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Andy Vale – 5 Lessons/Thoughts From The Student Radio Awards

Monday, November 21st, 2011

andy-vale-picA few weeks back I wrote about the annual Student Radio Awards. 2 weeks ago they rolled around again and as always it was a pleasure. I went wild, ate fistfuls of candy and caught up with many people that I do not see enough. But as it was the last one that I’ll attend as a student I thought I’d reflect briefly on 5 lessons/thoughts that I had during the awards last night:

1. Is the Old Guard of student radio changing?

Last year the awards were dominated by URN of Nottingham, who won over a third of the gold awards on offer. This year they still won Best Station, yet there was nobody racing out in front across the board. As well as a few more established stations there were victories for KCL Radio, RamAir and Xpress Radio, who have had relatively little success (or existence in some cases) at this level over the last few years. No station won more than two gold awards this year, compared to URN winning six last year, Raw winning four the year before and URN winning five the year before that. While I don’t doubt that every one of those awards were fully deserved, I admit that the winners list this year is very refreshing. Is the old guard of student radio changing? I doubt it, but a lot more people are coming along to the party.

2. Student radio is what YOU make it!

I am not the first person to trot out this line. This is not even the first time I’ve trotted it out, but it cannot be said enough.

There was one moment from this years SRA Awards that I wish could be frozen in time, framed and put on my mantelpiece. It was the look on the face of our last Head Of Marketing when it was announced that his entry in the Best Marketing & Station Sound category had won the silver award. I’d like to tell you a little bit about him, so you understand why this moment was so sweet for us. 1350am GU2 Radio hasn’t had the best marketing in the last few years. At best it could be described as patchy, but being a university with little art and design courses we didn’t have anyone with the capabilities to make eye-catching posters or exciting logos. We just accepted it for a while, worked on other areas and hoped that somehow our lack of a visible presence on campus wouldn’t matter that much.

Along came Matt Clifford. With no prior training or experience he decided to step up and take control of our Marketing department. Armed with a basic copy of Photoshop and a few free evenings he taught himself graphic design from scratch. Other people chipped in throughout the year but he was the one who co-ordinated most of the campaigns, produced most of the material and worked tirelessly to make other people’s ideas a reality (no matter how unreasonable their/my requests were).

One particularly handsome person on Twitter claimed that “He is the kind of person that every station wants.” This is correct. However he is also the kind of person that you could be! There was no luck involved in him getting that silver award. He didn’t go to the right uni, he wasn’t a naturally gifted artist and he didn’t have any connections in that field. He just saw that it was a weakness in our station and he decided to strengthen it.

3. We need more women in radio!

At my station I like to make a joke by saying “You know, 4/5 of our best members are female… I’m the fifth.” When I’m telling the truth it’s 5/5. Yet at least two times during the night the issue of there being few women in radio was bought up. There were no females in the Best Entertainment category (we sent in two all-female entries, just saying…) Also at the last few Student Radio Conferences I cannot think of one year where any of the big show-piece talks were by women. Are we in a male-dominated industry?

During the evening’s sound-clash I was reminded of a rather uncomfortable portion of an article posted up on Sound Women A group of 200 inspirational females in the radio industry. It came as Tim Westwood made jocular remarks about Tulip Mazumdar snuggling up to a load of squaddies during a recent trip to Afghanistan. I couldn’t help but think of this passage:

“I started out at a radio station where in the studio women were completely equal. Or so we thought. But something happened on the ten metre walk from the back door to the pub. The blokes started compiling lists about the newsroom staff called things like ‘top ten girls in poshest order’, the inevitable ‘who would you like to sleep’ with, and ‘girls with most upturned breasts’.”

I’m sure Westwood meant nothing with his remarks (I have heard from all accounts that he is a top guy), he is one of the great personalities of radio and I would hate him to lose it. If I’m being honest, I probably would’ve said similar. Again, nothing personal, just joking around and I would happily take as much as I give. But the above quote was awkwardly nudging around my head all night after that. I would love to say I came to some divine conclusion, but I didn’t. So I won’t give you one.

4. If you put yourself out there, you will get a chance!

One of the reasons I love the SRA events is because I get to see a lot of people from elsewhere in radio. This was my fourth awards and I’ve got to know a few faces over the years. What struck me last night was how many people I knew there who are now “in the industry” that I met here as students only a year or two ago. Throughout the night I spoke to people whose current main stations are Radio 2, Absolute and Kiss FM, when a short while ago they were at LSRfm, Fly FM and URB. While they all had different routes in, what they all had in common was skill, passion and the drive to set themselves apart. One way or another they got noticed and they have got onto the ladder despite all the cutbacks, job losses and other death-knells that have been surrounding radio for the last few years.

5. Student radio has found its own sound” – Steve Lamacq

Trust Steve KabLAMMO to come up with the purest nugget of optimistic truth for the night. He is right. While there isn’t a template or optimum design for a student radio show, good ones do tend to have common themes running through them. As an example I want to look very quickly at my favourite SRA entry ever. This is The Big Chewsie from RaW (Click HERE to listen!) who won Best Entertainment in 2009. I’ll give you a minute to have a listen…

Wasn’t that amusing? The first time I listened to it I was doubled over in my chair with laughter, wishing I had thought up some of those lines. I don’t know these guys but I would love to hang out with them. There were also genuine moments of deceptively simple originality that won them another award for their creativity. Overall it was a pleasure to sit down and enjoy, but at the same time you couldn’t imagine hearing it on mainstream radio. What station would allow their presenter to switch studios live on-air, seemingly on a whim?

It shouldn’t work, but it does. Student radio (when done right) has the correct ethos, people and free-wheeling sense of fun to find these glorious audio oddities. The place isn’t run by stubborn old war horses who insist that good radio is made by slavery to a brand, format and relentlessly reminding people that IT’S FRIDAY. It’s run by people who often have few pre-conceptions about the medium. It doesn’t have the consistency of commercial radio or the funding of the BBC, but a good student station will
have more original ideas in a day than most bigger ones will in a week.

Original doesn’t necessarily mean good and I confess that I have been responsible for the birth of many original yet truly awful features (Mail-Order Bride Of The Week anyone?) But when it’s done well it is a joy to listen to as a primary source of entertainment, purely based on the content.

No expensive prizes, celebrities or forced references to the listener’s daily routine are needed, just ideas. Oddball, ambitious, life-affirming ideas. This is our sound, let’s turn it up!!.

Andy has been involved with Gu2 Radio at Surrey University for four years. He has had roles in management, events and press, as well as putting in hundreds of hours behind the mic. He is in his final year of an English Literature degree and is looking for career opportunities for after University


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