Hello, readers of Lydia’s blog!
Lydia has very kindly asked me to guest post on her site, and this month, I’m going to be talking about my experiences broadcasting on volunteer-run radio stations, first on student radio while I was at university and now on community radio.
I have always been interested in radio as a form of media. When I was a child, I used to use a kid’s battery-powered cassette player, complete with a small mic, to record my own radio show about my local area (a show that featured my younger sister as a contributor numerous times and often consisted of me going to my own news reports — BBC News should have hired me there and then for that journalistic determination! 😉 ).
I was also familiar with different radio stations growing up and would often listen to the radio when I went to bed (and still do!). When I was 15 (I think), I did try and get involved with an initiative for young people with the community radio station that at the time existed near where I live, but I think I was slightly too young to participate and whatever the reason, it didn’t come off.
When I moved to Exeter to do my English degree at the university there, the campus radio station, Xpression FM, was something that I was interested in. At the start of the second year of my three-year course, I took the plunge and got a membership that made me part of the station. The society regularly runs training for those wishing to learn how to present on air, and near the end of that first term of my second year, not long before Christmas, I started the “course”. A few months later, just before the Easter break, I took the test that the station requires you to pass in order to be allowed to present your own show, and I succeeded. The test involved me having to do things, in a mock show set-up, such as playing a station ident over the intro to a song, putting a CD out through the presenter desk, playing a vinyl record out over the system and putting a caller on air.
Once I had passed my presenter test and the Easter holidays had passed, I got started presenting for real quickly, managing to get a two-hour daytime slot which I presented live on a weekday each week. I remember that the first time I went live with my own show and it was coming close to the time to start, I thought: “What am I doing?!”. Thankfully, student and community radio stations are great places to cut your teeth in the world of radio. You have to be realistic in knowing that you’re very likely not going on air as the next Nick Grimshaw and that unless you or the station are known to a significant amount of people, the chances are that your listener-count will be very low. In your early broadcasting life, this is a good thing, because it is highly likely that you will make mistakes with all the different things presenting a show might involve — playing the right track at the right time, playing idents, putting callers on air, etc. A low-listenership was reassuring for me — at Xpression, we had a program on the live studio desk that offered an estimation of sorts of the amount of people tuned in to the station at any one time, and when I saw that my debut show-listeners were numbering somewhere around 10, I was a lot less nervous!
I presented in different weekday, daytime slots while I was at university. My student radio shows took the form of lifestyle and music shows that featured topics relevant to students — often to students at Exeter. I always tried to have a guest on my regular show to keep the conversation flowing. I also presented some one-off shows — one night, I did an 80s music show and another time, one Saturday when my younger sister was visiting, we did a show together. My friend and I also once did a one-off show based around the theme of sass — featuring things like sassy music and quotes!
I’ve talked about this in my interview with Lydia available on this blog, but after I had left university, one of the things I really missed was having a radio show — I missed being able to play the songs I wanted to on air and broadcast what I wanted. I liked the feeling of people being able to hear me broadcast live! I considered getting involved with a hospital radio station near me, but given that I don’t yet have a full driving licence, it wouldn’t have been the easiest place to get to. Thankfully, my Mum saw an email designated for my sister that was looking for college students to get involved with a community radio station in Gloucestershire, Corinium Radio.
The station, which broadcasts online 24/7 and is run by a network of volunteers, offers programming of various genres for listeners to enjoy. I investigated further as I was sure the station would be happy to take new volunteers of all ages, and I think the website confirmed this. I emailed the station and the station manager replied, suggesting we met to chat about the station. I actually ended up having the meeting with my Mum present (at 21!), because she had driven me over to the town where I was going to be meeting the station manager and it was a freezing-cold evening! Thankfully, the station manager was happy to have me on board, and we quickly discussed my intention to have a show on the station. I had a few training sessions with the presenting desk before going live with my show for the first time in January (because I had already been trained to use a presenting desk, I think I was able to start my show quicker, though two volunteers still supervise me and without them, I’d be lost!). I present my music and lifestyle show, Podcast Live With Kate, every fourth Friday of the month from 4 to 6pm, though it is repeated at the same time every week and you can catch up on their website.
Student and community radio are great places for those interested in the radio industry (and indeed, podcasts) to gain experience. Though there are a few basic rules to abide by (e.g. not swearing on air), there’s a lot of freedom when it comes to these sorts of radio-broadcasting. You often have the opportunity to experiment, with different content, genres and styles of presenting and shows, which you wouldn’t get on a commercial station/station with employed staff. As previously mentioned, student and community radio are also great places to make mistakes. I’ve made a plethora of errors over my time broadcasting so far — mucking up songs while they’re being played and saying “see you next week” instead of the correct “see you next month” are just some examples. One notable time, when my sister and I were doing that one-off show, I accidentally left the mic on temporarily when I put on a request, “Axel F” by Crazy Frog, and all my listeners were treated to my sister making the off-air comment of “Turn it up. I wanna hear it”!
Still, errors like this make for funny anecdotes, and it resonates with what one of the volunteers at Corinium Radio says: it’s about having fun.
Overall, broadcasting on volunteer-run radio stations is a great experience. You meet new people and make fantastic memories. It’s also a great opportunity to gain experience for your CV if you’re interested in working in radio or the media industry. All in all, what’s not to like?
Kate Jones is a journalist, radio show host, and Blogger. You can hear her live on the fourth Friday of every month from 4-6pm. Meanwhile, be sure to check out her blog.