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“One, two, three, four, is it snowing where you are, Mr. Thiessen? If it is, would you telegraph back to me?”

From his transmitter in Brant Rock, Massachusetts, Canadian-American physicist Reginald A. Fessenden broadcast these simple words – the first human speech over radio waves – using a humble spark-gap transmitter. And lo, just before Christmas on December 23, 1900, radio was born. Since then, though the crackle and hiss may have been largely consigned to history, thousands of stations now compete for listeners across the airwaves as the medium’s popularity continues to grow. The podcast may have repackaged the format, but underneath is still the listening experience.

And as another early Christmas present, Edge Hill University has joined the campus radio party by launching the student-led ‘Edgehog Web Radio, providing students with a unique backing track to their day. And for those involved with running the station, skills they can take into their post-university careers.

Dr Michael Austin, Senior Lecturer in Music & Sound

“We’re launching this student experience project as a direct result of input we’ve received from our students,” says Dr Michael Austin, Senior Lecturer in Music & Sound, and a driving force behind the station, alongside Lecturer in Popular Music and Media Dr James Millea.

“Students have been asking for more hands-on opportunities to build their portfolios and to develop professional job skills,” continues Michael. “They’ll be the on-air talent, the producers, the engineers, the PR team. They’ll make all of the decisions about what music to play and what the daily broadcast schedule will include.”

If running a radio station sounds like a pretty ambitious project, they should be in safe hands with Michael:

“At Howard University in Washington, D.C., we ran a network of six radio stations, including WHUR, the legendary radio station where the Quiet Storm format was developed in the late 1970s. Quiet Storm is the name given to late-night, romantic R&B slow jams and smooth jazz. I also helped produce content and wrote jingles for programmes.”

It sounds like you and radio go way back, Michael.

“Radio was particularly important to me growing up. I lived in a very small town out in the desert in West Texas and my family couldn’t afford cable TV, so the only way I ever heard new music was on the radio. The station from the local community college was especially important to me because it was the only station for at least 100 miles that played in-depth news, classical music, alternative music, and non-political talk radio and documentaries.”

Image of a radio microphone.

And who do you hope will tune in? “This is a student-run radio station, run by Edge Hill University students, so Edge Hill University students will be the primary target audience. However, the University serves the wider community, so the content will be designed to appeal to – and serve – a much wider audience.” And an eternal optimist, Michael refuses to be shackled by the constraints of geography: “This is an online radio station, so anyone from around the globe could tune in.”

Having run a station and taught radio production modules, perhaps Michael will be grabbing the mic himself? “I won’t be DJing. I hope our first music programmes really reflect the tastes and talent of our students – if our own students don’t like what we play, no one will. The station will be in their hands, and it will really be up to them to determine what they should play.”

How tough has it been to set up? “Launching a new student radio station is really exciting,” says Michael. “It’s not necessarily hard work, but it involves lots of steps and the generous help of many other people across campus to get things up and running. The main challenge has been learning communication policy in the UK, run through Ofcom. And we’ve had to sort out licencing, so we have the necessary permission to broadcast music and other content. But with the help of colleagues, getting the necessary paperwork together has been relatively smooth.”

Is it likely to be hijacked by Swifties, Beliebers or Sheerios?

“Our broadcast license includes a few stipulations that limit the number of songs we can play by a single artist or album within a certain period of time, so we won’t have a two-hour Beyoncé Block, for example,” laughs Michael.

Image of 'EDGEHOG RADIO logo, a purple, non-photographic image of a hedgehog.

Tell us about the name, Michael. “The station’s called ‘Edgehog Radio. It helps associate the station with Edge Hill University and the Creative Edge building where we’ll be located, and it’s unique enough that we aren’t infringing on any other station’s trademark.

“Our primary focus is to make this as much like working in a regional/national radio station as possible. We’ve been talking to colleagues in other departments about interdisciplinary collaborations. Students have already approached us with ideas for music shows, and a talk show is also already in the works. But the format is really wide open for just about anything.”

So is it only a sanctuary for students in the Department of English and Creative Arts? “There are opportunities for any Edge Hill University student to get involved, from on-air talent to audio and social media content producers to engineers.”

Michael imagines a future in which ‘Edgehog Radio soundtracks the lives of Edge Hill students for years to come, alongside the community, while offering crucial employment experience to any budding radioheads. But like any media mogul worth their salt, Michael isn’t finished there:

“Once the radio station is up and running, we’ll begin working on launching a student-run record label. I really see the potential for lots of synergy between the two, with the opportunity to play records our own students record on our own radio station. Everything will run under ‘Edgehog Media.”

Over 120 years after that first transmission, the digital revolution continues apace in West Lancashire: tune into ‘Edgehog Radio, pop pickers.

December 5, 2023


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