Monarchs of the glen

Staffed by a team of volunteers, Britain's smallest station is a compelling listen

It was a quiet day on Lochs Gairloch and Ewe. Jessie hadn't turned up to present Sunday Brunch on Two Lochs Radio (106 FM, but Colin was holding the fort.

Colin's a solid chap, knows his technology, was keen to get off for his breakfast. "There's been a proper mix-up," he said. "I'll just look something out to keep us running."

The smallest commercial radio station in Britain, TLR broadcasts from a village in remote Wester Ross to 1,861 listeners in the region and several hundred across the world via the internet. A serious little operation, it runs all the necessary local notices, and magnificently inclusive updates concerning the various trials of its listeners.

The other afternoon I switched on to find a lady in despair looking at a ruined pie dish. "I don't know what to suggest Glenys," said one of the station's 38 volunteer presenters. "But I definitely think you should take it back. Pyrex is supposed to be unbreakable."

Recently a fear's been fermenting that come the summer, people might choose to go somewhere else on holiday. Mention has been made of the Alps. The word was said as though it were a thing in which one wraps one's vegetable peels. TLR visits just the right amount of bigotry on its listeners and refuses to be humbled before traitor émigrés to the Continent with their lazy, sun-kissed skin.

"We need a brand of some kind," said the presenter, with a degree of controlled impatience. "We need websites, we need leaflets, we need as many pieces of paper as we can possibly manage . . . " He tailed off, thinking.

There's no fear of dead air on TLR. A silence can stretch on, hauling not a jot of anxiety with it. I am enraptured. I move across rooms in a shuffle for fear of missing the moment someone pipes up to unveil what happened last night ("So we drove to that massive retail park outside Inverness. . ."), or what's happening elsewhere ("This new president of the United States. Now didn't he do well?").

And when, eventually, Colin handed over to Jessie for Sunday Brunch she went into a riff more love-filled, more generously comic than anything achieved in Mike Leigh's mighty Secrets and Lies after three weeks of tightly rehearsed and hyper-trophied improvisation:

"Do you remember it was my dad's birthday a couple of weeks ago and we did a request for him? Well my brother bought him a DVD player and he was really chuffed with it and he got me to fit it up and everything. So I gave him one of our DVDs to get him started and it was The Constant Gardener. And he called me up the next day and said you'd better come round, this DVD machine isn't working, it keeps going back to the beginning. And so I went over there and fast-forwarded it and it was fine and I said you must be doing something wrong and he said he'd give it another go. And I saw him the next day and he was a bit quiet and eventually he said, 'Oh by the way it's nae bother, the player's alright, I just didn't realise the film was having flashbacks.' Honestly, that man. It was classic."

Pick of the week

Crying, Waiting, Hoping: the Story of Buddy Holly’s Last Tour
31 January, 7pm, Radio 2
Kicks off the station’s Fifties season.

Composer of the Week
2-6 February, 12pm, Radio 3
. . . is Rachmaninov.

Night Waves
5 February, 9.15pm, Radio 3
A discussion of the legacy of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, 20 years after the fatwa.

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 02 February 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Interview: Alistair Darling