Thursday, 22 July 2010

Schools Radio

This bunch of cheery chaps (there are chappesses involved too, but they were cropped out - I apologise), are some of the students I’ve been working with recently at a local school – Bishop Vesey, Sutton Coldfield – on a radio production project. The school was happy to define the activity as a radio station, although, alas, of studios and transmitters there were none. In fact for most of the project, there weren’t even such luxuries as microphones. I’m told this isn’t exactly uncommon. But you know what? Radio station status is irrelevant. This project has way more in common with proper, real-life radio station activity than you might think.
After all, any station worth its salt addresses one or more communities: local communities, communities of interest, or identity, or ethnicity, or music tastes, or age groups…. You get the picture. And, just as in real live radio, people come and go, join and leave teams, get to grips or give up, and grapple with technical and programming challenges. In so doing, they weave a web of involvement, hopefully with a high degree of continuity. A school is a particular community, very high on energy, very vocal, often brash, sometimes subtle, and full to bursting with youthful tribal identities that merge and split, coalesce, explode and implode. So there’s lots going on; lots of things to cover, which matter to that particular community.  Radio activities are an excellent 'fit'.

As to the work? Well, we scratched the surface. We made a start, and I’m very happy at the prospect of working with this team again in the next academic year.

This is grist to my mill. I’m especially interested in the notion of encouraging new people – and they don’t get much newer than this lot – to talk about matters of interest, to learn to voice, argue and present, to struggle with new techniques, and to deliver cogent material. As commercial  radio is increasingly rationalised out of having any impact at local level, there is a huge danger that this whole way of thinking will be wiped off much of our radio landscape. I would argue that now is the time to cherish and value these skills, because they will be desperately in demand in five or so years when the Digital Economy bill is… supposed… to clear the way for small-scale and community radio operations on the FM band.

If and when that day eventually comes, I can’t say whether there will be careers to build, or even livings to be made. Radio is turning itself inside out, and for many this is a very painful time. But I do know that radio on all its platforms – streamed, podcast, transmitted, web, digital or analogue – desperately needs good communicators to reach out to its communities of listeners. Those skills are hard-won, and the industry doesn’t seem to value them any more. We desperately need to avoid the mistakes made by television as it cuts costs and sinks to lower and lower levels. Car-crash tv, presented by vacuous inarticulate morons, may be good fun for a few minutes when you get in from the pub. It doesn’t work on radio.  Powerful, direct, loyalty-building communication does; always has, and always will. And it costs pennies… and the will on the part of the powers that be to let it grow and flourish. I’d love it – just love it, Kevin – if some of the above bright, engaging and likeable individuals were working in radio five or ten years from now.

PS: Two days after I took that photo, I was in Newcastle working with the excellent team at Amazing Radio; I'm due back next week. That's a whole different deal, and I'll post in detail in due course.

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