This is the first of the Lifestyle section’s series of articles exploring the University of Edinburgh’s various societies. We will be taking a detailed look at what they do and how they work to raise awareness about the vast array of societies on offer and increase understanding amongst students on how they can get involved.
The University of Edinburgh’s student-run radio station is more than just meets the ear.
Launched in 1992, FreshAir.org.uk is one of the oldest surviving student radio stations in the United Kingdom. Though it is a registered society at the University of Edinburgh, the station is funded entirely by membership fees, sponsorships, and money made at station-organised club nights. FreshAir also stands out among other university stations – which often tell students what to play on air – by prioritising their commitment to complete creative freedom. The station allows presenters to play and say whatever they want.
Students that are interested in having a show or working on a show can apply for a show at the beginning of the semester, create a demo recording of the proposed show, and get it approved by the station.
Finn Marsden, head of training at FreshAir, said his favourite part of working at the station is seeing the diversity of passions students bring to the table. Talking to The Student, he explained how this can be a rewarding aspect of the job as, “you know, you sit in training with someone and they say that they’re gonna do a politics show, and they’re gonna talk all things politics and debate. And then the person sitting next to them’s doing a show about Cambodian folk music. So that’s my favourite thing. And I learn from that myself – I see what other people are doing and apply that to my own show.”
Elinor O’Donovan, station manager at FreshAir, holds the view that creative freedom should remain FreshAir’s top priority. O’Donovan told The Student that as a committee, they have discussed “what is our actual aspiration as a station? Is it to get as many listeners as possible, or to make FreshAir a really well-known brand in Edinburgh?” She explained how even though these are certainly goals for the society, keeping the station open to students and having the decisions of the students central to the operation of the station will remain paramount.
However, there is more to the station than freedom and diversity of interest. The studio faced a huge challenge in February of 2018 when a server crash left FreshAir offline for about eight months. During the spring semester of 2018, FreshAir was unable to go live in the studio, and was limited to producing written and pre-recorded content. Though the station temporarily came back online for The Fringe, it did not get up and running again full-time until the beginning of this month.
As the society recovers from the crash, it is also recreating other aspects of itself. Siggi Whittle, head of design, led a redesign of the FreshAir studio over the summer. The job is almost completely finished. Whittle told The Student, “It was a lot of painting, and I also built a new DJ desk. It was reasonably difficult to get everything organised, but it was okay”.
This week, FreshAir will also launch an application for a four-week DJing course, aimed at providing students with no previous experience the ability to DJ station-run club nights. The station will choose ten students to participate in the course, and each student will DJ a club night at the end of the training.
“We really want people to feel like they can DJ club nights,” O’Donovan explained, “because I feel like there’s a kind of air of exclusivity about DJing, which I really don’t like.”
O’Donovan also hopes to reduce the exclusivity of the FreshAir studio – located in the Pleasance – which is not as wheelchair-accessible as it could be. She has been discussing accessibility with the estate’s disability and equality manager.
If O’Donovan could get one thing accomplished at the station before her graduation in 2019, she would like to collaborate with the movie production society to create a local emulation of NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts. The series would include live video recordings of student musicians as well as local bands.
For now though, members of FreshAir encourage readers to tune into the station, either online at FreshAir.org.uk or via the TuneIn app. Some examples of shows not to miss include Siggi Whittle’s Escuchame, an exploration of local Scottish bands on Saturday from 6 to 7 p.m, Elinor O’Donovan’s Night Noises, a soundtrack of the nighttime on Monday from 9 to 10 p.m and Finn Marsden’s Breakfast Show on Wednesday from 9 to 10 a.m featuring fun interviews of people on George Square.
If you’re interested in joining the station or finding out more information, you can join the Facebook group or email email@example.com to sign up for the mailing list. All radio show slots are currently filled, but students may apply for their own show again at the beginning of the spring semester.
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