St Albans DJ officially dismissed from local radio station amid controversy

PUBLISHED: 11:35 20 February 2019 | UPDATED: 12:16 26 March 2019

Danny Smith has thrown his backing behind Elspeth Jackman, who has been told she cannot volunteer at Radio Verulam any longer. Picture: Archant

Danny Smith has thrown his backing behind Elspeth Jackman, who has been told she cannot volunteer at Radio Verulam any longer. Picture: Archant

Archant

A popular radio DJ has been officially sacked after speaking out about what he called a programming "injustice".

Verulam Radio Drive Time DJ Danny Smith.Verulam Radio Drive Time DJ Danny Smith.

Last week’s Herts Ad revealed how long-term Radio Verulam presenter Danny Smith had suspended his volunteering services at the station in support of fellow presenter Elspeth Jackman.

Elspeth had been told by bosses at the community station to make her show Elspeth’s Afternoon - a Christian programme which has been running for 12 years - into a multi-faith show to satisfy broadcasting rules.

Section four of the OFCOM guidelines - entitled Religion - states that religious broadcasters must be responsible and not exploit any susceptibilities of the audience, or be abusive.

While in talks about how the long-standing Sunday slot could evolve, Elspeth forwarded on the initial email she received as a request for prayers from her contacts.

She was then told she could no longer volunteer at the station as she had breached internal rules.

Danny, who had hosted West Herts Drivetime for nine years and given up more than 10,000 hours to work unpaid for the station, went on volunteer ‘strike’ until the situation was resolved.

Radio Verulam subsequently terminated his volunteering with them. The station has also withdrawn its support for the Herts Advertiser School Awards in protest at our news coverage.

Danny said: “I knew on Thursday that I was being suspended and asked to attend a grievance meeting, but I said that I would not attend it until they address my original concerns as to how Elspeth was treated. I didn’t think I refused.

“So I was not in the least bit surprised - from their policy that no one must speak to the press, and no one can criticise the station internally either - that they did not reflect on the mistakes that they are making.”

He believes Radio Verulam has taken an anti-religious stance, and is becoming less concerned with the community and more interested in commercial viability.

Danny released a statement on social media, thanking everyone who supported, encouraged, and nurtured him: “There are some wonderful people at the station working very hard for our community, producing some of the finest local broadcasting you will find anywhere on radio.

“I also want to thank all of the amazing people who have come onto my show over the years. I have lost count of how many guests there have been but it has been a tremendous pleasure to hear about the organisations you represent and the valuable contributions you make.

“We are truly blessed by the rich diversity of local talent in our area and I am honoured to have been able to showcase many local musicians, actors and other representatives from the arts.”

Radio Verulam has refused to comment throughout the controversy, but an internal document seen by this newspaper clarified its position.

It said last week’s Herts Ad report “will have lowered our standing with listeners, advertisers and influencers”.

Chairman Nick Hazell said: “Let me be clear; we won’t always get everything right, but airing your negative views about the station in the local newspaper is contrary to our volunteer policy.

“Talk to us. If we can’t satisfy your concerns, you might conclude this isn’t the right place for you. We hope not, but we’re volunteers so we have free choice.”

He said Danny did not approach Radio Verulam with his concerns before contacting the Herts Ad - allegations he disputes, claiming he had attempted to speak to station directors on numerous occasions but was ignored.

Nick continued: “We are taking a more commercial approach, yes, and we make no apology for that because to sustain what we do, we need money.

“But we simply don’t accept that we are doing less for our community. I was very proud of our last annual report highlighting our community activity, and I’m proud of what we do here. Of course, we can always do more. As far as faith programming is concerned, we think it is important, and we want to cover all faiths.

“We attempted to find ways in which Elspeth’s Afternoon could be expanded to cover all faiths, but this proved not to be possible.

“We also have to be very mindful of the strict provisions of the broadcast code relating to religious output and needed to modify output to avoid any possibility of breaching our licence conditions.”

Elspeth said she has forgiven Radio Verulam and found peace with the “injustice”, because that is the Christian path.

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