Bureaucracy Killed the Radio Star 

11 February 2008 tbs.pm/3231

“The station of the people”

Every good organisation has a mission statement. However laughed about they at least give everyone an idea of where they are heading and roughly how the company feels about the world.

Uni FM didn’t have a mission statement but it’d probably be “We’ll give you a slot even if you can’t speak”. Much as this egalitarian show allocation policy seems nice it also means you get a hell of a lot of boring programmes.

They even gave me a show. Good people spend time organising their programmes, writing down ideas, preparing music, jingles and competitions, while the rest of us just turned up with that day’s newspaper and ad libbed furiously. In consequence, the station gets a reputation for being boring so no-one listens, which leads to the next point. Money.

“This show is sponsored by, erm…”

Money. It makes the world go round, which is especially true when it comes to radio stations with thousands of pounds worth of equipment being used by many different people who aren’t that bothered what they break. The local student union refused our calls for more funding, because they spent lots of money on setting it all up and paying for the ‘Restricted Service Licence’ (RSL) every year. Apparently they had better things to spend their money on. Inner cities; schools; hospitals; kidney machines. Not radio stations.

So it was down to us to get advertising and sponsorship to fund anything else we needed. Cue the marketing team. Except they’re far too busy designing flyers and spending the little money we did have to actually bother attracting any more of it. This always seemed a little silly to me. If they’d put a little more effort into getting money, they’d be able to have glossy flyers and the studio could have had it’s fifth microphone stand of the year. But there’s a problem to all of this – listeners.

“Can you hear me, mother?”

You see it’s rather hard to know if anyone is actually out there listening. If the marketing lot had done some surveys, it might have helped and the Internet listener figures gave you something even if the answer was “oh. Is that all?” but nothing to really go to an advertiser and say “we’ve got 5,000 of your favourite demographic listening in – want to give us £50?”

I maintain that this is particularly hard for an ‘RSL’. You only have four weeks to come on air, tempt people away from their usual station, entertain them and then disappear back into the ether. Without a marketing budget in the first place it seems to be something akin to an ever decreasing circle.

Especially if your content is such that no-one who finds the station on the off chance wants to listen anyway but why doesn’t anyone want to listen?

“The Un-Dilbert Principle”

A student radio station largely consists of noisy people who want to broadcast themselves to the world, people who are very good at talking – – you wouldn’t believe how well they can natter away about nothing.

So when it comes to (student) election time, they come along and natter away. Because they’re the good talking people and everyone has been listening to their shows, they win out and become the head honcho of the station.

Except they have no experience at managing anything at all. When they should be concentrating on making great radio, they’re actually working out how to run a radio station. Which could be best left to someone with a little more managerial experience.

Most of this comes down to the fact that the radio will essentially create itself if you put some good people in place to produce the content and decide on a style for the station. As charming as the “let’s give everyone a show” policy is, it’s not especially helpful, listener wise.

“The Secret Formula of Success”

Get the production crew to test out a few people and put them in the popular slots. Put them in three, four, five days a week like the proper radio stations do. They do it for a reason. If it means recording shows then do that. It won’t make a huge difference to the experience and will probably reduce the reliance on dedication. Put some of the others on but make sure you test them first. Get some advertising. Get some people up to the Union at lunchtime to hand out flyers and come back a week later and do a poll to find out if anyone’s listening.

At least then you have something to show potential advertisers and if you start at a low rate, you can get advertisers in. When you’ve proved your listenership move the prices up a bit. You don’t need to be making a profit or funding salaries here, just providing enough to make you a well known, well respected and well listened to radio station. At the end of the day most people are doing it for “that big break” and the better your reputation the more likely you are to find it.

Student radio has a certain reputation to uphold. Mainly that reputation is being a waste of spectrum but while 23 hours of the day are filled with random drivel and endless “shout outs”, the odd gem sometimes turns up. The station I worked with won Student Radio awards and a couple of former presenters are now happily presenting the travel on Radio Inverness – but what actually happens in a Student Radio station?

I’m not saying that every station was run the way the one I worked for was but I wouldn’t be surprised…

I’ll call the station Uni FM. All names in this article have been changed….

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