NESTLED on the edge of a fine, sandy beach with magnificent mountains on one front and views of Skye and the Outer Hebrides on the other, Gairloch may be one of Scotland’s most remote outposts, but its community radio station has made its mark around the world.

Two Lochs Radio ( is the smallest radio station in the UK serving a scattered population of around 2500 souls. However thanks to broadband technology it can boast listeners from West Coast USA, Cape Breton in Nova Scotia, Germany, the Netherlands and Brazil.

The outfit has been running for 17 years in the capable hands of station manager Alex Gray, who is hanging up his headphones and hunting for a successor.

Radio is in his blood and he has been involved in the medium from his schooldays in Glasgow, and a broadcast engineering career in local radio in London – where he took a degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering – and BBC World Service, as well as three years as an audio-visual projects designer for the Natural History Museum in London.

Two Lochs Radio advertised for a new part-time boss last month. It is 2LR’s only salaried position – all the other presenters are volunteers – and one requirement is that the new boss will have to relocate to the area.

Gray told The Sunday National he had been surprised by the response: “We’ve had upwards of 20 serious applicants, so it was very surprising. We weren’t expecting anything like as great a response.

“I mean, it’s an attractive place to be, and it’s a good job for the right person, but finding someone who was willing to move to the area who was the right person we felt was a fairly tall order.”

As well as being station manager, Gray is responsible for its day-to-day engineering as well, so it is not unusual to see him in safety gear scaling the transmitter mast. He also presents an early morning programme, Craic at Dawn, on Fridays, which links up with the Big Breakfast Show on Cuillin FM in Portree, all of which adds to the station’s healthy listening figures.

“Obviously, it’s not a highly populated area, but the most usual measure of the listenership of a commercial local radio station is what’s called the weekly reach,” said Gray. “And that’s usually taken as the number of people who listen deliberately for at least a quarter of an hour or more each week.

“The last time we did a survey, which was very comprehensive, a high proportion of the population surveyed – 70% – said they fell into that bracket, which is extremely high for a local radio station. Most stations in urban areas would be glad of a figure in the 10% to 20% region.”

TWO Lochs Radio – a name derived from nearby Loch Ewe and Loch Maree – only has the BBC as competition, but in terms of local news, community offerings, weather and advertising it is the main outlet. Commercial radio outlets are largely controlled by bigger companies aiming at a specific audience demographic for their finely-tuned offerings, but Gray said 2LR was serving an entire community, a model that would not attract them.

“They would see trying to please everybody some of the time as no recipe for success, if you like, they would be far more specialised than that,” he said. “But of course, in terms of absolute numbers, they can afford to do that.We’re here to serve everybody in the local area and that does mean, for example, with music we can have the most surprising junctures that would never be found on a mainstream commercial station.

“We can go from Meat loaf to Julie Fowlis in one breath and the listeners take it … and also the big difference is that being a relatively isolated area, the only media in the area and a relatively small population, a lot of the listeners will know a lot of the presenters and vice versa in other walks of life, or just as friends, neighbours, people they see on the streets.

“So our presenters know who they’re talking to, what’s concerning them that day, what’s interesting them and what they like.”

NEW technology has brought 2LR to a far wider audience via the internet than traditional broadcasting ever could and Gray is proud of the impact they have made around the world. Many of their listeners are Scottish diaspora, some of whom still have family here and like to keep in touch with the community.

However, he is surprised at the number of “random” listeners, with a growing number in Brazil and the Middle East. More tune in from Germany and the Netherlands, often ahead of planned trips to Scotland, and a number stay tuned once they get home.

The station also has a membership scheme to support it financially and it has attracted a number of members from abroad.

“The nice thing about internet listening is that you can, broadly speaking, tell where people are listening from and how long they’re listening for. So, we see the numbers of listeners that we have in the USA, Germany, the Netherlands, Australia, Brazil, Russia, the Middle East all over, and some of those will be friends of the station, they will be in regular contact, maybe with a particular presenter. For example, I do the Friday morning breakfast programme and there’s a nurse in Oregon who stays up after her evening shift into the small hours to listen to the programme. And she’ll send me an email telling me what’s going on in Troutdale, Oregon.”

Gray said some of the far-flung listeners have even become presenters: “There’s a chap in Southern California who does a weekly programme for us who was originally a listener who just found us on the internet but also works in radio in California.

“And he now produces a weekly programme for us and has done for four years. We have a chap who was originally what they call in the US a snowbird – he would spend summer in Cape Breton and winter in Florida.

“He goes back a long way in the traditional country music world and produced a programme for a small radio station in Cape Breton called Back Roads. We were already in a partnership with that station, and we still are because they also produce a one-hour Scottish Gaelic programme – there are probably more Gaelic speakers in Cape Breton than there are in Scotland, or certainly a substantial number. We broadcast that and we still do that weekly hour in Gaelic from Cape Breton.

“And we have this country programme as well and the guy brought his whole family over on holiday to see us. We still broadcast that programme to this day, so those have both been going for pretty much the 17 years.”

After spending most of that time permanently on call, Gray said he will still be part of 2LR, but without the pressures associated with the manager’s role.

“It’s not something where you shut the office and go home, and that’s the end of it. I think of the applicants for our job quite a number made it clear they realised that’s the situation as well. It’s not a nine-to-five job. So I’ll be glad to lose some of the pressure of that. But equally of course, it’s that I won’t be the one to see through lots of plans we have for the future.”