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.