Tim O’Brien: Week 6

This week, Tim talks radio and why making mistakes is the most important part of being a student.

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Last week, Cam FM won two national Student Radio Awards. One for an interview (part of the incredible documentary Don’t Say Gay’) in which a Cambridge student forces Simon Darby of the BNP, a man vocally against what he calls ‘homosexual propaganda’, to listen to a children’s book about gay penguins. The other went to Phin Adams, a theology student so dedicated to radio he has officially changed his name by deed poll to ‘Pop Man’ and has set himself the challenge of keeping it unless he plays every number one since 1950 before he graduates (in two months, he’s managed 7 years, so it’s not looking good).

Pop Man


These are just two examples showing how innovative and unique student radio can be. In the past year alone Cambridge’s student radio station has written history by becoming the first provider of live coverage to the Women’s Boat Race (that’s right, the one that isn’t televised on BBC One to 17 million people), has exposed Daily Mail reporters peddling anti-Oxbridge rubbish to be ex-Bullingdon club members, put together the first ever international student broadcast from the Varsity Trip, created the best damn Harlem Shake on the internet, and involved over 100 different students – all of whom are producing and presenting their own brilliant mix of shows.

Cam FM’s Harlem Shake


Yet still people knock it. Not just student radio, but radio as a medium. Constantly, people tell me radio is dying, that there’s ‘no future in it’, ‘no one listens to it’, or it’s ‘not relevant’. Every day I find myself arguing its corner. With this in mind I’ve decided to use this column to settle something once and for all – radio is more relevant than it has ever been, and isn’t going anywhere. The facts (i.e. more than 3 seconds on Google) firmly and repeatedly back this up. On top of that, I would like to politely point out that there is no reason to knock the efforts of volunteer-run student societies… EVER.

With radio, the most recent figures suggest that around 90% of people over 15 in the UK listen at least once a week, up one million from last year. That’s 47.7 million people, and equates to around a billion hours of radio listened to every week. Yes, listening habits are changing – in the past 5 years the amount of adults listening to radio on a mobile phone has gone up from 11.6% to over 24% – but it’s not affecting the popularity of radio as a whole. People continue to tune in, despite a seismic shift into the digital world. Why aren’t people switching off?

Well, the short answer is that radio is just flipping awesome. In the US, 80% of radio listeners use radio as one of their primary means of discovering new music. One reason for this is the unpredictability of the music selection – unlike the playlists on Spotify or your iPod, you don’t know what’s coming next. On top of that you are engaging in an intimate relationship with the presenter. He or she is speaking. You are listening. It’s a simple, direct, and beautiful form of human interaction. You could even call it a two-way conversation since the explosion of social media – at least more so than TV or newspapers which both, if you think about it, just talk at you. This human connection in radio will never be replaced.

[iframe width=”100%” height=”166″ scrolling=”no” frameborder=”no” src=”https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/120600517&color=ff0000&auto_play=false&show_artwork=true”][/iframe]
The ultimate ‘human connection’ with Charlie Palmer and Marcus Martin’s ‘Late Night Lovin’

With this in mind, let’s hone in on student radio. Putting aside the fact that denouncing the efforts of unpaid volunteers doing something they are interested in makes you a scumbag, you might tell me, as some people inexplicably do, that ‘no one listens to Cam FM’. Apart from the fact this is totally false (between January and September this year we racked up just under 50,000 hours of online listening), it also misses the whole point of student radio. Student radio is made for mistakes. It gives you a chance to broadcast amateurish, fault-ridden, and self-indulgent brilliance to a city of 100,000 people. No matter how many are listening, it’s an opportunity available nowhere else. We know we’re not Radio One, but we’re not trying to be.

The thing is, this can be applied across the board to student societies. It’s easy to forget that every single one is run by volunteers. Volunteers taking time out of an onslaught of degree work to dabble in some random activity. As such, I’ve always wondered why positive Tab comments often start with the word ‘actually’, as if they’re owed some kind of top quality journalism. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the Cambridge Tab run by people who are simply giving journalism ‘a try’? As a reader, you are not owed a constant stream of top quality journalism from a bunch of unpaid student journalists, just as you are not owed a professional rugby game if you go watch your college team, or a professional LARP from Treasure Trap (though I confess I have no clue what a ‘professional’ live action role play looks like).

Each to their own


As students, we can make mistakes and pride ourselves on it. Cam FM is just one of hundreds of examples of places you can do this . I hardly need to point out the value of societies, but I do need to point out that we’re all winging it together. As one Tab commenter pointed out a few weeks back, cut the ‘faux-maturity’ – we’re students, we’re allowed to make mistakes.

(Oh, and radio is awesome.)

Cam FM can be heard on 97.2 FM around Cambridge, or online at www.camfm.co.uk. To get involved click here.