Colourful Radio: Growing an independent radio station

An army of freelance volunteers and the vision to embrace creative and commercial partnerships has helped Colourful Radio survive. We found out how financial constraints have shaped its outlook.

“I want Colourful Radio to be a home, a hub for everything that’s happening, that’s interesting and engaging, particularly in the African and Caribbean world both here in the UK and beyond.”

Broadcaster, journalist, and the man behind South London independent Colourful Radio, Henry Bonsu has grand visions for the station. Currently broadcasting to over 200,000 listeners, the station is 80% music and 20% speech. Henry explains how financial constraints have challenged the station to be more creative in its output and in its promotion. 

"People see what we’re doing is unique, that there’s a vision and an appetite for this station." – Henry Bonsu

Colourful has filled a niche in the market for an African Caribbean-centred radio station, and serves a listener group which Henry describes as socially active with a strong awareness of current affairs. Part of Henry's motivation for getting involved with the station was the freedom to adopt a more informal presenting style, saying things with more "African abandon" than he was able to in previous roles at other broadcasters.

Now an investor in the station as well as presenter, Henry is acutely aware of the pressures of keeping the station on air. Budget constraints means that the station is, at present, run entirely by volunteers, but the hope is that they will be able to pay its DJs and guests in the future. "There’s a hope of jam tomorrow," he says.  "Nobody complains because they can see what we’re doing is unique.  They can see what we’re doing has an appetite, it has an audience, and there is a vision for this station."

The vision includes using social media as a tool to promote Colourful for free, and to attract young creative people to the station. In addition, a combination of 'contra deals', trading advertising space for brand promotion rather than money, has also helped Colourful reach wider audiences.

Demanding as running a station may seem, Henry firmly believes that independent radio, and Colourful in particular, is both valuable and necessary in the current media market. "It’s very unique from what’s gone before. But we see that very much as us serving what we think is a core audience of hundreds of thousands."