Student Radio Comes of Age

Picture from http://www.studentradio.org.uk

I once won a Student Radio Award. It was way back in 1992 – in whichever incarnation the Student Radio Association was then in. I won Best Male DJ – and was presented the award by Liz Kershaw at a very informal awards ceremony in the Students Union of Hull University. It didn’t lead to a glittering presenting career (unless you include random shifts on mercury FM and a year doing drivetime on Mercury Extra 1521am). However, it did cement my passion for radio and for the benefits of student radio.

My station was C4 Radio in Canterbury – now long gone – replaced by CSR. It was a tiny station with absolutely no budget – well maybe £1000 for a year if we were lucky. In the first year, everyone could hear it in the Halls of residence. In fact, my first experience was in Freshers week when we encountered Jon Holmes (before the record Ofcom fine) knocking on our doors with a free delivery service of baked potatoes. We had loads of fun though – raising money by organising student nights in the ropey Studio 3 nightclub. And using the production facilities of the college’s Radio Film and television department. And it must have taught us all something. Apart from Jon Holmes, people such as Kevin Hughes, Will Roffey, Michael Chequer, Andy Garland and more were kicked out into the real world of radio.

So last night, the great and good of student radio gathered at the IndigO2 for the Student Radio Awards 2009. And you can see all the award winners here. I was proud for the 4th year to have been asked to judge one of the categories, and yet again, was blown away by what these stations are doing and what they can achieve.

Now, there are many differences. Back when I was doing it, we had no internet, no streaming, and frankly very few ways to promote the station apart from a photocopier and pinning posters to noticeboards. Nowadays, these stations are as advanced, if not more advanced than their commercial and BBC rivals. They all, on the most part, have great websites; they use social networking in clever ways, and people can listen however and whenever they like. One year at C4, we found our whole AM loop system destroyed by construction of a new building. It took ages to fix, and we were somewhat limited to broadcasting on speakers to the student union. One station this year faced a similar problem – they simply moved online and streamed the whole station.

I judged the Best Live Event or Outside Broadcast category. And this featured some really interesting entries, from CUR’s coverage of the May Bumps, to various varsity matches. But I was really proud to see CSR – the reincarnation of C4 radio, win the silver for this category. I’m guessing they have smaller resources than many student stations, but managed to surpass many technical challenges to create a range of output live from Lounge on the Farm. Congratulations also to Smoke Radio for winning the Gold for Smoke’s Summer sendoff – a challenging week of outside broadcasts that took the station out to various campus sites across London – and some really engaging content too.

Last night’s awards was heavily supported again by BBC Radio 1, who genuinely support the work of the SRA, in both the awards and also at various events such as The Big Weekend. It goes without saying, they should be doing it and they genuinely engage with it. What was good to see was the involvement to a far greater level from Global Radio this year. Last year, Ashley Tabor, the CEO, was there. This year, Director of Broadcasting Richard Park was there along with a load of the groups DJs too. And they clearly see the value of student radio in developing new talent.

But most importantly, as Matt Deegan noted in his blog, it was the enthusiasm of the students which was the most importnat to see. They are the next generation of broadcasters, engineers and producers. If UK radio doesn’t give them a chance, then it is dead in the water. And if you are in radio,  or even if you’re not but feel you have insight to offer, then get involved. You can find out more about the I Love Student radio campaign here

So – to the award winners – congratulations – may you go on to good things. And to those who entered and didn’t win, or who didn’t do as well as they wanted, keep pushing the boundaries, be different and enjoy. It may be the best radio years of your life. But it should b fun.

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