© New Zealand Broadcasting School 2021

Hosting from home: how student radio continues

Hannah Powell
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With dreamy set-ups like these it’s easy to mix from home. These RDU hosts give it a shot.  Java Katzur

It's not the first time South Island student radio stations RDU 98.5FM (Ōtautahi) and Radio One 91FM (Ōtepoti) have had to work from home.

But how exactly does a station keep on-air out of the studio?

RDU 98.5FM

When the country's latest lockdown was announced, RDU production engineer Jamie Stratton's first thought was twofold: equip the staff to work from home, then enable a community of 130 broadcasters to do the same.

Although not every RDU host will broadcast live from home, many do. With 70 hosts broadcasting remotely during Alert Level 3 and 4 in 2020, Stratton assured it had been done before, and that it can be done again. 

Ōtautahi radio station RDU is located at The Boxed Quarter on Saint Asaph Street. Most technology used daily can be used remotely to keep RDU on air. For hosts, only a laptop and simple software is needed. For DJs, a little bit more is required. 

Co-hosts and DJs of RDU show 'Teatime', Corban Tupou and Alex McKay, said many people are getting creative with producing and recording their radio shows.

"Mixing in bedrooms and lounge rooms is nothing new to DJs," Tupou said. "[It's] definitely easy to keep shows rolling throughout a lockdown". 

Lockdown sees an influx in music submissions, especially in the absence of live shows. In times like these, support is paramount for the music industry and local music scenes.

"We continue to support local musicians by playing their music on the station," Stratton said. "Obviously there are fewer people reaching out for support for live shows, [but] we see a lot more live streams and live performances which is awesome". 

While lockdown is inconvenient at best, it does offer an opportunity for stations to get creative with social media and website content. The RDU community has been busy sharing shows, music playlists, and taking over the RDU Instagram each day. Content interaction on the RDU Instagram page has gone up by 221%.

RDU Events and Communications manager Kendra Walls said, "the feedback I've had from hosts has been great, increasing [reach on] their pages and shows, and getting their creative juices flowing". 

With the postponement of Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū's HELLZAPOPPIN' Exhibition in celebration of 40 years of Flying Nun, a volunteer put together a Flying Nun playlist for RDU instead. 

"It's tough times out there for event planners and content is a great way for us to support organisers until they are again able to bring people together," Walls said. 

Walls is urging the public to support artists directly on Bandcamp, or share music they love, to help artists stay visible and seen. 

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RADIO ONE 91FM

Ōtepoti's student radio station Radio One is located on-campus at Otago University. Promotions manager, Tom Tremewan, said considering 75% of students are from out of town, maintaining lines of communication during this lockdown is key.

The station pre-equips broadcasters on remote broadcasting, pre-recorded shows, and podcasting, so that they are prepared for when alert levels change. 

Station manager, Sean Norling, said the most important concern is the duty of care over staff and volunteers. Last year, the community remained connected over their digital platform. Where staff and volunteers had previously limited connections, the platform built a stronger community instead. 

"[Lockdown] really galvanized independent student media," Norling said.

Like RDU, the volume of music submissions is strong. 

"There'll be an increase as people scramble and keep busy, churning through release schedules, particularly from local distributors, publicists, and labels," Tremewan said. With local artists a significant part of their student radio community, Tremewan said the station can put more stock into ensuring the community continues to stay invested in times like these.

"I know the station has two feet deeply planted in the contemporary Dunedin music scene," Norling added. "We've always been a part of that pulse. I think we have some very potent, powerful, stand-out musicians coming through this town". 

During Alert Level 4, Norling said Radio One's news content has attracted more ears, as has its content on-demand. A time for friends and whanau to listen in more frequently, hosting from home keeps the airwaves going. Those on-air are encouraged to broadcast from wardrobes and broom cupboards to 'imitate' that radio sound.

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With artists, bands, and venues left in the lurch once again, it's a time to further your interest in the local music scene to help sustain it.

Walls is urging the public to support artists directly on Bandcamp, or share music they love, to help artists stay visible and seen. 

Supporting student radio is as simple as switching it on. 

"Our dedicated team are pumping fresh tunes for our listeners direct from their bedrooms and it's a great way to find new local music without an algorithm doing it for you," Walls said.

Matt Slaughter from RDU's show 'Sheep Technique' said "I'd like to urge you, if you can, to support some local musicians...it's tough times with the lockdown, so get out and support. When things open back up go and see your local bands and have fun". 

Student radio and the local music scene will always need each other.

"You can support your local radio by supporting your local music community," Norling said. "Student radio, in its essence, should be a training ground for young people to develop media skills...support those young people by cheering them on."