The Students are in town..


Image from Bradford City of Film

The Student Radio Association is hosting it’s 2012 conference in Bradford. I think I came to a student radio here when I was at Uni – indeed it may have been the one when I won my student radio award – back in 1992. Then again, it could have be en Hull – we went there too. Wherever it was, it wasn’t as big as this conference.

In fact, there’s very little I remember from that conference, apart from a talk from a record plugging company, a panel with Liz Kershaw (who presented the awards) and a load of drinking. And I think we borrowed a few traffic cones. But that could have been the conference at Hatfield Uni. Again – its blurry. And I’m sure they borrowed them back when the conference came to Canterbury..

The conference in Bradford is a whole world away from that one:
There’s a search for the voice of the awards (previous entrants have ended up being used as Radio 1 station voices). There’s Demo Factor – where students face a judging panel to give them real honest feedback. Plus panels from loads of industry professionals ranging from news to show production to engineering and of course marketing and promotions (10am on the Tuesday btw..)

What’s exciting from events like these is that people are still excited by a career in radio. Sure, some want to be on air but many want to get involved in producing radio too. And it’s great to see a whole host of former student radio people who now work in radio giving up time to contribute to panels and discussions. There’s a full list here

The most important thing you’ll learn at events like this is the power of networking. Talk to people. Listen to people. And remember that those people will sometimes know the people that you really want to get to know. Build relationships online with these people – you never know when they could be a doorway to the one introduction that gets you into the job that you really want.

And don’t steal the traffic cones.

A Demon of an Opportunity

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of visiting the Media department of De Montfort University in Leicester. I was there as a guest of Rob Watson, who runs the Media Technology Degree.

Every year, they invite a load of industry practitioners from various areas – from business, to engineering to creative – to talk to the students about their real world experiences. We were on a panel called “It’s all going interactive”. You can read more about it here.

My fellow panelists were  Andrew Dudfield – who manages navigation for BBC Online and Chris Skinner who is a freelance producer for shows like Dave Gorman on Absolute Radio and The Bugle Podcast. We all shared some of our experiences in getting into radio, and I also shared some audio tips on creating and developing audio brands.

What was good to see was the enthusiasm from so many of the students. What also really amazed me was the opportunity they have available to learn new skills.

Rob showed us around the facilities of the department – and there’s a jaw dropping amount of learning spaces. From fully specced Pro Tools HD suites to acoustic engineering workshops; a green screen studio; AVID suites and even a mixing studio with a huge analogue NEVE desk.

And then there were the facilities on offer to the students who work on the student/ community radio station – Demon FM. All of the students on the course have the opportunity to get involved – planning, producing and presenting shows. They have 4 production booths for pre recording and prepping shows. Plus an office/ talks studio too. And they’re equipped with access to all the IRN feeds and news management tools to be found in any big newsroom. To be blunt – a wealth of opportunity they are unlikely to have to hand in many real world stations.

The temptation for many is to emulate what already exists. Some want to produce station sound that emulates Capital or Radio 1. Some want to be just like Chris Moyles or Greg James. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

However, this will probably be the one station that they get to work in where they can pretty much do what they like. Test out some new formats,
devise new ways of doing things, write some experimental drama, broadcast some sound art, or try out some comedy. It’s precisely the place where you can try and fail.

I really hope that they realise that this is their chance to experiment and create something fresh and exciting, learn some new skills and think differently. And then hopefully reap the rewards that should follow when they create something extraordinary.



Be Brave. Be Bold.

James Stodd & James Rennie - C4 Radio Canterbury Summer 1992

There are some things that you need to see.And some you don’t.

Me in shorts with a dodgy haircut is fairly inexcusable. But it was when I was a student. And that makes almost anything forgiveable (apart from wearing headphones on a photo shoot).

This photo was taken during the Sunday lunchtime show that James & I used to do on C4 Radio in Canterbury (now long gone and part of CSRfm). The programme was called “Crucial FM” (ripped off from the name of a Lenny Henry show sketch). It featured music, talking rubbish, stories from the Magic Roundabout and other old records we found in a second hand record shop in town.And occasionally the appearance of 2 characters called “Pat and Val”(loosely based on the cleaners who used to clean our halls – Thorne Hall if you really want to know).

This was the Summer of 1992. That was the year I spent my summer working as the Management Runner at BBC Radio 1. That was the year that I blagged the most free CDs and gig tickets ever. That was the summer that I paid daily visits to McDonalds on the “bloat up” run for Steve Wright. That was the year that I took Simon Bates’ dry cleaning to the dry cleaners. That was the year I won my Student Radio Award.

It was a very long time ago.

My Original Student Student Radio Award (with others)

My prize for winning the award was a box of CDs (there was a Jimmy Nail CD in there) and a lovely certificate. I still have the certificate. It sits in our home office next to a few other awards and my Doctor Who picture. (Who has always been cool ever since the time I met Tom Baker aged 6. End of).

Tonight (November 9th 2011), this years Student radio Awards take place at the IndigO2.

There is some debate about the history of the awards. Before the SRA there was NASB. I’m sure something happened at some point and it was disbanded. I remember attending a meeting when the SRA was set up. It may have been at Hatfield Uni. It may have been in Hull. Whatever the history,the Student Radio Awards have been around in a few guises for a number of years. And winning one, even back then, meant a huge amount.

This is a Cassette. Better than Minidisc.

I still have my entry. Luckily for you (and me) it’s on antique technology. No, it really is. This kids is a cassette. It’s what we used to pirate songs off the radio before the Internet. I listened to it a couple of years ago – and it was pretty average. But back then, being a DJ was what I wanted to be. And Student Radio let me do it.

The problem with student radio is that many people now, like me then, wanted to emulate what is curently on the radio. Back then, when I ran the station, I wanted it to sound like the local commercial station. I had jingles from America. I had an American Voiceover. And there was a team of specialist DJs who hated all of that and wanted to do things very differently.

I wish I’d have listened to them.

Student Radio can be about making the station sound  the best it can be. It can be about being the best presenter. But  what it really offers is the opportunity that you may never get in a professional radio career.; to experiment and fail. To try new things. To experiment. It may well give you more creative freedom than you’ll ever get in the real world. But, hopefully, it’ll allow you to create something new and inspiring to those people currently running radio.

One of the reasons I’ve been a judge for the last few years is that I think these awards have such a huge ability to encourage potential. The fact that Radio 1 and much of the UK’s commercial radio support them is testament to that. I’m looking forward to meeting some of the new winners from this year; who knows where they will end up?

So to all of you nominated at the awards this year and to all of you aspiring to succeed in the coming years; be brave; be bold. And most of all, never have a publicity photo done with you wearing headphones.

Is syndication really killing the radio star?

So, according to a report in today’s Media Guardian syndication of radio services is killing the radio star.

In a way, it’s true. Fewer stations or on-air shifts mean it’s harder for new entrants to break in. But many (including Global Radio‘s Ashley Tabor) would argue that there were many mediocre presenters on air anyway, so at least the new wave of “syndication” is improving quality.

Image By AndyBee21 (CC) Flikr

This article set me thinking though about whether this trend by Global and others may have actually increased opportunities for people to get into the new era of radio?

Capital Fm now has a 24 hour team of producers turning around content and links to keep the national feed of the service on air. They (along with the Heart network) also have a fairly large team of imaging and promo producers turning around everything from contest promos to local sponsorship ads. Sure, it’s may not have exactly the same levels of creative freedom that existed years back when I joined the original Capital Radio group. But if I was a new producer, currently in student radio and wanting somewhere to aim, this is a huge opportunity. An opportunity to learn the mechanics of how huge brand scale radio works – skills which are transferable across the digital marketing spectrum.

It’s also a fact that the global (small g) marketplace is continually shrinking. When I wanted to get into presentation and production, my only hope was to send out a demo (cassette) to various programme controllers. Now, I can start up a blog, share audio with colleagues worldwide online and maybe come up with and produce stunning visuals and share them on YouTube. The ease with which content and talent can now be showcased makes the world your marketplace.

And since Radio 2.0 is now where we are at – it’s the web/marketing/digital skills that are (almost) more important than the DJs themselves. I started my career striving to be a DJ. When I finally got on air, I was relatively successful but quickly became bored with a (then very loose) format. Presenters would kill for that level of freedom now. But even then, I could see that to survive, you needed to be able to do far more than just play the hits. S ave for a precious few, this is still the case.

And new talent is definitely out there.  As Clive Dickens noted in the article; “Student radio has become the new hunting ground for new talent”.  Having judged the Student Radio Awards for a number of years, I can only agree.

When I was at Puretonic Media, we found a new temporary producer – Andy Jackson – who very quickly became full-time. He’d only worked on a very small station in The Wirral. But he had immersed himself in radio online, read loads of blogs/ sites/ articles. And had amazingly creative production skills. And, more importantly, was willing to learn.

And through this blog, I’m in contact with producers around the world who ate equally striving to make it.  One such producer is just 15 years old – Nik Kelly. Already creating imaging on a national night show in Australia. And gaining attention of the international imaging guys at Benztown Branding in the process.

So if syndication IS killing the radio star, it may also be providing many new opportunities in the process. But you have to be prepared to find them. And maybe adjust your skills accordingly.