Wannabe radio star tunes in

FOR some it would be a dream job - sitting behind a microphone playing your favourite tunes over the radio to adoring listeners. But to others, being a DJ is all-too-scary idea to contemplate.

FOR some it would be a dream job - sitting behind a microphone playing your favourite tunes over the radio to adoring listeners. But to others, being a DJ is all-too-scary idea to contemplate. Now an Ipswich station is on a mission to you get your 15 minutes of radio fame and follow in John Peel's footsteps. Wannabe radio star GRANT SHERLOCK takes up the challenge to become a presenter.

SOMEHOW they always sound so confident on the radio.

DJs manage to pull off speaking to thousands of listeners, while cueing tracks, remembering the names of guests, and not sounding like complete fools all at the same time.

Yet for many the prospect of speaking to an endless sea of people, however anonymous, is more than a little nervewracking.

Put a microphone in front of their face and they are suddenly speechless, bemused by what to say over the airwaves. So who would become a radio presenter with all that nervousness and tension ahead of them?

Well if you listen to the radio buffs behind Ipswich Community Radio just about anyone can do it.

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Since the late 1980s they have been helping amateur enthusiasts get behind the mike and now they want to help YOU transform yourself into a radio God.

Back at university, where I pretended to be busy studying journalism while avoiding shorthand classes, I'd always fancied radio over newspapers. TV had been out of the question - far too many attractive blondes (of both sexes) for those jobs - so it was radio journalism or the press for me.

There was a bit more excitement in the shorter deadlines and live-to-air world of radio news so I tried my hand at it for a while but when the first job I was offered turned out to be in newspapers I needed little convincing to put an end to my radio dream.

So when I heard the gang at Ipswich Community Radio, which broadcasts over the web on www.ICRfm.co.uk, were offering to turn me into the next John Peel it sounded like a second chance. What's more, today they are extending the offer to anyone in Ipswich who wanted their chance at experiencing the radio buzz.

Nick Greenland, the station's programme controller, said: “The majority of people who join us haven't any experience in radio. A number will have had experience as DJs in clubs and things like that but very few will have had radio experience.

“You see people come in and they look at the broadcast desk and the studio and they think it looks like the flight desk of a 747. They think 'I'm never going to manage that.' Also some people think they're not going to be able to talk on the radio and they're really nervous. The first time they do a show you can see the sweat on them and you can hear that little crackle in their voice.

“Yet suddenly these people just relax and that enthusiasm for their music, which is what brought them to the station in the first place, suddenly comes out on the radio and that is great to see.

“Once you get that bug there is nothing quite like it.”

ICR volunteers go through a four-week training programme which sees them taught the ins and outs of the studio, including the daunting studio desk which governs the microphones and CD, mini-disc and vinyl players. You also learn how to use the software which allows you to put a pre-recorded programme together and get plenty of handy tips on microphone technique and what is involved in actually getting the kind of show you want to produce out on air.

“The actual technical stuff of which button to press is something you'll learn in just a couple of sessions,” Nick said.

“I'm actually suspicious if somebody comes along and claims not to be nervous. From my experience the best presenters are always nervous when they start out.”

ICR was launched in September 1989 under the banner of the Venue for Ipswich campaign, which fought for an arts venue in the town. It first went on air from a mobile broadcast caravan in Christchurch Park and over the years did the rounds of several community centres before finally getting a permanent base in the CSV Media Clubhouse in Princes Street.

From there the station now boasts programmes as diverse as a punk/reggae hour to a Kurdish music hour with plenty of variety in between. Bruce McGregor, an ICR trustee, said the goal from the beginning was to create a station that represented the real Ipswich.

He said: “SGR, BBC Radio Suffolk, they were all around and they do a good service for their clientele but we just wanted an alternative. We wanted something equally important but for a slightly different age group, a slightly different interest. It's about local people doing it for themselves. We wanted something grassroots, that spoke with a raw street voice.”

The question was, did I have what it took to be a part of that raw street voice? Given my first few lessons it was clear I had some learning ahead of me. I may as well have been sat in a 747 cockpit for all I knew about the inside of a studio. I was ashamed I'd forgotten so much since my uni days.

But, true to Nick's word, it didn't take long for the dos and don'ts to sink in. I learned how to edit audio using specialist computer software and even managed to put together my own radio news feature all about ICR itself - you can listen to it now on The Evening Star and ICRFM websites.

Walking around the corridors of ICR you come across all sorts of budding radio presenters with every taste in music. One hour there's a reggae show, the next could be an hour devoted entirely to The Clash.

“We have such a range of people, all ages, male and female, producing vastly different kinds of programmes but the key thing that unifies them all is their enthusiasm,” Nick said.

“A key idea behind the station is to reflect the Ipswich community so we have a Kurdish programme, a programme in Farsi presented by an Iranian, we have a Portuguese language programme and the music ranges from the most up-to-date hip hop to foundation reggae, we have world and jazz music, we have some classical music, we have indie rock, heavy metal. Pretty much everything you can think of is played at some point.”

It's that desire to get local people involved in the station that is behind the latest drive to encourage novices into the world of radio.

Nick said: “If somebody has a passion about Ipswich history and they want to make a programme about that we would welcome it. And if somebody is passionate about sport, art, painting, whatever, if they want to make programmes about that that's absolutely fine.

“If they just want to do one programme or a one-off interview with someone they think is interesting or on a subject they think more people should know about, that is possible.”

If you're interested in finding out more contact ICRFM on 01473 418022.


Listen to Grant's debut radio programme at www.eveningstar.co.uk and www.ICRfm.co.uk.

BY day Abbi Greenland and Amy Loader are college students studying an International Baccalaureate. By night they are followers of the Ipswich live music scene and, come Monday evenings, they are fully fledged radio presenters.

The teenage duo present the Soundcheck programme on ICRFM which is wall-to-wall music from unsigned and emerging artists.

In just over a year 18-year-old Abbi from Holbrook and 17-year-old Amy from Wherstead have gone from radio novices to confident presenters with regular listeners.

Abbi said: “There was nobody doing a show that gave a platform to local bands or unsigned artists so I asked my friends to come and do it with me.

“It's something I hadn't really discovered until I looked around for local bands then suddenly I found there's a huge scene in Ipswich of local bands. There's some fantastic music that comes out of it.

“We play a lot of indie music and rocky music but we've found a lot of other kinds of music as well. It's just fantastic to listen to, it's a really high quality. It's people who know what they are doing and are really talented musicians.”

Amy said: “It didn't take too long to learn how to do it all. Once you've done it a few times it becomes quite natural. The first show we ever did we scripted every word for the whole hour because we were so terrified of talking on the radio but now we just walk into the studio with ideas of things we want to talk about. I don't think we even think about who is listening anymore.”

RADIO veteran Ozzie Sibley is a reminder of one of amateur radio's golden eras.

The ICR presenter began his radio career on pirate radio stations in the 1960s and it was then that he caught a bug that sees him still addicted to the buzz of live radio.

Ozzie, ICR's studio manager who also presents a classic rock show on the station each week, took up one of his first presenting roles on a pirate radio station operating from a fort off the coast of Essex.

“I love music, I was brought up with music,” he said.

“I first started back in 1964 when pirate radio was running and I got involved and was working on various stations.

“Then I drifted around and got into land-based pirate radio and had my own station in the 1970s which ran for a little while. I heard about Ipswich Community Radio when I moved to Ipswich and wanted to get involved.

“I was thrown in at the deep end, didn't know any of the controls on the desk and I really struggled. The second show was better, the third show was even better and after the fourth show I didn't want to go and I've been here ever since.”

Ozzie uses his show not only to play his favourite classic rock and pop tracks but he also spends time interviewing locals, such as police and council staff, about their work in the community.

And even 40 years on he remembers the feel of the pirate stations and recognises some of that in the studios at ICR.

“This reminds me very much of a pirate radio station. Anybody can come in and have a go. That's what it was like then,” he said. “People ought to give it a try. If it wasn't for things like Ipswich Community Radio you would find it a heck of a job to get into radio.”

PUNK-rock musicians Rikki Flag, 37, and Glenn Ballistic, 41, had no radio experience when they made the jump into radio with their weekly Punky Reggae Party.

Glenn, the vocalist in Ipswich ska-punk band The Ballistics, said: “It's very light hearted. When me and Rikki go off on one it's like being around his house having a few drinks around the table.

“We've had people logging on from Scotland, Switzerland, Germany in the past. We get loads of text messages coming in usually.”

Punky Reggae Party is an outlet for local bands who might otherwise struggle to get gigs, let alone have their music played on the radio.

Rikki, the vocalist in Ipswich band Red Flag 77, said: “We try to fit in local bands, we plug the local music scene gigs every week. There's a lack of outlets to do it for certain types of music.”

Glenn added: “This town has always been incredibly hard for original bands to get gigs. It's all right if you're a blues cover band or you're doing rock covers you can do the pub circuit but if you're writing your own material you can find yourself banging your head against the wall if you can't get out of Ipswich.”