Archive for the ‘Radio’ Category

On Local Radio

Pultney Bridge, Bath

Pultney Bridge, Bath

So, radio today has today announced the closure of yet more small commercial radio stations, although in this case the article does imply there may be hope for the stations survival.

I’m not going to comment too much on the circumstances involved in the closure of the stations as I don’t know enough about it, and unlike some posters on digital spy I’m not going to pretend I do and risk any defamation accusations. Suffice to say the stations involved (Bath FM, Brunel FM, 3tr FM and Quaywest) have been through a rocky few years with several successive parent companies going into administration, and the inevitable knock on effect on-air leading to an almost constantly changing presenter team and I’d assume fairly low morale for all involved.

The Radio Today article also states that there’s rumours the stations may have been bought by the owners of Star 107.5 in Cheltenham – another station which has had a slightly rough ride over the years. As far as I can see, if true, this is probably a good thing for the stations involved.

I’m going to use Bath FM as an example, as after nearly 5 years living in it’s TSA (and hypothetically competing for audience) it’s the station/market I know the most about. The one thing Bath doesn’t really have is a local station serving its community – Heart/GWR have always provided the city with a local opt out at breakfast from their Bristol studios, with the city being an afterthought at most – and the BBC tag Bath content onto their Somerset and Bristol services, neither of which really serves the 83,992 people apparently living there.

There are however a few success stories of uber local stations doing pretty well against bigger rivals, because they’re better able to form strong links with their comunity. Jack FM in Oxfordshire, despite being a jukebox station for 21 hours a day, has found a really good niche for itself by having really strong local news and events information (the station had quite a nice write up from MG today in fact) likewise Rugby FM has always proved popular with the locals – largely by having one thing it’s rivals don’t have and that’s “Rugby”right at the heart of it’s brand. Neither Jack or Rugby have so far had any big rivals quivering with their RAJAR results – but both have found themselves a nice little share of the market and seem to be surviving nicely.

All of this brings me back around to Bath FM, and presumably it’s sister stations – if someone does happen to pick up the stations, for my money what they need if they’re going to succeed is to re-inject local into the stations. This is why I think the team behind Star 107.5 might just be a good thing for them. With their Cheltenham station they’ve proven that they’re not afraid to try things out with programming (while this leads to a slightly quirky program schedule), they’ve brought a big local name back to the air, taken the station out into the community with their fleet of various promo vehicles, and are behaving like a proper local radio station. I think this might just work in Bath, it’d need a lot of promotion, careful music programming and a willingness from the management to play a long game (Bath’s RAJARs have rather died since TLRC sold them) – but a station in Bath, called Bath which actually talks about Bath – might just have what it takes to snatch success from the jaws of disaster.

(Photo: DanielVDM on Flikr)

Student Radio

URB Studio 2004 (ish)

URB Studio 2004 (ish)

So, this is a slightly odd post to start a blog with – as I’m beginning at the end, next Wednesday will see the end of my formal involvement in student radio after 6 years. I thought I’d use the opportunity to look back at that time (without being too self indulgent hopefully) and at why student radio is a really important part of both the radio industry and university life.

My student radio journey started in my freshers’ week in 2004 when I tuned my little bedside radio into 1449AM URB, and being a little bit of a radio anorak (something which has definitely developed in the last 6 years) and there were a few things I thought could be improved…

I signed up straight away, and within a couple of weeks I was producing music positioners and training to present a show. A few months later I was involved in upgrading all of the stations computer equipment and planning marketing for the next freshers’ week. Here lies the first thing which for my money is brilliant about student radio, anyone can get involved – and it provides the opportunity to experience every element of running a fully working radio station. In my 4 years at URB I had a shot at marketing, commercial production, engineering, broadcast it, presenting (with varying degrees of success), scheduling, management, creating features and even laying carpet in the studios as part of a major refurb. There’s not many places in the radio industry where you get a chance to be a genuine all rounder, playing a part in every area of the operation – and the opportunity to develop new skills and work with fantastic people along the way is one I’d really urge anyone to take if they get the chance.

As well as an opportunity to have a go at stuff I could never have done anywhere else, student radio (along with the other groups I was involved in through my university career) provided me with an escape from uni when the degree was becoming a bit stressful or I became fed up with housemates etc. Having watched a number of people who didn’t have this escape letting stress of coursework and revision get to them, or just going plain mad – I’d advise anyone starting out on a university degree to find something outside their course to do (even if Radio isn’t your thing; Dance, Sport, even dressing up as Lord of The Rings characters… it takes all sorts!). I once joked to a conference that the split between my degree and radio was about 70:30 – while that was possibly a slight exaggeration, the time spent in the studios certainly kept me sane (ish) and coupled with the above helped inform my eventual career choice…

As well as the benefits for the students involved Student Radio also has major benefits for Universities. Through my work with the Student Radio Association I’ve had the chance to listen to some of the impressive content student radio produces. I’ve heard some really cutting edge journalism, covering elections and other major events on campus, I’ve heard really entertaining and informative drama and documentaries squarely targeted at the student audience, and I’ve heard some of the most informed and passionate music programming I’ve come across outside the now sadly condemned 6 Music. Obviously alongside this there’s some unpleasant filler, and some absolute rubbish from people that just want to turn up and mess around – but that’s the world of voluntary radio, when you have the sort of diversity within student radio, some of it’s not going to make the grade (and more so if you were to chuck off everyone who was rubbish you’d deprive people of the opportunities discussed previously). I’ve always said student radio is unique in this way – drawing all of the people involved from the community it’s designed to serve, and constantly freshening up the teams involved (most people involved have 3/4 years of student radio before graduating) even so called ‘community radio’ is often (though not always) run by a committee of people for a community without considering getting any members of that community involved – these are the stations that usually fail.

As for the advantages of student radio for the radio industry, well – I’ll leave that for the industry:

Student radio not only provides a great service to its community of listeners, it is an absolute hotbed of future talent for our industry, both on and off air.

Not my words but those of Ashley Tabor – CEO of Global Radio, words which have been echoed by other senior figures in the radio industry including Andy Parfitt (Controller, Radio 1).

So in summary, Student Radio not only gave me a fantastic 6 years of participating in it, and eventually representing it – but it also provides an incredible experience and opportunity for anyone who gets involved, and gives universities a brilliant entertainment, news and music service and provides the radio industry with the creative and off air talent it badly needs if radio is to have any future.

Thanks to all the brilliant people I’ve got to know through student radio, and to all of those who’ve helped me in all my different roles over the years – it’s been great fun!

(I should add – I’m not going for any particular reason, apart from I feel I’ve done my bit in student radio, and it’s time to move over and let someone else get on with it!)

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Mark Farrington

Mark Farrington
Broadcast Engineer working in UK Commercial Radio, former Student Radio person (and Honorary Lifetime Member of the Student Radio Association) - I also play with bits and pieces of web stuff, cycle, take photos, cook food and enjoy a good pint of real ale.