Reporter LAURA LEA called into the headquarters of Newport City Radio to tune in with the passionate team behind the station for Work Experience.
SITUATED just off Commercial Street, Newport City Radio’s shared office space is in the heart of the city, where it aspires to stay not only geographically – but metaphorically too.
Starting off my work experience there and to understand the various parts of the station, I met several members of its team, each with very different roles.
Newport City Radio became an official business under that name in 2011, but its journey began some years earlier as managing director Ian Lamsdale explained: “Our first FM show was in July 2008 and we’ve been making shows ever since.”
Mr Lamsdale, who DJs in Newport clubs three times a week, said: “It’s about Newport people and being positive about Newport. We want to go out to different areas and give them what they want.”
The DJ is at the station 40 to 50 hours a week.
He said: “I love being here. It’s a great atmosphere with such a range of people with different backgrounds.”
I’d expected I would be spending the majority of my visit in a boxy studio – however for the most part I was in a training room. This is the primary misconception about the organisation – which you can be forgiven for falling for – that it is simply a radio station.
People are referred from Newport City Homes or Charter Housing, who also fund the course.
The course, led by Mr Lamsdale, is four hours a week for eight weeks and those who complete it receive an OCN qualification in group work and communication. It has been running for as long as the station has.
People from past courses are now working in permanent roles for the station or have been absorbed into projects.
Sitting among the course attendees I was asked to consider what would make me ‘tune in’ and ‘tune out’. We discussed the importance of targeted advertising and content relevance. This was all part of turning us from radio listeners, to radio producers.
Chae Mlewa, originally from Newport, is currently on her year in industry from a degree at Bath University. The 21-year-old is a station assistant.
She said: “It’s a way for people to re-engage themselves. It’s a starting point.
“I’m really enjoying it. It’s really unconventional.”
Chae typically works from 12pm until 7pm – all of which is voluntary.
Radio shows are on weekdays from 5pm until 10pm and weekends from 11am until 10pm. Each show is responsible for itself – with the presenters managing their own planning and playlists.
“It’s quite presenter-led.” Chae explained.
There’s the middle of the road chart shows and then the more specific ones like the Turn-back show which features 80s and 90s music, or others which specialise in everything from reggae or rock, to two-step and ska.
It’s not just about playing music but featuring live performances too. Social media is one way the station reaches out to local artists who may be interested in playing and gaining professional experience.
Chae was deep into preparations for a special series of shows for World Radio Day – which is organised by the UN. All shows were going to be led by women to honour this year’s theme of empowering women.
Planning involved Chae organising guest speakers and interviews, as well as international sound bites from two community radio stations in Tanzania and the Seychelles to form part of a feature.
When I did make it into the studio, I was baffled by the boards in front of me covered with seemingly identical switches and knobs.
“I’ve learnt a lot of technical skills. But there’s nothing too complicated about it. It opens it up for everybody,” said Chae.
There are levels that constantly need adjusting and a very complex software system through which you build shows. Jingles and tracks get put into ‘carts’ alongside interviews and features to form a show.
Prior to a show, a team will come in up to two hours before to prepare. They’ll plan their talking points or features,which are known as ‘key stones’, and then add the music around them.
Chae says there haven’t been any horrendous live blunders yet, although she’s been caught out mentioning a company name when she shouldn’t have.
Call-ins are another thing presenters have to deal with and plan – which form a large part of the increasingly popular sports show.
The sports show is the only show which features advertising and for that reason – no music. The station dodges music license fees as none of the music shows are making money. So, all music is owned by them and part of a huge library which has built up over the years.
But the work isn’t confined to the headquarters. Members of the team were already planning to go out onto the high street and promote the station, an app for tuning into it and the website itself.
Adam King is website manager, responsible for the creation and day-to-day running of the station’s new and growing asset. Mr King, from Newport, joined the station two years ago after being referred onto the training course.
He said: “I was living in one of the Solas hostels at the time. The web designer’s life had changed a lot since then and the station’s website was launched by him three months ago.
“It’s been an exciting two years.”
Within the zero-profit organisation there are three paid positions. There are 60 volunteers – many of whom are students juggling their studies with radio.
“The people who are here want to be here. But there’s still a work ethic,” said Ian. This ethic was very apparent on my visit to the station.
This is a station not only passionate about radio, but about the city they serve.