. The prison station was nominated in four categories in this year's big Sony Radio Awards. The BBC's media correspondent Torin Douglas attended the award ceremony in London last night. He says the folks at Electric Radio took home some gold.

TORIN DOUGLAS: They won the Community Award and the Listener Participation Award. The Community Award is one for charity sorts of radio production and so they were a clear winner in that. But the Listener Participation Award is about getting your listeners involved on the air, and one of the programs they have at 5:30 in the evening is an awful lot where you hear the prisoners themselves. So you, you hear Steven from G-Wing ringing up and explaining what his own problems with drug abuse were and rehabilitation. And it's using the prisoners themselves to talk to other prisoners about what can be done to help get them on a straight and narrow path, so that when they leave prison, they don't just go back into their old lifestyle. And that's really the reason it's being done.

MULLINS: So, Torin, when they won these awards last night, that means they beat out your and my employer.

DOUGLAS: Absolutely. The BBC and commercial stations were up against them in four categories. They won two Gold Awards, they won three Bronze Awards. The Bronze Award was almost more interesting because that was the interview award, and this particular interview was done with a former cabinet minister and prison, Jonathan Akin, who was jailed for perjury. And he was interviewed by one of the prisoners in Brixton about his whole experience of being in prison, what it was like on the first night. And they didn't pull any punches. At one point, the prison said, "You've been swimming with the sharks. Would you now do that again? Would you, for example, get involved in the arms trade?" So they didn't pull their punches and that was quite significant that the prisoners themselves are trained how to ask the questions and not necessary take no for an answer.

MULLINS: Well, it sounds like really good radio, but I wonder if it really in your view anyway as award winning radio. Did they get the underdog vote or did they deserve all the awards they got?

DOUGLAS: I was surprised when I went in there. I listened to the programs and so on, and I thought well they've done really well to get the nominations. I wonder whether they'll win an award, but in those two categories, the Community Award and Listener Participation Award, I think those were genuinely deserved. And what I found fascinating was just going into the prison and, of course, you have to surrender your mobile phone, you are not allowed to take any laptop or any other electronic equipment apart from your recorder. Then, lots and lots of locks, doors, walls, and so and you really do get the impression that you are in a very high security environment and then you walk in and you see a classroom and a radio studio and that is the heart of the station.

MULLINS: By the way, do other prisons in the U.K. have radio stations like Electric Radio?

DOUGLAS: They do but not like Electric Radio. There are about 20 prisons now that have stations and it's embryonic and it's growing and what is interesting about the Brixton one is it's very much being set up as flagship project. And what's now going to happen is that there's going to be a national radio service for prisons based on the Brixton experience and so for a couple of hours a day, perhaps the same program will be going to prisons all around the country. And for example, I went on A-Wing with the station manager, and prisons were coming up to me and saying, "Yeah, we really do listen." But I've been in other prisons where it's not done as well. And so that experience was very illuminating.

MULLINS: Yeah, just to make this clear, if you're not a prisoner you can't hear this?

DOUGLAS: That's right and so the only time these programs are now being heard is as a result of them being nominated. In fact, you can go on the Prison Radio Association website and then you can hear the nominated programs. So you can now hear them for the first time, but you can't hear these programs outside prison and that's for security reasons.

MULLINS: All right, and we're going to make a link to the Prison Radio Association website on ours which is Torin Douglas the BBC's media correspondent. Thanks a lot, Torin.

DOUGLAS: Thanks so much.