Done. & Tired.

So it’s a week since my last day at NE1fm – a long day and I’ve been really tired all week, finally catching up with things 6 days on. This was half written – so today (15th) I deleted and rewrote it.

The birthday was a good one, lots of people turned up, we had a smashing BBQ, and I gatecrashed most of the shows on the Saturday schedule. For the day we installed a live video feed of the studio and hundreds of people looked in on us throughout the day. Running a community radio project for 6 years is no easy achievement.

My final show was a special one. I was joined in the studio by friends of months, years and decades. We shared 3 hours of good music, banter and memories, old show features, the good and the bad. I was humbled to listen to a “This is your life” that was made for me, including some pretty embarrassing audio and interviews with people from the years. I’ll stick it on my SoundCloud soon and pop it up here for you to have a listen to!

A good sign off.

Balancing it out.

2 days to go.

Short and sweet one this. I work 35+ hours a week as an IT technician. I’ve got a 2 year old girl and a partner, and then the station. I probably spent 10-15 hours a week on station stuff from home. Try and find balance if you’re pushed. Today has been pretty busy so with a beer in hand I’m going to have tonight off!

From tomorrow, I’m on NE1fm from 10am onwards. Listen in. It’s the station’s 6th birthday, my last day, and BBQ day. I’m going to gatecrash all the shows!

See you tomorrow.


3 days to go. (including today, tomorrow and Saturday for those asking)

It goes without saying a lot of things wouldn’t exist without volunteers. Discounting the charity shops which pay their managing directors hundreds of thousands a year look at the 2012 Olympics. The opening ceremony was the best production I’ve seen in my life. All powered by volunteers (and some paid people, naturally, but mostly volunteers).

Volunteering: Freely offer to do something.

I’ve lost count of how many hours I’ve volunteered at NE1fm. Community radio is the only thing I’ve really volunteered with, I used to be part of a large orchestra in my musician days which we did for the love of music – good times! I think most volunteers would love to be paid to do what they do. I know I do, because I still wish to this day that things had of been different and I could be paid to work there 35 hours a week. In a different universe the station would be much, much bigger. But it all comes down to money at the end of the day.

Volunteering can be as rewarding as you want it to be. If you want to turn up, present a show and go home, you can. You should probably do more though. Don’t just take, give back. You almost earn a status after being a long time volunteer. I think you can get away with more, have more say, more influence and you get more respect. I’m proud to be able to say people benefit every single day from the work myself and the other directors of CBIT (who own NE1fm 102.5) do. There’s that saying “if it wasn’t for you…” – if it wasn’t for a small group, a much bigger group would go without.

On a more difficult front, running a project is always best effort. I can say hand on heart that everything we’ve done has been best informed, best decided. There’s no free training on how to run a project. No free training on the legalities, no free training on employment law. And if you end up dealing with a difficult volunteer they can very quickly start to become a pain citing all sorts of laws and rules they think you’ve broken.

My advice on that front? Be fair, professional and open about the actions you do. Always have justification. Use resources like Volunteering England to help you with the other bits. When people they complain to come calling, show them your reasons and you’ll find they’ll agree and walk away. Do all of that and you’re on to a winner.

Here’s what some have achieved volunteering with NE1fm.

  • Barry Wilson
    I’ve met musicians from all over the country, I’ve gained friends internationally, I’ve been backstage at venues across Newcastle upon Tyne and I’ve had people genuinely refer to me as “their favourite DJ”. I’ve interviewed The Levellers and The Lancashire Hotpots, two of my all time favourite bands. I can think of a few more, courtside seats at Newcastle Eagles games, tonnes of CDs for free, getting into Alton Ellis via listening to Gordon Robertson on NE1, getting the lead singer of Groove Armada to shout Slayer, so much more……. This isn’t a “hey, look what I’ve done”, but it’s more “look what’s happened due to NE1”. Hey, the amount of help [the station] gave The Old Ship Music Festival (which in turn got mentioned on the BBC!). Wow, so glad NE1 exists. Oh, and being the PA for Gateshead Thunder. Again, cheers NE1!
  • Gordon Robertson
    I got to interview Christopher Ellis, son of the late reggae legend Alton Ellis and also Dave Hillyard from great US ska band The Slackers. I wanna thank [Barry Wilson], Simon, Kev, Dave T, Hev and sure there’s others I’ve forgotten for giving me a year of doing my thing on FM radio and helping to build my confidence. Now I’ve ended up on one of the internet’s biggest specialist reggae stations and would never have got there without NE1.

If you’ve volunteered with NE1fm and are reading this, please leave a comment on what difference it has made in your life.

How to pay for a project people volunteer with? That’s tomorrow’s blog.

All the technicalities.

4 days to go.

If you want to get your hands on professional equipment from a technical perspective, including learning to use and fix studios, perform outside broadcasts, use PA systems – or link many of those together at once – community radio is a great way to learn significant skills. Before NE1fm 102.5 launched I did a lot of online broadcasting. It was easy. It became moderately technical if you wanted to stream the output of a mixer and mic – using the same PC to stream as you did to play the music. And before NE1fm, I wasn’t sure myself on how you’d actually get the output from a mixer in Newcastle to a transmitter in Gateshead, reliably.

But I learned those skills, and have since shared those skills with others. If you build up trust too, show you can fix and not break, and know when to fix stuff – you sometimes might even get the opportunity to build a studio from scratch. I’m proud to say that myself and Dave Tansley built the latest NE1fm studio (1). It’s still standing so we did a decent job!

View images of a studio build here.

So what stuff could you get your hands on? The station has two broadcast studios. Studio 1 is most commonly used for live broadcast, with Studio 2 used less frequently, and predominantly for disabled access and pre-recorded content production.

Studio 1 features a Soundcraft Series 15 console, along with four microphone channels, two CD channels, two PC playout channels, one Minidisc input channel, one auxillary and satellite input channel, and two telephone channels. Besides from the console, Studio 1 is also equipped with two Numark CD players, one Sony MDS-E12 Minidisc player and recorder, a pair of Technics 1210 MK2 turntables linked to a Behringer DX 500 studio mixer, and for listening to our output a pair of Denon SCCX303 CX3 speakers.

Studio 2 features a Clyde Broadcast Synergy console, a digital desk, with the inputs available including two microphone channels, two CD channels, four PC playout channels, two auxillary and satellite input channels, and an recording studio input for live bands. The second studio also features two Tascam CD-01U CD players and one Sony MDS-E12 Minidisc player and recorder.

Don’t forget your flying studio – the one you take out with you to outside broadcasts. A D&R Airmate with Tascam CD players and a laptop with a copy of the stations music library.

The devices you use to connect back to studio to go on air.

This then relies on IT equipment, studio playout computers, email computers, music servers, loggers, online stream computers, outside broadcast computers, network.

At the transmitter end, another computer, an RDS unit and the actual transmitter unit.

Then you need your audio chain. Compressors, limiters, multi band processing units. Where do you do that? Studio or transmitter?

Then you need to get the audio from the studio to the transmitter in a way that is reliable, 24/7/365 – dependant on suppliers (Virgin Media/BT Business).

Then think about your website, where’s that going to be hosted. The same goes with your online streaming service.

It goes on, and on, and on. I love being technical because the list is endless. Everything relies on everything else.

I was taught a lot of the above, you can learn all of the above. If you want to. That’s a promise. All in community radio.

Being a presenter.

5 days to go.

As someone who’s listened to radio for as long as I can remember I wanted to be on the radio, I wanted to be an entertainer. None of this “that was, this is” I wanted free reign, the ability to entertain, be funny, original, fun.

The BBC should of hired me a long time ago.

Enough self indulgence, here’s some history to it all.

I used to record shows at home with a cassette player for school, then when I got a PC and Cool Edit (thanks Peter Quistgard!)  I would make shows on that. People enjoyed them, I think, they certainly LOLLED. They started asking me to do stuff for them, custom silly audio, music productions etc. Then I started doing performing arts at school in a technical role – playing with massive mixers, amps, PA stuff, and all the racked equipment was fun.

So when I did my first radio broadcast on East End Broadcast (87.9fm 28 day RSL) naturally the second I opened the mic I would be this immense radio presenter. Well practiced, confident, prepared. I was rubbish.

I was fairly rubbish from 2001 – 2007. I’d listen back to myself and think what’s going wrong? Where did a ghastly radio voice develop. Where did I develop fader wanking? I was Kev till 9pm, did I turn into a Dave at 9:01pm? I’d talk for the sake of talking, and do 4 links an hour where I only promoted the phone that never rang. You’ve guessed right, in another dimension I was today’s Nick Grimshaw.

But I persevered, and got shot of those stupid habits. I kept wanting to be some big shot. I kept asking for advice. I kept disagreeing with that advice.

In the early days of NE1fm 102.5 I did weekend breakfast with Dan Pye. We called it the Kanned Weekend. Some play on Kev and Dan created Kanned. It was fun. Inappropriate at times but with age and some advice a good piece of framework developed us two hours of good radio. Spaced out features, appropriate stuff at appropriate times. “I’m Coming Home Newcastle” was also a regular track. We did stuff people enjoyed, and stuff people didn’t enjoy. It always felt great if someone rang you to talk about something you’d just done, especially if you could hear yourself on their radio in the background. It felt great every single time.

The Kanned Weekend developed into a mini-brand. DJing 4 nights a week, sometimes live on the radio from locations in the North East. It made us a few grand each too doing private gigs. But it went as far as it could go and we ended it in the lead.

In 2009 I asked a long time friend Nicola if she fancied doing a show. She was called Nixxi on air, and used to do a show on a Sky TV Radio Station called Pure Dance. The show was called Ben & Nixxi.

No Ben + Kev = Kev & Nixxi. A beauty.

We’d also worked together on previous RSL stations, and performed a mini-phonein that was tons better than Robson. We just had one caller though, and we only did the phonein for one night. I was friends with Ben, Nixxi was Ben’s girlfriend so we all got on.

Kev & Nixxi was born on 4th July 2009. We were a Saturday night 9pm show which played new music, dance, RnB, chart, stuff you don’t normally hear, and stuff you probably heard too much.

Our target listener was anyone, ideally an 18-30 year old, we didn’t target based on sex, just on the connection factor. If we press play and they go “wow!” we’d done our job. It worked.

We had some brilliant show features too, some of these were;

  • Features
    Each show was based around the last weeks events in the Kev & Nixxi world. Stuff we’d done, messed up, achieved, de-achieved, and if we’d made an arse of ourselves we’d talk about it. People related to it and would share their events. It very quickly became a concrete part of the show and people came back every week.
  • Legend Tune
    This was a listener voted feature every week where people chose the first song of next week. It was always based around older tracks that you didn’t hear much. At the height of the feature it would get over 600 votes a week. That’s 600 people going to our website, ticking a box and clicking vote. I was proud of that.
  • SmeggHeads
    Who our age likes that stupid BBC Two programme Eggheads. It’s full of old people going on about how clever they are. So we did our own version. Red Dwarf meets BBC Two quiz.  Brainwave! Our internet website geeks (Alex Humberstone or Simon Gunton) would give us 5 questions, we’d write our answers down, encourage listeners to take part, tell us what they scored and then we’d do our results a song or two later. The best bit about this was that put on the spot we were rubbish, reliably rubbish – and it was all live. Our listeners loved it. Some people in commercial radio told me they enjoyed it too because it was simple. We could polish the questions off in two minutes so it was enough for people who dipped in to listen to, take part and stick around for. People did that.
  • Return of the Track
    Stuff that was often in the middle of the second CD in your Now! collection. People loved it, and once people understood how it worked they recommended what should be played next week. It was always obscure, and it always had people saying they loved it.

And those were just some. We tried others that failed, and did others that worked but I’m not going to list everything here. As a listener to Chris Moyles it was a weird coincidence how many things we spoke about appeared on their show the following week. I did know someone quite well who produced freelance for BBC Radio 1. Perhaps they listened to me and suggested features, perhaps me and Moyles were on the same wavelength.

198 shows later and the Kev & Nixxi show sadly came to an end. We’d spoken to famous people, had first plays on good tracks, given away loads of great prizes, had some fun competitions, some funny callers, we’d embarrassed ourselves, made funny videos, invented a new sandwich brand, had a loyal UK and US following and overplayed some gems to death.

The show would’ve copied and pasted perfectly onto something like Radio 1 or Capital network. But we were happy where we were. I was happy on community radio.

Stubbornness, Compromise & Discipline

6 days to go.

This one is a bit of a long one, but if you’re interested and have a few minutes you’ll gain good insight into other intricacies of community radio. The nasty sides.

You’d imagine that if everyone loved the same thing, radio, a community radio project would work perfectly smoothly with everyone contributing to the bigger cause. There’d be little conflict, little hostility, no problems! I’m going to quote some dictionary definitions in this piece of writing too – just to reiterate some points.

If you think that a project will run perfectly if everyone loves the same goal let me tell you right now from experience it is nothing at all like that.

I think I can speak from experience when I say if you’ve got a good idea you can be quite stubborn if someone doesn’t think it is as good an idea as you. Been there done that.

Stubborn: Having or showing dogged determination not to change one’s attitude or position on something, esp. in spite of good arguments or reasons…

But of course you’re allowed to be stubborn, if you can compromise.

Compromise: An agreement or a settlement of a dispute that is reached by each side making concessions.

If you’re stubborn, and cannot compromise, then in my experience you have poor discipline. This is what I’ve deduced from some people I’ve came into contact with.

Discipline: The practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience.

So. Let’s link the above to community radio to give it some context.

When we started planning to launch NE1fm 102.5 in 2006/2007 there were discussions on many things, but significantly on how we should sound. All important things really, what music do you play, do you play 80s/90s. Do you play modern, do you play odd stuff, do you play classical. Or do you do the whole lot.

From my perspective, in the early days, a lot of arguments seemed to derive from the vision of a certain member of CBIT’s board at the time. It was the opinion of more than one that this person wanted NE1fm to be the result of BBC Radio 2 and hospital radio smashed into each other using something like a hadron collider. Rubbish.

If this person thought their idea was a good one, excellent. If anyone disagreed it would be discussed in significant depth until one of two things happened. Everyone got bored of this individual justifying their idea to death, or everyone got bored of this individual justifying their idea to death. No compromise.

If this person disagreed with someone else’s ideas, they would question every single aspect of it, continuously until the person lost confidence or gave in. No compromise.

This person also didn’t like other people doing stuff like the station website – which they wanted to do, and never actually did a good job of. I remember my access being taken away and them telling me there must of been a problem with the site, I never believed it, but also never got the access back. They also had sole ‘complete admin’ of the early incarnation of the Facebook page, and sole access to the station Twitter. Everyone was locked out of those two eventually also.

As you can see here the project was starting to, from not just my perspective but others including stakeholders, become led by someone who was stubborn, could not compromise and had no self discipline.

Luckily CBIT has an annual meeting every year where directors all resign and are then voted back on to the board. This individual was not voted back on. And this was the beginning of NE1fm 2.0.

So continuing on to discipline, and disciplinary actions. I was part of the project because I loved what it was about. I didn’t enjoy having to discipline people for breaking rules – and it appeared that was one of the more significant parts to being a member with responsibilities  This is where you become disliked. Where the ‘haters’ start. But I’m only disliked by people who I’ve dealt with for breaking rules. A funny set of circumstances.

Here are some scenarios where, no matter what I’ve done, I’ve been in the wrong.

  1. Unauthorised Transmitter Access
    A trusted volunteer with remote access to all systems gained access to the transmitter. They disabled the studio feed and chose to play music they liked, themselves, to listen to at home. It was undone within minutes, the person locked out and subsequently excluded from the project.
  2. Breaking station rules.
    A Friday evening presenter in 2008 was caught with open alcohol in the studio. Despite the no drinks in studio rule, there was a more significant rule of no alcohol on you or in you when in the building. They were excluded from the project.
  3. Disrespecting the project.
    One broadcast audibly mocked the station rules, the implications that the show could have if they broke them, and then proceeded to break them anyway. Despite an SMS warning them, they then mocked that on air. They lost their show.
  4. Campaigns of abuse.
    Whilst being suspended/asked to take a break for an extended period, one volunteer began an internet campaign of abuse against the station. Including making unfounded allegations against the station and management. Allegations which they later apologised for. Unbeknownst to the individual, some people he was asking to front his campaign of abuse were reporting back to station management. One even confessed to being part of it, but that he was made to be part of it under duress. The instigating individual was excluded from the project.

If you want to run a community project, be alert for the above. Be alert to behind the scenes bullying, intimidation, and victimisation. Stop it before it gets serious. Make a stand against it.

Bullies are the first to cry bully.

So you want to set up a community radio station?

7 days to go. Today here’s some information on setting up a community radio station. Bear in mind it’s not easy – despite there being over 200 licenced stations in the country. If you’ve got big plans to be on FM too, there might not be room anymore. Read more here.

Setting up a community radio station is expensive, and one of the main questions I’ve been asked over the past 6 years is how much does it really cost? People think you can get going with little investment, so to give an idea of the cost of just setting up a community radio station I’ve outlined some of our setup costs for NE1fm 102.5.

The costs below include professional grade equipment, not entry level equipment.

Studio Equipment – £34,000

  • Broadcast Studio including mixing desk, 2xMDs, 2xCDs, 2xturntables, TBU, and peripheral devices (monitors, headphones, microphones etc…).
  • Production studio equipment including mixer and ancillary devices. DJ mixing equipment. Applicable software.
  • Production equipment including 6 PC based editing suites and associated peripherals. Sony Vaio laptops were used for this role.

Transmission Equipment – £12,300

  • FM stereo Transmitter with peak limiter.
  • Centre fed dipole, suitable through 88 – 108 MHz.
  • Connectors, RF Cable.
  • Digital audio processing unit.
  • RDS Generator.
  • Radio Authority/Ofcom – Ofcom Test Coupler.
  • Spectrum dividing filter.
  • STL, Stereo Studio to Transmitter Link system, comprising link transmitter with limiter, link receiver, 2 x aerials (transmit & receive). + Licence.
  • Installation, setup and configuration.

CBIT, who own and operate NE1fm 102.5 started out with over £60,000 in the bank raised from over 10 years of RSL work and other media projects. It was envisaged to have more than one project running under CBIT, but NE1fm 102.5 has been a massive project to operate and free time to do other projects has not been readily available!

On top of the above figures you must factor in your music licensing, FM licensing, relevant insurances, news provision, rent, rates, electricity, gas and additionals such as internet and television. Some of those are the same for everyone, some will be unique to your position.

Now set up and operational. NE1fm 102.5 costs around £12,000 a year to operate before staff costs. That equates to £33 per day. Assuming a broadcast of 12 hours a day on average that is £2.75 per hour.

Of course you could do it a totally different way. Cheap equipment, cut corners etc. But will your operation still be working 24/7/365 6 years later?

8 days to go

As I blogged earlier this week, I’m leaving community radio station NE1fm 102.5.

There’s been some lovely tweets made in response to my announcement. One I liked lots was;

People like this are the backbone of community radio – and comm orgs in general – and we probably don’t say thank you as much as we should.

— Peter Sullivan (@ceemage) May 28, 2013

And the people who do run community projects are the backbone. They sit up at night worrying when others sleep, I know, I’ve been there many times before. So I’ve decided for the next 8 days to blog everything station wise I’ve done to give a minuscule insight into some of the roles management take on.

Last night I popped in to see Rob Davies. Friday’s 8-10pm show. We discussed some station management stuff, I wound him up, he tried to guess why I was leaving, and I tried to access his Twitter. Pretty standard.

I’ve started writing my hand over too. It’s hard to condense knowledge into documentation though and I’m not abandoning the project. I’ll still be at the end of the phone if they really need help. I was one of the backbone amongst a small group and I know intricately all of the wiring, routing and configuration of every single piece of equipment at the radio station. Only one other person comes close to knowing how it all works.

Recently when the station started running in mono I was able within minutes to direct a volunteer to the offending piece of hardware. There’s probably 1km of wiring powering the station and I could draw a picture of every single cable and every single connector. That’s hard to train others who perhaps don’t have the same technical brain. But it is skills and knowledge on offer to people who want to learn it.

I also wonder what I’ll do with my Saturday mornings. Religiously I connect in every Saturday morning to check over our logging system, our music servers and studio computers. At the beginning of every month (ie: today) I tidy up the logger into month folders, and take an older month off to backup at an external FTP location. I also run and save statistics from our website and online streaming services and show these to the volunteers so they get a sense of who’s listening where. I also spent the morning migrating the stations online streaming server to a new location, updating all of the links on the website, the code for the webplayer and then notifying listeners via social media. I finally then scheduled some pre-recorded programming. It’s just dawned on me that this morning was the last time I’ll do a lot of that.

So there’s an insight into one little bit, I’m going to have to take up making cooked breakfasts on Saturday mornings!