Work Experience: Ridge Radio Day 1

Posted on August 21, 2012

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I’ve managed to secure work experience at Ridge Radio for 4 days this week. A friend of mine who used to work at the BBC for most of his life is now a major part of the community radio station that covers the Tandridge area. I know that community radio can barely count as work experience, so instead of going in as a volunteer, I’ve gone in with the purpose of shadowing the management.

At the outset of the first day, we discussed what I wanted to achieve, and set 2 goals for this week: Thursday afternoon I shall have a one hour show, produced and presented by myself. The pitch for this show must be received by Wednesday. On Friday, I shall be taking the role of station manager for the day. Until then, I will be working with Mark Jones, the founder and station manager of Ridge Radio, and Sally Monnery, head of admin.

The first day was an introduction to Ridge Radio. As I waited for Mark, I listened in to the show on the air. It was very high quality output for an online only community station. Even the stream was very high quality. Sally, showed me around the station as we waited for Mark. Between talking to her and Mark I built up a good impression of the station.

As far as Mark is concerned, the number of listeners doesn’t matter. It is his opinion that reaching one listener and making a difference to him/her is the goal. This is great, but the station isn’t necessarily reaching and making a difference to as many people as if gaining listeners was a high priority.

The running of the station, including bills, rent, licensing, insurance etc comes to approx £22k a year. This is entirely funded by subs, grants, advertising packages and fundraising. Two new additions to the income: mobile disco where the presenters can be hired out for an evening and music of any genre played to suit the function, and secondly, they now have a large function room to hire for meetings and gatherings.

The aim, as Mark laid out to me, for Ridge Radio is to be the central hub of the community. So that the other branches, such as the police, drama groups, school and local businesses etc can look to Ridge Radio as the central point to distribute community information and news.

It became clear that marketing and advertising are a difficult area for Ridge. I asked Mark about the potential for an FM license and whether it was worth considering down the line. He explained that right now, and in the immediate future, it is far too expensive at £70k a year. They broadcast live from Defest last year and the year before for 2 days and paid £2.5k for an FM license. Although there are no solid statistics, Mark is certain their listenership did not rise despite easier access. I also asked Mark about the target audience, and he explained that it was everyone in the catchment area of Tandridge. I asked how he could achieve this without casting the net too wide and not catching an audience at all. I explained to him the difficulties we tried to overcome at Exposure as our target audience was a massive age range, and it seemed he hadn’t considered this. I asked how the schedule was put together as it seemed very little thought had gone into making smooth transitions from genre to genre. Mark felt that he wanted his volunteers to be happy and enjoy themselves, and if they did the listeners would come.

Ridge Radio is trying to put itself at the centre of the community by holding training clubs and they are currently starting a job club to help reduce unemployment in the area. These are all great community projects, however, my suggestion of incorporating the local amateur dramatics group (several members of which are presenters at Ridge anyway) by recording radio dramas, was rejected predominantly because it would not be broadcast live and would limit audience participation. The other major problem that Mark had with this idea was that it would be too much work; he wanted someone to be able to delegate it to, and he knew that none of his current volunteers would step up to the mark.

I then enquired about Mark’s actual job as station manager and was alarmed to hear that on a daily basis, he does very little. He explained that the station regularly manages itself, making his job easier than it would otherwise be. His committee team is very shrewdly put together, with the local newspaper editor, lawyers and ex-BBC employees which he uses as Ridge Radio appears in the newspaper frequently.

Hopefully the next few days will let me see an insight into a more of the community station and I will be able to take a more hands on approach.

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