Sunday 7 July 2013

Community Radio


It's about time I wrote this one up as it's been in use for a good few months now and I've not mentioned it. As some of you may be aware I like to get involved with Community Radio Stations in the UK. These not-for-profit stations are run purely by volunteers who have a passion in radio, broadcasting or just want to be involved in something a little different. I've been interested in radio since I was very young and always wanted to be involved somehow, so around 6 years ago I started to get involved with local community radio in the area. I've never looked back, helping a few more and more community stations get up and running, or just offering a bit of assistance now and again. My proudest achievement was being a part of setting up and starting a community station in Hartlepool, the station is still running, going strong and have had their license extended beyond the initial 5-year period so I'm thrilled I've been part of something as exciting as that.

So onto another challenge, I was approached to help with a Community station in Redcar, and as usual I couldn't refuse, so started to help with the planning, FM application, documentation and everything that goes with it. Needless to say I get into a lot of trouble for using up so much of my free time on projects like this but I absolutely love doing it! And so, we're now up and running online and just hoping and waiting to hear if Ofcom will grant us an FM license. This would be really exciting if it is granted as its then a mad rush to get a studio fitted out, FM transmitter, audio processing, etc, all in place. It feels like its taken forever to get to this stage, but in reality the station at Redcar has come together in a very short time period. Just around about a year from the original planning and ideas to having the station running 24x7 online streaming and having presenters on-air live from 10am to around 6pm each weekday is so rewarding. Fingers crossed the FM license comes through soon and it can go full-time on FM!


I should also talk a little about what I'm interested in with radio. It's not primarily as a presenter, as unfortunately I'm not the worlds best radio presenter, I mean, don't get my wrong I believe I can do a reasonably job of it, done quite a few interviews over the years and played music, chatted a bit and quite happy in front of the microphone, but alas, I'm not the most thrilling in the world and have the voice to match so this will never be my strong point! So where I aim for is the technical side of radio. The playout systems, broadcast chain (thats the audio processing, FM transmitter, RDS encoder, etc) is where my interest lies firmly. I've been lucky enough to be a part of two start-up stations now, both with their own slightly different needs and so the playout system and equipment behind the scenes needs to be a little different too. At the first station I'm pleased to say we could do things in quite a structured manner. There are two studios, one main playout and a second for pre-recording and voice work. Both use the central database of the playout machine in the primary studio. Audio output from the broadcast desk is then fed over low-oxygen high-grade audio cables up to the 'rack room' where it goes through two levels of audio processing before it hits the FM transmitter, via the RDS encoder and out at 25watts to the end-fed dipole antenna. The coverage is pretty good, even from a congested central town location with lots of noise polluters nearby (noise in terms of r/f interference such as mobile phone transmitters, taxi radios, etc).

This is such a brief insight into what I've put in and done so far, but hopefully I'll get more time in the coming weeks to talk a bit more in depth about each of the elements of broadcast chain and producing a 'decent' output for listeners. If you're interested in community radio too, I'd love to hear from you so please get in touch or pop by on twitter: