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Setting up a school radio station – 1

Radio can be a powerful medium in education, contributing to many curriculum areas, as well as to children’s confidence. And the good news is that it’s not too difficult to set up a school radio project or station.

Here are a few pointers and links – it’s a work in progress and not meant to be a definitive guide. Please get in touch to send further examples of new or ongoing successful school radio stations, or of sources of training support and advice, and we’ll add links here.

Getting started
It’s as well to think ‘radio project’ rather than ‘radio station’ at first, especially if you don’t have any previous radio experience. Do some fundamental preparation, thinking out your ideas in three parts:
~ Editorial and scheduling – the content and timetable
~ Technical – the equipment and how to use it
~ Transmission – how and when the content will be broadcast or made available to the audience

Editorial and scheduling
Before you start thinking about equipment or the studio, think about what do you want to cover by way of content, and how often, eg.
~ one-off recordings of students’ creative work at the end of a project?
~ regular live shows in which the students present news, music, interviews etc?
~ weekly, monthly or termly magazine programmes with a mixture of live and pre-recorded material?
~ specific content to form part of a (local) festival, theme day or event, eg. BBC School Report?

Think about where the radio activities will sit within the school, ie.:
~ within the teaching timetable? within mentor, house or year-group time? as an extra-curricular activity such as a lunchtime or after-school club?
~ within a particular department or curriculum area or cross-curricular?
~ what topics and/or curriculum areas will the radio cover to start with?
~ will it be led by one person or by a steering group of several people? will these be adults, students or both?

It’s often advisable to start with a few one-off recordings using basic (portable) equipment, so to get the hang of making radio, then move on to more regular shows as everyone’s expertise grows.

Technical
Don’t think about your studio too early in the project – it’s not necessary to have one in order to get started. You can make a successful radio item in an ordinary room using a portable recording device, a microphone and a laptop with editing software – just as you can with video. Click here for an example: these recordings at Acland Burghley School in North London were made in a classroom using an Edirol R-09 and an AKG microphone.

Portable recorders: for around £200 you can buy a good quality solid state recorder, from manufacturers such as Edirol (by Roland), Tascam, Zoom etc. The sound is recorded as a WAV or MP3 file onto the recorder’s hard disk or onto a slot-in sound card. The audio can be downloaded onto a computer as a file, like any other computer file.

NB when buying a portable recorder:
~ choose a model with a slot for an external microphone – without this you will have to use the microphone on the recorder, which often results in background noise and lesser quality.
~ when choosing a recorder to capture speech (especially single interviews), don’t be influenced by the high sound specs of recorders which mainly aim to capture music – you don’t need the extras, and they can even make your recording more difficult to edit.

Microphones: for around £100-150 you can buy a broadcast quality microphone, from manufacturers such as Sony, AKG, Audio Technica, Panasonic or Sennheiser etc. Search on terms such as condenser, dynamic, cardioid, omnidirectional, unidirectional – or read this useful guide from the BBC Academy – click on the link for Start Module 1, or click here for the text version. Check that you have the necessary lead to connect the microphone to the recorder (may come with the mic).

Headphones: it’s important to use headphones, so that you hear what the recorder is picking up, rather than what the brain hears – that way, you can more easily avoid clicks, pops, background hums etc which you might not be aware of in normal listening without headphones. You don’t need expensive headphones, but it’s best to choose the ear-muff kind (‘cans’), rather than the in-ear, personal stereo kind.

Sound editing software for your laptop: free sound editing software systems include Audacity (open source) and Wave Pad (free version for non-commercial use). You can also buy various software packages (some of which may have special prices for educational establishments) including Sony Sound Forge andAdobe Audition. (Be aware that the original Cool Edit from Syntrillium was bought out by Adobe and is now incorporated into Audition.)

Lead: check that you have the necessary lead to use as the ‘line in/out’ to download audio files from the portable recorder to your computer.

Transmission
Once you’ve made your recordings you can broadcast or transmit them to your audience in a number of ways, including:
~ play them from computer via the school’s public address system, or in a gathering place such as the dining hall at lunchtime
~ play them from a single computer to a class or group or at an assembly etc
~ make them available from computer(s) in the library or ICT suite using links on the school’s intranet or internet
~ if you have a relationship with your local community radio station, or BBC local radio station, discuss whether your recordings can be played out on air, either on their own or combined with a studio appearance to talk about the project or the content of the recordings.
~ produce them on CD or DVD for sending out to parents etc.

Next steps
Once you have fully developed your group or station, you will want to set up your studio, perhaps broadcasting or streaming regularly, or even applying to Ofcom for a short term RSL (restricted service licence) so you can broadcast on AM or FM to the community for a few days or weeks.

Information and links for these stages will follow in the next post.

Useful links
~ BBC School Report
~ BBC Academy
~ BBC local radio stations – England
~ Ofcom radio licensing – community radio stations list and map (pdf)
~ Ofcom radio licensing – RSLs

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