Once regarded as a pastime for the recluse and obsessive, student radio has become one of the most exciting and challenging opportunities university has to offer.
Nearly every university has one. The small room that would struggle to fit more than three people in it at once which has the feeling of being shut off from the rest of the world once the door has clicked shut. The microphone in the middle of the room which gives the ultimate feeling of power once you are stood in front of it and the on air light goes on.
Since the launch of the first student radio station, University Radio York at the University of York in 1967, student radio has become a more popular activity for students to take part in the last few years. Many do it just as a hobby to meet new people, whilst some use it as a means of gaining experience that would be near impossible to get elsewhere to help in achieving a career in the radio industry.
The set up of the Student Radio Association has given student radio more respect, as the awards it hosts have often been a platform to the winners to get onto established stations. Past winners include Greg James who won best male presenter in 2005 and is currently the Radio 1 afternoon presenter and Mark Crossley who won best male presenter in 2008 and presents the weekday night time shows at Absolute Radio.
“Student radio gives me a buzz literally every time I am on air. I don’t think many other experiences get close to the feeling of happiness when you get a link with perfect timing and a good reaction from the audience. I would recommend doing it to anyone because it gives you great personal development is great fun and looks fab on your C.V. Why not do it?”
Despite the passion felt by those involved in student radio and the developments that have occurred, including the improvement of studios in universities often being of the same or better standard than those of actual FM stations, there are still problems.
Student radio needs to be funded to keep the equipment up to date and in good condition. This often comes out of money made by the student union, which can sometimes be seen as a misuse as the next problem is getting the students to listen.
At the more established and award winning stations, audiences can average around a couple of hundred compared to stations that are just starting or those that are not that well known, audiences can be under 50 listeners.
It is hard for these stations to get the same recognition as some of the more established stations as they do not have the same funds to publicise as the money goes straight into the upkeep of the studio.
The internet has also increased the difficulty of attracting listeners as it is in direct competition with national radio and local radio that also stream online allowing homesick students to hear what they are familiar to and also sites and applications such as LastFm and Spotify which allows the individual to choose what songs to hear and find their own new music to listen to.
Many student radio stations have tried to combat the competition by streaming their stations online, so the station can be listened to from elsewhere other than the campus. Many stations also get awarded a FM licence for a couple of weeks a year from Ofcom where they can broadcast on an FM frequency to the local area, increasing their exposure.
For the stations struggling with finding funds to promote themselves, social networking sites such as Facebook have helped increase the exposure of stations, with many having their own group or fan pages and the presenters from each station often having their own page to tell their audiences what to expect in each show. Twitter has also been used, often as a way for listeners to send in requests and as a quick way for a presenter to engage with an audience. Twitter is often used as a way for listeners to get involved with a show, as it quicker than email and cheaper than text to interact.
Tim explains; “We have a Facebook group called ‘The Morning Fader on lsrfm.com’. We have invited as many of our friends as we can and message those that join the day before the show so that they remember to listen the next morning. It definitely raised awareness of the show and what we do as we also get quite a few emails the next morning from people wanting to let us know they are listening. We have just started to use twitter which is /themorningfader. This is already proving to be useful as we can communicate with whoever we want for example bands. A band has already promised us an interview when they are next back in Leeds.”
As student radio appears to go from strength to strength, what is next?
Some stations have managed to go be awarded a frequency to broadcast on all round the year rather than just a fortnight per year, but with the switchover from analogue proposed in the next few years, it’s unlikely all stations will be able to follow this path.
It is more likely that there will be a concentration on digital processes and some stations including University York Radio have already produced podcasts to showcase new talent. Perhaps the industry should always keep an eye on this innovative station to see what the next step is?